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Operations of a section of the Third Maryland battery on the Mississippi in the Spring of 1863.

By Captain W. L. Ritter.

Baltimore, Md., February 27, 1879.
Rev. John William Jones, D. D., Secretary Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Va.:
Dear Sir — I give a few items which may serve as a branch link in the great historical chain that is being forged for the future historian.

April 2, 1863, Lieutenant Ritter was ordered to Deer creek, up the Mississippi river, to take command of a section of the Third battery of Maryland artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Bates, of Waddell's Alabama artillery. This section, with one of Bledsoe's Missouri battery and one of a Louisiana battery, were under the command of Lieutenant Wood, of the Missouri artillery. These sections were all attached to General Ferguson's brigade, that had been operating along the Mississippi, firing into transports and harassing the enemy in every conceivable manner.

In March, 1863, when Porter's fleet, consisting of five gunboats and several transports, entered Black bayou for the purpose of flanking the Confederate batteries at Haynes' bluff, on the Yazoo river, Ferguson's command met the fleet below Rolling fork, and after an engagement which lasted three days, drove it into the Mississippi river, with considerable loss.

Early in April, 1863, General Steel's Federal division, consisting of eight regiments and one battery of artillery, landed at Greenville, Mississippi, and marched down Deer creek about forty miles to the Two-mile canebrake above Rolling fork, through which he made no effort to pass, in consequence of the narrow passage and the impossibility of flanking it on either side. He then returned to Greenville, destroying the gin houses, barns and dwellings for about thirty miles up the creek on his way back. Ferguson's command followed as far as Fish lake and then returned to Rolling fork, except Major Bridges' battalion.

April 29, Lieutenant Ritter, with his section, was ordered to join Major Bridges' battalion at Fish lake, near Greenville, Mississippi.

May 1st he came up with the command, and the next day proceeded to the river to fire upon the boats that were continually [248] passing. At this time, Grant's army at Vicksburg was being rapidly reinforced, and it was the aim of the Confederate commander to harass the passing troops as much as possible.

The morning of the 4th, having learned from one of Major Bridges' scouts that a transport, heavily laden with stores, was coming down the river, Lieutenant Ritter took his guns and masked them at a point where the current ran near the shore, upon which he had posted his pieces. Soon the black smoke of a steamer was seen rising above the tree tops, above Carter's bend, a few miles off, and shortly afterwards it came in sight. The vessel was sailing rapidly yet quietly, and, as was afterwards learned, the crew anticipated no danger, for they had not asked any of the vessels they passed if the river was clear of Confederate batteries. The cannoniers were ordered to their posts, the guns loaded, and, as the boat came within range, the order “fire” was given. The stillness of the morning was broken by the shrill report of the rifle piece and the loud roar of the twelve pounder howitzer, which in quick succession flamed out upon the unsuspecting crew. The first or second shot cut the tiller rope, and another broke a piston rod of one of the engines. The crew, finding escape impossible, hoisted a white flag and surrendered and brought the boat ashore. Major Bridges and Lieutenant Ritter were the first to board the boat. The prisoners, seventeen in number, were ordered ashore and put under guard.

They had been drinking the night previous, and therefore failed to inquire of the gunboats they passed whether there were any Confederates on the river. A dinner had been prepared for the passengers, but not served. Lieutenant Ritter's command, therefore, though neither invited nor expected guests, were just in season for the savory dishes of the pantry; nor need we add that they greatly enjoyed the excellent turkey, pies, etc., provided for the occasion.

All the wagons, gun carriages and caissons were filled with such articles as the men thought most useful for the soldier, and the balance, much the greater part, with the beautiful boat (Minnesota), a side-wheel steamer, was consigned to the flames.

This was one of the richest prizes captured on the Mississippi river. The boat contained about a quarter of a million dollars worth of stores, and was the property of a Northern speculator.

About 5 o'clock in the evening, two of the enemy's gunboats came in sight and immediately commenced a furious and indiscriminate cannonading of the surrounding plantations, without [249] the least notification to the inhabitants, save that of the shell, to remove the women and children to a place of safety.

Lieutenant Ritter's section and the sharpshooters lay within three hundred yards of the river, waiting for the enemy to land, but they sailed down the river two miles, where they put a few men ashore.

No further demonstration being made, the battalion returned to camp at Fish lake.

Yours, truly,

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