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Chapter 15:

  • An agreement in regard to the cessation of picket firing
  • -- mostly young men in the army -- they have no Alcestis to die for them -- General Cooper's army moves back twenty miles, perhaps to find better grazing -- a rebel reconnoitering force west of the Fort -- General Cabell's force near Cincinnati -- the Indians harvesting -- the wheat crop good, what there is of it -- Major Foreman after Standwaitie -- engagement on Green Leaf prairie -- the enemy finally driven from the field -- Federal and rebel pickets in swimming together -- the Federals exchange coffee for tobacco -- desertion of rebel soldiers -- rebel discipline believed to be more severe in some respects than the Federal -- remarks on flogging and severe discipline -- Major Foreman with six hundred men sent to meet Federal supply train -- the enemy preparing to attack it again -- an Indian prophet and the superstitions of the Indians.

On June 9th some sort of an agreement was arrived at between General Cooper and Colonel Phillips, by which the pickets of the two opposing armies along both sides of the river shall cease firing at each other as much as possible. This to my mind is a very sensible arrangement, for very little is accomplished by banging away all day long at each other, as if the two armies were skirmishing preparatory to going [285] into action. We can sometimes hear from this post the volleys of small arms at different points along the river, as if the two forces were actually approaching each other in line of battle. If either party should attempt to cross the river, then it would of course be perfectly proper for the other party to fire upon them. But I do not apprehend that the firing will entirely cease immediately, as it will be easy for those of restless dispositions on either side to find some pretext for firing an occasional shot. Picket duty is very monotonous, and the young men like to do something occasionally for excitement. Perhaps it is needless for me to specify and emphasize the young men, for among our white troops I believe that over one-half of the enlisted men are between the ages of twenty and thirty years. We have quite a number under the age of twenty, counting myself among them. It will therefore be seen that we have a good deal of the spirit of youth among us; so much indeed that there is always some one ready to undertake almost any adventure that it is possible to propose. It is well enough to have a good deal of such esprit de corps in an army, if it is properly guided by older and cooler heads. But there is a thought that comes into my mind in regard to the great number of young men who have enlisted into our armies. It is this: If the war continues a few years longer, and it is as destructive of young men and men under middle age as it has already been, will not this great loss of young men just growing into manhood, and men just commencing to assume [286] the duties of citizens, be seriously felt throughout the country for the next few generations? No one I think can doubt but that most of the strong, healthy and vigorous young men who are full of patriotic pride and feel a deep interest in their country's welfare, if they have not already, are now enlisting into the army. What proportion of these young men will return to their homes sound and healthy as they left them? Perhaps only a small proportion. The blood that courses the veins of these men is the kind of blood that should flow through the veins of the children of the rising generation. The patriotic spirit which animates these young men, is the kind of patriotic spirit which should animate the children of the future of this great country. The nation is surely making a great sacrifice, but the principle involved is a great one, and when we take into account the benefits that must accrue to future generations if our arms are crowned with success, as they must be, I believe that it will be admitted that the prize is worth much of the best blood of the country But the noble sacrifice of the heroic dead or living should not be regarded lightly, nor soon forgotten by the rising generation. Many of us may wish that we could have been born a generation or so later; but as we are here we should not endeavor to escape the responsibility, if we are true to ourselves, of doing our best to leave a desirable form of government — an ideal form — to those who shall come after us. And moreover some of us may reasonably hope that we shall escape the enemy's arms and the [287] sickness of the camp, and enjoy for a time, at least, that desirable existence which the war is being waged to secure. But each of us that attains to a ripe age, as the years pass by and his thoughts turn to the scenes of the war, will remember with sadness that his company left a comrade upon this field and another upon that. And those of us whose heads are now filled with youthful thoughts will be crowned with hoary hairs, and instead of bounding over the plain as now, a staff will be used to assist locomotion. What a mystery is life!

We come to the final remark, that our young soldiers who are cut off when life is sweetest, and going down to their graves by the thousand almost daily, have no Alcestis to die for them. But they have proved themselves as generous as Alcestis, for they have laid down their lives for the living and unborn millions of their race. If life on the average is desirable or worth living, what an immensely greater amount of happiness there might be if the aged, who have but a short term of years before them, could die for the young. But the gift of life scarcely anyone desires to part with, though he knows he can retain it only for a short period. The old will never be sacrificed in war that the young may live the natural periods of their lives. The strongest and best must always do the fighting.

Information was received at this post on the 10th, that General Cooper's command on the south side of the Arkansas river has moved back about fifteen miles. Two women who brought this information [288] claim to have been detained in the camp of the rebels about a week ; but they do not complain of any discourteous treatment. They think that the enemy were about to make some important movement, and that their detention was to prevent them from advising us anything concerning it. Even if the main body has left, it is probable that a force deemed sufficient to guard the fords of the river and to watch our movements, will remain. As they have no particular point to hold, we can see no forcible reason why they should be content to stay in camp all summer within sight of us. But the movement they are reported to have just made, does not seem to be an aggressive one, though it may turn out to be such. It is possible that they have moved their camp to a place where they will have better grazing facilities for their animals. We need not suppose that their horses will stand hard service on grass ally better than ours. If their animals have any advantage over ours, it is probably due to the fact, that they were kept at places during the winter where plenty of hay and corn were put up for their use. Their horses may have had some slight advantage too, by having had good grazing several weeks earlier than ours. As the country in their rear towards Texas, is not infested with union guerrillas, as the country in our rear is with rebel guerrillas; and as their supply trains, if they have any, are not annoyed by our troops, their cavalry horses have nothing like the current hard service to perform that ours have. But we hope that this state of things will be [289] all changed in a few weeks, that we shall have troops enough down here to take the offensive, and put the enemy to looking out for the safety of their trains, etc. We believe that they will find that we can and will act as vigorously on the offensive as on the defensive, and that their lease on the south bank of the river is almost at an end. If Colonel Phillips should get reinforcements soon, he would no doubt cross the river and attack General Cooper in his camp. If successful, this would be better than forcing him to detach a portion of his troops for the protection of his supply trains.

A rebel reconnoitering force of about two hundred men were on the opposite side of Grand river this morning, probably not more than three miles from this post. They have ascertained that we have no force on the west side at present, and that the river here is so high that we cannot use the two little flatboats to take over a cavalry force, and that they can sport around with impunity almost within sight of the guns of the fort. As the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers are both fordable, they know it would not be difficult to escape, even if we should send a force in pursuit of them. They may have been making a kind of survey of the situation, with the view of seeing if their batteries could be used against us with much advantage from the west side. It is the impression of our officers that they could not. The opposite heights, we believe, are too distant even for the best long range rifled guns to be very effective against our [290] works on the bluff. And supposing that they should hammer away at our fortifications for several days, they would at the end of that time still have the river to cross, which we should warmly contest, whether they attempted to ford it, or should bring pontoons to throw across it. When the river is low enough for a few hundred yards above or below the fortifications, and the enemy should attempt to force either of these crossings, we could quickly throw up temporary breastworks to cover our battery, and with grape and canister inflict a heavy loss upon them before they got over. But I will not state farther what we could do in an event that is not likely to occur. It is barely possible, however, that Generals Cooper and Cabell have contemplated joining forces to reduce this place.

Several loyal Cherokee women, who have just arrived from near Cincinnati,a small place about sixty miles east of this post, on the State line, report that a large force of the enemy, perhaps upwards of a thousand strong, were encamped at that point a few days ago. These women state that the enemy were all white troops, and appeared to be moving northward. We think that this is a party of General Cabell's force, which has been operating in western Arkansas during the last month. Should General Cabell undertake to co-operate with General Cooper, Colonel Phillips will have his hands full. This movement to the east of us, and right on the line of the Nation, looks somewhat as if the enemy intended to be in readiness by the time [291] our next supply train comes down in about two weeks. They have commenced to set their toils early. A cavalry force can march in a day and night from the Arkansas line to any point on the Grand River, and thus easily co-operate with any force General Cooper might send to the west of us. Instead of making a demonstration against the troops here, it seems to be the intention of the enemy to withdraw to a convenient distance, so that our supply train will attempt to come through without our reinforcing its escort. If they make another effort to capture it, as they doubtless will, we may count upon their coming better prepared than last month. We shall also probably be better prepared to defend the train.

The few small patches of wheat that were sown last fall, by a good many families, in different parts of the Nation, are now just beginning to be harvested by the Indians. The season has been favorable, and the yield fair to the acreage. Beyond fifteen or twenty miles from this post, it is regarded as very dangerous for the men to work in their fields without guards for protection. An Indian is in his natural element when he has an opportunity of sneaking upon his foe, and there are many rebel Indians who have returned for this purpose. They regard this as a good time to get even on old grudges, which may have existed between their grandfathers in Tennessee or Georgia. The way the harvesters arranged it, is, I believe, for four or five or a half dozen men to combine to assist each other. About half of the party works while the other half stands [292] guard. It is thought that there has been enough wheat grown in the nation this season, which, if carefully harvested, will go far towards subsisting the Indian families, thus dispensing with the necessity of their being refugees about our camp, and fed by the Government. Colonel Phillips is disposed to afford them all the protection he can, while they are engaged in harvesting their wheat crop, by keeping the country as free of the enemy as possible. A dispatch was received on the 14th instant, from Major Foreman, who was sent out a few days ago, with a force of about three hundred and twenty-five Indians and white men stating that he is in hot pursuit of Standwaitie's Indians, who for upwards of a week, have been committing numerous depredations in the country to the northeast of us. While Standwaitie is permitted to remain in the nation, most of his followers return to their homes in the section in which he operates, and coming in contact with some of our loyal Indians, who have also returned to their homes, a kind of private war springs up between the belligerent parties, generally resulting in bloody contests. The reputation Major Foreman has as a fighting officer, justifies us in believing that he would either bring the rebel Indians to an engagement, or drive them out of the Nation. But from the information received, it does not seem likely that they will make a stand north of the Arkansas River. They have shown very little disposition to come into a square fight.

Colonel Wattles, of the First Indian regiment, who [293] was sent out on the morning of the 15th, with a force of about three hundred men, to make a reconnaissance for a distance of fifteen or twenty miles along the north side of the Arkansas to the east of us, met a force of the enemy the next morning, about equal to his own, near Green Leaf Prairie, some ten miles east. Through his scouts, Colonel Phillips had heard of this force of the enemy, and knew that it was not much, if any, superior to the force under Colonel Wattles. Well, the two forces having met, a fight or the flight of one party was of course inevitable. But the two opposing forces determined to test each other's strength and bravery. The enemy posted themselves in the woods, near the road leading to Webber's Falls, in a rather advantageous position, and seemed to wish our troops to commence the attack, which they did very soon. Colonel Wattles did not, however, commence the attack directly in front, as the enemy desired, but threw out skirmishers, and commenced a movement to turn the enemy's right flank. By this movement our troops had the shelter of the woods as well as the enemy. Our force now having gained as good a position as that held by the enemy, the skirmish line was advanced, followed by the other troops in line, about two-hundred yards back. The enemy, after some firing at different points along the skirmish line, forced it back upon our main line. But he did not come dashing furiously along with drawn swords, with the determination of breaking through our ranks. Nor did our troops move forward like a hurricane, but rather [294] steadily until the enemy commenced to fall back. There was very little dash displayed on either side.

The position of the enemy at this point, according to the account of an eye witness, was just such a one as Colonel Jewell would have delighted to have had, were he living and had been on the field: He would have said: “Men, are your carbines and revolvers in perfect order? Do you see the enemy there? Unsheath sabres, follow me.” And in an instant he would have swept like a storm through the ranks of the enemy, and few of them would have escaped the edges of our swords. He could instantly seize the situation, and there was no dallying with the foe afterwards.

After the skirmishing and fighting, which lasted upwards of all hour, the enemy retreated in the direction of Webber's Falls, having had a number of men wounded.

Our casualties were: one man killed, seven wounded and five taken prisoners. The five men taken prisoners belonged to the battalion Sixth Kansas Cavalry, and were not captured in the engagement, but while on their way down to join Colonel Wattles. They expected to find our troops at a certain place, but instead found the enemy, and were right in his midst before discovering their mistake. Some of our impetuous white soldiers, when they hear of a prospective fight, get permission, and rush away to take a hand in it, instead of waiting to take their proper places in their companies. While we admire their bravery, we [295] are sometimes called upon to condemn their rashness and indiscretion.

As soon as a messenger came in and reported that the force under Colonel Wattles had been fighting the enemy at Green Leaf, and were falling back, Colonel Phillips immediately sent .out Lieutenant-Colonel F. W. Shaurtie with two hundred men-mostly Indians to relieve Colonel Wattles. But the reinforcements had not marched more than half way to the place where the engagement occurred, when they were met by the force under Colonel Wattles returning to this post. The enemy and our troops had turned their heels on each other. Through his scouts Colonel Phillips knew very nearly the exact strength of the enemy, and he was not at all satisfied with the conduct of Colonel Wattles.

The enemy's pickets and ours were in swimming together in the Arkansas on the 19th instant. Though they agreed beforehand that they would not endeavor to take advantage of each other, yet they were cautious not to come nearer than a rod of each other, and the men of each party took care to keep nearest the water's edge of their own side of the river. The next day they were less distrustful of each other, and an equal number of men from each side had a friendly conference in the middle of the Arkansas. The two parties talked for sometime in a good-natured manner of the various contests in which each had participated, of some relative or friend who was taken prisoner in such an engagement; of the prospects of the war, and of [296] the operations of the armies in the east. By an agreement of the first day's conference, the rebel soldiers were to-day to bring some tobacco, and our soldiers some coffee, for exchange with each other. Both parties kept their promises, and at the meeting on the 20th, exchanged their coffee and tobacco with each other in the middle of the river. As I was acquainted with our river patrol, I had the curiosity to witness the meeting. At this conference the rebel soldiers mentioned of having the five white prisoners captured by their forces at Green Leaf, on the 16th instant. They also in the course of the conversation said that there had recently been a good many desertions from their army, and that four men who were tried not long since for desertion, have been found guilty and sentenced to be shot, and that the sentence is expected to be carried into effect in a few days. From what we have frequently heard, I believe that the rebels are more rigid in their punishment of deserters than the military authorities in our armies, although with us the penalty is death for desertion in time of war. With us there is not much trouble taken to find deserters, and bring them to trial. I have been with our army on the border and in this territory now nearly two years, and there has not yet been a deserter from the troops with which I have been serving, caught, tried, condemned and executed to my knowledge. We have had a small number of desertions during this period. It is possible, however, that there have been some executions for desertion at Forts Scott and Leavenworth, [297] as the courts-martial for the trial of deserters have generally been convened at those posts. There is such a sentiment against inflicting the death penalty, even in cases where the charge is murder, that I have no doubt but that there are officers who would prefer, if the discharge of their duties permitted, to be relieved from the disagreeable duty of approving the findings of the court in case of desertion. It is highly gratifying to note the spreading of this more humane sentiment. There is a tendency of our Government not to punish its soldiers so rigorously as formerly for certain offenses. Flogging has been abolished in the army and navy since the war commenced, and no one will contend that the morale of our army has suffered in consequence. It was a barbarous practice, and originated in a less enlightened age than this. Indeed, I doubt whether there ever was an army that was composed of more true gentlemen than is our army at this moment. Supposing that the law had remained on the statutes permitting an upstart of an officer to have a soldier flogged for any petty offense, imaginary or real, and thousands of patriotic men-throughout the country would not have so readily come forward and offered their services to the Government? A government that recognizes the manly spirit of its citizen soldiery, will lose nothing by treating them as men in the end. There must of course be discipline; for there has not yet probably been a single regiment organized for the war, into which there has not enlisted several regular dead beats. But men of this class who persist in violating [298] law and order, as soon as their true characters are known, should be drummed out of the service in disgrace, or if their offenses demand a greater punishments, confined in military prisons for definite periods. But even these hard characters the lash and buck and gagging, are not likely to make better. What their prison discipline should be I am not prepared to say, except that I believe it should be of such a nature as would have a tendency to reform them instead of hardening their perverse natures.

Colonel Phillips sent out Major Foreman on the 20th instant, with a force of about six hundred men and one twelve-pound howitzer, to meet our supply train, which has probably left Fort Scott, and is now on the way down. It it is not delayed by high water at the crossing of the Neosho River, he should meet it between that point and Cabin Creek. He will have time to march leisurely, and to send out scouting parties to the east and west of his column to ascertain if the enemy have as yet shown any signs of activity in the country above here, with the view of making another effort to capture our train.

From information received from the enemy's camp on the south side of the river, it is evident that they are making preparations to attack our train at some point above this post. There was great activity in their camp yesterday, and last night they sent out two strong columns of cavalry, one of which is to pass to the east of us and the other to the west of us. Our scouts are watching them closely, and Colonel Phillips [299] is advised of every movement they make. The force that moves to the east of us, it is reported, intends to join General Cabell, who has about fifteen hundred men and several pieces of artillery at a point between the Arkansas line, near Cincinnati, and Grand River. Though we do not know their exact intentions, everything points to their intention of concentrating all their mounted forces in the neighborhood of Cabin Creek, and to await the arrival of the train and escort. Should our troops guarding the train find the enemy too strongly posted at this point on the west side to be able to dislodge them, and attempt to cross Grand River at Grand Saline and come down on the east side, General Cabell will be on hand to thwart the movement, or he may cross the river and join General Cooper's force on the west side. They, no doubt, think that they have us in a tight place, and that they will certainly succeed this time in taking our rations from us. But our officers are not asleep and ignorant of their movements and designs. They will have to fight harder and show greater deeds of valor than before if they come off victorious in the contest for the prize.

There is an old Indian prophet, fortune teller and medicine man at this post, who sometimes has crowds of silly clients around him, desiring him to forecast the future for them. Their faith in his nonsensical performance is remarkable. The belief that certain persons are gifted with prophecy, that they can raise the curtain and peer into the future, and read trifling [300] incidents in regard to love scrapes, fortunes, friends lost, &c., is wide spread, and quite common among every people whose history is known to us. The Indians here are no more superstitious in this respect than the white people in the most intelligent portions of the country, and even in the most intellectual centres. In nearly all the newspapers that come to us from the great cities of the country, may be seen advertisements of “Fortune Tellers” --“your future told by astrology,” “clairvoyance,” “or cards.” These people must have customers, or they could not afford to pay for their advertisements. And their advertisements indicate that they get their living by fortune telling, which we know is the case. Even here in the far west, there is probably not a single family that has been living in the country half a dozen years, that has not been visited by wandering gypsies on fortune telling business.

But to return to my Indian prophet. He prepares a poultice from different kinds of herbs, and applies it to his head during the night.. It is stated by those who are somewhat familiar with him, that he takes into his stomach a certain quantity of the juice of these herbs. Any way, it is said that the herbs affect his nervous system and mind in some mysterious manner so that he has very vivid dreams and a kind of nervous exaltation. And even after he awakens he actually has, or feigns to have, a wild, weird look. It is in this state that he affects to read the future to those around him, whose relaxed jaws and raised eyebrows [301] show their faith in him. To be fully equipped as a prophet, it has been suggested that he should have a witch's cauldron filled with frogs' feet, the beaks of birds and claws of wild animals, and stir them, muttering cabalistic words.

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