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Chapter 6:

  • The Author's return to his division at Scott's Mill's
  • -- Colonel Phillips' popularity with his troops -- rebels returning and taking the oath of allegiance -- Indians make good troops to fight, bushwhackers -- increase of wild game since the war -- a detachment of Federal troops worsted in a skirmish with guerrillas -- Captain Conkey loses eleven men by capture -- guerrilla chieftains commissioned by the rebel authorities -- Comments on plans proposed by some to break up the guerrilla warfare -- sickness and heavy mortality among the Indian refugees at Neosho -- sick and wounded being removed from Fayetteville to Fort Scott -- the classes of the enemy the Federals have to deal with -- bushwhackers -- guerrillas -- detachments returning to and leaving the State- -- the regular forces -- in our front -- illustrations-incidents from the expedition to low Jack -- the battle of Coon Creek -- Concluding remarks on the Indians.

The 12th of February I joined the Indian division at Scott's Mills, McDonald County, Missouri, on the Cowskin river, twenty-two miles south west of Neosho, and about the same distance north of our old camp at Maysville. The bottom lands along the stream are excellent, and there are numerous fine farms, on most of which fine crops were raised last year. The movement of the division to this place is not regarded as retrograde or falling back, bat, simply for the purpose [126] of more easily supplying our animals with forage and provisioning the refugee families with us. The mills here are in very good condition, and daily turn out large quantities of meal and flour, which will do much to relieve the demands of hunger among the refugees. Since we left Elm Springs as a separate command, Colonel Phillips has steadily grown in popularity with his troops, and we now believe him to be an able and judicious commander. At the end of a month he has made no mistake, but on the contrary has managed the affairs of his District in a manner deserving the warmest commendation.

The active operations of this command, and of the troops at Neosho under Major John A. Foreman, against the guerrillas in this section, are beginning to have a wholesome effect. Scarcely a day passes that a squad of rebels do not come in and take the oath of allegiance and ask the protection of the Government. Those who come in generally express the opinion that many more would come if they knew that they would be protected and allowed to live at home instead of being sent north at prisoners. They are mostly regarded with mistrust, for it has sometimes turned out that those whom we received and treated kindly, soon became dissatisfied with the situation, and went south again and joined the guerrillas. Until we came here, bushwhackers were as plenty as wild game up and down this river, but during the last two weeks, quite a number have been killed by our troops. They will hardly be able to find a safe retreat anywhere in the [127] vicinity of this command. An Indian seems to me to almost scent a secret foe. I think this trait or characteristic may be to some extent accounted for by many of them following their natural mode of life — that is of hunting in the woods for game for miles around the camp.

It is well known to every one in the least familiar with this section during antebellum times, that the game in this region, such as deer and wild turkeys, have increased in great numbers the past two years. Many hogs have become wild in the river bottoms and flee from the sight of man like a deer. When the houses have been burned and the fences around the farms destroyed, as we find here and there, animals like hogs, that live without constant attention from man, soon run wild. The game that the Indians have killed this winter would probably, if we could estimate it, form quite an item in the way of maintaining their families.

It occasionally happens that, in a contest with the guerillas in this section, small detachments of our troops get worsted. On the first instant, a detachment from the command at Neosho had a skirmish with a company of guerillas on Burkhart prairie, twelve miles north-west of that post, and had two men badly wounded, without inflicting any loss on the enemy as far as is known. The commanding officer of the post, Major Foreman, immediately sent out a larger force, about a hundred men, to the vicinity where the skirmish took place, but it returned to its [128] station after having captured one wagon loaded with plunder, and having chased the enemy several miles through the woods.

Captain Theo. Conkey, of the Third Wisconsin cavalry, who has recently been operating along the Spring River, in Jasper County, against the guerillas, had a lively contest a few days ago with Livingston's band, and in the affair, had half a dozen of his men captured. The loss sustained by the enemy, if any, I have been unable to ascertain, as Captain Conkey receives his orders from the commanding officer at Fort Scott. Livingston, we understand, is commissioned by and acting under regular orders from the rebel authorities, and is not accused of killing his prisoners like Quantrell, whose operations are confined chiefly to Jackson and Cass counties, and with whom we had a number of skirmishes last May. But Livingston attacks our supply trains, and his numerous predatory actions about unprotected points have given him considerable prominence during the last year. Whenever our troops come upon him with equal, or perhaps; somewhat superior numbers, he never stands, but soon scatters his men in small squads, permitting them sometimes to return to their homes for a few days. But between Neosho and Fort Scott, a distance of eighty miles, there is no point, except a camp on Dry Wood, fourteen miles south of Fort Scott, where we have any troops stationed. This large space of unoccupied country gives a wide field of operations for such an organization as Livingston's. And until we can establish [129] more numerous stations along the western border tier of counties in this State, it will probably be difficult, if not impossible, to entirely break up such guerilla bands and also bushwhacking. To accomplish this object, there are some who favor applying the torch indiscriminately, to the houses of Union people and rebels. I can never conscientiously favor such a scheme; nor do I believe that the evil requires such heroic treatment at our hands. I have seen the standing chimneys and smoking ruins of desolated homes of Union people as well as rebels too often to wish to see such scenes renewed in a wholesale manner. Nor do I believe that such acts on our part would remedy the evil which we wish to extirpate. It seems to me that the enemy could occupy the desolate country all the same, and make his incursions into Kansas and into the counties of Missouri still further to the east. Though my age and position would not, to the minds of many, justify my presuming to criticise the actions of those whose maturer years have given them more varied experiences, and in many things a sounder judgment, yet I venture to think that our officers have too often permitted the indiscriminate destruction of private property, which should not have been destroyed, thus causing a needless amount of suffering among those whom we should endeavor to protect in the possession of their lives and property. I am perfectly willing, however, to do such officers the justice to believe that they seldom or never permit such acts, after thinking over the [130] consequences, with such deliberation as I may be able to do when setting down to write on the subject. An officer marching through the country at the head of his squadron or regiment, without the thought of an enemy being near, is suddenly fired upon at a certain place by a party of guerrillas, and gets one or more of his men killed or wounded. His first thought is likely to be, that the family living on the place have been giving the enemy aid and comfort. This may be true or may not. But the chances are that the house will be burned, without making a thorough investigation to ascertain whether those .occupying it were in sympathy with, or knew anything about the presence of, the enemy.

Then there are people whose sympathies are divided concerning the issues involved in the war; I mean by this that, taking a large number of citizens such as we have to deal with, their loyalty would perhaps range from slight to complete without qualification. Some again, though they sympathize with the Government, and really wish its success, yet having relatives and friends in the rebel army who are very dear to them, have not the courage to utter their convictions in a strong and positive manner. The question arises, should the slightly loyal receive the punishment or be treated the same as the disloyal who are tooth and .nail against us? It will thus be seen that an apparently very simple question, becomes quite involved, when looked at closely. It is therefore useless to suppose that the sturdy soldier will enter into all these [131] hair splitting niceties before giving his orders. He looks at things just as they present themselves to him, and if injustice is done, it may be, that after reflection, no one would regret it more keenly than himself. Taking this view of the matter, relieves in a measure our officers of the charge of permitting unnecessary destruction of private property. In all those extraordinary cases where private property has been destroyed by our troops, that clearly should not have been destroyed, the Government should, and probably will, in time, pay for, provided of course, that the parties to whom it belongs are loyal to the United States. I would not destroy even the property of rebel citizens except in cases of military necessity; and then it is not supposable that any demand will ever be made upon the Government for payment. But let us pass from this question which, in a few years, will doubtless engage the attention of legislators.

Parties coming from Neosho report that there is a great deal of sickness among the Indian soldiers and their families at that place. Taking into account the number of Indians there, and the number sick, the mortality amongst them is considered very high. The prevailing type of disease which is now taking off so many of them, I understand is typhoid fever. The hardships incident to leaving their homes in the Nation, and innutritious food and insufficient quantities of food, together with the poorly clad condition of many, are probably among the causes of this high mortality in some of the families. But of course the [132] remark in regard to food and clothing cannot apply to the Indian soldiers, for they are as well fed and clothed as we are, that is, they have had their regular allowances during the winter. But the families and each member thereof have not perhaps had full rations during the winter. Though great care and interest have been manifested by Colonel Phillips in looking after them, yet it has been impossible to make them as comfortable as at their homes. The want of proper sheltering has also probably in many cases contributed to their discomforts and sickness. Home sickness, from being exiles, also doubtless has a depressing influence amongst some of them.

Such of the sick and wounded at Fayetteville and in the field hospitals of this division as will bear removing, are being taken to Fort Scott. The General Hospital at that place is better provided with everything essential to their proper care and treatment. The great difficulty is to get them there without increasing too much their suffering. But men convalescing from the effects of wounds, and placed in ambulances, and the ambulances driven carefully, should be taken the distance from Fayetteville to Fort Scott, say one hundred and fifty miles, without great inconvenience, except while en route they should be struck with a change of extremely cold weather, or a storm of sleet or snow. Even then, the heavy woolen blankets with which every soldier is provided, would enable them to get through without much suffering. Should [133] the present fine weather continue a few days longer, they will have reached their destination in good condition.

Yesterday (15th), Colonel Phillips sent a squad of ten rebel prisoners that we recently captured, to Neosho, Missouri, to be held until there is an opportunity of sending them to Fort Scott or Leavenworth.

We have four classes of the enemy to deal with in this section. First, the bushwhackers, who are unorganized and generally found singly, but, as sometimes happens, in squads of two to half a dozen. They are generally men who stay around in the vicinity of their homes, and fire upon our troops from bluffs or other inaccessible points, or when they see one of our soldiers alone on dispatch or courier duty shoot him off his horse with their rifles, and despoil him of his arms, clothing, money and equipments. Since we came into this region last autumn, we have had quite a number of men who were either with the advance or rear guard, or on escort duty to trains, killed and wounded by bushwhackers. Though of course bushwhackers are all rebels, yet I think that most of them are men of bad blood, men whose natural inclinations and evil tendencies lead them to follow a robber life. They only take advantage of the existing chaotic state of things to show their true characters. Should the war immediately cease, probably only a small percentage of such desperate characters would return to or adopt [134] an honest mode of life. But putting themselves outside the pale of civilized warfare, they will likely nearly all be killed off in a few years. I may be judging them too harshly, but in the light of such facts as have come under my notice, I don't think so. Second, guerrilla bands, men having some sort of military organization, and whose movements are directed by a leader. Most of the leaders of the guerrillas with whom we have to contend, I have frequently heard, hold commissions from the Confederate government, or the fugitive Governor of Missouri. Livingston whom I have already referred to, may be cited as an instance. The function of guerrillas is similar to that of privateers. While the privateer is commissioned by the rebel authorities to prey upon our marine commerce, the guerrillas are commissioned to prey upon our inland commerce, destroy public property, such as trains, &c., and to impede our movements in every possible manner. Though as I have mentioned, Livingston is not accused of murdering his prisoners in cold blood, yet our soldiers feel, and I think justly so, that their lives would be very insecure in the hands of most guerrilla leaders, like Quantrill for example. We have to be always on the lookout for guerrillas, and our trains are obliged to be always well guarded, for if the enemy capture a courier with dispatches, or a soldier from a scouting party, they may get information that will enable them to concentrate at a given point and attack our escort and trains from an ambush. This mode of warfare often enables a small force to [135] defeat a superior force encumbered with trains. In fact the concealed enemy has a great advantage when he attacks about an equal number of our troops. An enemy of a hundred men concealed in a favorable position, might kill and wound half a company of soldiers the first volley. The rest, if not thrown into confusion by such a sudden burst of destruction, would in such case be unable to cope with the enemy flushed by his success. To guard against such disasters a military commander must be always wide awake and on the alert, and he must know the strength of the enemy in his rear as well as in his front. We now believe that the enemy, in whatever manner he may choose to operate against us, will have to be exceedingly industrious and wide awake to gain a point on Colonel Phillips. His movements on the military chessboard show that he is not likely to be checkmated or broken up by an opponent handling an equal number of men. Third, rebels returning to their homes in that section of the State from which they entered the rebel army; or rebels leaving the vicinity of their homes in detachments to join the rebel army, or to remain south during the progress of the war. Whether leaving the State in detachments, or returning to it in detachments, they rarely show an inclination to assume the offensive, seeming to prefer to pass through the country unobserved. But those leaving the State, when they find that there is a fair prospect of capturing property that can be taken along without impeding their movements, [136] are not so careful to avoid contact with our troops. Even if their attacks be unsuccessful, and they completely fail in any given design, they can continue their march southward without increasing the danger of being intercepted and captured. Only a few weeks ago, at Neosho, our pickets were fired into one night, as was supposed, by quite a force of the enemy going south, but as they found that we were not to be surprised, decided to make no further demonstration.

The enemy returning to the State may have either of two objects in view. He may be intending to follow a guerrilla warfare, or he may be intending to concentrate at some point designated, to make a combined movement against some place occupied by a given number of our troops. A combined movement of this kind he made against Lone Jack in Jackson county, Missouri, on the 15th and 16th of last August, resulting in the defeat of our troops with a heavy loss in killed and wounded, and the capture of a section of the Third Indiana Battery.1 We marched day and [137] night from Fort Scott to Lone Jack, to reinforce our troops, but when we arrived on the ground we were mortified to learn that the battle had been fought the day before. The enemy under Generals Shelby and Cockrell were still encamped on the field; but when we came in sight, instead of giving battle, as we anticipated they would after their recent victory, they retreated. It was about six o'clock when we came up, and General Blunt immediately commenced to form his troops in line of battle, as the enemy seemed to be making some kind of hostile movements. I was with Colonel Jewell and General Blunt, and some of his staff were near us. We expected every moment that the enemy were going to open fire upon us, for we could plainly see him coming down the road towards us about half a mile off. We could also see, that when they came to a certain point they seemed to file to their left, which was our right, as we had formed in line. We supposed that they were aiming to turn our right, and General Blunt threw out skirmishers to discover their intentions. Our infantry, consisting of the Ninth and Twelfth regiments from Wisconsin, [138] which had been put into four-mule Government wagons at Fort Scott, had just arrived, but it was now getting dark, and an approaching storm, together with our ignorance of the topographical condition of that section, made it impossible to commence an immediate attack. The rain came down in torrents, and it was soon intensely dark. We quickly discovered, however, that the road half a mile beyond the head of our column diverged, coming toward us, and that the enemy, instead of preparing to make the attack, had taken the left-hand road at the point of divergence, and were in full retreat. We moved about cautiously in the darkness of the night, for the country was badly cut up by ditches or wash-outs, and quite a number of our ambulances, caissons and artillery wagons got partially or completely upset, and into positions from which it required much labor to extricate them. The trail of the enemy was discovered during the night, and when the dim light of morning came, our advance was just in sight of the rebel rear guard. But neither the enemy nor our forces had marched many miles during the dark rainy night, for we were forming our squadrons here and there, expecting every moment to run into the rebel cavalry. The entire force of the enemy, numbering fully twenty five hundred men, had moved around us during the night, and now commenced a hasty retreat towards the southern part of the State. We pursued them day and night, giving only a few hours each day to ourselves and to our animals to take food and rest, and struck them with our [139] cavalry about one hundred miles south of Lone Jack at Coon Creek, in which engagement twenty-six men were killed and wounded in the company to which my brother belonged, and, as I have already stated, he was among the wounded. Captain H. S. Green of the Sixth Kansas cavalry was among the severely wounded while gallantly leading his men. We could not hold the rebel force until the rest of our cavalry, artillery and infantry came up, and this affair practically ended the expedition, though a portion of the cavalry continued the pursuit almost to the southern line of the State.

I have entered somewhat into details because we did some extraordinary marching, and also because I wished to point out how an enemy passing us in small detachments, may form in our rear a formidable army.

The Fourth class of the enemy we have to deal with, is his organized or regular forces which we expect to find in our front. Whether we. shall seek him or he shall us, it may take the approach of spring, or even summer to decide. In the meantime we shall endeavor to hold our own ground in this section, keep our animals in as good condition as possible. and not permit our arms to rust.

We have very favorable reports from Captain A. C. Spillman of this division, who has been in command of the post at Neosho since Major Foreman left there. Captain Spillman is showing himself to be a very competent and energetic young officer. His scouting parties are active in hunting down bushwhackers, and [140] in making that section an unsafe and an uncomfortable retreat for them. Colonel Phillips has not only shown sound judgment in the general management of his division, but also in the selection of officers for his staff as confidential advisers, and also other officers of special fitness for special duties. Probably few officers could be found who would make a better Assistant Adjutant General than Captain William Gallaher, or a better Judge Advocate than Captain Joel Moody. Of Captain Gallaher I can speak from personal knowledge, as I have known him since I entered the service.

Colonel William F. Cloud, Second Kansas cavalry, who is now in command of the District of Southwest Missouri, with head quarters at Springfield, was at Neosha yesterday, 20th instant, with a detachment of the 7th Missouri State Militia and one company of his own regiment, having been on a scout of several days in search of Livingston's band. If the remainder of General Blunt's division, which separated from us at Elm Springs, is occupying the country around Springfield, it would seem Colonel Phillips' division is now occupying the most advanced position of any of our troops in the west. It would also seem that he is holding a more important position, and actually doing more service than any two brigadier-generals in General Schofield's department. We have here a few illustrations of the manner in which meritorious military service is too often regarded. It is thought by some that General Schofield would prefer to reward [141] with promotion an incapable volunteer officer than a really deserving one. I have heard the remark, that “if he could have a division of troops and review them once a week on a level plain in fair weather, perhaps there are few officers who could shine equally with him, but that as an active field officer, who will accomplish deeds such as to win admiration even from the foe, recent experiences show him to be almost a complete failure.” It may be, however, that in the light of just and intelligent criticism, his merit would shine with a brighter lustre than it does with us. In some other field, if he goes to the front, it may not be difficult to inspire his troops with confidence. But there are many who think that for the good of the cause for which we are fighting, he should be removed from this department.

The Cherokee Council, which has been in session several weeks, adjourned on the 22nd, sine die. Most of the prominent men of the Nation were present, and, made speeches in regard to the passage of certain laws touching the interests of the Cherokee people. One of the most important measures which they have had under discussion, has for its object the abolition of slavery in the Cherokee Nation at an early day. While slavery has for some generations existed in the Cherokee Nation, it has never existed in that form which characterized the institution in the Southern States. The Indians have been with us now upwards of six months, and, from what we have seen, it is doubtless true that slavery of the negroes amongst [142] them has been only in name. They never act towards the Indians with that reserve and sign of respect noticeable when they come into our presence. I am satisfied that the hardships of slavery amongst the Indians were never comparable to the hardships of slavery in the cotton-raising States. It would perhaps be difficult to impress any negro with the idea that there is as great a distance between him and an Indian as there is between him and a white man. In some respects I think myself that there is very little difference, particularly in matters involving social status. The possibilities of a negro here are probably very nearly, if not quite, equal to the possibilities of the Indian, as far as intellectual force is concerned. And from my own observations I believe that they are, as a race, more able to stand contact with what we call high civilization, than the Indians. When I traveled over several of the cotton-raising States, a year before the war commenced, from a good many inquiries which I made, I became convinced that the degrading, and in many instances even hard life of slavery, had not perceptibly diminished the reproductive powers of the negroes. Careful inquiries might, however, show, in certain sections, where both sexes have been worked very hard on the plantations, that their reproductive powers have perceptibly diminished. Though it has been but a few centuries since they were brought to this Continent, yet when we contrast their peculiar traits of character with those of the Indian, we are ,sure to be led to the conclusion that they will exist as [143] a distinct race among us, after the Indian shall have disappeared, and shall only be referred to in history as an extinct race. It will probably not be many generations before we shall be contriving means, not how to kill off the Indians, but how to preserve the few which are left. Even should the fifteen to twenty thousand Cherokees amalgamate with the whites, it is not likely that, in the course of a dozen generations, there would be more than a slight trace of Indian blood in their descendants. Amalgamation has already taken place rather extensively, as our Indians here plainly show. Indeed, the half-breeds and quarter-bloods form a considerable part of the population of the Nation. But they are, I have been informed, mostly the offspring of polygamous marriages and unions, such as would not be sanctioned amongst us. We know very well that since this country was first settled by Europeans, traders and adventurers have lived amongst the Indians, and it seems that, by forming temporary unions, and sometimes lasting ones, with the native women, they gain certain rights and privileges that are not accorded to those who will not enter into such alliances. Many of the Cherokee women have very good features, and white men who desire to get wived may perhaps, often be congratulated upon their choice, We therefore frequently see amongst these “half-breeds,” “quarter-bloods,” &c., men of much intelligence and force of character. It is not unusual, however, for them to display the adventurous spirit of their white fathers, and the fierceness [144] of their native mothers. But these people are capable of making great advances in civilization, before their veins shall have been drained of the last drop of Indian blood.

1 The following casualties at the battle of Lone Jack on the Federal side, I have gathered from official data : Second battalion Missouri State Militia, killed, enlisted men, 4; wounded, officers, 1 ; enlisted men, 5; missing, officers, 1 ; enlisted men, 5. Sixth Missouri State Militia, killed, enlisted men, 9 ; wounded, officers, 5; enlisted men, 35 ; missing, enlisted men, 17. Seventh Missouri Volunteer cavalry, killed, officers, 2 ; enlisted men, 19; wounded, officers, 3 ; enlisted men, 62; missing, enlisted men, 11. Two Companies Seventh Missouri State Militia cavalry, killed, enlisted men, 6 ; wounded, officers, 1; enlisted men, 14 ; missing, enlisted men, 6. Eighth Missouri State Militia cavalry, killed, enlisted men, 9 ; wounded, officers, 2 : enlisted men, 28; missing, enlisted men, 4. Third Indiana battery, killed, enlisted men, 5; Total killed, officers, 2; enlisted men, 51 ; wounded, officers, 13; enlisted men, 144, exclusive of the Third Indiana battery ; missing, officers, 1; enlisted men, 43.

Major Emory S. Foster, Seventh Missouri cavalry, who commanded our troops in the engagement, reports that he had about 800 men, and that one-third of this force were killed, wounded and missing. This was one of the most gallant fights of the war, for a small force. The enemy had 2,500 men.

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