Mississippi Marine Brigade's secret mission to capture 50 Southern belles.

major bill

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In the summer of 1863 the Mississippi Marine Brigade was sent on a secret mission to capture 50 well-to-do belles of Port Gibson and transport them as prisoners of war to Vicksburg. At Vicksburg these women would be held as hostages. Should these women be considered prisoners of war or hostages? I am not sure it made any difference to the women or their families, if the women were officially prisoners of war.
 

DixieRifles

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Why? If they could be held as POW’s, then that means they were enemy soldiers. Why were they considered enemy combatants?

Im interested because of an event that took place locally after the war had ended. There was an account of a rail car load of women being transported under guard. I never understood why test southern women were transported by US Army.
 
During the 19th century, I don't believe there were any international guidelines defining who could be seized as a prisoner of war. AFAIK, up to and including WW II, civilians were captured and imprisoned as POWs, at least by the AXIS powers.

The following are two different dispatches from Grant to Sheridan dated the same day during August 1864. In the first dispatch Grant orders Sheridan to seize as hostages, the families of Mosby's men and send them to "Fort McHenry, or some secure place."

The second dispatch orders Sheridan to send a cavalry division to Loudon County to "to destroy and carry off the crops, animals, negroes, and all men under fifty years of age capable of bearing arms." Grant claims that "[a]ll male citizens under fifty can fairly be held as prisoners of war, and not as citizen prisoners."

City Point. August 16, 1864—1.30 p. m.
{(Received 6.30 a. m, 17th.)

Major-General Sheridan,

Commanding, &c., Winchester, Va.:

Fitz Lee's division is,not in the Valley. We took quite a number of prisoners from it yesterday north of the James. Kershaw's division has gone to the Valley, and probably two brigades of Wilcox's division. Some cavalry has gone, but I do not know whose. I would not advise an attack on Early in an intrenched position, but would watch him closely with the cavalry, and if he attempts to move north follow him. The 100-days' men will have to be discharged at the expiration of their time unless there is a pressing necessity for detaining them for a few days on account of immediate active hostilities. The families of most of Mosby's men are known, and can be collected. I think they should be taken and kept at Fort McHenry, or some secure place, as hostages for the good conduct of Mosby and his men. Where any of Mosby's men are caught hang them without trial.

U. S. GRANT,
Lieutenant- General.

O.R. Series I, Vol. XLIII, pg. 811


City Point. August 16, 1864—3.30 p. m.
(Received 8 p. m. 18th.)

Major-General Sheridan,

Commanding, &c., Winchester, Va.:

If you can possibly spare a division of cavalry, send them through Loudoun County, to destroy and carry off the crops, animals, negroes, and all men under fifty years of age capable of bearing arms. *In this way you will get many of Mosby's men. All male citizens under fifty can fairly be held as prisoners of war, and not as citizen prisoners. If not already soldiers, they will be made so the moment the rebel army gets hold of them.

U. S. GRANT,
Lieutenant- General.

Ibid.
 

DaveBrt

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All male citizens under fifty can fairly be held as prisoners of war, and not as citizen prisoners. If not already soldiers, they will be made so the moment the rebel army get hold of them.
Since all men in the Confederacy under the age of 50 had been conscripted, the order makes some sense.

But holding women as hostages reaches back to earlier forms of war against civilized enemies. If you go far enough back, you could kill the hostages -- was that intended? If you go farther back still, you could sell the captured enemies and their families into slavery. Farther back, we could raze the cities and salt the fields. How far back is appropriate for civilized warfare?
 

Carronade

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In the summer of 1863 the Mississippi Marine Brigade was sent on a secret mission to capture 50 well-to-do belles of Port Gibson and transport them as prisoners of war to Vicksburg. At Vicksburg these women would be held as hostages. Should these women be considered prisoners of war or hostages? I am not sure it made any difference to the women or their families, if the women were officially prisoners of war.

How were these particular women selected for capture/kidnapping? Why exactly 50 as opposed to whatever well-to-do women they could grab? And what were they being held hostage for? Hostage-taking generally means that these persons will be harmed in some way if the other side does something. What were the relevant Union authorities expecting the Confederates to do or refrain from doing to protect the hostages?
 
Joined
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In the summer of 1863 the Mississippi Marine Brigade was sent on a secret mission to capture 50 well-to-do belles of Port Gibson and transport them as prisoners of war to Vicksburg. At Vicksburg these women would be held as hostages. Should these women be considered prisoners of war or hostages? I am not sure it made any difference to the women or their families, if the women were officially prisoners of war.
Can you provide a source for your post ?
 

DaveBrt

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Charlotte, NC
The British used mass removals of women and children to break the back of the guerilla wars in South Africa and Malaya, but the idea was to remove the support that the women provided (food, clothing, intelligence, communication). The women were not hostages, they were just removed from contact with their fighting men.
 
Can you provide a source for your post ?
All I can come up with is this article on JSTOR which is NOT available to those who have free access:
https://www.jstor.org/stable/27020807

0.jpg
 
Thanks.

I had never heard of this "secret mission".

I would be very interested to read some additional accounts of this event.

I would too. I do not have access to this article but hopefully @major bill will chime in with some more information about the MMB and the 50 Southern belle hostages.
 

major bill

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Can you provide a source for your post ?
I had never heard of this mission. Paul Russinoff discusses this secret mission in the article from the summer issue of Military Images shown in post #8. The article is not bad and is interesting. I had never read much about the MMB so most of the information in the article was new information for me.

I am not sure I have heard of the author of the article but understand he collects Civil War photographs. I assume Paul Russinoff found this in one of the references he lists at the end of the article.
 

major bill

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Thanks.

I had never heard of this "secret mission".

I would be very interested to read some additional accounts of this event.

It appears the Southern women were taken hostage because the Confederates had captured Northern men and women who had came to the area to assist the freed slaves. Some of the Northern abolitionists captured were Northern female teachers. The Confederates forced some of the teachers to cook, sew, and do other menial labor for the Confederate military. In the end the 50 Southern belles were exchanged for the captured Northerners.
 
Since all men in the Confederacy under the age of 50 had been conscripted, the order makes some sense.

But holding women as hostages reaches back to earlier forms of war against civilized enemies. If you go far enough back, you could kill the hostages -- was that intended? If you go farther back still, you could sell the captured enemies and their families into slavery. Farther back, we could raze the cities and salt the fields. How far back is appropriate for civilized warfare?

Surprisingly the taking of hostages by a belligerent did not become a violation of International Law until Geneva IV, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, August 12, 1949, (U.S.T. 3516), (75 U.N.T.S. 287)
https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocity-crimes/Doc.33_GC-IV-EN.pdf
 
Joined
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I had never read much about the MMB so most of the information in the article was new information for me.
They were very interesting for sure.

Some consider them one of the first US special forces units.
Others say they were a bunch of hoodlums.

So this seems a very plausible mission for the MMB.

For anyone unfamiliar with this Union brigade, here's an old thread that provides a good introduction:
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-mississippi-marine-brigade.84285/#post-644501
 
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