Summary Statement, 4th Quarter, 1863 – Mississippi: Marine Brigade and USCT

The next section in the forth quarter, 1863 summary has a heading of “Mississippi”:

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Even a cursory read of Civil War history tells us Mississippi was decidedly “Confederate.” Indeed, the second state to secede. There were unionists in Mississippi… not a whole lot in number… enough to constitute a battalion of mounted infantry starting in 1863. However, what we see listed under this heading are not white unionists but rather troops serving in a unit named for the river “Mississippi” and former slaves organized into a colored regiment. So basically the clerks put anything with “Mississippi” in the name under the heading, regardless of origin or classification.

We’ve discussed the Mississippi Marine Brigade (MMB) in earlier posts. I still wish a full, proper history of this interesting unit were out there to reference. Those I’ve come across are either dated (the typical post-war unit histories) or what I find as somewhat superficial (focusing too much on the Ellets and less on the subordinates). As I’ve said before, the MMB was not from Mississippi… were not marines… and really not a brigade. Many have tried to spin this organization as a precursor to the Vietnam War era “Brownwater Navy.” But I think that once one gets past the surface, those stories diverge considerably.

At the end of 1863, the MMB operated out of Nachez, Mississippi as an independent command within the Seventeenth Corps. Brigadier General Alfred W. Ellet commanded the brigade. His nephew, Colonel John A. Ellet, commanded the ram fleet Major David S. Tallerday commanded the 1st Infantry Regiment MMB. The 1st Cavalry Battalion fell under Major James M. Hubbard. And Captain Daniel Walling commanded a battery of artillery. During the fall months of 1863, the MMB saw active service keeping the Mississippi River safe for navigation. In two significant actions, one at Goodrich Landing in October and the other outside Natchez in early December, the MMB operated with sections of artillery against Confederate troops. So we turn to the listings to see what artillery they had on hand:

  • 1st Battery MMB: On the US Steamer Baltic with six 3-inch rifles. Also known as Battery C, Segebarth’s Pennsylvania Marine Artillery. Captain Daniel P. Walling commanded.
  • Section of 1st Battery: On board US Steamer Diana with two 12-pdr heavy field guns.
  • 2nd Battery MMB: Indicated at Natchez with no artillery, but with a note I think reads “entered in first January.” There is no record of a second MMB battery. So this line is suspicious to say the least.
  • Company F, 1st Infantry, MMB: On the US Steamer Diana with four 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

These summary lines indicate the MMB had twelve field artillery pieces (so long as one agrees with the designation of the “heavy” 12-pdr as a field piece). However, an abstract from returns for the Army of Tennessee dated January 1864 has the MMB with six heavy artillery pieces and no field artillery. As with many wartime records, I think we see loose application of definitions in play here.

Inside of these lines clearly labeled MMB is one simply indicating “2d Arty.” This is distinct from the MMB, not having that abbreviation, nor dittos carrying from a line above. It does seem to match with an entry seen in the previous quarter that I believe for the 2nd Mississippi Heavy Artillery, African Descent – a USCT regiment. Indeed, that regiment had postings to both Natchez and Vicksburg as indicated on the station column for this line entry. As such, I will transcribe this line for that regiment:

  • Company I, 2nd Mississippi Heavy Artillery, A.D.: At Natchez with two 12-pdr field howitzers.

Allow me to go a bit deeper with the 2nd Mississippi Heavy, as… well… heavy artillery doesn’t get enough attention in my opinion, and colored heavy artillery regiments get practically none!

According to the post return for Natchez in December 1863, the 2nd Mississippi Heavy had ten organized companies with 31 officers and 844 men reporting for duty (296 men were sick, detailed, or in confinement). At that time, Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert A. McCaleb commandedthe regiment. But in January, Colonel Bernard G. Farrar took command, having formerly led the 30th Missouri Infantry. Specific to Company I, which appears on the summary line, Captain Harbert Harberts, formerly of the 46th Illinois Infantry, commanded. Lieutenants James W. Steele and Robert Lang (both also from the 46th Illinois) were other company officers. I plan to follow up with another post specific to the 2nd Mississippi Heavy detailing the officers assigned and other interesting things from the rank and file.

For now, let us turn to the ammunition reported on hand. Starting with the smoothbore:

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  • Section on Steamer Diana: 38 shot, 88 shell, and 157 case for 12-pdr field guns.
  • Company I, 2nd Mississippi HA: 100 shell and 88 case for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • Company F, 1st Infantry MMB: 138 shell and 941 case for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

On to the next page:

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  • Section on Steamer Diana: 88 canister for 12-pdr field guns.
  • Company I, 2nd Mississippi HA: 100 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • Company F, 1st Infantry MMB: 149 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

To the right is an entry for Hotchkiss rounds:

  • 1st Battery, MMB: 62 time fuse shells for 3-inch rifles.

More Hotchkiss on the next page:

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  • 1st Battery, MMB: 101 percussion fuse shells and 366 canister for 3-inch rifles.

Skipping forward a couple pages, the next entry line is for Schenkl projectiles:

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  • 1st Battery, MMB: 2,024 case shot for 3-inch rifles. A healthy quantity for six guns.

On to the small arms:

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  • 1st Battery, MMB: 20 Colt navy revolvers and 20 horse artillery sabers.

Lastly, there are a couple entries for fuses and match:

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  • 1st Battery, MMB: Two yards of slow match.
  • Company I, 2nd Mississippi HA: 450 friction primers.

I would say that from the entries under Mississippi we find two interesting units. One is rather well known as a unique and somewhat unorthodox formation… though I would argue misunderstood even if well covered by historians. The second is rather obscure, with really no attention from historians. Both have wartime stories we should explore.

Summary Statement, 3rd Quarter, 1863 – Mississippi… Marine Brigade and possibly other

In the previous quarter we looked at entries for the Mississippi Marine Brigade – a unit that was NOT from Mississippi; was NOT constituted of marines; and was NOT a brigade.   We have two lines that are clearly covering the Mississippi Marine Brigade for the third quarter.  But another which is rather ambiguous:

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As the first two lines are clearly for the Mississippi Marine Brigade, let’s get those out of the way:

  • U.S. Steamer Autocrat: Six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.
  • U.S. Steamer Diana: Two 12-pdr “heavy” field guns.

The first line matches, in quantity of guns, to Captain Daniel Walling’s battery.  And recall the brigade reported two 12-pdr heavy field guns on the Diana during the previous quarter.  Missing here are two 12-pdr Napoleons reported the previous quarter. And 12-pdr howitzers that were known to be with the brigade but not on the previous quarter report.  I would suggest the Napoleons and field howitzers were actually “loaned” to the brigade, and were returned in June or July.

After the fall of Vicksburg the Mississippi Marine Brigade continued to operate in that area.  Among the important missions of the brigade, an expedition to Port Gibson rounded up Confederate civilians to be held in custody as leverage against a group of Northern school teachers held by Confederates.  On September 9, the mounted portion of the brigade captured a Confederate paymaster with a sizable amount of money.  But for the most part, the brigade was charged with protecting contrabands (Goodrich’s Landing among those) and plantations in northeastern Louisiana…. and getting into trouble.

I posted a drawing showing the Diana for the last quarter.  So here’s a drawing of the Autocrat, which was Colonel Charles Ellet, Jr.’s flagship.

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So for the Mississippi Marine Brigade, we have names and even pictures.  Just a couple of questions about other cannon reported with the unit but not indicated on the summary.

But this leaves us with that third line to consider.  And it deserves a close look:

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Clear is the date of receipt in Washington: May 16, 1864.  Though as we’ve discussed with many of these returns and summaries, there’s a grain of salt that need be applied.

Also clear is the location reporting from:  Natchez, Mississippi.

What’s in between can go a lot of ways.  This could be “Col.” as in colonel, and then refer to another element of the Mississippi Marine Brigade.  Arguing against that, while the brigade was “around” and elements would pass through Natchez during the summer, none were actually assigned to Natchez.  Least not artillery.  Furthermore, I cannot shoe-horn any transcription of the cursive scrawl that is a credible interpretation.   And there is something erased at the end of that cell in the form which is unclear.  I would contend this is not an element of the Mississippi Marine Brigade.

I hate to go to the same well again, but this line could also represent colored troops being organized at that time in Mississippi.  If that is the case, then the cursive might be “Col. 2d Heavy Artillery.”  According to Dyer’s Compendium, the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Mississippi Heavy Artillery, African Descent, formed in September 1863.  The first was assigned to the Vicksburg garrison.  And the 2nd Regiment was at Natchez.   These regiments became the 5th and 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, respectively.  Certainly the 2nd Mississippi Heavy Artillery would be a candidate here.  The regiment appears on department returns at Nachez, under Colonel Bernard G. Farrer, at the end of December 1863.

Regardless of exactly what the unit this line represented, the discussion is a moot point.  No equipment of any type or class is reported against that line.

That speculation left aside, we turn to the ammunition reported.  Those guys who weren’t from Mississippi and were not Marines needed some rounds for their 12-pdr guns:

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  • Steamer Diana: 58 shot, 88 shell, 154 case, and 88 canister for 12-pdr field guns.

And also some rounds for Walling’s Ordnance Rifles:

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  • Steamer Autocrat: 574 canister, 125 percussion shell, and 74 fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.

Lots of canister.  Might we speculate that being aboard ship, the call was for close quarter work?  Or, perhaps that’s all the Army would trust to the Mississippi Marine Brigade.

No Parrott or James projectiles. So we move to the Schenkl page of rifled rounds:

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  • Steamer Autocrat: 2,060 case for 3-inch rifles.

I would throw a small flag of caution out here.  The column header originally read “canister”.  But as with all for this quarter’s returns, that declaration is struck through and “case” written in.  So was this 2,060 more canister rounds… with the clerks just using the old column header?  Or was this 2,060 case rounds for six 3-inch rifles?  Either way, that’s a lot of ammunition on the Autocrat.

We move last to the small arms:

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Just one line to consider:

  • Steamer Autocrat: Twenty Navy revolvers and twenty horse artillery sabers.

If my speculations are correct, the clerks at the Ordnance Department placed two very different organizations under the heading of “Mississippi.”  One was an unconventional (in source, role, and service history) unit which would be disbanded the following year.  The other appears to be a force recruited, under the authority of the Emancipation Proclamation, from former slaves and given the task of defending river ports on the Mississippi.