previous next

Chapter 23:

  • All quiet along the border
  • -- lovely Indian summer -- theory accounting for the smoky condition of the atmosphere -- Reprehensible conduct of a detachment on scouting service -- discussion over the question, “who shall be the commanding General of the District?” -- rebel guerrillas in the vicinity of Humboldt -- Colonel Moonlight takes command of the Fourteenth Kansas cavalry -- Lieutenant Josling on a scout to Osage Mission -- a cold wave -- distressing condition of refugees -- General Blunt authorized to raise another colored regiment -- citizens of Fort Scott opposed to Colonel Jennison taking command of the post -- the supply train starts south -- a military Telegraph to be constructed to Fort Scott -- Twelfth Kansas infantry en route to Fort Smith -- Federal expedition towards Texas-“mountain Federals” in Arkansas -- they annoy the enemy.

We are able to welcome the first day of November with the expression, “All is quiet along the, border.” There have been very few days during the last three months that one would think of making such a remark. It is almost unnecessary to state here that we need not congratulate ourselves with the thought that this peaceful state will continue very long.. Not many weeks are likely to elapse before we shall hear of guerrilla depredations in some of the border counties, causing at least a ripple of disturbance in the [430] public mind. But the present peaceful condition is in admirable harmony with our lovely “Indian summer,” that has just set in. The whole visible horizon is tinged with smoke, as if we were in the neighborhood of a great conflagration. But the southwest breeze is soft and balmy, and altogether one could hardly wish for a more delightful season. As this section is all prairie, except strips of timber along the --streams, we are without the great variety of autumnal tints, presented by extensive woodlands. To look out over our broad prairies is often compared to looking out over the ocean. The undulations or ridges of our prairies take the place of waves on the ocean.

In regard to the smoky condition of the atmosphere during “Indian summer,” it is generally thought, in this section, to be caused by the burning of the grass from the extensive prairie regions of the northwest. Though the breeze is from the southwest to-day, the smoke came with a chilly northwest wind. And the belief that it is caused by prairie fires, is strengthened by the fact, that when it first overspreads the country, particularly if there is a little more than the usual amount of moisture in the atmosphere, the smell of burning grass is distinctly noticeable by those having sensitive olfactory organs. I cannot champion this theory, however, for the smell of burnt grass might be due to prairie fires in the neighborhood. I am not sure that the number of square miles of prairie in the northwest denuded of grass every year by fire, would produce smoke enough to [431] overspread such a wide region as we have to account for.

Captain Willets, of the Fourteenth Kansas cavalry, who was sent out several days ago by Colonel Blair, on scouting service in the direction of Lamar, Missouri, returned with his company on the 3rd, via Osage Mission, Kansas. He found no enemy, but, from accounts that have reached here, he permitted his men to engage in disreputable depredations, robbery and murder. If the statements made in regard to the matter are true, he deserves severe censure, if not indeed summary dismissal from the service. Gold hunting is not the business of our officers --and soldiers, and when they undertake to engage in it they are no longer fit to wear the blue uniform of the United States Army. There are too many officers who do not appreciate the responsibility resting upon them in regard to controlling the actions of their men. Every officer of the army should be a gentleman, and have proper regard for his position. Several scouts who have just come from the supply train which General Blunt accompanied en route, to Fort Smith a week ago, report that near the Arkansas line four of our soldiers were captured by the enemy. There was no prospect, however, of the rebel force under Colonel Brooks, which was at Huntsville recently, attacking the train.

There is some discussion just now as to whether General Blunt shall retain command of this district or not. His friends claim for him, also, that he is really the ranking Major General in the Department. as [432] the appointment of Schofield as a Major General has not yet been confirmed by the United States Senate. But this continual wrangling of politicians, contractors, and sutlers, over the question as to who shall command the department and each of the different districts into which it is divided, does not tend to advance the interests of the public service. What do hangers — on of the army care for the efficiency and honesty of a commanding officer, if they can get permits from him to steal cotton and ship it north? At such times as we are now passing through, complaints are just about as likely to be made against an honest and efficient as against a dishonest and inefficient commanding General. Our officers holding important positions, if they wish to leave the service with clean records, cannot be too guarded in their dealings with those who are able to present credentials from men of high social and political standing. Money-making adventurers who are profiting by the misfortunes of the country, are, every loyal man knows, entitled to very little consideration from those who are conscientiously endeavoring to assist the Government in suppressing the rebellion.

Information was received on the 7th instant, that rebel guerrillas are getting troublesome again in the vicinity of Humboldt, forty miles west of this post. It seems that they have burned some property along the Neosho River below there, besides committing some petty depredations on the property of the loyal citizens of Allen County. Fears are entertained that they may sack and burn Humboldt, as we have no [433] troops stationed there at present. The rebels engaged in these depredations are supposed to be a part of Livingston's old band, and to have crossed the State line near Baxter Springs, and marched up the Neosho valley. That they should be able to remain in the State and in the same neighborhood a week or so, is a little surprising. General Lane's plan of burning everything in that section would perhaps be the most effectual way of getting rid of them. But the people would probably protest that such heroic treatment for the cure of the disease would be worse than the disease itself.

Colonel Thomas Moonlight arrived here on the 8th from Leavenworth to take command of his regiment, the Fourteenth Kansas cavalry. He is determined to have it thoroughly armed and equipped at once, and every spare moment is to be devoted to drilling it, so that it will be ready to go south with the next train. He is a brilliant officer, and has served with distinction, as Chief of General Blunt's Staff, in all the campaigns south of this post. No better officer could be found to thoroughly prepare a cavalry regiment for the field.

Considerable interest has been manifested by the people of this State in regard to the election for State officers in Missouri, which took place on the 3rd instant. The election returns have nearly all been received by the Secretary of State, and they show that the Radical or Republican ticket has swept the State by an overwhelming majority. As far as returns have [434] been received from the soldiers in the field, they show from their vote that it is very largely republican. It is certainly gratifying to contemplate such a grand victory for great principles, in view of the disadvantages with which the loyal people of that State have had to contend.

Lieutenant B. F. Josling, Fourteenth Kansas cavalry, returned to this post on the evening of the 11th, with a detachment of his company from Osage Mission, where he was sent several days ago to check the depredations of a band of guerrillas that recently visited that section. He marched over the country almost to the southern line of the State in search of the rebels without finding them, and is satisfied from such information as he could get, that after plundering the Mission, they went south.

The season has arrived when wintry looking clouds are seen scudding across the sky. When these lowering clouds obscure the sun now and then, there is a kind of fascination in watching the dark shadows chase each other over the prairies in rapid succession.

A cold wave right from the arctic regions struck southern Kansas on the morning of the 12th, and already there are reports of great suffering among the refugee families encamped about the outskirts of the post. The Marmaton River is frozen over solid, which is unusual so early in the season. There is a larger number of refugee families in this vicinity than I had supposed; and in many cases their condition is distressing. Many of them are living in rude tents made [435] of bed clothing, or material of a very unsubstantial nature. Others during the latter part of summer and early autumn, purchased condemned army tents, and are making the best of them. But there are not many supplied with tents, as there have been no large sales of this kind of condemned public property at this post during the autumn. Last winter 1 thought that I saw a good deal of suffering among the refugees around Colonel Phillips' camp, but it did not equal the suffering in our midst at the present time. Insufficient fuel for heating purposes, and scanty clothing and covering are the principal causes of suffering among these people. We were encamped last winter in a wooded region, and the refugees could build great log fires to keep themselves warm during intensely cold weather. I have frequently seen them standing around their blazing fires, with wood generously piled on, on cold nights, with expressions of real happiness playing over their countenances. And I also saw rollicking children in some of those groups, who seemed wholly unconscious of the hardships to which they were exposed. But here the camp of the refugee is not protected from the chilling effects of the bleak northwest winds by heavy forests and bluffs, as it was in northwestern Kansas. Nor can the refugees here make great wood fires, like the fires farmers make in heavily wooded sections where they clear tracts of land for cultivation. All the families that I have visited recently, burn coal in cooking stoves, even for heating purposes. And as most of the stoves I saw [436] seem adapted to burning wood instead of coal, these people have much trouble in getting their coal to burn. At any rate they get only a small quantity of the heat from it which it is capable of producing if burned to the best advantage. Even those who have stoves in which it burns freely, do not use it generously on account of their straightened circumstances. It is a very cheerless sight, one that I shall not soon forget, to see a mother and half a dozen children shivering around a stove in which the fuel half refuses to burn, or is used in stinted quantities. The hardships and privations of our soldiers in the field are often very great, but the hardships and suffering of many of their families are also entitled to consideration, and should not be passed over lightly. It will be surprising to me if there is not a great mortality during the winter among these people, who have recently exchanged plain comfortable homes for the cheerless tent, in a region where howling winds and chilly blasts increase their despondency.

General Blunt has received authority from the War Department to raise another colored regiment of infantry from this State, and recruiting officers will go to work at once. The two colored regiments already raised from Kansas, have taken but a small proportion of the able-bodied colored men who have come here the last two years. Many of them will, no doubt, promptly respond to the present call, and show to the country that they feel a sufficient interest in the war to take up arms in defense of the Government as well [437] as in defense of their permanent freedom. This State, on account of the early struggles in behalf of the abolition cause, has been an asylum for the colored people since the beginning of the war. And they have shown that they are not insensible of the generous welcome extended to them by our people, by manifesting a patriotic pride in furnishing their proportion of soldiers for the field, as soon as they were permitted to enlist in the United States service.

There have been some recent intimations that Colonel Jennison, of the 15th Kansas cavalry, will take command of this post shortly, and that Colonel Blair will be relieved and ordered South with his regiment. Colonel Jennison is not popular in this section of the State, and should he be assigned to the command of this post, it is likely that a protest will be sent up by the citizens to the commanding General of the Department. His name has been connected on several occasions with certain transactions that are not sanctioned by a high code of morals and strict military discipline. It is painful to make these remarks in regard to a man whose whole heart has been in our cause. But when he comes forward to occupy an important and conspicuous position, his personal character should be carefully and dispassionately examined and held up to the public. We must not forget that the characters of our public men will have an immense influence in molding the character of the men of the rising generation. Nor should we, because he belongs to our party, and is working zealously for the success [438] of the same principles that we are, neglect to criticise, in a good tempered spirit, his short-comings. I am satisfied that Colonel Jennison's services would be more valuable to the Government in some other field. Should he make a perfectly honorable record from now to the end of the war, it would almost wipe out the past.

The supply train started south on the 20th for Fort Gibson and Forth Smith, but will encamp on Dry Wood a few days to wait for the paymaster to come down and pay off the escort before they leave. Most of the escort belongs to the Fourteenth Regiment Kansas cavalry, recently organized, and as a large number of the men have not been paid since enlistment, the amounts due them will be of great assistance in providing for the wants of many of their families during the coming winter. The need that I mentioned last summer, of some method by which the soldiers can send their salaries to their families with perfect safety, is again felt. In some of the companies nearly all of the men are from Missouri, and their families are still living in that State, or scattered in this and adjacent counties of Kansas. The money they send home will therefore have to be trusted in the hands of friends, whom they cannot hold responsible for its loss by accident. Some of the officers and soldiers, however, will doubtless avail themselves of the Exchange Office here, and send their money to their families in cheques.

On the 25th of November, United States officials commenced making arrangements to construct a military [439] telegraph line between Kansas City and Fort Scott immediately. The contract for telegraph poles will probably be let in a few days, and their delivery along the route commence in a week or so. This line is much needed in directing the military operations of this department. Though the rebels may endeavor to destroy portions of it occasionally, it is thought that a small cavalry patrol can protect it quite effectually. It is sure to prove a great assistance to commanding officers along the border, in operating against guerrilla forces when they become troublesome again. Had this line been in operation when Quantrell made his raid on Lawrence last August, troops and citizens might have been collected, and directed to take up such positions as would have made his escape almost impossible. In the next place, had the line been III operation, he probably never would have made the raid. Even if the Government had not taken the matter up, it would have been a good investment for the citizens of Kansas to have taken hold of and completed at an early day. The business which the people of this section will wish to transact over the line, will, perhaps, fully pay the expense of operating it.

A battalion of the Twelfth Kansas infantry came down from Kansas City on the 27th instant. After remaining here a few weeks it will march to Fort Smith to join the Army of the Frontier. This regiment, since its organization, has been on duty along the border. Colonel Adams, its commanding officer, is General Lane's son-in-law, and has perhaps been able [440] to keep it from going to the front until now. It is a fine regiment; the men are well drilled, and do not wish to be regarded as vain “carpet knights.” It seems that Lieutenant Colonel Hayes has attended to drilling it and maintaining its high order of discipline.

Official dispatches received at this post on the 28th from Fort Smith state that General McNeil, who recently took command of our troops in that section, is getting them in readiness to start on an expedition towards Texas. Our forces already occupy and hold the country to the Wichita Mountains, a distance of about seventy-five miles south of the Arkansas river. The activity of our cavalry over the mountainous regions of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations and southwestern Arkansas, has broken down and worn out a good many of our horses. Since our troops have occupied the country south of the Arkansas river, many of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians have shown a disposition to return to their allegiance to the Government. There is not, however, among them, such a strong sentiment of loyalty and real affection for the Government, as among the Cherokees and Creeks. These latter people have, from the beginning of the war, shown their devotion to the United States, even under the most adverse circumstances. The battles of Pothloholo, chief of the Creeks, with rebel white and Indian troops, during the winter 1861-2, before our forces marched into the Indian country, showed a chivalrous devotion to the Union cause. When the enemy finally became too strong for him, rather than submit to rebel rule, he withdrew his forces towards [441] southern Kansas, and nearly all his people followed him and became voluntary exiles.

Now that our forces occupy the central and western portions of Arkansas, the War Department has authorized the raising of two or three more regiments from that State. The numerous desertions from the demoralized armies of Generals Cooper and Shelby, and the large numbers of “Mountain Federals” in different sections of the State, will enable the recruiting officers to get the complement of men for these regiments at an early day. “Mountain Feds” is a name given to local organizations of Union men who occupy mountain fastnesses and annoy the enemy, somewhat after the same manner that rebel guerrillas annoy our troops. There is this difference, however: Rebel guerrilla chiefs generally hold commissions from the rebel authorities, while the chiefs of “Mountain Federal” organizations are endeavoring to hold on to their lives as loyal citizens of the United States, until our forces can occupy the country and afford them adequate protection. We do not know that they have ever been charged with murdering their prisoners, like some of the guerrilla bands along the border.

Martin Hart, a prominent Union man from Hunt County, in Northern Texas, crossed Red River several months ago, with nearly two hundred loyal Texans, and joined our forces in the vicinity of Fort Smith. He has for more than a year past, kept alive the Union cause in Northern Texas and Southwestern Arkansas. He was finally captured south of Fort Smith, and hung by the rebel authorities.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
3rd (2)
1862 AD (1)
1861 AD (1)
November 25th (1)
November 1st (1)
August (1)
27th (1)
12th (1)
11th (1)
7th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: