The Abraham Lincoln Brigade collectively refers to all volunteers from the United States who served in the Spanish Civil War as soldiers, technicians, medical personnel and aviators fighting for Spanish Republican forces against Franco and the Spanish Nationalists. Of the approximately 2,800 American volunteers, between 750 and 800 were killed in action or died of wounds or sickness.
Creation of the Lincoln Battalion
North American volunteers began organizing and arriving in Spain in 1937. The Lincoln Battalion was organized in January 1937 as part of the XVth International Brigade. The Lincoln Battalion initially fielded three companies, two infantry and one machine gun. Included in the battalion's infantry companies were sections of Latin American volunteers, organized as the Centuria Guttieras, and Irish, organized as the Connolly Column. After less than two months of training the Lincolns went into action in February 1937.
The Lincolns suffered heavy losses during the Battle of Jarama. On February 27, 1937 the unit lost two-thirds of its strength including their commander, Robert Hale Merriman (who was badly wounded), in a futile assault on Nationalist positions. The battalion remained in the lines and was slowly rebuilt while maintaining its front-line trenches. The unit was pulled out of the lines for a brief rest before the offensive at Brunete.
Joined by the newly trained George Washington Battalion, the XVth Brigade went into action at Villanueva de la Cañada on the second day of the Brunete Offensive and secured the town after hard fighting, the Washington's attacking the north end of the village, while the British and Dimitrov battalions attacked from the south. The XVth Brigade then deployed against "Mosquito Ridge", but despite repeated assaults they were unable to dislodge the Nationalist troops holding that key piece of terrain. The Lincoln's commander Oliver Law was killed during this action. The XVth Brigade sustained heavy losses, and due to the high rate of casualties the Lincoln and Washington Battalions were merged. Thereafter the unit was officially known as the Lincoln-Washington Battalion, though it was more commonly referred to as the Lincoln Battalion.
During August, September and October the Lincoln-Washington Battalion fought in a series of battles in the Aragon Offensive. The Lincoln-Washington Battalion fought well at both Quinto and Belchite. The engagement at Quinto was a combined arms action as the Lincoln-Washington Battalion was led into their second assault on the town by T-26 tanks. Belchite was a severe test for the Lincoln-Washington Battalion, where they fought house to house and took heavy casualties.
After Belchite the XVth Brigade was reorganized. The newly formed Canadian MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion joined the brigade and the veteran Dimitrov Battalion departed. A majority of the volunteers in the "Mac-Paps" were actually Americans. On October 13, 1937 the XVth Brigade fought at Fuentes de Ebro. Men from the brigade's 24th (Spanish) Battalion rode Russian tanks in the attack. The remaining battalions were supposed to follow the tanks. The original plan of attack fell apart as the tanks did not coordinate their advance with the infantry. Casualties were especially heavy in the 24th and MacKenzie-Papineau Battalions. After Fuentes the XVth Brigade was pulled back to a reserve position where the Lincoln-Washington Battalion received its first extended period of rest and relaxation since going into combat at Jarama.
In late December the Lincoln-Washington Battalion was alerted for service at Teruel. The winter of 1938 was among the coldest on record and many troops suffered frostbite injuries during the campaign. The XVth Brigade was deployed to hold the recently captured city of Teruel against the expected Nationalist counterattack. The Lincoln-Washington's initially held positions overlooking Teruel that they called the North Pole. Later they moved down into the city. During January the Nationalists launched coordinated attacks against the Republican defenses in and around Teruel. The XVth Brigade's British Battalion and MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion lost an entire company each attempting to hold the territory. Nationalist weight of numbers and material eventually pushed the XVth Brigade back. The XV BDE, including the Lincoln-Washington Battalion, were pulled out of the line for rest after three weeks in the lines.
Before the units could get to their rest areas, their trains and trucks were stopped and they were called back to the front. They participated in an offensive that was expected to relieve some of the pressure on Teruel. In a daring dawn attack the XVth Brigade attacked a series of Nationalist fortifications at Segura de los Baños. While the attack was a success, the Nationalist forces did not transfer any forces away from Teruel.
March 1938 found the Lincoln-Washington Battalion in reserve positions in Aragon. Their rest proved short lived as the XVth Brigade was swept up in the disaster known as The Retreats. Nationalist forces punched through the Republican lines and drove to the sea cutting the Republic in two. The Lincoln-Washington Battalion was dispersed, reformed and dispersed again in a confused series of holding actions and retreats. The Lincoln-Washington Battalion lost most of its personnel killed, captured or missing. Robert Merriman and Dave Doran, two of the highest ranking American officers in the XVth Brigade were presumed captured and executed. Nationalist forces normally executed all international prisoners. The remnants of the Battalion gathered on the far side of the Ebro River where they were slowly reconstituted with a limited number of international volunteers from the hospitals and rear areas. Spanish troops, many young conscripts, were drafted into the XVth Brigade's battalions to bring them fully up to strength.
Spanish troops were integrated into the Lincoln Battalion as early as Jarama. As the flow of volunteers decreased from North America Spanish companies were added to the international battalions. After the Retreats Spanish troops were integrated across the battalions and comprised the majority of the XVth Brigade's strength in its last action.
In July 1938 the rebuilt Lincoln-Washington Battalion participated in the Ebro Offensive. The XVth Brigade crossed the Ebro and rapidly advanced through territory they had retreated through in March and April. Nationalist forces quickly rallied and the offensive stalled. Republican forces moved over to the defensive contesting every square mile captured in the offensive. The XVth Brigade fought a series of bitter defensive actions. The International Brigades were withdrawn from battle by the Spanish prime minister Juan Negrín, in the vain hope that the Nationalists would withdraw their German and Italian Troops in turn.
Surviving Americans from across Spain were sent to Ripoll where the International Red Cross and the US government verified their nationality before repatriating them. Many were able to participate in the Farewell activities including the march in Barcelona where the International Brigades were officially disbanded. Most American volunteers returned to the US between December 1938 and January 1939. American POWs were released after the fall of the Republican government, though the last POWs did not arrive in the United States until September 1939.
The Brigade was a cause célèbre in some liberal and socialist circles in the United States. The Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion (FALB), assisted by many other groups, conducted fundraising activities and supply drives to support the Americans in Spain. News of the brigade's high casualty rate and bravery in battle made them heroic figures to Americans opposing the rise of fascism.
Select Other Formations
20th Battalion, 86th Brigade
An American company served in the 20th International Battalion that was attached to the 86th Brigade. This unit fought on the Cordoba Front. Most of the American volunteers were transferred from the unit to the XVth Brigade prior to the Brunete Offensive.
The George Washington Battalion
The Washington Battalion was the second American battalion. The unit was merged with the Lincoln Battalion during the Brunete Campaign. It was commanded by Mirko Markovics and its commissar was Dave Mates.
The MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion
Two-thirds of the nominally Canadian unit were Americans. Its first commander was Robert Thompson an American veteran of the Lincoln Battalion. Joseph Dallet, also American, was the first Commissar.
2nd Squadron, First Regiment de Tren
The Regiment de Tren was a transportation unit providing support to the Republican forces. The Second Squadron was predominately American. The commander was Durward Clark.
The John Brown Battery
This unit's official title was the 14th Battery, 2nd Group, 11th Regiment. It was a heavy artillery unit manning 155mm guns. The battery commander was Arthur Timpson with Jack Waters as Commissar.
4th Group, 35th Battery
This unit initially manned 155mm guns but later were equipped with 45mm anti-tank guns and attached to the 129th International Brigade. The battery commander was Nathan Budish and his Commissar was Sid Kaufman.
The American Medical Bureau
Organized by Dr. Edward Barsky the AMB recruited doctors, dentists, nurses, administrators and ambulance drivers to support the Spanish Republic. In Spain the AMB was assigned to the Spanish Medical Services (Sanidad). Its members treated international and Spanish volunteers.
During and after the Spanish Civil War, members of the brigade were generally viewed as supporters of the Soviet Union. After returning to the United States many joined the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB). However, the Hitler-Stalin pact caused a division among the Lincoln Brigade veterans. Some of them, adopting the official Communist line that regarded the war in Europe as "an imperialist war", joined with the American Peace Mobilization in protesting U.S. support for Britain against Nazi Germany. Others, however, persisted with the anti-Fascist line which they had followed to Spain. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union the VALB changed its stance and fully backed the war. Former Lincoln-Washington commander Milton Wolff volunteered in 1940 for the British Special Operations Executive, and arranged the provision of arms for the European resistance organizations.
During World War II the U.S. government considered former members of the brigade to be security risks. In fact, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover requested that President Roosevelt ensure that former ALB members fighting in U.S. Forces in World War II not be considered for commissioning as officers, or to have any type of positive distinction conferred upon them. In 1947, the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were placed on Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations. The Veterans would be one of only five groups that would stay intact, to at least 1970, after receiving this designation.
Anthem: "Valley of Jarama"
Members of the XV International Brigade adapted a song by Alex McDade to reflect the losses at the Battle of Jarama. Sung to the tune of the traditional country song Red River Valley, it became their anthem.
Lincoln Battalion Commanding officers
- James Harris
- Robert Hale Merriman
- Martin Hourihan
- Oliver Law
- Mirko Markovics
- Steve Nelson
- Hans Amlie
- Leonard Lamb
- Phil Detro
- Dave Reiss
- Aaron Lopoff
- Milton Wolff
Lincoln Battalion Commissars
- Phil Bard
- Sam Stember
- George Brodsky
- David E. Jones
- Fred Lutz
- Steve Nelson
- John Q. Robinson
- Fred Keller
- George Watt
Other notable members
- James Walker Benét - Author and journalist (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Alvah Bessie - Hollywood Screenwriter who was one of the Hollywood Ten.
- Herman Bottcher - Earned two Distinguished Service Crosses in World War II.
- Edward A. Carter, Jr. - Earned the Medal of Honor in World War II.
- Carmelo Delgado Delgado - Puerto Rican nationalist, among the first U.S. citizens to die in the war.
- Leo Eloesser - Noted US thoracic surgeon.
- Moe Fishman - co-founder and Executive Secretary/Treasurer of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
- John Gates - Political Commissar of the Battalion, later editor of The Daily Worker.
- Robert Klonsky - One of the defendants in the Smith Act trial of the mid-1950s.
- Harry Lidz—Heroic, eccentric uncle in Franz Lidz's 1991 memoir Unstrung Heroes and his 2003 urban historical Ghosty Men: The Strange But True Story of the Collyer Brothers
- Conlon Nancarrow - Composer.
- Edwin Rolfe - Poet
- George Sossenko - Also fought in the Durruti Column.
- Robert G. Thompson - Awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II; among the 1950s Smith Act trial defendants.
- Harry Wayland Randall - Chief Photographer of the Photographic Unit of the 15th International Brigade.
- William Herrick - Novelist
- Maury Colow - Artist and Peace Activist
- Eddie Balchowsky - Artist, Poet, & Pianist, and inspiration for Jimmy Buffett song "He Went to Paris"
Supporters of the Spanish Republicans
- Paul Robeson -Honorary member
- Dashiell Hammett
- Lillian Hellman
- Gypsy Rose Lee
- Dorothy Parker
- Pablo Picasso
- Sam Yorty
- Helen Keller
- Ernest Hemingway
- Woody Guthrie
- J. Robert Oppenheimer
- George Orwell
Memorials & Awards
- Currently, there are four memorials dedicated to the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
- The first is located on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.
- The second is located in James Madison Park in Madison, Wisconsin.
- A third memorial to the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was dedicated on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California on March 30, 2008. Among the speakers were San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and a few of the several ALB veterans still living.
- The fourth memorial commemorates the Students & Faculty of The City College of New York who fought in the Spanish Civil War, including the 13 Alumni who died in the Struggle. The memorial is located in the North Academic Center of CCNY.
In 2007, Facing Fascism: New York and the Spanish Civil War at the Museum of the City of New York examines the role that New Yorkers played in the conflict, as well as the political and social ideologies that motivated them to participate in activities ranging from rallying support, fundraising, and relief aid, to fighting — and sometimes dying — on the front lines in Spain. The stories of these New Yorkers will be told through photographs, letters, uniforms, weapons, and an array of personal and historical memorabilia.
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- American Medical Bureau
- International Brigades
- International Brigades order of battle
- Irish Socialist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
- Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
- List of surviving veterans of the Spanish Civil War
- Polish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
- Spanish Republican Air Force
- Spanish Republican Army
- Yankee Squadron
- Songs of the Lincoln Battalion
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- Goldstein 2008, p. 66
- Eby (2007), p. vii
- A communist, Nelson became commander of the battalion on the first day (6 July 1937) of the Battle of Brunete, replacing Martin Hourihan who was badly wounded. Eby, p 184
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- Eddie Balchowsky and the Spanish Civil War
- ALBA - Announcements - Madison Monument dedication
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