The requested speed of action for the trip to Tennessee was not forthcoming. The Brigade spent the next ten days at Cairo, Illinois and Memphis reportedly coaling and finding Tennessee River pilots. The unexpected delay caused Ellet another rift with a superior officer. He failed to coordinate with MG Stephen A. Hurlbut, District Commander at Memphis, who was involved in the coordination of the assets necessary for the Streight raid. Unclear of the exact status of Ellet’s command Hurlbut believed that he deserved the courtesy of a report from The Mississippi Marine Brigade commander and asked BG Grenville Dodge to reprimand Ellet for failing to do so. The tardy unit also irritated the local Naval commander, Lieutenant Commander Leroy Fitch, who had two gunboats tied up awaiting the Marine Brigade arrival. Finally on the 15th of April Ellet arrived at Fort Henry.
The first mission for Ellet’s fleet was the transport of 1250 mules intended for use in the Streight Raid from Fort Henry to Eastport. Another two days were spent loading the stubborn creatures aboard the boats. Unloading the cargo proved equally challenging. The mules conducted an uprising of their own and stampeded down the gangways and into the nearby forest. More time was lost rounding up the mules and as a result of the cumulative delays the expedition started well behind schedule.
With the unsavory task of transporting the mules finally out of the way, BG Dodge decided that the brigade could assist in his planned movement in support of the Streight raid by making a demonstration at Savannah, Tennessee. The Savannah episode proved to be another disappointing performance by Ellet’s men. The boats departed Eastport, leaving the town in flames, and moved not to Savannah, but toward Clifton. Detachments were sent out on both sides of the river and the fleet made its way slowly up the river destroying production capacity, collecting horses, and seizing cotton. The lackluster affair was highlighted by the sinking of the tug Cleveland, which was accidentally rammed by the Diana. The stricken vessel was raised by the sailing master on the Autocrat but the lost time allowed the river to fall to dangerous levels for navigation. It was decided to return with little accomplished for their efforts.
The voyage back down the Tennessee required the passage of shoals created by the confluence of the Duck River. The boats would not be able to execute any evasive maneuvers while traveling this section of the river. This fact was well known by a local Confederate commander, Major R. M. White of the 6th Texas Cavalry, who placed an artillery battery to take full advantage of the situation. As the parade of boats made the passage of the shoals they were pounded by the Confederate guns. A brief response was mustered from the boats but they could not stop to dismount soldiers while in the treacherous waters. The Autocrat was severely battered and the Diana somewhat less so. Finally on the far side of the shoals the signal was given to land the boats and download the cavalry. The sight of a powerful force emerging from the boats and the appearance of the timber-clad gunboat Lexington with guns blazing caused the 6th Texas troopers to have second thoughts about the engagement and they retreated hurriedly. “Several times the Marine cavalry overtook and had a brush with the rear guard of the escaping column.” The chase lasted about 12 miles until the Marines arrived at the home of LTC Thomas Woodward where they found a feast laid out in anticipation of the capture of the boats, that were mistakenly thought to be unarmed supply vessels. The running skirmish ended there as the Marines ate the feast and helped themselves to a well-stocked pantry. The first real combat experience for the brigade left 9 Confederates dead and Major White mortally wounded with a loss of two Marines, SGT Cavender, Co H Inf., and PVT Winchell, Co A Cavalry and another who had his foot amputated by an artillery round.
The falling waters in the Tennessee River gave Ellet a perfectly good excuse to head back to Cairo to make repairs and await further orders. The brief battle in Tennessee had given his men some confidence and he wanted to give them an opportunity to use it. He avoided Porter and requested orders directly from Stanton asking “what course to pursue?”Mississippi Marine Brigade (Campaign Series)
- Mississippi Marine Brigade-Intro
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 2
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 3
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 4
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 5
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 6
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 7
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 8
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Part 9
- Mississippi Marine Brigade – Conclusion