Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 2

Forming the Brigade

The concept of a mobile force of mixed combat arms troops borne by modified river boats belonged to BG Alfred W. Ellet Jr. The commander of the Union’s brown water ram fleet had grown disenchanted with the routine duties that were assigned to the surviving rams by the end of 1862 and wanted to move on.

Wanting to be more actively engaged in the war effort along the river Ellet proposed the formation of the Mississippi Marine Brigade as a means to subdue guerilla activity along the inland waterways. The idea was accepted by Admiral David Porter and forwarded to Washington for consideration. Desperate for a means to secure extended lines of communication the idea found favor at the War Department. When personal recruiting efforts for his new force lagged Ellet petitioned his old ram fleet benefactor, Secretary of War Stanton, for authority to recruit convalescents from the Union hospitals around St. Louis. As before, Ellet’s radical proposal appealed to Stanton and in December of 1862 he granted the requested permission. Ellet immediately sent two recruiters, CPT James Crandall and CPT William Wright, to scour military hospitals in hopes of filling the unit with recovering soldiers announcing in a recruiting poster that recruits could “become famous in the annals of the Mississippi River warfare.” Pvt. Allan McNeal, writing to his father from the hospital in St. Louis on 15 January 1863, noted the excitement caused by these recruiting efforts. He explained that there was “some excitement about volunteering on board of a fleet” and describing that “they got about 50 out of this hospital.” McNeal, himself, was unconvinced and told his father that “I have no notion of going in to it.” Many others remained unconvinced as well. Despite promises of “no hard marching” and “no carrying knapsacks” and a $100 recruitment bonus the two men failed to attract the necessary manpower to establish the unit. With the idea of the innovative new unit threatened by lack of personnel Stanton again came to the rescue. Responding to a request from Ellet that active duty soldiers be assigned, Stanton used his authority to transfer the 59th Illinois, 63rd Illinois, and Company K 18th Illinois (previously on ram boat duty) to service in the brigade. The recruited men and transfers gathered at Benton Barracks in St Louis to begin their training as “horse marines” under the tutelage of LTC George Currie.

Ellet, meanwhile, concentrated on the other necessary component of his plan; the boats needed to transport the unit. CPT James Brooks, with financing made available through the War Department, was able to purchase seven large steam packets at Louisville and New Albany for a total of $350,000. Five of the new craft, Autocrat, B. J. Adams, Baltic, Diana, and John Raine, were significantly modified for the expected duty. The boats were stripped down to carry 125 cavalry and 250 infantry each. They were given expanded fuel capacity by enlarging the coal bunkers, the boilers were encased in heavy timbers, the pilot houses were clad in boiler plate, and a crane operated gangway capable of disgorging the mounted troops two abreast was fitted out. Of the two remaining boats, the E. H. Fairchild was to serve as a supply vessel and the Woodford as a hospital ship.

On 21 February 1863 all arrangements, except the retrofitting of the Woodford, were complete. The Brigade was mustered for review by Ellet at the Fairgrounds. A total of 527 infantrymen, 368 cavalrymen, and 140 artillerymen stood inspection in standard army uniforms with a distinctive hat complete with a wide green band trimmed with gold lace signifying the special service on which they were about to embark. While still considerably short of the recruiting goal the Mississippi Marine Brigade was declared ready to begin operations.

Mississippi Marine Brigade (Campaign Series)


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