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Chapter 9:

  • The march to camp Moonlight
  • -- Captain Mefford, Sixth Kansas cavalry, defeats Livingston's band -- grass sufficient for grazing purposes about Fort Gibson -- supply train reinforced -- a bushwhacker killed near camp -- the people should be better informed by proclamation of the Federal purposes -- officers for the Fourth and Fifth Indian regiments report to Colonel Phillips -- no such regiments exist -- criticisms concerning the matter -- near Rhea's Mills again -- two loyal Arkansas regiments organized -- after a battle the people show on which side their sympathies are by their expressions -- the people of a less haughty spirit than in Missouri -- Reconnoissance returned from Dutch Mills -- women and children raise their own foodstuffs -- the soldiers exchange their surplus rations for butter, eggs, &c -- the army ration -- a party of Union men arrive from Texas -- they were hunted by the enemy with blood hounds.

On the morning of the 17th of March we struck tents, left Bentonville, and marched fifteen miles southwest to Big Springs, at the head of Flint Creek. This is a more desirable section than around Bentonville. The spring here is one of the finest in Northwestern Arkansas, and furnishes an abundance of excellent water for ourselves and animals. It arises out of the earth almost like a fountain, and runs off in a strong, swift current. This would be a delightful spot for a [180] village, for, at a small cost the water from this spring could be conducted through pipes into the houses for the convenience of families. Our camp is called Camp Moonlight, in honor of Colonel Thomas Moonlight, of the Eleventh Kansas infantry, who was General Blunt's Chief of Staff during the campaign in this section last fall. He is a brilliant officer, and, in personal appearance, one of the finest looking officers we had in the division. He is a Scotchman by birth, and is about six feet two inches in height, well proportioned, and his presence, though commanding, is not too stern, and altogether is likely to produce a favorable impression. I remember him during the fall of 1861, as commanding Moonlight's battery, the first light battery raised in Kansas. I think he was also on the staff of General James H. Lane when he marched the Kansas brigade through Missouri to join General Fremont's army at Springfield. No officer has been more active in organizing and fitting out our Kansas troops for the field; nor has any officer been more active in the field than Colonel Moonlight. His sound judgment and counsel no doubt contributed largely to the success of our campaign in this section last winter.

Captain David Mefford, Sixth Kansas cavalry, a few days ago had a skirmish with Livingston's band about sixteen miles north of Neosho, and got three of his men badly wounded, but succeeded in killing and wounding seven of the enemy, and putting the remainder to flight. Captain Mefford is an experienced [181] officer, and a better one could not be selected to deal with Livingston's guerrillas.

Several persons who have just arrived from Fort Gibson report that grass is coming up in sufficient quantities on the Arkansas River and lower Grand River bottoms for grazing purposes. While Indian ponies might live there on the grass now, it will probably be two or three weeks before our cavalry horses can live on wild grass, and perform the service required of them. It is necessary that they should have such strength-giving food as corn and oats, if the cavalry arm of the service is to be very effective. But all the approaching signs of spring increase the anxiety of the Indians to get into the nation. They have, not, however, as yet displayed any impatience, but are content to be guided by the judgment of Colonel Phillips. As soon as transportation can be had to remove the Refugee Indian families from Neosho, they will leave that place to join this command in the nation. It is not likely, however, that the transportation will be in readiness before the first of April. And perhaps it would not be advisable for them to leave there at an earlier date, as in this latitude there frequently occurs some severe weather the latter part of March. As the season is always about a week further advanced at Fort Gibson, there will be no unnecessary delay in their removal.

Information was received here yesterday evening that a rebel force of one hundred men were seen the day before in the vicinity of Cane Hill. Colonel [182] Phillips immediately sent out a detachment of cavalry under Captain Fred Crafts to discover the movements of the enemy, but the force returned here this evening without being able to ascertain anything definite in regard to the enemy. It is not very likely that such a small force would remain many hours at any place within twenty miles of this command. This was probably a scouting party of the enemy sent our from the rebel camp below Van Buren, .to discover something if possible in regard to our movements. A detachment of seventy-five men under Captain H. S. Anderson, Third Indian regiment, were sent out to-day to overtake and reinforce the escort to our supply train which left here yesterday morning en route to Fort Scott. It appears that Colonel Phillips has information leading him to believe that the rebel force which was seen a few days ago in the vicinity of Cane Hill, has gone north, possibly with the view of attacking our train.

A man was found dead to-day just outside the limits of our camp. Upon investigation the fact was disclosed that he was a bushwhacker, and had been killed the day we arrived here by some of our advance guard. A detail of men were sent out to bury him in the spot where he had fallen. As decomposition had commenced when he was found, no efforts were made to ascertain whether he had any effects about him that would give any information concerning his name and where he lived. While I have no inclination to make a funeral oration over him, yet I will venture to remark that [183] there is a sad thought connected with his lonely and obscure grave, for he has fallen in a cause that can never receive the sympathy of men fighting for justice and equal rights, without distinction of race or color. His misguided actions may have resulted, not from a natural evil and perverse disposition, but from associations and connections over which he had no control. He may not have delighted in shooting our soldiers from concealed positions, and he may not have fired at them at all. If, when on the march, our troops see a man on the highway or in the woods, and he starts to run and does not stop when they cry “halt!” they are sure to fire upon him. We are constantly hearing of men who, after having acted for a while with the enemy, became tired of the rebellion and returned to their homes, but were afraid to come in and surrender to the Federal authorities. We are also told that some of these men, when our troops come into their neighborhood, take to the woods, but without any hostile intentions towards us, and that they are fed by their families clandestinely. Lieutenant Masterton of the Second Indiana battery, was assassinated by just this class of men when we were encamped near here last fall. A number of other officers and soldiers of our division met a similar fate, and we feel that men who flee from us are our enemies, and not to be trusted. No doubt many of the people of this section have exaggerated notions of our troops, particularly Kansas troops and Indians. That the people might not be kept in ignorance of our purposes and actions, I have [184] sometimes thought it should not be regarded as exceeding his duty if our military commander should issue a proclamation to the people of the section we occupy, defining our duties, and setting forth the treatment that will be extended to all who may wish to come in and surrender and renew their allegiance to the Government. If such proclamation were made, and some pains taken to have it put into the hands of all the people of this section, I believe that there are many who would seek our protection and friendship, that are now avoiding us. At any rate every opportunity should be given them to return to their allegiance to the Government.

Colonel Phillips, with a detachment of one hundred cavalry, started out to-day in search of another convenient place for pitching our camp. There is very little forage in this vicinity, our troops having well-nigh exhausted the supply when we were encamped near here last fall, before the battle of Cane Hill. When we leave here we shall march to Illinois river, twelve miles south.

To-day, March 23d, a number of officers who have recently been appointed by the Secretary of War to positions in the Fourth and Fifth Indian regiments, reported to Colonel Phillips for duty. As the Fourth and Fifth Indian regiments are purely imaginary organizations, as far as any one here knows, it is difficult to see what duty Colonel Phillips can assign them to. If these gentlemen were anxious to serve the Government at this critical time, the authorities at Washington [185] might have given them permission to go into the Nation to recruit their own companies and regiments; and then as fast as a sufficient number of men were enlisted into each company to entitle it to a company organization, their commissions could have been sent to them. I do not/know what report will be made to higher authorities in regard to the matter, but I feel very sure, from inquiries and general information, that there cannot be enlisted from amongst the loyal portion of the Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles, more than enough men to keep the present three Indian regiments up to their maximum strength. This seems an unusual proceeding, to issue commissions to officers for organizations that do not exist and probably never will exist. These officers I suspect, from what I have heard, are nearly all relatives or favorites of high officials of the Government, and perhaps not in a single instance has an appointment been made on account of merit, that is, on account of bravery displayed on the field, and ability to handle troops in action. If the Washington authorities really desired to organize one or more Indian regiments, it would have been very little trouble to have sent out here for a report showing the number of Indians that could probably be enlisted into the service within a specified time. Colonel Phillips no doubt could make such a report in a few weeks, which would be approximately correct. If there had been vacancies to fill in the Indian regiments, it would, in my opinion, be much more just on the part of the Government to have filled them by appointments [186] from lists of non-commissioned officers of regiments that have seen service on the border. It is not very pleasant to those who have been in active service since early in the war, to have their services unrecognized, and to see green and untried men given important appointments by their sides and over them. Nearly all the orderly sergeants of the three Indian regiments of this division, are white men, appointed from Kansas regiments, and should be promoted to fill any vacancies that may occur in their respective regiments. In the event of raising another Indian regiment or battalion, or in the case of Colored regiments which are now being organized, it would be quite easy for the Department Commander to call on commanding officers of regiments to furnish him lists of non-commissioned officers and privates whose general intelligence, bravery, and knowledge of a particular arm of the service, would make them efficient and useful officers in the event of promotion. Out of these lists should be selected the best qualified and most deserving, who should be recommended to the Secretary of War, or appointing power, for promotion. Such a plan, however, is not likely to be adopted at present. There are too many who, if they must enter the service, must be furnished with honorable positions without regard to fitness to fill them. The class of men, too, who receive important appointments without having first earned them by service in the field or stowing some special qualifications, generally have influence enough to get detailed on special duties where [187] there is very little danger from the enemy's bullets. These officers here without commands will probably draw their salaries for a few months, or until the facts are reported to the War Department that there are no men enlisted for the Fourth and Fifth Indian regiments, all the same as if they were fighting, skirmishing and marching every day.

The Indian division left Big Springs or Camp Moonlight on the morning of the 24th, and marched to Illinois River twelve miles south. This brings us within ten or twelve miles of Rhea's Mills, where the Army of the Frontier, under General Blunt, was encamped during the month of December.

Colonel Phillips has named our camp here Camp Pomeroy, in honor of Senator Pomeroy, of Kansas. Should a Post office be established at this place after the war, it will probably take the name of our present camp.

On this river there are some fine tracts of land, and the farmer is no doubt well rewarded for his labor. The opening of spring, and the fact that our army was all over this section last fall and the early winter, will make it difficult to obtain forage, except in very small quantities, for our animals. But we are gradually moving south with a prospect of holding the country. Two loyal Arkansas regiments belonging to, Colonel Phillips' division are stationed at Fayetteville, fifteen miles east of us, and co-operation of the two forces in case of emergency would not be difficult.

A report comes from St. Louis that General Curtis [188] has been removed from the command of the Department of Missouri for some cause not yet fully known to the public. It is suggested, however, that his removal has been brought about because he cannot give satisfaction to the two political factions in Missouri.

The people of Missouri and Kansas, I think, as a general thing, feel kindly towards General Curtis since he won the great battle of Pea Ridge, and saved those States from invasion by the rebel armies, and are not likely to be hasty in passing judgment upon his alleged short-comings in the administration of his department.

We do not want a Commanding General with no decided policy, and who will be continually hampering the movements of troops in the field.

A party of dispatch bearers and mail carries just arrived from Neosho, state that a report came therefrom Springfield, that General Hunter has captured Charleston, S. C., after very hard fighting. While we should be greatly delighted to hear of the fall of that rebel stronghold, we are not inclined to credit the report as true. It is amusing to notice the effects that good reports and bad reports have upon the countenances of our men. A report like the above circulated through the camp, even though some doubt is felt in regard to its truthfulness, lights up the countenances of every loyal heart. The prospect of the early closing of the war, the thoughts of carrying our victorious arms and banners into all the rebel strongholds, and of the Stars and Stripes floating over all the cities of the South; and the imaginary scenes of returning [189] home, after having passed through many hardships and dangers, are enough to make visible smiles play over their countenances. But let the news of defeat of any of our great armies in the east reach us, as sometimes happens, and the sunny countenances of our soldiers change, and a shadow of disappointment mingled with stern determination, may be noticed. On whichever side our sympathies are on any great question, they are generally clearly displayed on all extraordinary occasions of victory or defeat. In marching across the country just after a great battle has been fought by any of our armies, and the news of the result of the battle has preceded us, it is generally easy to judge on which side the sympathies are, of those whom we meet of the noncombatant class. If they are rebels they may sometimes, as a matter of policy, endeavor to put some restraint upon their feelings, but such restraint does not usually conceal their real feelings. We can generally tell that there is some bitterness of feeling behind a sardonic smile.

From what I have seen, I do not believe that there is so much of that haughty and defiant spirit among the noncombatant classes of this state, as in Missouri. This may be due to the fact that — there was much less wealth and luxury here than in Missouri before the war. We nowhere see in this section farms containing a thousand acres of land in unbroken tracts, and inclosed with stone or hedge fences, and stocked with great numbers of horses, mules and cattle, as might have been seen in most of the western counties of [190] Missouri a few years ago. The people of Missouri, with their slave labor and abundance of everything, acted as if they felt their superiority to the people of any other section. Though no one desires to humble their proud spirits, the war will probably teach them a keener sense of justice than they have hitherto shown towards those who differed with them in regard to slavery.

A party of seven guerrillas was seen yesterday evening less than a mile from our camp, but they soon disappeared in the thick woods. Whether they are prowling around intent on some mischief, or whether they have unintentionally come upon us while passing through the country to some other locality, is not known. But as the soldiers express it, it will hardly be safe for them to roost in this vicinity. It is possible that they have been sent by the rebel commanding officer at Van Buren or Fort Smith, into this section, for the purpose of ascertaining whether our whole force is moving south, or only a reconnoitering party. In a few days the organized forces of the enemy north of the Arkansas River will find it convenient to retire to the south bank. There is now no prospect of Colonel Phillip's progress being checked this side of Fort Gibson.

Yesterday morning (28th) a detachment of thirty men were sent to Neosho with the mail for the North, and instructions to the commanding officer at Neosho, in regard to removing the troops and all the refugee Indian families from there to the nation. By the time [191] they will be able to join us, their ponies can live by grazing on the grass of the river bottoms. They will no doubt be delighted beyond expression that the time has come for their return to their homes from their long exile.

Captain N. B. Lucas and Lieutenant W. M. Smalley, of the battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry, with about two hundred men, returned last night from Dutch Mills, a small place a few miles west of Cane Hill, and right on the line of Arkansas and the Cherokee Nation. We wore sent out two days ago with the view of ascertaining as far as possible any contemplated movements of the enemy, as information had been received here via Fayetteville, that a rebel force of a thousand men, under Colonel Carroll, were encamped at Van Buren on the 24th, and were intending to move north on the state line road. From all the information we could get there is no reason to believe that Colonel Carroll's force will make any effort to operate north of the mountains for several weeks. If Colonel M. LaRue Harrison, the commanding officer at Fayetteville, is a good fighter, he should be able to hold that post against three thousand men. He has probably better facilities for keeping himself informed in regard to the movements of the enemy south of him than Colonel Phillips has, for many refugee families are constantly coming into that place from all over the western part of the State. A good many of the families of the men of the two regiments stationed there, have not left their homes. An almost constant communication [192] is therefore kept up between the troops at Fayetteville and such of their families as still remain on their homesteads. The loyal families living at a distance from Fayetteville probably feel such a deep interest in the command to which their male members belong, that doubtless, in many instances, they would spare no effort to convey information to it which may be useful to it in guarding against surprise by the enemy. Many of the women of this section are perfectly at ease in horse-back riding, and in a matter in which they felt great interest, would perhaps not hesitate to perform a journey of several days. But admitting that the wives and daughters of our troops at Fayetteville are disposed to keep them advised of the movements, as far as practicable,. where would they get animals to ride. That indeed would be the great difficulty; but I think that very many families, both loyal and disloyal, keep some kind of animals on their premises; blind horses, knock-kneed mules, or even something better, so that they will not do for army service. Very few first-class horses and mules were left in this section after our army moved north last winter.

Arrangements are being made to remove all the sick: of this division to Hilterbrand's Mills, about thirty miles west of here, in the Cherokee nation, on the first of April. We know now that we shall move across the line into the Nation in a few days. The peach trees have been in bloom for several days, and the swelling buds on the forest trees are ready to burst, [193] and display their young leaflets, and we see a good many wild flowers of early species by the wayside. Some of our detachments which have just come down from Missouri and Kansas, say that the season is nearly two weeks further advanced here than there. But Spring will not bring that renewed life and activity of which it is significant, among the people here, that it will North. Of the hundreds of farms all over this region, very few can be cultivated this season, for the fences around most of them have been destroyed, burned as fuel by the armies, and there is nobody left to cultivate them except women and children, cripples and old men. Here and there these classes may find rails enough left to inclose a few acres, and cultivate them, with the assistance of such animals as have not been taken for use in the army. Mothers and daughters who, before the war, never dreamed of having to work in the fields, and who knew nothing of the hardships entailed upon many families by the war, will have to raise their own sustenance in this section this year. Of course in those families where sons are growing up, and are in their teens, the hardships will not fall so heavily upon the female members. The uncertainty of being able to use or to get a just and fair equivalent for what they raise under all these disadvantages, must fill the minds of many with discouragement. Their own necessities, however, prospective want, prompt them to make the best of the situation. We have seen some plowing and preparations for planting and sowing garden stuff; and Colonel Phillips [194] has exercised great care in not permitting depredations on the premises of the people, on the line of our march, and in the neighborhood of our camps. We have been obliged to forage on the country during the past winter, but I think, as a general rule, families have been permitted to keep undisturbed their supplies of provisions, such as flour, meal and bacon. The rations issued to this command, with the exception of fresh beef and pork, have all been transported from the North. We have had full rations all winter, for which we are indebted to the untiring and cautious judgment of Colonel Phillips. The army ration is good, substantial food, and is all any man, not a glutton, needs to keep himself in excellent condition. And our men are in excellent condition, and I think it probable, that since they have become inured to the service, they had never enjoyed better health at any time before their enlistments. Each company accumulates quite a surplus of rations every month. The company commissary sergeant is generally authorized to exchange some of these surplus rations for articles not issued by the Government, as butter, eggs, chickens, &c. Our excellent coffee is in great demand among the people of this section, as many of them have not used the genuine article since the first year of the war. In some families brown corn or wheat has been used as a substitute. Corn coffee is a quite common expression in this section, but the next generation may never hear of it. We sometimes hear the remark, that a cup of “Yankee coffee” will make even a rebel lady smile. To [195] many the flavor of pure coffee is more agreeable than the bouquet of a fine wine. Rebel as well as Union families, do not hesitate to offer their commodities for exchange. Our tea, sugar, molasses, and even salt, may also be exchanged to good advantage by our soldiers, as these articles cannot now be obtained in this section by purchase.

I have generally issued to the regiment to which I belong, from one-fourth to half of the bread ration in hard bread, or “hard tack,” and the remainder in flour; and about the same proportion of the meat ration in bacon, and the balance in fresh beef. Hence when detachments are sent out on scouting expeditions for several days, they are furnished with hard bread and bacon, a food that is strength-giving and much relished after one has been marching all day and night. When in camp we always have fresh bread and fresh meat, beef, pork or mutton. Perhaps no government has ever had a better system of providing for the comforts of its soldiers than ours, during the present war.

Eleven men came into our camp to-day (31st) from southwestern Arkansas and northern Texas. J. R. Pratt, a staunch and prominent Unionist from Texas, is the leader of the party. He lived in Missouri at the breaking out of the war, and moved to Texas to keep out of it, but soon found that it was not a suitable place for a man whose sympathies were with the Government. These men represent a dreadful state of things in the sections which they have recently left. Mr. Pratt states that in northwestern Texas, there are [196] many Union families, and that the Union men have made several attempts to organize, but that such attempts have resulted disastrously to all those whose names were connected with any loyal demonstration. He also represents that a good many Unionists have been hung-sixteen in one town, and that others have been persecuted and hunted down with the assistance of bloodhounds; that Union men could not then conceal themselves in the woods and mountains in the vicinity of their homes, as rebels do in this section, for the bloodhounds would soon be upon their tracks. They could find no resting place until they left the State, Such cruel and relentless treatment as these men appear to have received at the hands of the rebel authorities, we might expect from savages, but not from civilized men. For upwards of two hundred miles they had a toilsome journey, often finding it difficult to work their way through mountain passes, guarded by the enemy. Men of pronounced Union sentiments no doubt have a hard time of it, where they are so unfortunate as to live in localities in which the rebel sentiment largely predominates. Perhaps few of us fully realize what it costs to be a Union man in the South. But let those who love the Old Flag of their fathers, stand firm in its defence, for if the signs of the times are not at fault, the day of their deliverance cannot be very distant.

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