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Chapter 7:

  • The Indian division moves to Pineville, Mo
  • -- remarks on the physical aspect of the country and its resources -- few depredations committed considering the general character and condition of the refugee camp-followers -- the President's Emancipation Proclamation -- a good many officers and soldiers opposed to it -- it is a military necessity -- it is just and is warmly commended -- the Government will soon have colored troops in the field -- Colonel Phillips' brother wounded -- Colonel Judson's brigade at Mount Vernon -- the Indian division marches to Bentonville, Arkansas -- Description of the country -- rebel prisoners sent to Springfield -- they were brought in by loyal Arkansas troops -- a meteor of great brightnsss observed -- Reflections on sidereal worlds and meteoric displays -- the Indian Delegation go to Washington.

The Indian division struck tents at Scott's Mills and marched leisurely up the Cowskin river about twenty miles, and encamped near Pineville, the county seat of McDonald county, on the 21st of February. We were several days marching this distance, because, as I suppose, Colonel Phillips wishes to move at his leisure to those localities where our animals can be most easily foraged until spring shall have advanced far enough to justify a forward movement. As we are to go from here to Bentonville, Benton county, Arkansas, in a few days, we are now doubtless taking the first steps [146] towards entering upon the spring campaign. Our soldiers seem delighted that we are to turn our faces to the South, and that we are to re-occupy the section from which we were withdrawn the first of the year.

This is not much of an agricultural region, as there is not much soil fit for cultivation, except along the river bottoms. The Cowskin or Elk river, which flows in a westerly course, nearly through the centre of the county, is not perceptibly smaller here than at Scott's Mills. It differs from our Kansas rivers in this respect, that it discharges a large volume of water the year round, while they almost dry up during the summer months of dry seasons. With some attention given to its improvement for navigation, light draft steamers might run on it between this point and Grand River several months of the year. It flows over a gravelly bottom, and is as clear as a crystal, being fed by perpetual springs. Water-power mills have been constructed upon it wherever required. In this vicinity, and for ten or fifteen miles above here, a number of saw mills were in operation before the war, making lumber. This is the only county in southwest Missouri in which there are any pine forests. Hence, therefore, all the pine lumber used for building and other purposes, in the counties north and east of this, for a distance of sixty to seventy-five miles, was furnished by this section. It is quite different from the white pine shipped from the north, and used in the towns along the Missouri river and in Kansas. It is known as yellow pine, and is very heavy, containing large [147] quantities of resin or pitch. A piece of it lighted will burn like a torch, to such an extent is it saturated with the oil of turpentine. Before the war there was also manufactured in this region considerable tar or pitch, obtained from this yellow pine. It was used altogether by the people of south west Missouri and Arkansas in lubricating the wooden axles of their old-fashioned wagons. The people of this section do not use for lubricating purposes, oil, tallow or axle grease, as we do on our wagons, Perhaps tar would not be as suitable for iron axles, such as are used in the army wagon.

From all that I have seen of this county, I think it is too poor to ever attract to it a very large number of immigrants. It is possible, however, but not probable, that these rocky hills contain hidden treasures of immense value, of which we know nothing at present. I can see how it is possible to utilize the hilly and poor upland regions to some extent. They are mostly covered with fine timber, and in the spring, summer and autumn months, with a fine growth of wild grass. When all the land which is fit to cultivate along the streams is taken up, large flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle can be pastured during half the year, at little expense, on the bills and uplands. But before people can be induced to come here and adopt such rigid economy, the fertile plains of Kansas and the richer portions of this State, will be densely populated.

In some sections of the country now, the destruction [148] of forests, in getting timber for various economical purposes, is more rapid than their growth. Their destruction must become even more marked, as the population of the country increases and its resources are steadily developed. The time is therefore coming when the forests on these hills will be quite an item of commerce to this section, and a source of profit to the owners.

Out of the great number of fine springs in this section, whose clear cold water is a luxury, particularly during the summer months, it is possible that some of them may possess medicinal properties, which will make.them places of public resort, and temporary abodes for invalids from all parts of the world.

As no large body of our troops have been in this vicinity since last autumn, and as we have no troops stationed in this county at all, a good many rebels have returned from the southern army and from Texas and southern Arkansas, and have been living at their homes nearly all winter. Since we came here, some of them have come into our lines and taken the oath of allegiance to the Government, and others have either gone South, or remain in the country endeavoring to avoid capture by our troops. Only a few weeks ago a party of a dozen or so rebels in this vicinity, sent a message to the commanding officer at Neosho that they were willing to come in and surrender and take the oath, but when a detachment of our troops came down here to receive them, they were not found. It is reported that they had some fears of our Indian soldiers, [149] and went to Mount Vernon to give themselves up to the proper authorities. From all that I can hear, I have no doubt but that Colonel Phillips' firmness, tempered with moderation, has had much to do in inducing those who have recently been in arms against the Government, yet who have realized their mistake and feel somewhat friendly inclined towards us, to come in and renew their allegiance to the old flag. Though he has had a mixed command of Indians and white men, which probably few officers would be able to manage creditably, yet he has kept his soldiers under perfect control, so perfect, indeed, that we nowhere hear of houses burned, or the useless destruction of property. This is almost remarkable considering the great number of refugees and camp-followers of every condition and color and phase of moral character he has to keep his eyes upon. While we were encamped at Maysville some colored male refugees who were caught committing some unauthorized depredations in the country, were punished by each being compelled to carry a log of wood, weighing perhaps thirty to forty pounds, several hours each day for two or three days. The punishment of those men has had a wholesome effect in preventing the reckless and indiscriminate plundering that would surely have followed, had not our commander been thus prompt in setting his seal of condemnation upon it. No one can tell to what length a mass of unorganized and ignorant men would go, were not some restraint put upon their actions. It is safe to say, however, that the lives and property of [150] no class in the vicinity would be safe, and for myself I should not be surprised to hear of them cutting their own throats, were they permitted to follow their own unbridled passions. Colonel Phillips has no doubt carefully considered and foreseen the result which would naturally flow from allowing refugees, camp-followers, or even his own troops, to commit depredations on their own account. When he sends out his forage trains, he sends them under officers who act under specific instructions. Should the officer in charge of a train go outside of his instructions, and take any property or permit it to be taken by the men under him, with the view of applying it to private use, and complaint be made to headquarters, Colonel Phillips would have him immediately Court-martialed, and if found guilty of the charges preferred against him, he would be dismissed the service. But while he is prompt in repressing acts that would tend to reflect upon our arms, he is not accused of acting, in any case, ghastly and without sufficient cause. I am sure that it cannot be said years hence, when the war is over, that Colonel Phillips, with perfect indifference, permitted the Federal troops under him to rob the women of this section of their jewelry and other trinkets. But should the spirit of justice and moderation that have guided his action, since he assumed command of this division, continue to guide his future movements, and should he be spared a full measure of years, and return to this section, the people will doubtless welcome him with grateful hearts, and point to him as a Federal [151] commander whose military and private life reflected luster upon the cause which he represented.

The President's Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on the first of January, and the prospect of immediately arming the freedmen to fight the enemy, their late masters, are just beginning to be warmly discussed by officers and soldiers and citizens. We hear from Neosho and other sections of the State, that returned rebels and many democrats regard these new measures of the Government with a good deal of bitterness, and predict that they will weaken our cause throughout the country. They pretend to think that it would be a great disgrace to the Government to permit negro soldiers to go into the field and fight by the side of white soldiers of the Union armies. But these guardians of propriety and advisers of the Government, see no objection to the negroes of the South raising supplies for the rebel armies, building their fortifications, acting as servants for officers, and in contributing in various ways, directly and indirectly, to strengthening the backbone of the Confederacy. They wish to see the Government compel the negroes to continue forging the chains intended to keep them bound in slavery for ever. Even some of our officers and soldiers seem to think that nothing but evil can come out of these measures, and denounce President Lincoln for inaugurating them. They understand very little about how difficult it is to resist the progressive spirit of our time, and would ignore the fact that the war has forced the Government to adopt certain [152] measures which it was not desirous of adopting at the beginning. They like to repeat with some emphasis that they did not enter the service of the Government for the purpose of abolishing slavery, but for the purpose of saving the Union. And this general statement now being made by many in the army, I think represents their true sentiments. Had they known that the war would have so soon brought about the abolition of slavery, a great many men now in the service would probably never have enlisted. But I think that those who take this view of the matter, occupy a very inconsistent position. We might ask, would they keep a portion of our army busy returning runaway slaves to their rebel masters? Or would they have large pastures or mess houses to keep all the slaves in that run away from their masters and come into our lines? Or would they carefully investigate each case to ascertain to whom the man, woman or child belonged, and then put a tag around the individual's neck so that he could be returned to the proper owner when the war is over. To my mind any other position than that taken by the Government would not only be absurd, but impractible. The rebels brought on the war, and that their leaders were too short sighted to foresee the results is now plain to every one. They must make the best of their own mistake. They gloried in being blind to the probable future destiny of slavery. While the war was not at first ostensibly carried on by the Government for the purpose of abolishing slavery, matters have now taken such a turn [153] that the freedom of the slaves has become a public necessity. Though perhaps most of our people will temporarily deplore the necessity, there are others, a large minority too, who will hail this opportunity which the Government has, of wiping out a national crime, with delight. It is a great victory for the latter class,--a victory that many never dreamed of realizing during their lives. This class shall no longer be considered a contemptible minority of fanatics and disturbers of the peace, because we have advocated that all men should have equal rights, to life, liberty and the pursuit to happiness. In the future history of the Republic those noble men of this generation, who have stood firm against great odds in advocating the abolition of slavery, will be regarded as among the saviors of the country. The taunts, and insults, and sacrifices which they have endured, have not counted for nothing. The judicial murder of John Brown will make him a martyr to freedom to the future generations of this country; and his name is already woven into a war song, which is sung throughout all our armies.

And now the slaves are going to help pay the price of their freedom by supporting the strong arms of their deliverers, instead of being a burden to them. How much better this is than if they do nothing, for their descendants can then say with conscious pride, “our fathers, by their manhood and valor, and by their blood and sacrifices, contributed to our freedom.” It would be unnatural for the late slaves to remain idle [154] in this great conflict. Now is their time to strike, and they will not fail to do it. We have already heard that a colored regiment is being organized in Kansas from the negro refugees from Missouri and Arkansas. If properly officered I have no doubt that they will march to the front with firm steps and brave hearts, and meet the enemy like men who are conscious that they are fighting for their liberty and their lives.

Lieutenant Maxwell Phillips, of the Third Indian regiment, was wounded in a skirmish with bushwhackers on Pea Ridge a few days ago. Though a brother of the Colonel, he has had to share equally with other officers the dangers and hardships of the field. His wound is quite serious, though it is not thought that with careful attention, it will prove mortal. He has been sent to Neosho in an ambulance; but will probably soon be taken to Kansas to stay until he recovers. He has been an active and efficient officer during the winter, and this division cannot well afford to lose his services.

Colonel Judson's brigade is encamped at Mt. Vernon, about thirty miles west of Springfield. The cavalry is obliged to keep constantly moving in order to find sufficient forage for the animals. The troops in the vicinity of Springfield do not seem to be making any preparations for an active spring campaign into that section of Arkansas occupied by the enemy. I should like to hear of our victorious troops of last winter carrying their arms into the ranks of the enemy, instead of spending the season in inactivity along the border counties of southern Missouri. [155]

From near Pineville, Missouri, we marched to Water's Mills, about three miles north of Bentonville, Arkansas. Nothing occurred on the march worth mentioning, except that the country we passed over was rough and hilly, as in the vicinity of Pineville. We could see the pine forests on the distant hills, but there were none directly on our road. Our advance guard saw several flocks of wild turkeys. There are great numbers of them in a part of the region that we passed over, for it is very thinly settled with a house here and there, miles apart. And from what I saw I think that the acorn-bearing oaks must have produced immense quantities of acorns last year, thus furnishing abundant food for the wild turkeys and pigeons of this section. We encamped at Water's Mills only a few days, and moved to Bentonville on the 27th of February. We shall probably stay here several weeks. Bentonville is a small town, and perhaps never contained a population of more than three or four hundred. For agricultural purposes this county is even poorer than McDonald county, Missouri. Considerable tobacco, however, was raised on the small cultivated tracts before the war. The hills around here are not quite so rugged as along Elk river and Sugar Creek some twenty miles northeast of us.

Yesterday morning, March 1st, Colonel Phillips sent a scout in the direction of White river, almost east of this place, for the purpose of discovering a party of rebels reported to have been seen in that vicinity a few days ago; but it returned about midnight without [156] having found them. Our cavalry will probably be kept busy for awhile in endeavoring to free this section from bushwhackers, for they have had almost full sway since we passed through here last October, just before the battle of Old Fort Wayne. When we came here, only three days ago, the dust raised by their horses' heels had scarcely settled. As a general thing the bushwhackers in this section are mounted upon fine animals, and if they get the start of us beyond the range of our Sharp's carbines, we are rarely able to over take them. In the battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry there are some good horses, and in a chase a trooper may now and then be able to dash ahead of his comrades and bring down his enemy by a well directed shot from his carbine or army revolver. But the animals upon which the Indians are mounted are mostly ponies, and of course not conspicuous for fleetness as compared with some of our more carefully bred horses. For many years before the war the horse fanciers of Missouri delighted to trace the genealogies ,of their horses back to the celebrated fine stock of Kentucky. The Indian ponies, however, are very hardy, and stand the service remarkably well. An Indian looks awkward seated upon one of our fine cavalry horses, so thoroughly have Indians and ponies become associated in our minds together.

A portion of the first Arkansas cavalry stationed at Fayetteville, twenty-five miles south of this place, brought in yesterday about thirty rebel prisoners, recently captured in the direction of Van Buren. [157] They are to be sent to Springfield, Missouri, in a few days, as we have no facilities for holding prisoners of war in safety. As all the available men of this division are required for active service in the field, none of them can well be spared for guarding prisoners, even temporarily. The military prisons north are the proper places for such of the enemy as we capture, instead of marching them from station to station with us.

The turning over of these prisoners to Colonel Phillips by the loyal Arkansas troops is noted with much satisfaction, for I remarked several months ago that there were enough Union men in northwestern Arkansas, if organized into regiments and battalions, to contribute largely in holding this section. The First regiment of Arkansas cavalry, commanded by Colonel M. La Rue Harrison, has now nearly completed its organization, and most of the men have received their arms, bright new uniforms and equipments. It is reported that some of the men were conscripts in the rebel army, and no doubt met us on the field at Prairie, Grove. But that they have voluntarily come in and enlisted in the Union army, is all the evidence of loyalty that we require. Since they have thrown off their butter-nut clothing and put on the Federal blue uniform they look much improved in personal appearance, and no doubt will make good soldiers, and if they hold Fayetteville, their valor will probably be tested before the summer shall have ended It is now a settled fact that we shall move into the Cherokee Nation in a few weeks, and then these Arkansas [158] troops at Fayetteville will be much isolated, unless, however, some of the troops about Springfield shall move southwest in this direction. It is the intention to immediately commence the construction of some sort of fortifications at Fayetteville. If this intention is carried into effect it will enable the troops there to temporarily repel any force of the enemy likely to be brought against them. But the works about to be constructed would not enable Colonel Harrison to stand a siege of many days, unless he is better provisioned and supplied with water than is probable.

Last night (2d), about half past 9 o'clock, an unusually bright meteor shot across the sky from the northeast to the southwest. It was so bright that it seemed to almost cast a shadow, and to illuminate our camp. It left a track for quite a distance through the atmosphere, which must have lasted for several seconds. Several soldiers a few yards distant, who had not yet retired, but who were standing about their camp fire, talking over their adventures and fighting some of their battles over, also saw it. It changed their conversation and the current of their thoughts. I caught some of their remarks in regard to it. They thought it a strange phenomenon, as it was so much brighter than ordinary meteors, and wondered if it had any significance in relation to our future movements. One of the party was able to recall to his mind that just before some important event in his life, a great storm and extraordinary thunder and lightning had occurred, or the sky had presented a peculiar and [159] unusual appearance. There are many people yet who believe that natural phenomena of this kind have special reference to human affairs, to such an extent are their minds unemancipated from the gross and irrational errors of less enlightened times. Many will remember that those who are always looking for signs of some extraordinary future event, referred, almost with delight, to the great comet of 1858, as foreboding war. It was once thought by our ancestors, and is still thought by some uncivilized races, that eclipses of the sun and moon had some connection with the affairs of men; but we have got past that, and regard the notion as absurd. It is likewise absurd to suppose that a comet in the heavens, or a meteor passing through our atmosphere, has any connection with human affairs. To all inquiring minds, extraordinary natural phenomena have always been a stimulus to investigation. The beauties of the heavens on a clear night are fascinating studies not only for the astronomer, but also for many who have had very little scientific training. In the southern heavens, during. the earlier part of the night, the Constellation Orion and the Great Dog (Canis Major) are conspicuous objects of interest. Sirius, in the latter Constellation, is the brightest star in the heavens, and has guided the actions of men in war and in peace, long before the dawn of written history. When alone admiring those far off worlds of the universe, to us mere scintillating points-what strange thoughts come rushing through the mind. If they are suns, as we are taught, like our [160] sun, have they planets revolving around them like the planets that revolve around our sun? And if they thus have their systems of planets and satellites revolving around them, are any of those planets inhabited by beings something like those on this earth? But the nightly procession of the Constellations across the heavens will continue eternally, and we shall get no answer to our questions.

On the 3rd the Indian Delegation left for Washington on business pertaining to their own interests. While they have no representative in Congress, the Cherokees, Creeks, &c., deem it expedient to keep at the Capitol of our Government during the Sessions of Congress, representatives to confer with the authorities, and to prepare such measures as it may be thought desirable to bring before Congress. Not a year passes that Congress is not called upon to pass certain laws in regard to the affairs of most of the Indian tribes. Their forms of government are simple, but as we have to deal with each separate tribe as an independent nation, the department of Indian Affairs is getting to be quite complicated. The Government must listen to the complaint of each tribe, with a patient ear, investigate the alleged cause of complaint in each case, and as far as possible, under treaty stipulations remove every cause of irritation.

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