Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 3

Early Missions

On March 13th, 1863 four of the Mississippi Marine Brigade boats, Autocrat, Adams, Baltic, Diana, departed St Louis to report to Admiral Porter at Milliken’s Bend. The Raines remained behind with the Woodford to continue recruiting efforts and to tend to a outbreak of small pox that further depleted the Brigade numbers. The trip got off on a disquieting note as two men deserted and another committed suicide in the bizarre fashion of wrapping himself in his blanket and diving into the river. These losses were rapidly replaced from an unexpected source. As the flotilla passed Eunice, Arkansas the Auotcrat was waved ashore by a group of disaffected Confederate conscripts. Of the fifteen men encountered six decided to join the Brigade.

At Young’s Point, Ellet found that Porter had departed on an expedition into Steele’s Bayou and reported to General Grant. During the delay created by waiting for Porter’s return Ellet authorized the rams Switzerland and Lancaster to attempt a run of the Vicksburg batteries in a mission that proved disastrous for the boats. Alerted to the possible dangers of their new assignments by the outcome of this operation some of the Marines began to have second thoughts about the duty they had signed on for. The idleness, cramped living arrangements, poor rations and the possibility of unexpected danger led to a coordinated revolt aboard the boats. An uprising at the mess tables and disruption of the officer’s quarters led to violence amongst the members of the Brigade that required armed suppression. Order was final restored and disciplinary action taken that resulted in four men being placed in leg irons with a 20 pound ball attached.

This series of events led Porter, upon his return, to write to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to complain about Ellet and the Brigade. In the message Porter stated that General Ellet and the Mississippi Marine Brigade were “adverse to harmonious action.” He further suggested that control of the brigade should be turned over to the Army and General Grant. The matter was tabled however as operations around Vicksburg grew in intensity. Reluctantly Porter gave Ellet another opportunity by sending the Brigade off to Greenville, Mississippi to subdue frequent artillery attacks on Union shipping there. A convoy that included two of the remaining rams, Monarch and Lioness, was assembled and chugged off on the new mission. They ran into trouble when the Monarch, snagged and the recovery effort came under fire from a small Confederate battery from a unit commanded by Colonel S. W. Ferguson. When a cavalry detachment was put ashore to search out the battery they also came under fire and retreated immediately to the safety of the boats. Despite specific orders from Porter to “proceed to Greenville and take possession of that place”, Ellet opted to move his fleet down the river to Lake City, Arkansas on the opposite side of the river. A disorganized scout of the area ended with little more accomplished than destruction of a local mansion. Ellet again disregarded Porter’s instructions to “please communicate with me frequently” and did not file a report concerning the events at Lake City. It was another in the growing list of grievances that local commanders would have with Ellet. The Mississippi Marine Brigade never made an effort to get to Greenville and on April 5th a boat carrying new orders from Porter found the wayward unit at Lake Village. Porter sent instructions for the brigade to move to the aid of MG William S. Rosecrans on the Tennessee River. Included in the instructions was a reminder that “dispatch is the great object just now.”

Mississippi Marine Brigade (Campaign Series)


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