Lieutenant Commander Le Roy Fitch
Little is written about the so-called “Brownwater Navy” of the Western Flotilla in the American Civil War. At last count, there are only two publications of naval officers below Flag Rank (the equivalent of an Army Major General) in the vital fight to control transportation river lines of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
On the Cumberland River at Nashville, it was Naval Lieutenant Commander Le Roy Fitch, in charge of the U.S. Naval forces in December of 1864. Admiral Stephen D. Lee was stranded down stream do to falling river flow. This left two Ironclads and four Tinclads of the Mississippi Squadron, under the command of Finch, the navy equivalent of an army Major.
Lt. Cdr. Fitch was from Indiana. A veteran of the Mexican American War and an Annapolis graduate of the class of 1859. He was promoted to Lt. Commander in February of 1862 after the Naval Victory at Memphis. He was an early expert on counter-insurgency tactics, and his navy convoy tactics were later used in World War I and World War II. Here is what Myron J. Smith had to say about Commander Fitch in his book The Civil War Career of a River Gunboat Commander:
“At least one man in this latter group seemed to be everywhere there was action after September 1862. By war’s end, he was the senior junior officer in the Mississippi Squadron in terms of time served and the most experienced fighter in the western fleet. He fought three of the South’s most feared cavalry leaders-Morgan, Wheeler, and Forrest-contended with all manner of irregulars along the river banks, provided succor to Federal sympathizers, participated in amphibious operations with the U.S. Army, oversaw the Union supply chain on three rivers, built a fleet of gunboats on the lower Tennessee, and commanded part of the time from within a monitor during the last decisive battle in the West. A Lieutenant Commander from Logansport, the Hoosier is mentioned in almost every Western chronicle with a river reference, but until now his life history has not been published. His name was Le Roy Fitch and he was 26 years old when the war began”.
Smith writes that Fitch “gained a reputation for his prosecution of counter-insurgency warfare and as an innovator of protective measures for the massive number of contract steamboats which churned the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers supplying the advancing Union armies.” The author says Fitch’s “convoy arrangements were so efficient that boats in his charge were not lost to Confederate attack except when they disobeyed sailing orders.” “It was not unusual for one of his convoys to stretch 30 miles or more and require a week to cover the distance from Smithland, Ky. (head of the Cumberland River) up to Nashville.”
“Certain of his convoy techniques were later employed in the Atlantic, in whole or in part, by the U.S. Navy in both World War I and World War II,” Smith writes.”…read more