Robert Hale Merriman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Robert Hale Merriman
Robert Hale Merriman.png
BornNovember 17, 1908
DiedApril 2, 1938(1938-04-02) (aged 29)
Cause of deathKilled in action or executed
EducationUniversity of Nevada, Reno
University of California, Berkeley
EmployerUniversity of California, Berkeley
Known forAbraham Lincoln Brigade
Military Service
Allegiance Spanish Republic
Service/branchEmblem of the International Brigades.svg International Brigades
UnitThe "Abraham Lincoln" XV International Brigade
Battles/warsSpanish Civil War

Robert Hale Merriman (November 17, 1908 – c. April 2, 1938) was an American doctoral student who fought with the Republican forces in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. He was killed while commanding the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigades.[1]

Early years[edit]

Merriman was born in Eureka, California,[2] the son of a lumberjack.[3] He grew up in Santa Cruz, and graduated from Santa Cruz High School in 1925.[1] He worked various odd jobs in order to make his way through the University of Nevada. To earn some extra money at school, he joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) where he received basic training with arms.

In 1932, he wed Frances Marion Stone, one year his junior.[4] That same year he returned to California as a doctoral student in economics at the University of California, Berkeley and worked as a teaching assistant. Fascinated by Marxism-Leninism and the emerging economics in the Soviet Union, Merriman earned a scholarship to study for one year in Moscow along with his wife. There he became interested in the anti-fascist movement and left before his year was up to move to Spain while his wife stayed in Moscow, where she was working. Like most Americans involved with the Spanish cause, the Merrimans were communists. According to his wife, Merriman was convinced that defeating the fascists in Spain and then Germany would prevent a second World War.[1]



A member of left-wing groups at the University of California and friend of Robert Oppenheimer, he was chosen to lead the volunteers in Spain.[citation needed] As few volunteers had any military experience, Merriman's ROTC experience meant he took over the training of the 428-man[5] Lincoln Battalion and, in late January, he became battalion commander.[6] He held the rank of Captain of the Spanish Republic.[citation needed]

The Lincoln Battalion first saw action at the Battle of Jarama (6–27 February). They were one of the four battalions comprising the XV International Brigade.[7] Their role was to prevent Nationalist forces taking the main Madrid-Valencia road. The Lincolns took appalling casualties, particularly in the assault of Pingarrón, which became known as Suicide Hill.[8] Merriman himself was seriously wounded and spent time as Chief of XV Brigade Staff.[9] His place as battalion commander was taken by Martin Hourihan (a US Army veteran).

Merriman, who suffered a severe arm injury, was joined by his wife in Spain, where she nursed him back to health and also joined the International Brigades at their training camp in Albacete.[3]

The depleted Lincolns next went into action at the Battle of Brunete. Together with the depleted British Battalion and an understrength second US battalion (the George Washington Battalion, commanded by African American Oliver Law), they formed one regiment[10] of the XV International Brigade. Of the 2,500 men of the XV who went into battle, only 1,000 effective soldiers remained.[11]

The Americans ... were cut to pieces. The Washingtons sustained fifty percent casualties and the Lincolns were heavily depleted as well. Of the eight hundred Americans in the Lincoln and Washington Battalions at the start of the Brunete offensive on 6 July, only five hundred effectives remained.[clarification needed][11]


Merriman led the Lincoln-Washington Battalion again during the Battle of Teruel during the Aragon Offensive in March 1938. Under heavy attack by Nationalist tanks and aircraft, the Americans had been badly mauled at the Battle of Belchite. The battalion was forced to retreat towards Catalonia and its boundary river, the Ebro, because it was the only direction available.

On April 2, the Lincoln-Washington Battalion made camp in the vineyards near Corbera d'Ebre. However, the Americans were unaware that the town had been captured by the Nationalists at noon on April 2. As the troops passed through the town, Merriman, and his second-in-command, David Doran, as well as several other American officers from the Lincoln and Washington Battalions of the International Brigades, including Lieutenant Edgar James Cody, were captured. One anonymous account states they were executed.[12][13][14]

For some time, Merriman's family was led to believe he was safe because of conflicting reports about his whereabouts. His wife had already returned to the United States in January 1938. She had originally planned to return to Spain, but never heard from him after March. On April 13, there was news that he had "miraculously escaped death or capture". She eventually came to believe he died in the retreat.[15][16][17][18]

His widow later remarried and had three children. She worked at Stanford University and in 1986 published her memoir, American Commander in Spain.[1]


Milton Wolff replaced Merriman as battalion commander and returned to the same ground a few months after Merriman's death during the Battle of the Ebro on 26 July while trying to recapture Gandesa.

The 6'4" Merriman is believed to be have been the inspiration for Robert Jordan in Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Merriman and Hemingway briefly met in Madrid, and Hemingway was "deeply impressed" with the young idealist.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d Varcados, Marybeth (April 5, 1987). "A Santa Cruz son remembered as hero". Santa Cruz Sentinel. p. 57.
  2. ^ "Wife Fears Eastbay Spain War Volunteer is Dead". Oakland Tribune. June 7, 1938. p. 5.
  3. ^ a b c Gilmore, David D. (June 8, 1986). "Casualties of a 'Pure War'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  4. ^ Merriman, Marion (1986). American Commander in Spain: Robert Hale Merriman and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press.
  5. ^ Coleman, Some Men Put In Their Lives p. 41
  6. ^ Coleman, Some Men Put In Their Lives p. 42
  7. ^ 15th Bn Sixth February (Franco-Belgian); 16th Bn British; 17th Bn Lincoln (mostly American); 18th Bn Dimitrov (Balkan). Source: Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain, p. 210.
  8. ^ "Of the 400-some men who had begun the attack, between 80 and 100 effectives remained at nightfall." Coleman, Some Men Put In Their Lives p. 44
  9. ^ Image: Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
  10. ^ The second regiment was remnants of the Dimitrov Battalion and Sixth February Battalion and a Spanish battalion (Volontario 24) Source: Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, pp 460-461.
  11. ^ a b Coleman, Some Men Put In Their Lives p. 88
  12. ^ Martí, Anna (July 2012). "In the footsteps of the Lincoln-Washington Battalion". Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  13. ^ "Siguiendo los pasos del Batallón Lincoln-Washington"
  14. ^ "Robert H Merriman, Born 11/17/1908 in California".
  15. ^ "Merriman's Fate Proves Mystery". Reno Gazette-Journal. June 18, 1938. p. 16.
  16. ^ "Californian Escapes Death in Fighting with Loyalists". The Los Angeles Times. April 14, 1938. p. 3.
  17. ^ "Nevada Man on Rebel Forces is Captured". Nevada State Journal. June 17, 1938. p. 1.
  18. ^ "Release of Volunteers Hoped to Show Fate of Nevadan Fighting Abroad". Nevada State Journal. October 11, 1938. p. 12.


External links[edit]