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Chapter 12:

  • The author sent with dispatches to Colonel Harrison at Cassville, Missouri
  • -- the First night's march in a storm of thunder and lightning -- the next morning on the battle-ground of Locust Grove -- account of the battle and of the capture of Colonel Clarkson's command -- passing over the ground of an exciting chase of last year -- camp in the forest -- on the look out for the enemy -- in Missouri -- arrival at Cassville -- detention at Cassville -- the troops there daily expecting to be attacked -- large number of troops, including the State militia, in Southwest Missouri -- activity of the militia -- the First Kansas colored infantry organized, and at Baxter Springs -- remarks on arming the freedmen -- many small tracts being cultivated in Missouri -- by whom -- on the march to Fort Gibson -- a fight with guerillas -- stopping in a lonely retreat -- return to Fort Gibson.

I have already mentioned Colonel Harrison leaving Fayetteville with his troops and marching to Cassville, Missouri. When the information first reached us, I suspected that Colonel Phillips was not entirely satisfied with the movement. It has been generally understood here that the troops at Fayetteville belonged to Colonel Phillips' districts, and would not be expected to leave that station without his orders.

Friday evening, May 1st, Captain William Gallaher, Assistant Adjutant General of the division, sent for [232] me, and stated that he had an important service which he wanted me to undertake. He made out an order for my detail, and also for eight men to accompany me, and sent it to — the commanding officer of the battalion Sixth Kansas cavalry. We were directed to report at headquarters at nine o'clock for more definite instructions. Captain Gallagher then stated that he had important dispatches which he wanted taken to Colonel Harrison, at Cassville, Missouri,--a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles by the route we would be obliged to travel. He also said that we might consider ourselves in the enemy's country from the time we left Fort Gibson until we reached Cassville, as we had no troops stationed anywhere in the region through which we would be obliged to pass. We filled our cartridge-boxes with ammunition for our carbines and revolvers, and our haversacks with hard bread and bacon for five days, and put some shelled corn in the nose-bags for our horses, and reported at headquarters as directed, to the second. Captain Gallagher delivered to me the packages, gave us a few words of caution, and suggested that it would be safest to follow the road along the east side of Grand River until we came to Lewis Ross's place near Grand Saline, some thirty miles above Fort Gibson. He then bade us good night, and we were soon beyond the limits of the camp, wending our way northward, on the road above mentioned. It was cloudy when we started out, and, during the night, thunder and lightning and rain banished sleep from our eyes. [233] Some of the great flashes of lightning seemed to fairly light up the woods as if they had been on fire. The heavy rolling of the thunder, with now and then a sharp clap, was grand; but some of the men thought that they should prefer to witness and hear it all in camp. The night was so dark and the road so dim that we gave the reins to our horses, and were guided by the general course we were marching. None of us had been over this path before, and there was no pole star to inform us how far, at any time, we were deviating from our proper course. But when the storm clouds of the night had passed over and daylight came, we found that we had kept the most direct route, and that we were near Locust Grove, where we had a fight with Colonel Clarkson's command, the 2d of last July, and captured him with one hundred and ten of his soldiers, nearly all of whom were white men. We also captured his baggage and supply trains, in all upwards of one hundred wagons and about three hundred animals. Colonel William Weir, Tenth Kansas infantry, who commanded the expedition, marched us two days and nights, and we struck the enemy just at dawn-some of the brightest stars were still shining-and we had him surrounded before he knew of our presence. We reached their camp right on the heels of their pickets, so that they had no time to form in line and prepare for battle. It was a warm night, and only a few of them seem to have slept with even their trousers on, as they did not suppose we were within forty miles. [234] In the engagement they lost about thirty men killed and wounded. Most of the killed and wounded were among those who attempted to pass through the openings where our lines had not quite closed up. We had only eight men wounded. After this affair the troops of the Indian Expedition had no organized force to oppose north of the Arkansas river. The prisoners were sent to Fort Scott, and the train and animals taken to our camp on Cabin Creek, a few miles from here on the west side of Grand river.

The salt works near here have made this locality one of considerable importance for many years. Before the war large quantities of salt were taken from this place to various points in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, and sold or exchanged for goods which the Indians required. We passed several of the salt wells this morning, and they were flowing like fountains, the column of salt water in one instance extending five or six feet above the ground. The wells we saw were bored like artesian wells. We took a few moments to examine them, as it would afford our horses an opportunity to refresh themselves by rest and grazing. Judging by the openings and the columns of water we estimated that the bore was not more than three or four inches in diameter. If the supply of saline water is inexhaustable, this will likely be an important point some day.

The country is perfectly delightful in this vicinity. The forest trees and the whole face of the landscape are robed in green. The sun shining above the vanishing [235] storm-clouds, has inspired the birds to singing all the morning in an exceeding happy mood. We saw a number of species, some having very elegant forms and beautiful plumage. They can have matters all their own way in this region if they can avoid their enemies of the hawk tribe, and some wingless enemies among the lower animals, for there are now very few Indian families living in this section. When we halted this morning on a secluded spot near Locust Grove, to graze our horses and to allow the men to refresh themselves by a short nap, we had not passed more than three houses with occupants, since leaving Gibson. The country seems as silent as a graveyard, except as to the songs of birds and the humming of insects. No sounds are heard from people plowing in the fields, or the yelping of hounds chasing the deer, or of chickens cackling in the barnyard. As soon as it was light this morning we carefully examined the dim road for fresh horse tracks; but we saw none, which satisfied us that the enemy had not crossed or been on our path since the rain. We did not know but that the enemy had sent out scouting parties to watch the movements of our trains, and that we might run into a detachment unless we were very cautious. As there is a good crossing of the Grand River near Grand Saline, and as it is always fordable after a rise in the river, before any other point for miles above or below, we thought it would be the favorite point for the enemy to strike, should they have serious intentions of attacking our trains. [236]

When we left Grand river at Grand Saline, we marched across the country in a northeast direction, with the intention of passing into Missouri near Scott's Mills, on the Cowskin river, in the southwest corner of the State. Our route for the greater part of the day was over a rough, hilly country, uninhabited by Indian families. When night came we encamped near Lynch's Mills on Spavinaw Creek, about sixteen miles below Standwaitie's Mills. At this place we saw one of our loyal Indians, who was at home with his family. He told us that, about a week ago, a party of ten loyal Indians, of whom he was one, had a fight with about an equal number of rebel Indians, a mile below this place, and that they killed half of the rebel party, but got four of their own men badly wounded in the affair. He spoke very good English, and seemed to be telling a straightforward story. A grain of allowance, however, should, perhaps, be made for exaggeration. But from the information which we receive from time to time, there is no doubt but that such bloody contests are quite common in different parts of the Nation.

We were in this section last June with Colonel Jewell, of the Sixth Kansas cavalry. An incident occurred near here, which is worth mentioning, now that were are on the ground again. While we were encamped on Cowskin prairie we received information through our scouts that Colonel Standwaitie, with a force of four or five hundred Indians, was in this vicinity. Colonel Jewell, with about three hundred [237] cavalry, was directed by Colonel Weir to make a reconnaissance to this point. We made a night's march, and late in the afternoon of the following day we heard that Standwaitie, with a small party of men, had just passed along the road we were on, only about an hour before. We pushed along with the hope of overtaking them, and had not marched many miles when we caught sight of him. He had stopped at a house on the road to get dinner, and some of the party who had not dismounted, having heard the tramping of our horses' feet, gave the alarm, and they mounted their horses and galloped away just as we were coming in sight Colonel Jewell directed our bugler to sound the gallop, and we chased them several miles, but we soon found that it was useless to keep it up further, as our animals were too much jaded to overtake their fresh horses. Standwaitie was on his way to join Colonel Clarkson at Locust Grove, and was taking it leisurely. But, as we continued our march, we reached Locust Grove first, and captured Clarkson before he had time to receive reinforcements.

Sunday morning, May 3d, as soon as the earliest rays of the sun streaked the east and the stars were disappearing, we were up and on the march. The day was lovely, but the country seemed like a vast wilderness, as no sounds greeted our ears or objects met our sight, which indicated that we were within the limits of civilization. We reached Scott's Mills just before sundown, having met With no one during the day. When we struck the State line road, a few miles [238] further south of the Mills, we examined carefully again for horse tracks. We saw some tracks, but they seemed to have been made early in the morning, or, perhaps, the day before. The tracks showed that the horses were shod with shoes different from those which we use. The locality of Scott's Mills has been noted for bushwhackers since our troops have occupied southwest Missouri, and I thought it best to use such vigilance as would leave no opportunity for the enemy to surprise us. We did not stop at the Mills, but continued our march up the valley of the Cowskin River until ten o'clock, when we turned aside from the main road into a thick woods, and dismounted, and picketed our horses on a small open spot where there was fair grazing. After having spread our blankets upon the ground, and left two men on guard, we threw ourselves down and slept soundly for five hours. Monday morning,May 4th, we were on the march about three o'clock. Nothing occurred during the day, except that we passed a good many more houses with families living in them than the two previous days. We were constantly on the lookout, however, feeling that we might be fired upon from the woods or bluffs at almost any moment. But we were not. We encamped a few miles east of Pineville, and on the evening of the 5th we reached Cassville, and delivered the dispatches and packages to Colonel Harrison, commanding the post. From conversations with some of the officers and soldiers of the First Arkansas cavalry here, it does not appear that he has any intention of returning to Fayetteville soon. [239]

We find that we shall be obliged to remain here perhaps a week to await dispatches from Springfield. Colonel Harrison will probably endeavor to justify his action before the Department Commander. We think that he has laid himself open to charges and specifications and a trial by Court Martial. But the detention is fortunate for us in some respects; for if we should start back immediately, it is doubtful whether all our horses would be able to make it through to Fort Gibson. A. week's rest, with such attention as we shall endeavor to give them, will enable them to recuperate considerably, and we hope sufficiently to carry us through when we get ready to start back.

The troops here are daily expecting to be attacked by the enemy, but from what I can hear I don't believe that the officers have such definite information in regard to the strength and movements of the enemy, as to warrant the belief that any immediate danger need be apprehended. As we have just passed over a region of one hundred and fifty miles unoccupied by our troops, it is perhaps safe to say that it is also unoccupied by any forces of the enemy other than bands of guerrillas and bushwhackers. Colonel Harrison, it would seem, is needlessly nervous, and his nervousness may be slightly contagious.

I find that we have a good many troops in Southwest Missouri. Colonel T. T. Crittenden, of the Seventh Missouri Militia cavalry, has eight hundred [240] men and two pieces. of the Second Indian battery, stationed at Newtonia, twenty-five miles northwest of Cassville. From all accounts he is an active and energetic officer, and is doing good service for the State. There are also fortifications and a block house at Newtonia, so that the principal part of the cavalry force stationed there can be kept in the field. Two companies of the Eighth Missouri State Militia cavalry, are stationed at Neosho, under Captain Milton Burch, one of the most efficient officers in Southwest Missouri. There are also several companies stationed at Mount Vernon, thirty miles northeast of this place, and at Springfield there are probably between three and four thousand effective troops.

The Missouri State troops are well armed, mounted and equipped, and should be, and I believe are, effective troops in the service of the State. They could, no doubt, maintain order in this State and suppress guerrilla warfare, if our volunteer forces Would take more advanced positions and prevent invasion of the State by an organized army of the enemy.

It was reported the day after our arrival, that Colonel Cloud, with a force of two thousand men and a battery of light artillery, was to leave Springfield immediately for this point. But he has not put in an appearance yet. He has probably marched in some other direction. There does not seem to be any hope of being able to accompany our troops as far as Fayetteville on our return.

We hear every day of the Militia scouting the [241] country and skirmishing with bushwhackers. At a distance one might think that they have very little to do. But they are constantly moving. The commanding officer of a post, for instance, receives information of the presence of a party of guerrillas. in a certain locality so many miles to the southeast, and of another party at another place so many miles to the southwest. A detachment of cavalry must at once be sent; out in each case. They may or they may not find the enemy.

Thus they are kept employed, performing a great amount of service with very small results, if we take into account the operations of the troops from only a single post. If, however, we look at the operations of the Militia forces over the State, we find that the results are not trifling. Taking into account the number of men in active service, it is claimed that their percentages of losses in killed and wounded, are as high as the percentage of casualties among volunteer troops in the field. While this may not be quite true, I have no doubt that their annual losses foot up a high percentage.

Information has been received here that the First Kansas Colored regiment has completed its organization, and is now stationed at Baxter Springs, under command of Colonel James M. Williams. Kansas now has the honor of organizing the first Colored regiment for service in the war. This is highly gratifying and in perfect harmony with the spirit and tradition of her people, who have ever been on the side of [242] justice in regard to the question of slavery. It is surely fitting that they should take the lead in organizing the late slaves for the defence of the Government and for perpetuating their own freedom. It will now not be many months before we shall hear of the organization of Colored regiments all over those sections of the South occupied by our troops. I have no doubt but that they will give a good account of themselves when they come to meet the enemy on the field. The impropriety of arming them against their late masters may be talked of by those who would fight the enemy with kid gloves, and without trying to hurt him; but not by those who are in earnest about carrying the war through to a successful conclusion, by every legitimate means recognized by civilized nations. There will perhaps always be in society, even of the most advanced type, a conservative party that will reluctantly take a step forward in the moral and social progress of their time. Its function is a proper one, and it is no more than we should expect, to find this spirit of conservatism displayed at such a time as the present. But the great common sense of our people must relegate that phase of it which opposes the arming of the freedmen to the region where all the barbarisms which we have outgrown, are buried. Many of us may live to see the day when many of those who are now doing their best to keep social and moral progress from breaking over ancient landmarks, will wonder how it was that they held such views.

Built to return to the colored troops at Baxter Springs. [243] Though they may be of some service at that point in affording protection to our supply trains, it is to be regretted that they were not sent on to Fort Gibson, as the situation is getting such that they are much needed there. It is also reported that they are building a small fort at Baxter, and that they have already had several skirmishes with Livingston's band of guerillas, whose operations are chiefly confined to that section. Stationed inside of fortifications properly supplied with water and rations and ammunition for a month, two companies of infantry ought to be able to hold the place against any force of guerrillas likely to attack it. The guerrilla leaders in that section declare that they will not take the colored soldiers nor the officers under whom they are serving, as prisoners of war. If the enemy really intend to murder all colored soldiers and their officers who fall into their hands, they cannot justly complain if the colored troops retaliate the first opportunity, which might not be long delayed. Men's evil actions frequently return upon them with compound interest, when least expected. And so it may be in this case. The enemy may be inventing the means of his own destruction. Seeing that it is possible that they are turning their swords against their own breasts, and that they may suffer most by the barbarous acts which they propose to put into effect, they may reconsider the matter.

In addition to the infantry, there should be two companies of cavalry stationed at Baxter to scout the country thoroughly. The enemy, it is not likely, will care [244] much for a small infantry force at that station, as they can play around it even in sight, so long as they keep out of range of the infantrymen's muskets General F. J. Herron's two divisions of the Army of the Frontier, which were with us at the battle of Prairie Grove, have been ordered to join General Grant's army now besieging Vicksburg. These troops, during the last three months, have been operating along the southern counties of Missouri, but recently they moved to the vicinity of Rolla. General Herron is a gallant officer, and commands troops that have already made a glorious record. They are now entitled to have Prairie Grove inscribed upon their victorious banners, and in a few months they will probably have Vicksburg added.

A detachment of the State Militia had a skirmish with a squad of guerrillas on the 9th at Gad Fly, a small place about half way between Cassville and Newtonia, resulting in the wounding of three of the enemy, and the capture of their horses, saddles and equipage, together with two negroes. Slavery is unquestionably getting to be an expensive and troublesome luxury, when the masters are obliged to take their slaves around with them through the woods and over the hills, as they move from place to place. When it comes to this any man of sound mind ought to know that slavery is dead. There are not many grown up negroes in this section, who are not half idiots or old and infirm, who will not likely soon relieve their masters of the trouble of pulling them around from [245] place to place, by running away and joining their friends. Nearly all the negroes of this section gained their freedom when our troops came through here a year ago. A few, particularly old ones, and children who had no parents, however, are still with their master's families on the homesteads.

Since we came into Missouri I have noticed that a good many farms are being cultivated. Of course there are very few families that will be able to till all the land which they once had under cultivation, for they cannot keep the animals and get the hands necessary to do it. They have, in many instances, used the rails not destroyed by the armies to inclose such tracts as they will be able to put under cultivation. We saw a number of fields the other day where the corn was coming up and was an inch or so high. There will be very little wheat raised in southwest Missouri this season, for during the season of sowing last autumn, the country was too much overrun by the armies to permit the people to work in the fields. On most of the farms the people have not finished planting their corn yet. In nearly every case where we saw them at work, the daughters or mothers were dropping the corn, as they call it, and the boys too young for the war, were plowing it in or covering it with hoes. It the season is good, a surplus of corn will be raised, particularly in the neighborhoods of posts garrisoned by our troops. As no family is permitted to keep much stock, very little of their corn will be fed to their own animals. But all they have to spare will [246] doubtless bring a fair price if sold to our troops, provided it is not taken before being sold. Fruits are quite an item in the foodstuffs consumed by the people of this country; and there is good prospect of an abundant yield of apples, peaches, pears, &c., this season. When our division was encamped near this place last October, many of the company messes exchanged their surplus rations of coffee and tea for dried apples and peaches, honey, &c. Nearly every family formerly had from half a dozen to several dozen stands of bees.

The women of southwest Missouri surely deserve mention for their noble conduct in sticking to their homesteads and maintaining themselves and their children in the absence of their husbands and fathers and brothers in the war. If I were gifted with elegant expression, nothing could afford me greater pleasure than to pay them the highest possible tribute for their truly womanly characters under the most trying circumstances. With their youthful sons and daughters they raise their own foodstuffs, and in many instances spin and weave and manufacture most of their own clothing. A good many raise small patches of cotton, from which they spin and weave their cotton goods, and keep a few sheep, the wool from which they — make their woolen clothing. There are men now and then found of loquacious tongues, who speak disparagingly and lightly of these people because they wear “homespun clothing,” and do not appear quite so polished as those bought up in polite society. In all this I see a grand simplicity and beauty, for the women are [247] extremely modest. Their fair races are set well back under their sunbonnets, and no one who loves to speak the truth would claim that they are forward and bold in their actions. It is often remarked that they are so shy of strangers that they will not ask our officers for pay or receipts for forage, horses, or commissary supplies taken from them. They generally have pleasant, honest expressions, but often bearing a tinge of sadness. Though surrounded by adversities of every kind, they endeavor to preserve their complexions. Probably no section containing the same number of women, would show a larger proportion who possess as good figures and features and complexions. I have observed them closely, for often on scouting expeditions and on the march, I have, in company with others, rode up to the well or spring to fill our canteens with water, or to the gate to make enquiries. Hence I have seen them as they appeared at home in their every-day life.

Well, this is 13th day of May, and the last day we shall lounge around the old brick Court House at Cassville. The dispatches and mail have arrived from Springfield; our horses have rested and fared moderately well in regard to forage, and we now leave for Fort Gibson. We have found the loyal Arkansas soldiers very clever; have had full rations while stopping with them, and our haversacks replenished for our return. When we arrived here, we felt sure that four days on hard bread and bacon had not quite kept us up to our usual standard of strength and activity. [248] Going without the good strong coffee which we have in camp, no doubt had a depressing effect upon our nervous systems. Though we each took a quantity of ground coffee in our haversacks, we did not take the trouble to kindle a fire every day and make coffee on the route. Every soldier has perhaps noticed how a good cup of coffee, after a night's marching, tones up his nervous system and makes him feel a livelier interest in everything around. We sometimes fill our canteens with coffee before starting out on a reconnaissance of several days; but it is not satisfactory to drink it in this way. We miss that fine flavor or bouquet which we get when it is taken fresh from the camp kettles.

There is no further talk of the enemy attacking the troops at Cassville, nor do they propose to return to Fayetteville until they are reinforced from Springfield.

Nothing of interest occurred the first day of our return march, but the second day, between Pineville and Scott's Mills, we saw eight or ten armed men on horse-back coming towards us, dressed in butter-nut suits, whom we supposed were bush-whackers. As soon as they saw and carefully observed our blue uniforms, they fired a volley at us from their shotguns, making the brush rattle around us, and then instantly wheeled about and galloped back a hundred yards or so and took a road which crosses ours at nearly right angles. We threw our right hands to our carbines and raised them, and discharged a volley at the flying horsemen, but as they were upwards of a hundred yards away [249] when we fired, we could not determine whether the balls from our carbines took effect or not. Upon firing we dashed forward, but when we came to the point where the road they took crossed ours, they had disappeared in the dense woods. We continued our march, kept our eyes open, but did not exert our horses, as we were desirous of preserving their strength in case of an emergency, as a long journey yet lay before us. After passing Scott's Mills we did not take the same path through the Nation that we came up on, but one about ten miles to the South of it, as it would shorten our route considerably. We then struck Grand River about eight miles above Grand Saline. The grass had grown astonishingly since we came up, and we had no trouble in getting good grazing for our horses wherever we stopped.

On the way up and returning, we made it a rule to stop in some lonely retreat at about ten o'clock, and rest and graze our animals for two or three hours, and then resume the march and stop again at five o'clock for two hours, resume the march and halt again at ten at night, and start the next morning between three and four o'clock. Our animals stood this long and tedious journey quite well, and in the course of a week will be able to take their places beside other cavalry horses on the march or on the scout. We arrived at Fort Gibson on the afternoon of the 16th, having been absent upwards of two weeks. It was a real pleasure to see the familiar faces and shake the hands of our comrades. We were congratulated on our safe return, as the [250] enemy have moved up in sight of the Fort, and are getting quite bold of late. There will be a hiatus in my account of the operations of this command during the last two weeks; but nothing has occurred particularly worth mentioning, and we have had an opportunity of glancing at operations along the border.

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