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Chapter 18:

  • The battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry to remain at Fort Scott a few weeks
  • -- news of the battle of Gettysburg and surrender of Vicksburg and Port Hudson -- remarks on the progress of the Federal arms -- backbone of the Confederacy broken -- frequent contests between the State Militia and guerrilas in Southwest Missouri -- guerrilla warfare leads to retaliation and personal grudges -- Major Livingston, the guerrilla leader, killed by the Missouri Militia -- remarks on the nature of his operations -- Colonel Crittenden, commanding the Militia in Southwest Missouri, after the enemy -- Colonel Cloud on the march to Fayetteville -- General Blunt attacks General Cooper's army at Honey Springs -- preparations for the battle -- furious charge of the Federal troops -- complete rout of the enemy and capture of one piece of artillery, colors and prisoners -- General Cabell came up after the battle was over.

The train and escort, composed of the battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry, arrived at Fort Scott July 14th. We shall remain here a few weeks, subject to the orders of Major Blair, the Post Commander. In the meantime, the dismounted men of the battalion will be remounted upon fresh animals, and those who have brought their horses through will draw full rations of forage for them for a few weeks, which will greatly improve their condition. There is a strong contrast [347] between our sun-faded and badly worn uniforms and the bright new uniforms of most of the soldiers around this post. The fields of growing corn and harvested grain, and herds upon a thousand hills, make us feel that we have come into a land of peace and plenty. It would be difficult to find four companies that have seen harder service than this battalion during the last year.

Coming here is almost like entering a new world. News reaches us of the operations of our armies in the east, in Tennessee and along the Mississippi River, of not more than two days old. We have just heard of the great battle of Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, on the 1st, 2d and 3d instant, and the defeat of the rebel army under General Lee; and of the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, by General Grant, on the 4th instant, with 27,000 prisoners, 128 pieces of artillery, eighty siege guns, and arms and ammunition for 60,000 men. We also hear that Port Hudson, below Vicksburg, on the Mississippi, has surrendered to General Banks since the fall of Vicksburg, with between eight or ten thousand prisoners, fifty to sixty pieces of artillery, small arms for fifteen thousand men, and large quantities of quartermaster's, commissary and ordnance stores. The Mississippi River is now open to navigation from St. Paul to the Gulf of Mexico. The fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson cuts the Confederacy nearly through the middle, and the leaders of the rebellion must now see that their cause is utterly hopeless. We have broken the enemy's lines from Gettysburg [348] to Cabin Creek this month, and unless some of our military commanders make a series of great blunders, the destruction of all the rebel armies cannot be delayed longer than a year or so. Those who have predicted that the war for the Union would be a failure, should now begin to see their mistake if they do not desire it to be a failure. There will no doubt be as hard fighting yet as we have already had; for since the enemy holds no strong position in the west, he can use all his forces in the field, and act on the offensive instead of on the defensive. He can send flying columns of his troops here and there, and cause a great deal of annoyance to such divisions of our armies as are occupying advanced positions. And he may also be able to make cavalry raids far into the rear of our armies. To keep our lines of communication open from the Ohio River to the southern line of Tennessee and central Mississippi, is no small task for our troops. While the enemy in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, are not hampered in their movements by defending important points, our troops are occupying so much of their territory that they will, very likely, soon find it difficult to draw supplies for their large armies. The first two years of the war the negroes produced most of their supplies, and performed a good deal of the drudgery for their troops. This season, however, the negroes are not only not raising crops for the enemy and assisting him in various ways, but they are actually fighting their old masters with muskets in their hands. With the exception of portions of the Carolinas [349] and Georgia and Alabama, the male negroes have probably already mostly escaped from their masters, and are rapidly enlisting into the Union army, and singing songs of deliverance from their cruel bondage. The rebel leaders have not probably calculated; the extent they would be weakened by the slaveholders losing their slaves. Indeed, they do not seem to, have set up their men on the military chess-board at all before commencing hostilities, but have plunged blindly into the conflict. If they thought that the slaves would not strike for their freedom the first opportunity, they were surely very short-sighted. The institution for which the Southern States have attempted to secede and keep alive, is now practically dead. But the death-throes of a monster may deceive those who only look at the surface of things. Very few people of the South, in their sober minds, care but little about independence without the institution of slavery is kept alive. It is really painful to think that there are so many good people who are incompetent to examine introspectively what a great moral wrong slavery is. It can be accounted for by self-interest and education through generations. We are fighting to wipe out this great moral wrong, and the South is fighting to perpetuate it. We gradually gain strength the more this question is discussed and talked about. The South gradually loses by the same means. A moral principle will bear discussion and a thorough examination; but an immoral one will not. Evil doers wish to keep their evil actions in the dark. [350]

While still keeping my eye on the army under General Blunt and Colonel Phillips, I shall, during my stay at this place, give more attention than I have hitherto done to the operations of our troops along the border counties of Missouri. Kansas and Arkansas.

A small party of our soldiers who have just arrived from Neosho and Carthage in southwest Missouri, report that the militia are actively engaged in that section in fighting and chasing bushwhackers and guerrillas. Scarcely a day passes that a contest does not take place between the belligerent parties. On the 13th instant a man was killed near Granby. It was at first supposed that he was murdered by some of the Missouri militia stationed at Newtonia or Neosho. He had been out harvesting, and shortly after returning home in the evening, two men, supposed to have been bushwhackers, rode up, and claiming to belong to the Seventh Missouri militia, called him out, shot him down, and then quickly left. This is a fair sample of the manner in which the war is carried on in Missouri by the enemy. It sometimes leads to bloody retaliation, for we occasionally hear of a rebel civilian who has been mysteriously murdered. All acts of private war should be discountenanced as much as possible, for if it were extensively carried on in those States where the people are nearly equally divided in their sentiments for and against the Union, the bitterness, hatred and feelings of revenge which it now engenders. would continue between families of different [351] neighborhoods, long after peace shall have been concluded between the Government and the rebellious sections. Where men have entered either army, and are willing that the cause which they have espoused shall be submitted to the arbitrament of battle, they have no personal feelings against individuals, or private grudges against their neighbors calling for revenge. No high-minded soldier ever wounds the feelings of prisoners whom he has helped to capture in battle, by applying to them reproachful epithets. But if we take two neighbors, one of whom enters the Union army and remains away from his home during the war, and the other a rebel, who stays around his home during the war and depredates upon the property of his Union neighbor, and they both return to their respective homes after the war, we cannot reasonably expect that very friendly relations will ever exist between them. The rebels have too often acted as if they expected to have everything their own way in the future; as if the Union people had no rights which they were bound to respect, and as if their property would be confiscated in a few years. Now that the downfall of the Confederacy cannot be delayed to a very distant day, unless almost a miracle should intervene in its behalf, those rebels who were counting upon the confiscation of the property of Union prisoners with so much self-satisfaction, are perhaps beginning to regret their hasty actions. They perhaps also regret that they have frequently been so forward in pointing out the property of Union citizens for seizure by the rebel armies. [352]

Information reached this post the 16th, which is regarded as reliable, that Livingston was killed about two days ago at Stockton, sixty miles southeast of here,. by the Missouri State militia. It seems that Livingston was leading a charge of about two hundred and fifty men against a small force of the militia posted in a brick house, and that when the enemy came within range of their carbines, they delivered a volley into them, killing Livingston and three or four of his men, besides wounding several. The rebels, after the loss of their leader, retreated, and will not likely be so troublesome in that section very soon. It is the hardest blow the guerrillas of that section have received during the war. Major Tom Livingston, as he has generally been called, has operated in Newton, Jasper and Barton counties, Missouri, since early in the war. Our troops have had a great many contests with him, with varying results. Small detachments of Federal troops have found it difficult to pass through the section in which he operated, so thoroughly has he guarded all the passes and roads. And during the past two years he has killed and captured quite a number of our soldiers. But, as stated in another place, he has not been accused of murdering any of our soldiers that he has taken as prisoners, with the exception of one or two colored soldiers that he captured last spring in the vicinity of Spring River. Colonel Williams retaliated by shooting an equal number of rebel prisoners which he had captured and held, and then informed Livingston what he had done. Sometime after this occurrence Livingston's [353] force captured several other colored soldiers, but did not order them shot. They were exchanged man for man for rebel prisoners. Only by severe measures can most rebel officers be brought to listen to the appeals of justice. But that which has made Livingston's name so familiar to every one along the border, is the success with which he has so often eluded our forces when sent in search of him. Time and again expeditions of cavalry have been sent into Jasper county for the purpose of capturing or driving him out of that section. Some of the expeditions have scouted the Spring River country thoroughly for several days without finding any of his men. Others have had skirmishes with some of his men, who have generally quickly disappeared, not to be found again. Tile country along Spring River is thickly clothed with young timber, or woods, and affords many excellent hiding places for guerrillas and outlaws. While he has not captured or destroyed much Government property, he has kept the enemy in our front well advised of our movements in this section. Before the recent battle at Cabin Creek, General Cooper's troops seemed to be — as well informed of the movements of our train and escort as we were. Last year detachments of the Sixth Kansas cavalry chased and skirmished with him a good deal, and it was reported and believed that he wore a steel breast plate or something that was bullet-proof. I have heard not less than three men of our regiment say that they took deliberate aim at him with their carbines at short range, and were satisfied that they struck him: but that the [354] carbine balls were turned aside by something impenetrable which he wore. In Homeric times the soldiers would have said that some goddess turned aside the death-dealing missiles. Rebel citizens say that Colonel Coffey is expected in southwest Missouri soon, to take command of Livingston's force. But he will not make such a successful leader as Livingston has been.

On the 17th inst. Colonel Crittenden, commanding at Newtonia, sent out two hundred mounted militia in the direction of Carthage and Spring River, with the determination of driving Livingston's old band out of that section. This force had a skirmish with the enemy in which four rebels were killed and one of the militia wounded. The next day a trail some distance south of the place where the skirmish occurred was discovered, and it is believed that the larger portion of the guerrilla force of that section have gone south. Major Burch, commanding a battalion of the Eighth Missouri militia cavalry at Neosho, has been displaying great activity lately in scouting the country for a distance of twenty-five miles north, west and south of his station. He is regarded as a brave and very efficient officer and the guerrillas will doubtless prefer to keep a safe distance from his troops. His soldiers are well mounted and armed, and know the country as well as the enemy.

Colonel Cloud, with most of his regiment, the Second Kansas cavalry, and two or three Arkansas regiments, were at Cassville on the 18th instant, and are expected to move south towards Fayetteville and Van Buren [355] in a few days, with the view of co-operating with General Blunt, who recently went down to take command of the troops at Fort Gibson. Since General Herron's division was ordered to join General Grant, in the seige of Vicksburg, several months ago, there are not so many of our troops along the southern line of Missouri as there were during the latter part of the winter; but I still think that there have been enough to spare a force sufficient to re-occupy and hold Fayetteville, Arkansas. After the withdrawal of our troops from northwestern Arkansas several months ago, our position at Fort Blunt has been much more difficult to hold than it was before Colonel Harrison left Fayetteville, for, as I have already stated, the enemy have been able to direct all his forces in western Arkansas and the Indian country against the division of Colonel Phillips.

Colonel Blair, the Post Commander, has just received a despatch from General Blunt, stating that he attacked and routed the forces of General Cooper at Honey Springs, on Elk Creek, twenty-five miles south of Fort Gibson, last Friday morning, July 17th. A detachment of about twenty men came through from Fort Blunt with despatches and the mail. Nearly all these men were in the engagement at Honey Springs. I have therefore talked with several of them, to get the particulars of the battle. General Blunt reached Fort Gibson on the 11th, two days after we met him at Cabin Creek. He rested the cavalry and artillery that he took down with him for four days, as the Arkansas [356] River was still too full to be fordable. In the meantime he collected all the flat boats that could be found, for the purpose of crossing his artillery and troops over the Arkansas at the mouth of Grand River. On the evening of the 15th he directed that a given number of men from each regiment, battalion and battery, be supplied with four days rations in haversacks, and forty rounds of ammunition in their cartridge boxes, and to be in readiness to march at a moment's notice. His troops, artillery and ambulances, being in readiness to move, the General took four hundred cavalry and four pieces of light artillery, and at midnight of the 15th crossed Grand River near the Fort and the Verdigris River, seven or eight miles to the southwest, and then marched up the Arkansas to a point about eighteen miles southwest of Fort Gibson, and forded the river. It was quite deep, coming up to the flanks of the horses. The caissons were detached from the artillery wagons and carried across the river on horses, to keep the ammunition dry. After he had crossed his forces over the river and replaced the caissons, he marched rapidly down the south bank to a point opposite the mouth of Grand River, with the intention of cutting off and capturing the enemy's pickets, stationed along the river guarding the fords, etc. But: they had by some means got wind of his movement, and being mounted upon good horses, only two or three were captured. He arrived opposite the mouth of Grand River before twelve o'clock the 16th, and immediately set the boats in motion and got his troops [357] and artillery all ferried over before night, and at once set out on the march for Elk Creek, where, according to information he had received through his scouts, General Cooper was encamped with six thousand men, Texans and Indians. His own force was less than three thousand five hundred effective men. General Blunt's scouts reported to him that General Cabell, with three thousand men and some artillery, was on his way to join General Cooper, that Generals Cooper and Cabell were making preparations for a combined attack on Fort Blunt in a few days. General Blunt was therefore determined to hasten forward and attack General Cooper before General Cabell could form a junction with him. He made a night's march from the South bank of the Arkansas to Elk Creek, reaching there at sunrise. Four companies of the Sixth Kansas cavalry under Captain H. S. Greeno, with their two mountain howitzers, took the advance and drove in the enemy's outposts at daybreak. Captain Greeno followed them up closely until they fell back upon the main force, posted in the timber on the south side of Elk Creek. The enemy commenced to flank him and he fell back upon the infantry and artillery, which had not made such rapid progress, and were some distance in the rear coming up. General Blunt marched his entire force up to within half mile of the enemy's line, and halted a short time to enable his men to take. lunch from their haversacks. Soldiers should always, as far as practicable, be allowed to replenish their stores of force before going into battle. The weather was quite [358] warm, and a night march had much fatigued the infantry, so that they required food and rest before engaging the enemy. After his troops had lunched, and rested a short time, General Blunt formed them into two columns for making the attack.. The right, under Colonel W. R. Judson, of the Sixth Kansas cavalry, was to move forward to the right of the Texas road, and the left, under Colonel W. A. Phillips, was to move forward to the left of the road. The whole force, cavalry, infantry, and artillery, marched in columns of companies up to within a quarter of a mile of the enemy's position in the woods, and then came into line on the right and left of the road, and halted for a moment. While General Blunt with his staff and escort were examining the position of the enemy, one of their sharp shooters wounded one of the General's escorts. The cavalry in the meantime had been skirmishing with the enemy, and was forcing him to show his exact position. The line moved forward a hundred yards or so, and halted again. General Blunt then directed Captain Smith to bring his battery into position, and to open with shell and shrapnel upon a wood where it was believed that the enemy had a battery and a large force massed. Captain Henry Hopkins was next directed to bring his battery into position a few hundred yards distant from Captain Smith's, and to open upon the enemy in another place. It was now soon discovered that the line of battle of the enemy was nearly a mile and a half in length. The cavalry on the right and left were now warmly engaged, and the enemy [359] commenced to reply with his artillery. General Blunt went to Colonel Williams and said, “Colonel, I think that we have got the location of one of the enemy's batteries. I wish you would keep your eye upon it, and if you see an opportunity, I should like to have you take it at the point of the bayonet with. your colored regiment.” Colonel Williams remarked that his men were eager to charge the enemy, and if it were possible he would take the battery. He then addressed his men briefly; he told them to pay strict attention to orders; to reserve their fire until the order to fire was given, and then to take deliberate aim at the waists of the enemy; that they would now in a few moments have an opportunity of displaying their valor on an open field; and that the eyes of the country were upon them. He then took his proper position and gave the order, fix bayonets, forward, march. He then moved up within short range of the enemy's line and halted a moment, and gave the order ready, aim,.fire, and instantly a long line of muskets were leveled upon the enemy, and the smoke and roar of the volley told that the swift messengers of death and destruction had sped forth on their bloody mission. The enemy at the same time were keeping up a brisk fire all along the line. The colored regiment had perhaps fired less than half a dozen rounds when Colonel Williams was wounded in the breast, and was borne to the rear. Lieut.-Colonel J. Bowles then took command of the regiment, and after continuing the firing for a short time, and observing carefully where the smoke arose [360] from the rebel battery, and seeing that it was not very far off, he pointed to it with his sword, and telling his men that he wanted them to take it, gave the order charge bayonets. The regiment moved forward, increasing its speed until within a few yards of the rebel line, and then with a shout rushed like an avalanche, upon it, bayoneting a great many rebels and capturing one piece of artillery. The enemy seeing what was coming, limbered up, and quickly removed the other pieces out of reach. Seeing now that the centre and strongest point of the enemy's line was broken and in disorder, General Blunt ordered his entire line to charge them, and in a short time they were routed completely at all points. He pursued them about three miles, but as his troops were much fatigued from having marched all the previous night, he bivouacked on the field. Our cavalry, which continued to watch the movements of the enemy, discovered General Cabell coming in sight with a large force of about three thousand men, about four o'clock in the afternoon. The enemy whom we had fought in the morning, having received large reinforcements, General Blunt expected that they would return and attack him that evening or the next morning. But they did not. Nor did they retreat further South after General Cabell came up.

General Blunt called the engagement the battle of “Honey spring,” as that was the name. of General Cooper's camp on Elk Creek. The First Kansas colored infantry and the Sixth Kansas cavalry suffered [361] most in killed and wounded on our side; though all our troops that participated, behaved with the utmost coolness during the entire battle. The Sixth Kansas cavalry suffered more than the rest of our cavalry on account of having been assigned to the task of turning the enemy's left flank, which they did handsomely by sweeping down upon them in a saber charge. General Blunt is familiar with the fighting qualities of the Sixth, as he was only a few rods from Colonel Jewell when he fell leading his regiment at the battle of Cane Hill, the 29th of last November. But I will not endeavor to bestow undue praise upon the Sixth regiment because I happen to belong to it, for I know that every regiment of Kansas troops in the division with which I have served, have acted with conspicuous bravery upon every field.

Our loss in this engagement was seventeen killed and sixty wounded. The loss of the enemy was 150 left dead upon the field, and 400 wounded and seventy-seven prisoners. And we captured from him one piece of artillery, two hundred stands of arms, one stand of colors, and fifteen wagons. The stand of colors belonged to the 20th Texas regiment, and there seems to be some controversy as to whom it now belongs as a trophy. Colonel F. W. Schaurtie, in command of a portion of the Indian cavalry, picked up the rebel colors on the field in front of the First Kansas colored infantry, after the enemy's line had been broken. Lieut. Colonel Bowles, of the First Kansas colored infantry, asserts his men shot down three rebel [362] color bearers, including the last one holding this stand of colors, and that he forbade any of his men to leave ranks to pick it up, until our line should advance on the right and left. After hearing several statements in regard to the matter, I am induced to think that the captured colors rightfully belong as a trophy to the First Kansas colored infantry. Colonel Schaurtie is a brilliant young officer, and if his men did not really kill the rebel color bearer, he will hardly contest the right to hold the colors as a trophy for his men.

General Blunt, after having buried the dead of both armies, and gathered up our wounded in ambulances, returned to Fort Blunt on the 19th instant. The rebel forces were too much demoralized to take the offensive, and General Blunt was not prepared to pursue them further south.

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