Early this week I used an entry from the ordnance summaries, second quarter of 1863 to introduce the Mississippi Marine Brigade. That unit is often associated with Missouri, if for nothing else a lack of proper place to put the records. Though there was a recruiting focus in the river towns of Missouri, in the War Department’s view there was no connection to the state.
Before leaving the subject of marines and Missouri, I’d be remiss without mentioning there were indeed Missouri Marines raised during the Civil War. But that organization was short lived and we don’t see them listed in official reports, returns, or organizational tables. In 1902, the office of the Secretary of War provided a report of organizations, in response to a Senate inquiry, titled “Missouri Troops in service during the Civil War.” After a short paragraph on the Mississippi Marine Brigade (and establishing, officially at least, that unit was not “Missouri” in parentage), the report turned to a “Marine Corps” raised in Missouri:
Among the many peculiar and illegal organizations formed by Major-General Frémont, or by his authority, during his administration of the affairs of the Western Department, was an organization designated by him as a “Marine corps.” This corps, consisting of three companies, was organized for “river transportation service,” and would have no place in a history of Missouri military organizations but for the fact that an effort has been made to give the members of the corps a military status, and that, evidently through misapprehension as to their status in the service, they were credited to the quota of the State of Missouri.
The verbiage goes a long way to distance these three companies from formal recognition – illegal, with no place, but for a mistake. The report went on to cite Frémont’s orders:
St. Louis, August 13, 1861.
Capt. Thomas Maxwell.
Sir. You are hereby authorized to recruit a Marine Corps to serve during the war, to consist of 1 captain, 2 pilots -first and second; 4 engineers – first, second, third, and fourth, 2 mates – first and second; 1 clerk, 1 steward, 30 sailors, 8 firemen, 1 watchman, 1 cook and mate, 1 cabin boy.
When you shall have completed the organization of said corps, you will apply to these headquarters, where the necessary order will be issued.
J. C. Frémont, Major-General, Commanding.
Key point here – these were not marines in the sense that we think of. Instead of being “leathernecks” that would provide security, landing parties, and such, this is a formation tailored to operate boats.
One day after the order, Maxwell reported the force was “enrolled.” Five days later, Frémont sent orders to have a steam transport turned over to Captain Maxwell. On August 20, the company was sworn in as “First Company in the First marine Corps … of Missouri Volunteers” with a three year term of service.
Following this establishment, Frémont proceeded to order two more companies. On August 28, Captain James Abrams was authorized to form a company. Then on September 12, Captain John Reily was likewise to form a third company, this one to include a carpenter. The report mentioned a fourth company, under Captain John Young, but indicated no authorization documents were found. The designation changed to “Marine Corps for River Transportation Service.”
The first three companies were assigned to transports. Reily’s operated the steamer John D. Perry, a sidewheel steamer of 382 tons (empty). Before the war, the Perry operated on the Mississippi on a circut between Cape Girardeau, Cairo, St. Genevieve, St. Louis, and other river towns. Under contract for the US Government, the Perry operated mostly on the Missouri River.
On October 20, 1861, the Perry was on a trip up the Missouri to Jefferson City to deliver horses and wagons. At Portland, Missouri, about thirty miles downstream from that point, the Perry‘s pilot, John F. Smith, attempted to dock around dusk to gather wood for fuel. Some locals immediately informed the vessel “there was a force of 150 rebels back of the town,” with intentions to capture the vessel. The pilot quickly pulled away, tied up to an island in the river, and gathered wood. The Perry made Jefferson City at 11 the next morning, according to a report in the Daily Missouri Democrat (reporting on October 25). Other than that incident, there are scant reports of operations by these Missouri Marines or their boats.
The operations with contract steamers and their Missouri Marine complements ceased shortly after Major-General Henry Halleck replaced Frémont. Determining the contracts were not proper and likewise the enlistments did not conform to regulations, Halleck moved to break up the arrangements. On December 14, Halleck directed the Missouri Marines be disbanded. Regarding their service, Halleck wrote to Washignton:
I am discharging most of the steamers formerly in the Government employment, and mustering out of service what is called “Marine Corps,” which are nothing more than hired men on these boats. This will be a great saving of expense.
Halleck insisted the Missouri Marines were not a military organization and were thus not properly, legally mustered. Old Brains at it again.
Captain P.T. Turnley, quartermaster, had the duty of paying off and discharging the Missouri Marines. By working through the Quartermaster’s Department, Halleck essentially covered the matter as one of contractual obligations and not of enlistments. He reported that was complete by December 31. Finally, under Special Orders No. 29, from the Department of Missouri, Halleck officially announced disbanding “the three Marine Corps under command of Maxwell, Abrams, and Reily….”
In 1902, the War Department put closure to the Missouri Marines:
It has always been held by the War Department, since the attention of the Department was called to the military status of the “Marine Corps,” that its muster into service was not a lawful muster into the military service of the United States, such an organization being unknown to the military establishment and not authorized by law. The members of this force were not officers or enlisted men in the United States military service, for which reason, evidently, they were paid by the Quartermaster’s Department and not from the appropriations for pay of the Army. They are regarded by the War Department as having been civilian employees in the Quartermaster’s Department and not having been formed a part of the military establishment of the United States.
Not stated or considered, even forty years after the war, was that the military did indeed need such services on western waters. And such duty was eventually performed by a mix of Army and Navy personnel, along with contract labor.
(Citations from War Department, Missouri Troops in Service in During the Civil War, 57th Congress, 1st Session, Document No. 412, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902, pages 195-7; OR, Series I, Volume 8, Serial 8, page 449; Daily Missouri Democrat, October 25, 1861, Page 2, Column 2; Documents filed in the Combined Service Record of Thomas Maxwell, Missouri, Miscellaneous papers pertaining to organizations, Record Group 94, Roll 0850.)