“SOLDIERING MADE EASY!
NO HARD MARCHING!
NO CARRYING KNAPSACKS!
There will be but very little
marching for any of the troops.
They will be provided on the
Boats with good cooks and bedding.”
On December 21, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton gave the approval to recruit for one of the oddest outfits of the American Civil War: The Mississippi Marine Brigade. Formed by Alfred Ellet, brother of maverick engineer Charles Ellet of Mississippi Ram Fleet fame, the Marine Brigade promised “Soldiering Made Easy!” to its recruits. Intended for counter-guerilla operations, the Marine Brigade was to operate from steamboats and swiftly strike objectives all along the Mississippi. It was composed of a regiment of infantry, a battalion of cavalry and four batteries of artillery.
The first recruits were convalescents from St. Louis Hospitals, but later men from the 59th, 63rd and 18th Illinois were transferred to the command. The Brigade had five vessels, supported by a supply vessel and a hospital boat. The boats were fitted with special gangways to be able to deploy horse soldiers directly from the decks.
The Marine Brigade was mainly employed for raids. They first saw action when they were tasked to destroy Confederate river transports along the Tennessee River. They were involved in operations at Vicksburg and were later sent to hunt down Confederate Brigadier General Wirt Adam’s forces operating around Natchez. However, they really came into their own in raids targeting Confederate supplies.
The Marine Brigade quickly got a rather dubious reputation. First of all, Stanton kept his creation directly under his command, and Ellet accepted neither the authority of the army nor of the navy and tended to operate on his own. Unfortunately, he was not a very able commander and the Marine Brigade often got led onto wild goose hunts and into ambushes by the veteran Confederate troops they were supposed to hunt down. Furthermore, Ellet and his men were definitely in it for the money and didn’t seem to have made much difference between Confederate army property and private property – they confiscated what they could carry, and the proceeds seldom found their way to Washington. Lt. Col. Nasmith from the 25th Wisconsin, who had the opportunity to observe the Brigade in action, deemed it as
“entirely worthless. At no time were my orders obeyed willingly […]. They failed me altogether when most wanted, and, instead of being of any assistance to me, they were, to use no harsher language, a positive injury to the expedition.”
Most of the time the Marine Brigade operated on its own, but sometimes they were supported by African-American regiments from the United States Colored Troops, mainly from the 50th and 52nd USCT. Those turned out to be more reliable than their Marine companions, and the Brigade’s Lt. Col. Currie admiringly wrote that they showed “desperate courage and determined endurance, that it amounted to heroism.”
After numerous complaints, the Marine Brigade was dissolved end of August 1864. The men were discharged, Alfred Ellet returned to his farm and the boats were used as army transports.
Their colourful nature as a small-scale mounted amphibious force and their often whimsical adventures makes the Mississippi Marine Brigade perfectly suited for Sharp Practice. You can find my take on a force list here: Mississippi Marine Brigade. There are in fact two lists: One for the Marine Brigade operating on its own and another to represents a detachment with USCT support. Thanks to Richard Clarke, who was kind enough to bring the list into the nice Sharp Practice layout!
Uniforms and Figures
The Mississippi Marine Brigade wore traditional army uniforms. Only the headgear was different: They had caps with full round tops, broad straight visors and a wide green band trimmed with gold lace. They were armed with new rifled muskets. As they usually operated near the boats, they would have been only lightly equipped, so figures without knapsacks are better suited.
As far as I know, there are no dedicated miniatures for the Marine Brigade in any scale. The best figures to use are probably US troops from the Mexican-American War. In 15mm, the period is well served. More on the ‘proper’ 15mm side of things are Minifigs, QRF/Freikorps15s, Old Glory 15s and Musket Miniatures, while leaning towards 18mm are Blue Moon and Eureka.
Crandall, Warren D.: 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, St. Louis: Press of Buschart brothers, 1907 (available online) (A hagiographic record by a former 1st lieutenant on the ram Lioness)
Hearn, Chester G.: Ellet’s Brigade. The Strangest Outfit of All, Baton Rouge, Mm.: Louisiana State University Press 2000 (Well-written in-depth study based on extensive archival research).
Laidig, Scott: “The Fighting Ellets: Ingenuity, Courage, Nepotism and Corruption?”, ehistory, Ohio State University (available online)
Mangrum, Robert G.: Mr Stanton’s Navy. The U.S. Army Ram Fleet and Mississippi Marine Brigade, M.A. Thesis, North Texas State University, Texas, 1975.
Walker, Thomas E.: The Origins of the Mississippi Marine Brigade: The First Use of Brown Water Tactics by the United States in the Civil War, Bachelor Thesis, Texas Christian University Fort Worth, Texas, 2000 (available online)