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[399]

Chapter IX

  • Ordered to Greensboroa, N. C.
  • -- March to the Dan River -- assigned to the command West of the Mississippi -- leaving Washington -- flight of General Early -- Maximilian -- making demonstrations on the upper Rio Grande -- Confederates join Maximilian -- the French invasion of Mexico and its relations to the rebellion -- assisting the Liberals -- restoration of the Republic.


The surrender at Appomattox put a stop to all military operations on the part of General Grant's forces, and the morning of April 10 my cavalry began its march to Petersburg, the men anticipating that they would soon be mustered out and returned to their homes. At Nottoway Court House I heard of the assassination of the President. The first news came to us the night after the dastardly deed, the telegraph operator having taken it from the wires while in transmission to General Meade. The despatch ran that Mr. Lincoln had been shot at 10 o'clock that morning at Willard's Hotel, but as I could conceive of nothing to take the President there I set the story down as a canard, and went to bed without giving it further thought. Next morning, however, an official telegram confirmed the fact of the assassination, though eliminating the distorted circumstances that had been communicated the night before.

When we reached Petersburg my column was halted, and instructions given me to march the cavalry and the Sixth Corps to Greensboroa, North Carolina, for the purpose of aiding General Sherman (the surrender of General Johnston having not yet been effected), so I made the necessary preparations and moved on the 24th of April, arriving at South Boston, on the Dan River, the 28th, the Sixth Corps having reached Danville meanwhile. At South Boston I received a despatch from General Halleck, who immediately after Lee's surrender had been assigned to command at Richmond, informing me that General Johnston had been brought to terms. The necessity for going farther south being thus obviated we retraced our [400]

Eighth expedition to the Dan River and return.

[401] steps to Petersburg, from which place I proceeded by steamer to Washington, leading the cavalry to be marched thither by easy stages.

The day after my arrival in Washington an important order was sent me, accompanied by the following letter of instructions, transferring me to a new field of operations:

headquarters armies of the United States. Washington, D. C., May 17, 1865.
General: Under the orders relieving you from the command of the Middle Military Division and assigning you to command west of the Mississippi, you will proceed without delay to the West to arrange all preliminaries for your new field of duties.

Your duty is to restore Texas, and that part of Louisiana held by the enemy, to the Union in the shortest practicable time, in a way most effectual for securing permanent peace.

To do this, you will be given all the troops that can be spared by MajorGeneral Canby, probably twenty-five thousand men of all arms; the troops with Major-General J. J. Reynolds, in Arkansas, say twelve thousand, Reynolds to command; the Fourth Army Corps, now at Nashville, Tennessee, awaiting orders; and the Twenty-Fifth Army Corps, now at City Point, Virginia, ready to embark.

I do not wish to trammel you with instructions; I will state, however, that if Smith holds out, without even on ostensible government to receive orders from or to report to, he and his men are not entitled to the considerations due to an acknowledged belligerent. Theirs are the conditions of outlaws, making war against the only Government having an existence over the territory where war is now being waged.

You may notify the rebel commander west of the Mississippi-holding intercourse with him in person, or through such officers of the rank of major-general as you may select — that he will be allowed to surrender all his forces on the same terms as were accorded to Lee and Johnston. If he accedes, proceed to garrison the Red River as high up as Shreveport, the seaboard at Galveston, Malagorda Bay, Corpus Christi, and mouth of the Rio Grande.

Place a strong force on the Rio Grande, holding it at least to a point opposite Camargo, and above that if supplies can be procured.

In case of an active campaign (a hostile one) I think a heavy force should be put on the Rio Grande as a first preliminary. Troops for this might be started at once. The Twenty-Fifth Corps is now available, and to it should be added a force of white troops, say those now under Major-General Steele.

To be clear on this last point, I think the Rio Grande should be strongly held, whether the forces in Texas surrender or not, and that no time should be lost in getting troops there. If war is to be made, they will be in the right place; if Kirby Smith surrenders, they will be on the line which is to be strongly garrisoned. [402]

Should any force be necessary other than those designated, they can be had by calling for them on Army Headquarters.

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General. To Major-General P. H. Sheridan, United States Army.

On receipt of these instructions I called at once on General Grant, to see if they were to be considered so pressing as to preclude my remaining in Washington till after the Grand Review, which was fixed for the 23d and 24th of May, for naturally I had a strong desire to head my command on that great occasion. But the General told me that it was absolutely necessary to go at once to force the surrender of the Confederates under Kirby Smith. He also told me that the States lately in rebellion would be embraced in two or three military departments, the commanders of which would control civil affairs until Congress took action about restoring them to the Union, since that course would not only be economical and simple, but would give the Southern people confidence, and encourage them to go to work, instead of distracting them with politics.

At this same interview he informed me that there was an additional motive in sending me to the new command, a motive not explained by the instructions themselves, and went on to say that, as a matter of fact, he looked upon the invasion of Mexico by Maximilian as a part of the rebellion itself, because of the encouragement that invasion had received from the Confederacy, and that our success in putting down secession would never be complete till the French and Austrian invaders were compelled to quit the territory of our sister republic. With regard to this matter, though, he said it would be necessary for me to act with great circumspection, since the Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, was much opposed to the use of our troops along the border in any active way that would be likely to involve us in a war with European powers.

Under the circumstances, my disappointment at not being permitted to participate in the review had to be submitted to, and I left Washington without an opportunity of seeing again in a body the men who, while under my command, had gone through so many trials and unremittingly pursued and assailed the enemy, from the beginning of the campaign of 1864 till the white flag came into their hands at Appomattox Court House.

I went first to St. Louis, and there took the steamboat for New Orleans, and when near the mouth of the Red River received word from General Canby that Kirby Smith had surrendered under terms similar [403] to those accorded Lee and Johnston. But the surrender was not carried out in good faith, particularly by the Texas troops, though this I did not learn till some little time afterward, when I was informed that they had marched off to the interior of the State in several organized bodies, carrying with them their camp equipage, arms, ammunition, and even some artillery, with the ultimate purpose of going to Mexico. In consequence of this, and also because of the desire of the Government to make a strong showing of force in Texas, I decided to traverse the State with two columns of cavalry, directing one to San Antonio under Merritt, the other to Houston under Custer.

Both commands were to start from the Red River-Shreveport and Alexandria being the respective initial points-and in organizing the columns, to the mounted force already on the Red River were added several regiments of cavalry from the east bank of the Mississippi, and in a singular way one of these fell upon the trail of my old antagonist, General Early. While crossing the river somewhere below Vicksburg some of the men noticed a suspicious looking party being ferried over in a rowboat, behind which two horses were swimming in tow. Chase was given, and the horses, being abandoned by the party, fell into the hands of our troopers, who, however, failed to capture or identify the people in the boat. As subsequently ascertained, the men were companions of Early, who was already across the Mississippi, hidden in the woods, on his way with two or three of these followers to join the Confederates in Texas, not having heard of Kirby Smith's surrender. A week or two later I received a letter from Early describing the affair, and the capture of the horses, for which he claimed pay, on the ground that they were private property, because he had taken them in battle. The letter also said that any further pursuit of Early would be useless, as he “expected to be on the deep blue sea” by the time his communication reached me. The unfortunate man was fleeing from imaginary dangers, however, for striking his trail was purely accidental, and no effort whatever was being made to arrest him personally. Had this been specially desired it might have been accomplished very readily just after Lee's surrender, for it was an open secret that Early was then not far away, pretty badly disabled with rheumatism.

By the time the two columns were ready to set out for San Antonio and Houston, General Frank Herron, with and division of the Thirteenth Corps, occupied Galveston, and another division under General Fred Steele had gone to Brazos Santiago, to hold Brownsville and the line of the Rio Grande, the object being to prevent, as far as possible, the escaping Confederates from joining Maximilian. With this purpose in view, and not forgetting Grant's conviction that the French invasion of Mexico [404] was linked with the rebellion, I asked for an increase of force to send troops into Texas--in fact, to concentrate at available points in the State an army strong enough to move against the invaders of Mexico if occasion demanded. The Fourth and Twenty-fifth army corps being ordered to report to me accordingly, I sent the Fourth Corps to Victoria and San Antonio, and the bulk of the Twenty-fifth to Brownsville. Then came the feeding and caring for all these troops — a difficult matter-for those at Victoria and San Antonio had to be provisioned overland from Indianola across the “hog-wallow prairie,” while the supplies for the forces at Brownsville and along the Rio Grande must come by way of Brazos Santiago, from which point I was obliged to construct, with the labor of the men, a railroad to Clarksville, a distance of about eighteen miles.

The latter part of June I repaired to Brownsville myself to impress the Imperialists, as much as possible, with the idea that we intended hostilities, and took along my chief of scouts-Major Young-and four of his most trusty men, whom I had had sent from Washington. From Brownsville I despatched all these men to important points in northern Mexico, to glean information regarding the movements of the Imperial forces, and also to gather intelligence about the ex-Confederates who had crossed the Rio Grande. On information furnished by these scouts, I caused General Steele to make demonstrations all along the lower Rio Grande, and at the same time demanded the return of certain munitions of war that had been turned over by ex-Confederates to the Imperial General (Mejia) commanding at Matamoras. These demands, backed up as they were by such a formidable show of force, created much agitation and demoralization among the Imperial troops, and measures looking to the abandonment of northern Mexico were forthwith adopted by those in authority — a policy that would have resulted in the speedy evacuation of the entire country by Maximilian, had not our Government weakened; contenting itself with a few pieces of the contraband artillery varnished over with the Imperial apologies. A golden opportunity was lost, for we had ample excuse for crossing the boundary, but Mr. Seward, being, as I have already stated, unalterably opposed to any act likely to involve us in war, insisted on his course of negotiation with Napoleon.

As the summer wore away, Maximilian, under Mr. Seward's policy, gained in strength till finally all the accessible sections of Mexico were in his possession, and the Republic under President Juarez almost succumbed. Growing impatient at this, in the latter part of September I decided to try again what virtue there might be in a hostile demonstration, and selected the upper Rio Grande for the scene of my attempt. Merritt's cavalry and the Fourth Corps still being at San Antonio, I went [405] to that place and reviewed these troops, and having prepared them with some ostentation for a campaign, of course it was bruited about that we were going to invade Mexico. Then, escorted by a regiment of horse I proceeded hastily to Fort Duncan, on the Rio Grande just opposite the Mexican town of Piedras Negras. Here I opened communication with President Juarez, through one of his staff, taking care not to do this in the dark, and the news, spreading like wildfire, the greatest significance was ascribed to my action, it being reported most positively and with many specific details that I was only awaiting the arrival of the troops, then under marching orders at San Antonio, to cross the Rio Grande in behalf of the Liberal cause.

Ample corroboration of the reports then circulated was found in my inquiries regarding the quantity of forage we could depend upon getting in Mexico, our arrangements for its purchase, and my sending a pontoon train to Brownsville, together with which was cited the renewed activity of the troops along the lower Rio Grande. These reports and demonstrations resulted in alarming the Imperialists so much that they withdrew the French and Austrian soldiers from Matamoras, and practically abandoned the whole of northern Mexico as far down as Monterey, with the exception of Matamoras, where General MeJia continued to hang on with a garrison of renegade Mexicans.

The abandonment of so much territory in northern Mexico encouraged General Escobedo and other Liberal leaders to such a degree that they collected a considerable army of their followers at Comargo, Mier, and other points. At the same time that unknown quantity, Cortinas, suspended his freebooting for the nonce, and stoutly harassing Matamoras, succeeded in keeping its Imperial garrison within the fortifications. Thus countenanced and stimulated, and largely supplied with arms and ammunition, which we left at convenient places on our side of the river to fall into their hands, the Liberals, under General Escobedo--a man of much force of character — were enabled in northern Mexico to place the affairs of the Republic on a substantial basis.

But in the midst of what bade fair to cause a final withdrawal of the foreigners, we were again checked by our Government, as a result of representations of the French Minister at Washington. In October, he wrote to Mr. Seward that the United States troops on the Rio Grande were acting “in exact opposition to the repeated assurances Your Excellency has given me concerning the desire of the Cabinet at Washington to preserve the most strict neutrality in the events now taking place in Mexico,” and followed this statement with an emphatic protest against our course. Without any investigation whatever by our State Department, this letter of the French Minister was transmitted to me, accompanied [406] by directions to preserve a strict neutrality; so, of course, we were again debarred from anything like active sympathy.

After this, it required the patience of Job to abide the slow and poky methods of our State Department, and, in truth, it was often very difficult to restrain officers and men from crossing the Rio Grande with hostile purpose. Within the knowledge of my troops, there had gone on formerly the transfer of organized bodies of ex-Confederates to Mexico, in aid of the Imperialists, and at this period it was known that there was in preparation an immigration scheme having in view the colonizing, at Cordova and one or two other places, of all the discontented elements of the defunct Confederacy-Generals Price, Magruder, Maury, and other high personages being promoters of the enterprise, which Maximilian took to readily. He saw in it the possibilities of a staunch support to his throne, and therefore not only sanctioned the project, but encouraged it with large grants of land, inspirited the promoters with titles of nobility, and, in addition, instituted a system of peonage, expecting that the silver hook thus baited would be largely swallowed by the Southern people.

The announcement of the scheme was followed by the appointment of commissioners in each of the Southern States to send out emigrants; but before any were deluded into starting, I made to General Grant a report of what was going on, with the recommendation that measures be taken, through our State Department, looking to the suppression of the colony; but, as usual, nothing could be effected through that channel; so, as an alternative, I published, in April, 1866, by authority of General Grant, an order prohibiting the embarkation from ports in Louisiana and Texas, for ports in Mexico, of any person without a permit from my headquarters. This dampened the ardor of everybody in the Gulf States who had planned to go to Mexico; and although the projectors of the Cordova Colonization Scheme — the name by which it was known-secured a few innocents from other districts, yet this set-back led ultimately to failure.

Among the Liberal leaders along the Rio Grande during this period there sprang up many factional differences from various causes, some personal, others political, and some, I regret to say, from downright moral obliquity-as, for example, those between Cortinas and Canaleswho, though generally hostile to the Imperialists, were freebooters enough to take a shy at each other frequently, and now and then even to join forces against Escobedo, unless we prevented them by coaxing or threats. A general who could unite these several factions was therefore greatly needed, and on my return to New Orleans I so telegraphed General Grant, and he, thinking General Caravajal (then in Washington seeking [407] aid for the Republic) would answer the purpose, persuaded him to report to me in New Orleans. Caravajal promptly appeared, but he did not impress me very favorably. He was old and cranky, yet, as he seemed anxious to do his best, I sent him over to Brownsville, with credentials, authorizing him to cross into Mexico, and followed him myself by the next boat. When I arrived in Brownsville, matters in Matamoras had already reached a crisis. General Mejia, feeling keenly the moral support we were giving the Liberals, and hard pressed by the harassing attacks of Cortinas and Canales, had abandoned the place, and Caravajal, because of his credentials from our side, was in command, much to the dissatisfaction of both those chiefs whose differences it was intended he should reconcile.

The day after I got to Brownsville I visited Matamoras, and had a long interview with Caravajal. The outcome of this meeting was, on my part, a stronger conviction than ever that he was unsuitable, and I feared that either Canales or Cortinas would get possession of the city. Caravajal made too many professions of what he would do — in short, bragged too much-but as there was no help for the situation, I made the best of it by trying to smooth down the ruffled feathers of Canales and Cortinas. In my interview with Caravajal I recommended Major Young as a confidential man, whom he could rely upon as a “go-between” for communicating with our people at Brownsville, and whom he could trust to keep him informed of the affairs of his own country as well.

A day or two afterward I recrossed the Gulf to New Orleans, and then, being called from my headquarters to the interior of Texas, a fortnight passed before I heard anything from Brownsville. In the meanwhile Major Young had come to New Orleans, and organized there a band of men to act as a body-guard for Caravajal, the old wretch having induced him to accept the proposition by representing that it had my concurrence. I at once condemned the whole business, but Young, having been furnished with seven thousand dollars to recruit the men and buy their arms, had already secured both, and was so deeply involved in the transaction, he said, that he could not withdraw without dishonor, and with tears in his eyes he besought me to help him. He told me he had entered upon the adventure in the firm belief that I would countenance it; that the men and their equipment were on his hands; that he must make good his word at all hazards; and that while I need not approve, yet I must go far enough to consent to the departure of the men, and to loan him the money necessary to provision his party and hire a schooner to carry them to Brazos. It was hard indeed to resist the appeals of this man, who had served me so long and so well, and the result of his pleading was that I gave him permission to sail, and [408] also loaned him the sum asked for; but I have never ceased to regret ms consent, for misfortune fell upon the enterprise almost from its inception.

By the time the party got across the Gulf and over to Brownsville, Caravajal had been deposed by Canales, and the latter would not accept their services. This left Young with about fifty men to whom he was accountable, and as he had no money to procure them subsistence, they were in a bad fix. The only thing left to do was to tender their services to General Escobedo, and with this in view the party set out to reach the General's camp, marching up the Rio Grande on the American side, intending to cross near Ringgold Barracks. In advance of them, however, had spread far and wide the tidings of who they were, what they proposed to do, and where they were going, and before they could cross into Mexico they were attacked by a party of ex-Confederates and renegade Mexican rancheros. Being on American soil, Young forbade his men to return the fire, and bent all his efforts to getting them over the river; but in this attempt they were broken up, and became completely demoralized. A number of the men were drowned while swimming the river, Young himself was shot and killed, a few were captured, and those who escaped — about twenty in all-finally joined Escobedo, but in such a plight as to be of little use. With this distressing affair came to an end pretty much all open participation of American sympathizers with the Liberal cause, but the moral support afforded by the presence of our forces continued, and this was frequently supplemented with material aid in the shape of munitions of war, which we liberally supplied, though constrained to do so by the most secret methods.

The term of office of Juarez as President of the Mexican Republic expired in December, 1865, but to meet existing exigencies he had continued himself in office by proclamation, a course rendered necessary by the fact that no elections could be held on account of the Imperial occupation of most of the country. The official who, by the Mexican Constitution, is designated for the succession in such an emergency, is the President of the Supreme Court, and the person then eligible under this provision was General Ortega, but in the interest of the Imperialists he had absented himself from Mexico, hence the patriotic course of Juarez in continuing himself at the head of affairs was a necessity of the situation. This action of the President gave the Imperialists little concern at first, but with the revival of the Liberal cause they availed themselves of every means to divide its supporters, and Ortega, who had been lying low in the United States, now came forward to claim the Presidency. Though ridiculously late for such a step, his first act was to issue a manifesto protesting against the assumption of the ex- [409]

Belle-Grove House, General Sheridan's headquarters at Cedar Creek.

[410] ecutive authority by Juarez. The protest had little effect, however, and his next proceeding was to come to New Orleans, get into correspondence with other disaffected Mexicans, and thus perfect his plans. When he thought his intrigue ripe enough for action, he sailed for Brazos, intending to cross the Rio Grande and assert his claims with arms. While he was scheming in New Orleans, however, I had learned what he was up to, and in advance of his departure had sent instructions to have him arrested on American soil. Colonel Sedgwick, commanding at Brownsville, was now temporary master of Matamoras also, by reason of having stationed some American troops there for the protection of neutral merchants, so when Ortega appeared at Brazos, Sedgwick quietly arrested him and held him till the city of Matamoras was turned over to General Escobedo, the authorized representative of Juarez; then Escobedo took charge of Ortega, and with ease prevented his further machinations.

During the winter and spring of 1866 we continued covertly supplying arms and ammunition to the Liberals-sending as many as 30,000 muskets from Baton Rouge Arsenal alone-and by mid-summer Juarez, having organized a pretty good sized army, was in possession of the whole line of the Rio Grande, and, in fact, of nearly the whole of Mexico down to San Louis Potosi. Then thick and fast came rumors pointing to the tottering condition of Maximilian's Empire-first, that Orizaba and Vera Cruz were being fortified; then, that the French were to be withdrawn; and later came the intelligence that the Empress Carlotta had gone home to beg assistance from Napoleon, the author of all of her husband's troubles. But the situation forced Napoleon to turn a deaf ear to Carlotta's prayers. The broken-hearted woman besought him on her knees, but his fear of losing an army made all pleadings vain. In fact, as I ascertained by the following cablegram which came into my hands, Napoleon's instructions for the French evacuation were in Mexico at the very time of this pathetic scene between him and Carlotta. The despatch was in cipher when I received it, but was translated by the telegraph operator at my headquarters, who long before had mastered the key of the French cipher:

Paris, January 10, 1867.
French Consul, New Orleans, La. To General Castelnau, at Mexico.
Received your despatch of the 9th December. Do not compel the Emperor to abdicate, but do not delay the departure of the troops; bring back all those who will not remain there. Most of the fleet has left.


[411]

This meant the immediate withdrawal of the French. The rest of the story — which has necessarily been but an outline — is soon told. Maximilian, though deserted, determined to hold out to the last, and with the aid of disloyal Mexicans stuck to his cause till the spring. When taken prisoner at Queretaro, he was tried and executed under circumstances that are well known. From promptings of humanity Secretary Seward tried hard to save the Imperial prisoner, but without success. The Secretary's plea for mercy was sent through me at New Orleans, and to make speed I hired a steamer to proceed with it across the Gulf to Tampico. The document was carried by Sergeant White, one of my scouts, who crossed the country from Tampico, and delivered it to Escobedo at Queretaro; but Mr. Seward's representations were without avail-refused probably because little mercy had been shown certain Liberal leaders unfortunate enough to fall into Maximilian's hands during the prosperous days of his Empire.

At the close of our war there was little hope for the Republic of Mexico. Indeed, till our troops were concentrated on the Rio Grande there was none. Our appearance in such force along the border permitted the Liberal leaders, refugees from their homes, to establish rendezvous whence they could promulgate their plans in safety, while the countenance thus given the cause, when hope was wellnigh gone, incited the Mexican people to renewed resistance. Beginning again with very scant means, for they had lost about all, the Liberals saw their cause, under the influence of such significant and powerful backing, progress and steadily grow so strong that within two years Imperialism had received its death-blow. I doubt very much whether such results could have been achieved without the presence of an American army on the Rio Grande, which, be it remembered, was sent there because, in General Grant's words, the French invasion of Mexico was so closely related to the rebellion as to be essentially a part of it. [412]

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