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Chapter 14:

  • The enemy makes a night attack on the Federal supply train
  • -- gallant charge led by Colonel Phillips, and total route of the enemy -- only a sutler's wagon partially plundered -- the enemy had another force which failed to co-operate -- the paymaster paying off the troops -- the Government should adopt a system to enable officers and soldiers to send their money home -- activity noticed in the enemy's camp again- -- the Arkansas River rising -- friendly conversations between Federal and rebel pickets -- the Federal supply train returns to Fort Scott with a heavy escort -- engagement between Livingston and the colored troops at Baxter Springs -- the enemy anxious to know if the colored regiment is coming down -- a woman takes one of the enemy's horses and comes into the Fort -- Colonel Phillips to be re-inforced -- skirmish near Park Hill -- Standwaitie's Indians in the northern part of the nation.

After returning from the Rapid Ford yesterday evening, and getting our suppers, and resting a few hours, we started out again to meet our train. While marching along during the night on the old military road upon which the train was coming, we saw several fresh trails, the prairie grass having been tramped down flat by horses' feet, showing that the enemy were moving in several divisions, doubtless with the intention of attacking simultaneously from several quarters, the front and flanks, or front and rear of the escort. [267] Several of us got off our horses and carefully inspected one trail, and easily distinguished the directions they had marched. Some ten or twelve miles out our detachment formed a junction with the troops guarding the train. The train probably had about two hundred wagons in all, and moving in the closest order possible, stretched out a distance of more than a mile. From the time we joined it the road ran over a broad prairie, until we should get within three or four miles of the fort. We marched with a detachment of about one hundred cavalrymen, say a quarter of a mile in advance of the escort just in front of the train, with detachments of cavalry at convenient distances from each other on both flanks, and with a strong rear guard. Skirmishers were also kept out a half mile on each side of the road, with instructions to keep up with the advance guard. We were moving along quietly, and approaching the timber on Grand River about five miles northwest of the fort, and, perhaps, nearly an hour before day-break, when we heard the report of a musket, and then three or four more shots. We saw the flash from the musket before we saw the enemy or heard the report. It was then silent for a moment, but the next moment we saw our skirmishers and advance guard falling back. Closely following them we saw, by the dim light of the stars, the long lines of the enemy filing over a ridge in the prairie a few hundred yards off. Orders were immediately given for the teams to change to two abreast, as this would shorten the line of wagons we were required to defend. Instructions [268] were also given to teamsters not to leave their teams under any circumstances. The enemy continued to advance, and when some two hundred yards off, seemed to occupy nearly all the visible horizon upon the prairie, south, east and west of us. One thousand cavalry, when not marching in close order, cover a large field, particularly at night, and are likely to be overestimated in numbers. Our lines were quickly formed, and when the enemy approached within a hundred yards of us, we opened fire upon them. They promptly returned a volley. We continued to pour into their ranks volley after volley, which soon threw them into considerable disorder. They soon rallied, however, and made a few feeble efforts at charging us, but did not come nearer than fifty yards of the troops with whom I was acting, for our firing was conducted with great caution and deliberation. Several other divisions which they sent to make attacks at other points, were equally unsuccessful. It was a grand sight to see the flashes from the long lines of muskets and carbines. Colonel Phillips formed his troops into a kind of oblong square,which inclosed the train. The two short sides of the square were made quite strong, and when the enemy made an effort to break either of the long and weak sides, we cross-fired him, and all his efforts were fruitless. Nearly half of our troops fought dismounted, which enabled them to fire with greater precision. We held the enemy in check in this manner for upwards of an hour, and until towards daylight, repulsing [269] him in every attack, when Colonel Phillips determined to take the offensive, and at the decisive moment ordered the bugle sounded and led his troops to the charge. We moved forward with a shout, and in a few moments completely routed the enemy all along the line. The main body we pursued several miles in the direction of the Verdigris River, firing into their rear every opportunity. Other detachments fled in other directions. They left twenty-six dead on the field. Our loss was seven or eight men killed, and perhaps twenty-five or thirty wounded. As soon as the enemy had been driven from the field, the train was set in motion, and arrived at Grand River opposite to the fort just after sunrise. During the day one or two wagon loads of the enemy's dead were brought in for burial near this post. We heard through our pickets along the river, that the enemy boasted of their intention of getting their Monday morning's breakfast out of our rations. If this really was their boast, and they brought no rations with them, they must have returned to their camp hungry and disappointed. They did, however, capture and plunder one sutler's wagon. The teamster for the sutler seems to have got frightened and left his team, which became separated from the train and wandered about on the prairie.

We received information through our scouts, that the enemy had another strong force above us on Grand River, which failed to co-operate with the force that engaged us in the morning. So far as we can find out, [270] demonstration at the Rapid Ford, Sunday evening, in front of General Cooper's camp, caused him to change his plans in regard to the point where he had intended to attack our train. The force which fought us in the morning, either returned to defend and save their camp after starting out, or remained in camp longer than they had intended on account of our threatening attitude in that direction Sunday evening, thus preventing them from carrying out the pre-arranged plan of forming a junction with the force north of us at a certain point and at a certain hour Monday morning. It does not seem reasonable, and we do not believe, that the enemy deliberately planned to attack our train within sight of our fortifications, where we might quickly reinforce it with nearly all the troops of this post. Colonel Phillips certainly deserves great credit for the able manner in which he has baffled and defeated the enemy, who have made such great preparations for capturing our train — a prize which they would have highly valued.

It would be difficult to point out a finer movement in military manoeuvers, as having actually occurred, than that which Colonel Phillips executed to save his trains; and were he in a section where military correspondents are swarming around headquarters like they are around the headquarters of our eastern armies, he would be lauded as a real hero. Less brilliant achievements and less distinguished bravery than he has shown on several occasions during the last week, have been considered sufficient in the cases of other officers [271] to earn them promotion. He has shown himself to be remarkably fertile in resources in an emergency. At such times most men lose their heads.

The enemy are reported to have had upwards of fifteen hundred men in the engagement, but I am inclined to think that they had at least two thousand white soldiers and Indians, composed of Texans, Choctaws and Cherokees. Though they seem to have been well-informed in regard to the movements of the trains, perhaps through Livingston's guerrillas, operating in the vicinity of Baxter Springs, they were disappointed in the strength of the escort. Had they succeeded in capturing or burning the train, we should have been obliged to abandon this post, as we could have issued full rations only for a day or so longer. Indeed, of some articles we have already been obliged to issue less than the full allowance. This country could afford no subsistence, except fresh beef; and all our other supplies would be exhausted before we reached the Kansas line.

The paymaster, who came down with the train, commenced on the 27th paying off the troops at this post. Many of the officers and soldiers here have not been paid for eight months, and, of course, payment at this time will be quite acceptable to everyone. A good many of our white soldiers, who have families, generally find some means of sending nearly all their salaries home soon after pay day. Many others would,no doubt, send their money north were it not for the danger of losing it. If a soldier puts his money in [272] an envelope and seals it, and sends it by a friend to his family, his friend may get captured, or killed, or lose it, or be subjected to some great delay. And down here, where we are so much isolated from the rest of the world, the mail is not regarded as a fit and proper medium for the transmission of valuable packages, such as money. A soldier can ill afford to lose five or six months of his small earnings. It would be a great convenience to the officers and soldiers of our armies if the Government should adopt some system by which those desiring to do so could send their money to their families by check. When men carry their money around in their pockets, and have the slightest disposition to gamble, they are liable to be drawn into this immoral habit again-particularly when they have little else to occupy their minds. Since quite a proportion of our white troops lost their horses by the recent raid of the enemy, and by being worn out in the service for want of forage, we have an unusually large number of men subject to continuous camp life. And several times, while taking a stroll on the outskirts of the camp, I have noticed more than a half dozen small groups of men, in pleasant, shady spots, engaged in playing “Chuck Luck.” They were all betting, generally in small sums of money A gum or rubber blanket is usually spread upon the ground, and three or four men sit down upon it, with dice and dice-box, and bet on the dice thrown. This affords excitement and kills time, which is a burden to men, who, for months, have been actively employed in scouting and [273] marching. Loaded dice are now and then heard of, and when discovered generally result in a row. Other parties bet on games of cards. Some of those who are rather sharp gamblers, claim to have fleeced their comrades and some of the Indians out of more money than a soldier receives from the Government for six months salary. The gambling cannot be easily broken up, for parties caught in the act of playing may claim to be playing for amusement.

We have noticed again to-day, from the roof of the large stone building on the bluff, with a spy-glass, unusual activity in the enemy's camp. What it means we do not yet know; and at present we do not feel any great anxiety in regard to it. We are now in a condition our troops would rather like them to attack us; and unless they come with an overwhelming force we should fight them outside our fortifications. But they doubtless know that it would be useless to attack us here, since we were able to rout them the other morning in an — open field, when they had an opportunity of choosing the position and time of attack, and were free to maneuver as they pleased.

On the 28th the Arkansas river commenced rising rapidly, so that the enemy will not likely be very active on the north side for perhaps a week or so. They have no steam ferry boats, nor any other kind of boats fit for crossing the river, that we have heard of,between Fort Smith and their present encampment. And since we destroyed their steamboats at Van Buren last December, it is not probable that they have had much [274] river transportation on the Arkansas above Little Rock. Though this is the season when navigation on the river is best, neither party is able to use it to advantage. A steamboat plying on the river in the service of one party would be a target for the artillery and small arms of the other. Below Fort Smith, for, perhaps, nearly two hundred miles, the enemy might ply steamboats with comparative safety from attack by our forces. But over that section they have very little to transport, as the main army is in the neighborhood of Little Rock.

The present rise is due almost entirely to the flood gates having been opened in the mountains. Such local rains as we have had recently have not, probably, perceptibly affected the volume of water flowing in the Arkansas, above the month of Grand river. The spring rise of the Arkansas is almost as regular as the rise of the Nile.

If we had pontoon bridges now, since our troops are buoyant with life and confident in their strength, and have full rations for nearly a month, we could annoy the enemy and doubtless drive him from his present position. To have full rations and know that the larder is well filled, or that the commissary has abundant supplies on hand, gives strength and courage to the soldier. It takes good food and plenty of it to keep up a strong vigorous current of blood through its natural channels.

The enemy's pickets and ours along the river are getting more tolerant of each others' presence. They [275] agreed on a temporary truce on the 28th, and approached each other at a narrow point on the river, and talked across the water in a quite friendly manner. They had another conference on the 29th instant, and talked over the engagement of Monday morning pleasantly, and inquired of each other about friends in the two armies. But while parties are talking to each other under truce at one point on the river, they are firing upon each other at some other point. As nothing substantial can be gained by this continuous firing across the river, it will probably cease altogether soon. It has now been going on until there is getting to be very little novelty in it.

Our commissary train started back to Fort Scott on the evening of the 30th, and crossed Grand River twelve miles above this post, on account of its being too high to ford in this vicinity. Nearly all the cavalry here have been ordered to escort it as far as Baxter Springs or Neosho River. When this duty shall have been performed, the troops belonging to this division will return to this station. While it is not likely that the enemy would make a very great effort to capture or destroy our empty train returning, they would doubtless make some effort to destroy it, if they found that it had only a feeble escort. And we, from information received through Indians who have been gathering whortleberries in the mountains, are not sure that they have not already a considerable force above here on a kind of expedition of observation.

Information also came from Baxter Springs on the [276] 31st of May, that a portion of the colored regiment stationed there under Colonel Williams, recently had a hard fight with Livingston's guerillas, and lost about twenty men killed. It seems that Livingston made a raid on the place, for the purpose of driving off the horses and mules kept at that station, and was in a measure successful. The animals, it is stated, were being herded on the prairie near the post where grazing was best, by a small number of colored soldiers, who were surprised when the rebels dashed upon them. When we first heard of the colored infantry being stationed at Baxter Springs several weeks ago, I remarked of the great need of a cavalry force at that point. One company of infantry is worth just about as much there as an infantry regiment, in contending with the guerillas of that section under Livingston. And very few animals can be kept there unless they shall be fed within the limits of the camp. And none are required at the station, except mules for the regimental teams.

A scouting party of the enemy was seen on June 1st, near Green Leaf, about eight miles east of this post. They are supposed to be apart of Standwaitie's rebel Indians, and to be moving in the direction of Tahlequah and the northern part of the Cherokee Nation. As all that part of the Nation adjacent to Arkansas is unoccupied by our troops, they may be permitted to remain in it several weeks undisturbed. Our cavalry is now so much occupied with escort duty to our supply trains, and in watching the movements of the enemy in [277] this immediate vicinity, that Colonel Phillips is unable to send out a force to pursue every detachment of rebels moving northeast of us.

A negro man came into our lines on the 2d, from the rebel camp on the opposite side of the river, and he says that they claim to have upwards of six thousand men. He was taken prisoner on the 20th ultimo by the enemy, when they made the raid and drove away so many of our animals. They were much elated over this affair, but much disappointed in not being able to capture or destroy our supply train. They questioned him a good deal about the strength of our force, and wished to know if the colored troops were really coming down as reinforcements. He says that the thought of having to meet on the field, and on equal terms, the colored soldiers, makes them quite indignant. But a man is a man, black or white, and his being black does not prevent him necessarily from being valuable on the field. They affect to think that our government is hard pressed for soldiers when it feels the necessity of accepting the military service of the recent slaves. But we may observe that the enemy will perhaps find out, before this contest is over, that the recent slaves will feel as much interest in fighting for their freedom as our white soldiers have in fighting to maintain the integrity of the government. It may also be remarked that there are many of us who believe that there can be no permanent union without the permanent.freedom of the late slaves. Many who at first scouted this idea, are beginning to take a similar view. [278]

It seems Livingston wrote General Cooped just before our supply train came down, that the colored regiment would accompany it as an escort from Baxter Springs. He urged that preparations be made for capturing the whole outfit. The enemy, therefore, when he attacked the train near here on the 25th ultimo, were somewhat disappointed in not finding it guarded by an escort of colored troops; and now affect to believe that we have no colored soldiers enlisted into the service. Before the summer is over, and we continue to be as near neighbors as at present, they will likely become abundantly satisfied on this point — that is, that we have a regiment of soldiers as black as ebony, and that they can go through the infantry manual as handsomely and with as much ease as perhaps any of their own troops, and that if they have an opportunity of seeing them, they may see them with bright blue uniforms, and if coming into line, with muskets and bayonets glistening beautifully but terribly. Colonel Williams has given much attention to carefully drilling his regiment. We hear that the colored troops are quite anxious to come into an engagement with the enemy, and that they think they would prick his tender white skin with the points of their bayonets. The few contests they have had in the vicinity of Baxter Springs with the enemy, show that they are not lacking in bravery.

While a detachment of rebel Indians who were on their way to Hilter Brand's Mills in the northern part of the Nation, stopped to plunder the house of a family [279] near Tahlaquah yesterday, one of the women of the house mounted one of the enemy's horses, and came on here and reported their movements to Colonel Phillips. Such heroic action on the part of a loyal woman of this territory is surely highly commendable. Her name should be preserved in the gallery of Heroic Women. With a little presence of mind, the loyal families living in the country might often do very much toward keeping us advised of the movements of the enemy. It is also probable that there is a good deal of reliable information brought in to Colonel Phillips concerning the movements of the enemy, by people living in the country, that we never hear of.

Our prospects are beginning to look a little brighter. Colonel Phillips has received a dispatch from General Blunt, who is now at Forth Leavenworth, urging him to hold this post, no matter at what cost, and that he will immediately send him reinforcements. We don't believe that Colonel Phillips has had any intention of abandoning this post, so long as his supplies came through safely. We can fight while we have anything to eat. But if the commanding General of the Department had not decided to do something to assist us in keeping the country in our rear free of the enemy, so that our supplies can reach us, the thought of falling back from this section would no doubt have to be seriously considered by Colonel Phillips in the course of a month or so. But a month's time may change the aspect of things, not only in this section, but [280] throughout the country. It is not, I suppose, so much the question of ability to hold this post, but the question of ability to hold a larger portion of this country that concerns Colonel Phillips most. We do not know the number of troops General Blunt will have in his new command, but I do know that he is an officer who will not be content to remain inactive in the rear and allow his sword to rust, while there is an enemy in front. He is, every inch, a fighting General.

A small party of our Indian soldiers had a skirmish with a detachment of Standwaitie's men near Park Hill, June 5th, and had--two men killed, and two seriously wounded. The enemy are reported to have also had several men wounded. Ambulances were immediately sent over to Park Hill to bring in the killed and wounded. Our scouting parties have been in that section very little recently. It is reported, also, that the rebels shot one of their own men, because he endeavored to save the life of one of our Indians. It has been suggested, however, that this story be taken with a grain of allowance. Our loss in this instance is probably due to the fact that our Indians were not quite as vigilant as they might or should have been. Small detachments of our troops should know by this time that when they are out of sight of our camp they are, as far as their safety is concerned, in the enemy's country, and liable to surprise at any moment.

Several of our Indian soldiers, who have had permission to visit their homes in the northern part of [281] the Nation near Maysville, have just returned, and report that the enemy have a force of upwards of one hundred men in that section, murdering the loyal Indians, and committing all kinds of depredations. This force of the enemy crossed the Arkansas River near Webber's Falls, and marched up through the Nation near the Arkansas line. As complaints have been coming in for several days of their depredations, Colonel Phillips has determined to send a force of two or three hundred cavalry in pursuit of the rebels. That will soon put an end to the little reign of terror. It is desirable to afford all the protection possible to those loyal families who are endeavoring to live upon their homesteads. And since Colonel Phillips has had command of the Indian Territory, it can hardly be said that the enemy has had even a transient possession of any portion of it.

The enemy killed two of our pickets on the night of the 7th, within less than three miles of this post, by sneaking upon them in the dark. They seem to act upon the assumption that anything is fair in war. It is supposed that they intended to prepare the way for making another raid upon our animals, as soon as they should be sent out with the herders the next day. The night and day picket stations should be at different points. But if they had it in view to make another raid for such a purpose, they must have given it up for some reason, for a detachment of our cavalry sent out to-day several miles beyond the picket station where the men were killed, returned without having [282] found any signs of the enemy. As two of our men escaped from the outside picket station, and came in to the next most distant station on the road leading from the post, the rebels perhaps thought that what they had done would be reported to Colonel Phillips' headquarters before our animals should be driven out to graze. When it becomes necessary for the men of an outside picket station to leave it, they should fall back upon the next interior station and await the approach of the enemy; but in the meantime it is the duty of the non-commissioned officer in charge to send a messenger in to headquarters, post-haste, to report what had already taken place, If the enemy should continue to advance and attack this second station, the non-commissioned officer in charge of it should send another messenger as swiftly as possible to his commanding officer, with such information as he has been able to gain of the enemy's movements. The courier should also be instructed as he starts on his flying errand to cry out at each of the stations he passes, “Men! up and at your posts, the enemy are advancing!” Each station should detain the enemy as long as it can with safety do so. But of course if the officer in charge of it discovers the enemy advancing in strong force, he should not deploy his men in such manner as to make their capture or destruction an easy matter. If it should be a light advance guard of the enemy approaching, a well directed fire of the pickets will, perhaps, in most instances, stop their progress until the main force comes up. In the presence of an [283] enemy picket duty is full of danger to the soldier, and if he relaxes his vigilance while on such duty, it may be not only at his own great risk, hut he may also endanger the safety of the entire command to which he belongs. He should, therefore, be impressed with the responsibility of his position. Colonel Phillips has such an arrangement of picket guards, that it would now be almost impossible for the enemy to approach nearer than three or four miles without alarming our camp.

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