Saturday, May 22, 2021

Booknotes: Life in the Mississippi Marine Brigade

New Arrival:
Life in the Mississippi Marine Brigade: The Civil War Diary of George Painter edited by Beverly Wencek Kerr (Author, 2021).

The Union war effort was gifted with numerous idea men of both civilian and military backgrounds along with superiors flexible enough in their thinking to shepherd those ideas through the established army and navy bureaucracies. In the vast West, where extremely long waterborne supply lines were the norm, Union river transportation was continually harassed by highly mobile guerrillas and conventional Confederate forces armed with artillery. Addressing the problem head on was the creation of an independent, all-arms (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) rapid reaction force transported by a fleet of swift rams. This formation, the Mississippi Marine Brigade, was small but had a wide reach and the capability of punching well above its weight. On numerous occasions the unit proved effective in countering shore threats, though its punitive missions were often applied indiscriminately.

Beverly Kerr's Life in the Mississippi Marine Brigade is the edited 1863 diary of George Painter. Painter was a member of an Ohio infantry regiment before receiving a medical discharge, after which he enlisted in the M.M.B. and was assigned to the Diana. The diary runs from January 4 through December 31, 1863, the main event over that period being the Vicksburg Campaign.

Painter's diary entries are brief (just a few sentences at most), and Kerr provides two versions of each, the unedited text (which is boxed) and a version in italics edited for modern grammar, punctuation, and spelling. The material is divided into chapters, with pretty extensive supporting narrative throughout but no footnotes. The only illustrations are some sample images of original diary pages. Chronological lists of letters written and received, along with the bibliography, round out the volume.

The only modern book-length history of this unique unit is Chester Hearns's Ellet's Brigade: The Strangest Outfit of All (2000), which traces the organization's history from its Ram Fleet origins through its evolution into the celebrated "Horse Marines" of the M.M.B., so it's nice to see other material related to the topic pop up occasionally.

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