Monday, October 29, 2012

Counter-Insurgency Operations on the Upper Mississippi, October 1862

Confederate partisan activity was not limited to Louisiana.  Wherever there was a Union incursion into the Mississippi River, Confederate partisans made themselves present, harassing Union shipping.  These insurgent operations became particularly acute in the Upper Mississippi region, an area allegedly secured earlier by U.S. Naval victories.  At the time, however, civilian shipping was being seized.   Writing to Secretary Welles, Acting Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter suspected that insurgents were secretly supplied from Confederate sympathizers in St. Louis. "The war would never end this way," he commended. 

Thus, Porter developed a three part plan to clear the area of partisans. 

1) What would be later be called in the Vietnam War a "free fire zone," Porter accounted that civilian shipping would only be allowed to dock at authorized points of the river.  Any ship found in an unauthorized landing area would be considered hostile and subject to seizure and arrest. 

2) Ships would be placed at certain locations along the river that were known to be partisan hot spots to keep them clear.  Porter admitted on this part of the plan, "I find it very difficult to comply in all causes with such demands of the squadron."

3) He used the "City"-type ironclads with armed landing parties to conduct raids against suspected partisan strongholds.  He instructed that any partisan found not be treated as a prisoner-of-war and that the partisans be punished ten fold for any stolen property found of them. 

USS Louisville
The ship's company of USS Baron DeKalb carried out one of the first raids under Porter's plan.  The ironclad docked at Hopefield, Arkansas (now called West Memphis) and twenty-five men under the command of DeKalb's carpenter (which was a warrant officer rank in the 19th century Navy) landed.  They "procured" horses from the locals and pursed ten partisans for nine miles in a dramatic running battle. The sailors eventually captured the partisans.  It is not known what was done to them.

USS Louisville carried a similar raid a short time later in relation for an incident aboard the steamer Gladiator, north of Helena, Arkansas.  Earlier, partisans captured the ship and allegedly shot several of the passengers.  Reinforced by 300 soldiers from 11th and 24th Indiana, Lieutenant Commander Meade (nephew of the Army of the Potomac general) led a detachment of sailors in pursuit of the partisans.  These partisans, however, successfully eluded Meade's force.  Either out of frustration or part of a longer term plan, Meade order his men to burn down every house and field with a two mile area.

Partisans continued their raids, in some cases as far up as the Ohio River. The Mississippi River Squadron likewise continued their's.  Porter concluded that this type of aggressive counter-insurgency was necessary.  He wrote, "This is the only way of putting a stop to the guerrilla warfare, and though this method is stringent, officers are instructed to put it down at all hazards."

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