27 June 2012

Mississippi Marine Brigade Review

Early in my research journey, I was led to the Mississippi Marine Brigade and their role in the Civil War, thanks to my great-great grandfather, Captain Oscar F. Brown. The unit was relatively obscure, and it appears to have been that way both during the war and in the multitude of historical texts since then.

There are few reference sources, two of which are invaluable resources on this federal unit. Notice I said federal; the majority of the men and women fighting at this time were organized by state. The MMB was one of the few units designated under the federal government. They were essentially designed to counter attack the ram fleet of the Confederacy, protecting the valuable Mississippi River corridor. Although largely considered to be reckless and "of little use", it was one of the first operations to essentially carry land units on boats within the confines of the US military. There was a great deal of politics surrounding the unit, and their effectiveness and duration of service were affected by these government processes.

Capt. Oscar F. Brown
Mississippi Marine Brigade

Chester G. Hearn produced Ellet's Brigade; The Strangest Outfit of All (Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2000). A well-researched text, it provides a wonderful look into everyday life in the brigade, including this:

[Describing an event on 22 March 1863 with "widespread dissatisfaction"]  "... When the officer of the day, Captain Oscar F. Brown, Cavalry Company C, attempted to stop the riot, one of the men punched him in the face. Captain Calvin G. Fisher, commanding Adams, distributed revolvers and with help from Brown subdued the troublemakers. Ellet arrested four of the ringleaders and placed them in leg irons connected to 20-pound balls. 'It was a severe lesson,' Captain Crandall recalled, 'but a salutary one to the entire command.'" (Page 147-148).

Additionally, this excerpt found on page 184, gives an idea of the leadership within the unit: “On August 18, after running troops to New Orleans, the boats were met by musket fire from a squad of drunken grayclads at Bayou Sara. Ellet stopped to round up the male citizens for questioning, and when nobody felt inclined to name the bushwhackers, the general burned the local saloon. He returned the squadron and headed for Vicksburg, reaching there out of fuel and without new orders.”

The other resource that is a must read for any descendant of this unit is available on Google Books: History of the Ram Fleet and the Mississippi Marine Brigade in the War for the Union on the Mississippi and its Tributaries: The Story of the Ellets and Their Men.  1907, Warren D. Crandall and Isaac D. Newell, http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=rl0tAAAAYAAJ&num=10&authuser=0&printsec=frontcover&output=reader.  Of particular interest is the many photos included, some of which are more than difficult to find outside of this source.

Both are researched with a high degree of detail, and for the genealogist and Civil War historian alike, the time is well spent. 


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  2. Definitely a unique unit. I recently learned that my G-G-Grandfather was the Chief Engineer on the RAM Lioness of the MMB for about 6 months. His brother in law Thomas O'Reilly stayed with the MMB and was 1st Master on the Lancaster and then the Lioness.

  3. Hi! I am a graduate student at University of North Texas and my disertation that I am writing is on the Mississippi Marine Brigade.
    Thomas Walker


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