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Chapter 8:

  • Colonel Phillips invited to address a mass meeting of the Union citizens of northwestern Arkansas, at Fayetteville
  • -- the great difficulty in getting forage -- a scouting party returns from Van Buren -- the Indian division encamped on the edge of the battle field of Pea Ridge -- an account of the battle from data collected on the field and from eye Witnesses -- rebel raid on Neosho and capture of negroes -- a deserter from the enemy gives position and strength of their forces -- the enemy's wounded from Prairie Grove at Cane Hill still -- great mortality among them -- skirmish with bushwhackers -- arrival of forage trains from white River -- horses eat each others manes and tails off -- the small-pox among the Indians -- very few of them vaccinated -- only a few cases among the white soldiers -- remarks on the disease -- the Government should stock with animals to furnish Vaccine virus for the army.

On the morning of March 4th, Colonel Phillips, with an escort of one hundred men, set out for Fayetteville. The Union citizens of Washington county have called a mass meeting to be held at that place, and as that county is in his district, have invited him to be present, and to address them on current issues, and concerning their future prospects. Of course I have no means of knowing what advice he will give them, but it is easy to imagine that he will advise [162] them to enroll every able-bodied loyal man in defence of their homes, to be vigilant and take every precaution against surprise by the enemy, to see to it that the troops shall not display a spirit of lawlessness in any section in which they may be operating, and lastly that the citizens who are in sympathy with the Government shall, as far as practicable, co-operate with the troops. While I do not know anything about the Colonel as a public speaker, I do know that he is able to express his thoughts with ease and elegance upon paper, for he was for a number of years, before the war, a staff correspondent of the New York Tribune in Kansas, and wrote the first History of Kansas under the territorial regime. I do not know that we have a more forcible writer in the State, and if he keeps his official garments clean, and gets through the war alive, and returns to Kansas, I cannot see why he should not be one of our leading men, and why the people should not feel proud of honoring him with the highest position within their gift. Though a man's present conduct and character may be such as to win our admiration, and justify us in speaking of his prospective bright future; yet in these times, when there is so much tripping among great men, it is hardly safe to draw such a future picture of a man as his present career would seem to warrant. He may or he may not follow your imaginary paths, and obstacles may be thrown in his way which no one can foresee. Though it is unquestionably the duty of every officer and soldier in our armies. to work earnestly and faithfully, until we shall [163] compel the last man of the enemy to lay down his arms, and return to his allegiance to the Government, yet we know that already, during the progress of the war, there have been instances in which officers through jealousy, and to break down the reputations of their colleagues, have failed to co-operate with them, thus causing a useless and criminal destruction of the lives of our troops, and a prolonging of the contest. So it may be that obstacles will be interposed to prevent the deserved promotion of Colonel Phillips.

It is getting to be more difficult every day to find sufficient forage for our animals. They are really beginning to feel the pinch of hunger, and I fear will be much reduced in condition before spring opens, so that they can live by grazing. Our forage trains are sent almost two days march from camp, and then frequently return with most of the wagons empty or only partly filled with wheat straw. This, under ordinary circumstances, we use for bedding for our animals, but now we are obliged to use it largely as a substitute for hay and fodder. We cannot understand why we are not able to get all the corn and oats from Kansas that may be required for the command, for we hear that great quantities have been contracted for and are stored at Fort Scott. If our animals are permitted to run down in flesh and to become weak, we shall be obliged to content ourselves with less aggressiveness. It is possible, however, that before we shall have reached our usual radius of fifteen to twenty miles, some neighborhood will be found that can furnish us corn, oats, hay and straw for several weeks. [164]

A scouting party from this division has just returned from Van Buren via Fayetteville, having been absent about a week. While they were in the vicinity of Van Buren, Captain Fred Crafts, the commanding officer of the detachment, sent a spy into Fort Smith, who returned and reported that the enemy had only about three hundred men stationed there. It is therefore evident that we have no organized enemy of much consequence directly in our front for at least one hundred miles south of us. Since our expedition to Van Buren last December, the rebel authorities have not ventured to keep a regular station north of the Arkansas river. After an army becomes so demoralized as were General Hindman's forces last winter, it takes some time to reorganize it for effective operations. Unless the enemy receives reinforcements from east of the Mississippi, which is not at all likely at present, I think it will be impossible for him to organize another such an army as that which he had at Prairie Grove. It looks now as if the enemy would require all his available forces in the west for the defense of Vicksburg, which is being invested by our forces under General Grant. It would probably be difficult for the enemy there to either receive reinforcements from the west or to send out troops to the west, so tight are our lines being drawn around them.

One year ago to day, the 6th, the battle known as “Pea Ridge” commenced on this very ground. On the 6th the enemy, under General Van Dorn, attacked General Sigel's division at this place, and he retreated, [165] contesting every inch of ground, until he formed a junction with the other divisions of our army under the command of General S. R. Curtis, twelve miles northeast of here, between Pea Ridge and Cross Hollows. I have heard it said that General Van Dorn made the remark, that had his forces attacked General Sigel twenty minutes sooner, he would have captured the entire division of five or six thousand men. Twenty minutes more would probably have enabled General Van Dorn to have thrown a strong force between Generals Curtis and Sigel, and to have fought them separately. A short distance east of this place, on the line of retreat, in looking over the late scene of operations, I noticed a number of trees still bearing marks of shot and shell and small arms. General Curtis' forces not only drove Sterling Price's army out of Missouri into Arkansas, attacking it first at Springfield and then at Sugar Creek, but pursued them to Fayetteville, twenty miles south of here. Some sixteen miles south of Fayetteville General Price met the combined forces of Generals McCulloch, McIntosh and Pike. General Van Dorn, who had recently been appointed by the Confederate authorities to the command of the Trans-Mississippi Department, had just arrived when the rebel forces formed a junction. He at once assumed command of the combined forces, numbering about thirty-five thousand men, and some sixty pieces of light artillery, and marched rapidly to attack General Curtis. Our cavalry and some light artillery that were in advance, and had occupied Fayetteville, [166] fell back on our infantry as the enemy advanced in force. All our troops, except General Sigel's division, were on the main road leading from Springfield to Fayetteville. His division was on the road leading from Bentonville to Fayetteville, which, as already stated, at this point is about twelve miles west of the Springfield and Fayetteville road. His position was therefore a critical one, and had General Van Dorn succeeding in cutting him off from the main army under General Curtis, he might have been easily beaten, and his division destroyed or compelled to surrender. I have been informed by parties who were with General Sigel on his march from this place, that he was sometimes almost surrounded by the enemy; that during four or five hours, and until he received re-inforcements from General Curtis, he was obliged to fight the enemy in his front, on his flanks and in his rear. But he continued his march, and was able to form a junction late in the afternoon with General Jeff. C. Davis' division, about two miles west of the Springfield road at the west end of Pea Ridge. Our forces, however, were still divided into two separate armies, but in supporting distance of each other. During the night of the 6th, General Van Dorn moved his entire army around to the west of ours, and on the morning of the 7th had his line of battle formed north of us in our rear, thus cutting off any hope of retreat. General Curtis was therefore obliged to make a — change of front; that is, his line of battle must now front north instead of south. General Sterling Price's [167] forces occupied the Springfield road directly north of General Curtis' camp, and the divisions of the enemy under Generals McCulloch and McIntosh held positions directly north of General Sigel, some three miles west of Price. On the 7th the battle opened on our right, and raged furiously during the entire day with varying results. When night came our right wing had been driven back nearly a mile, but our left wing, under Generals Sigel and Davis, had defeated the right wing of the enemy, killing Generals McCulloch and McIntosh. During the night of the 7th the enemy's forces formed a junction on the ground held by his left wing, which was a strong position.

By moving around and taking up positions north of our forces, it was evident that the rebel generals felt sure of being able to destroy our army or compel it to surrender. Therefore on the morning of the 8th, at sunrise, the battle was resumed with even greater fierceness. But General Curtis and his division commanders had not been idle during the night in arranging their troops and batteries for the impending struggle. Our left wing, under General Sigel, was first furiously assaulted by the right wing of the enemy, but maintained its position with great firmness. After several hours hard fighting General Sigel ordered into position about thirty pieces of artillery, which, soon getting the range of the enemy's guns, silenced battery after battery. Our infantry then, under cover of our batteries, crept forward, and when within a short distance of the enemy's lines the order was given [168] to charge them. The troops that made this gallant charge were composed of Illinois, Indiana and Missouri regiments. The enemy's right wing was now pressed back in a good deal of confusion. Soon after this fierce contest our right wing forced back with great stubborness the left wing of the enemy. His lines now formed a kind of crescent,with the convex part of it turned toward us, and the horns directed from us, and our right and left wings cross-fired him with terrible effect. General Curtis, quickly seizing the situation, now ordered the charge all along our lines, and in a short time the enemy were completely routed at every point, and fled in great disorder in every direction, leaving their dead upon the field.

The federal losses in killed and wounded during the three days was upwards of twelve hundred men and officers. We did not lose any general officers, while the enemy had two general officers killed,--Brigadier Generals McCulloch and McIntosh. The enemy's losses of enlisted men, killed and wounded, also exceeded ours, besides General Curtis captured nearly a thousand prisoners.

That this sketch might be as accurate as possible, I spent three days last October, when we were encamped on the battle-field of Pea Ridge, in ascertaining the positions of different divisions of the two armies. A gentleman who was with General Curtis during the three day's struggle accompanied us over the field, and was able to point out nearly all the places — of interest, and I made memoranda of them; besides, I have recently [169] gone over a part of the field. It was easy to judge where the battle had been fiercest by the number of newly-made graves. At points where considerable numbers of our soldiers were killed, long trenches were dug and the men placed in them side by side, and a head-board placed over each man, giving his name, regiment, or battery. The places pointed out to us as the graves of the rebel dead, indicated that they had been buried in heaps; and we were told by our guide that such was the fact. I did not see a single head-board placed over any of their graves, although General Curtis gave General Van Dorn permission to bury his dead; and rebel-burying parties were on the field several days under a flag of truce.

About a quarter of a mile north of Elk Horn tavern, on the brow of a hill a few yards west of the Springfield and Fayetteville road, I counted thirty-three graves close together, the head-boards showing that the men who fell on that hallowed ground belonged to the Ninth Iowa infantry. Upwards of two miles southwest of Elk Horn tavern, where the battle also raged with great fury, the head-boards showed that the men who had fallen in this locality belonged to the Second, Twelfth and Twenty-fourth regiments Missouri infantry, and Eighth and Twenty-second regiments Indiana infantry, and Thirty-seventh regiment Illinois infantry. At other places on the field the federal dead had been buried in smaller groups than at the points mentioned above.. When we were encamped on the battle-field in October, the traces of this great [170] battle still mast visible were around Elk Horn tavern. The trees in the orchard and the small undergrowth in the woods near by were much scarred and cut to pieces by small arms and by grape and canister of the two armies. About half a mile south of Elk Horn, on the west side of the high road, and just north of the large field in which the federal trains were parked, the timber, covering a space of perhaps half a mile square, was dreadfully torn to pieces by shot and shell. I saw trees, probably eighteen inches in diameter, torn and split as if they had been struck by lightning. The storm from the federal batteries that burst over this part of the field must have been terrific. It was mostly the work of our batteries on the 7th, after the repulse of General Curtis' right wing around Elk Horn. The federal forces occupying the large field above mentioned, could easily bring their artillery into position to play upon the heavy-timbered woods.

I have now conducted the reader over the battle-field of Pea Ridge, commencing at this place, pointed out to him the position of our forces, and the points where our brave men fell in greatest numbers. I hope that before many years shall have elapsed after the war is ended, the country, for whom these noble men offered up their lives, will erect at least two monuments upon the ground where they fell, to commemorate their heroic deeds; and that this ground shall be hallowed to the generations who shall succeed us. I could not pass this first anniversary upon this field without adding a word to the memory of the two hundred patriot [171] soldiers who rest in their graves only a few miles from our camp.1 This night no doubt the thoughts of hundreds of those who lost husbands, fathers, brothers or [172] sons at the battle of Pea Ridge, turn to this field, and their minds are filled with unspeakable grief on account of the cutting short of the lives of those whom they loved so dearly. Not only will they call to mind this first anniversary of this great battle, but they will likely call to mind each succeeding anniversary of it while their affections last, for the dead heroes buried upon this field. Nor is this all. Hundreds of our brave soldiers who were wounded in this battle, still bear scars and unhealed wounds that will remind them probably of the anniversary of the bloody field of Pea Ridge as long as they live. The ides of March of each succeeding year will bring vividly before their minds the bloody scenes they have passed through on this field. They will recall with great vividness the sufferings from cold and fatigue, and the hopes and fears of those three eventful days.

When they recall the charges in which comrades fell .by their sides, and of others who were left on the field mortally wounded and in the agonies of death, shadows of sadness will pass over their countenances. Though these brave-hearted men in the discharge of their duties could plunge the cold steel into the enemy, yet their hearts are full of tenderness and affection; and the sufferings of a comrade from having nobly performed his duty, often causes the warm tear to roll down the cheeks of the stern soldier.

Information was received from Neosho this morning (9th) that a force of rebels under Livingston made a raid on that place a few nights ago and captured about twenty [173] negroes and a number of horses and mules. There was not much of a skirmish, for the rebel leader did not venture near where our troops were quartered, and they did not attack him because he had left before they had fairly got into position It seems that guards were not posted upon all the roads leading into town; or if they were, that they got captured, or reached the post but a few moments ahead of the; enemy. A couple of soldiers posted on a road several miles out, by the time they had halted and ascertained whether the approaching force was friend or foe, would, if the latter, have few chances of escape, if it were at night. If Livingston's men are mounted upon as good horses as they are reported to be, they could move more rapidly than an Indian guard mounted on a pony. In a few weeks the Indian soldiers and all the refugee Indian families will leave Neosho and join us in the Nation, and then it is the intention to have stationed there several companies of the Missouri State Militia, who generally have good horses, and will probably be able at least to hold their own with the guerrillas of southwest Missouri.

A deserter came into our lines to-day from Colonels Carroll's Arkansas regiment, which is now stationed below Van Buren on the Arkansas river. He does not think that the enemy in that section contemplates an immediate movement northward, as they have not a force sufficiently strong to meet our troops in the open field. Nearly all the rebel troops in Arkansas, he thinks, are in the vicinity of Little Rock, at any [174] rate, that there is not a large force in the western part of the State. We have no reason to doubt this latter part of his statement, for our reconnoitering parties are ever now and then returning from the vicinity of Van Buren, and in each instance report no enemy in force. Captain John Rogers, of the battalion Sixth Kansas cavalry, with a detachment of two hundred men, returned yesterday evening (13th) from beyond Cane Hill, in the Boston Mountains, and reports having met with no signs of the enemy. He saw, however, at Cane Hill a large number of the rebel wounded that were taken to that place last December from the battle-field of Prairie Grove. We have heard that a large percentage of the rebel wounded-probably nearly as many as General Hindman left on the field --have died in the hospitals there during the past winter. It may be that the mortality is not unusually high for the number wounded. If they have been furnished with ample medical supplies and attention, and sufficient fuel, covering and clothing, one would naturally think that the winter would be more favorable for the healing of gunshot wounds than the warm weather of summer. It has now been upwards of three months since the battle of Prairie Grove, and it is a little surprising that the rebel authorities should not have removed all their wounded to Fort Smith or to some point within their lines, by this time A detachment of about twenty-five men from this division had a fight yesterday, some fifteen miles from camp, with a party of bushwhackers, and killed six of [175] them. Two of our soldiers were wounded. This was the liveliest skirmish our foraging parties have had for several weeks.

Two companies of the Third Indian regiment came in this evening from Maysville, where they have been stationed for some time. That place is now abandoned, and the small fort that was constructed there during the winter, as a temporary defence, has been destroyed. As we exhausted that section of forage and commissary supplies before leaving it, it will now hardly afford any special attractions for guerrillas to return to until spring shall bring grass sufficient for grazing purposes.

This evening (14th) a train of upwards of one hundred wagons came in, loaded principally with corn. The corn and forage thus brought in was obtained in the vicinity of White River, east of here, and the expedition has been absent five days. This forage will afford great relief to many of our hungry animals that have been rapidly losing flesh of late on account of short rations. In a good many instances, horses that have been fastened to young trees, have gnawed the bark therefrom as high as they could reach, so keenly have they felt the pinch of hunger. I have seen some horses, too, that have even lost their manes and tails by their fellows chewing them in the absence of something more nutritious. When the demands of the appetite are not satisfied, men as well as animals resort to almost anything they can chew for food.

Several days ago one or two members of a refugee [176] family were reported to be down with the smallpox From inquiries which have been made to-day, it appears that quite a number of other cases have broken out among the refugees and Indian soldiers here. A small pox hospital has been established about half a mile outside the limits of our camp, where all smallpox patients are taken as soon as their disease has been determined. Three or four patients have already died, and fears are expressed that the disease will spread considerably among the Indians, as it does not appear that many of them have been vaccinated. It may also take off some of our white soldiers, though I do not find that any of them are in the hospital yet. They have generally been vaccinated within the last two or three years, so that they do not manifest much dread of the disease. It is not likely, however, that if some of their friends should be taken to the Small pox Hospital, they would display much affection for them for a month or so. Though the white soldiers of Captain Hopkins' battery and the battalion. of the Sixth Kansas Cavalry camp near together, yet there can be very little isolation, as by guard and other duties white and Indian soldiers are daily thrown together. If the disease shows a tendency to spread, and to assume a serious form with a high percentage of mortality, Colonel Phillips will not probably permit the air of our camp to become much infected with its germs, before moving to another locality.

This is surely a strange enemy to attack our army. Silently as Apollo's arrows it comes to those who are [177] not armed against it, and the chances are somewhat less than one in ten of its taking off its victim. We are thus reminded that we should not only guard against attacks from the visible foe whom we seek, but that we should also guard against attacks from the invisible foe whom we do not seek, and which may be lurking in the very air we breathe. An invisible portion of the small-pox virus introduced into the blood of a person who has never been vaccinated, nor had the smallpox, sets up a kind of fermentation, which goes on until it has entirely changed the molecular constitution of the blood, and in some way or other affects all the tissues of the body; or invisible germs, floating in the air and inhaled into the lungs, produce similar changes. But that we are able by vaccination to ward off, in a great measure, the dangers from this loathsome disease, is surely a great blessing. Were it not that many of us feel shielded from its attack, we should not likely be moving about here daily with such perfect composure of mind while others are suffering from its effects only a few hundred yards off.

There are some who have a dread of vaccination, and I have no doubt that there is often just cause for such dread, for there have been many instances in which bad results have come from using virus obtained from unhealthy persons or animals. The very greatest caution should therefore be exercised in regard to obtaining the virus from only perfectly healthy persons or animals. Speaking not as a medical practitioner, [178] but as I think from a common-sense point of view, I should say that the virus intended for use, ought not be obtained from anyone whose blood has been poisoned by immoral practices, or anyone having a consumptive or scrofulous diathesis, or anyone either of whose parents or grandparents died of consumption or were scrofulous. Anyone who would ignorantly or willfully trifle with the lives and future health of his fellows, is a criminal and justly deserves our execrations. It is possible, however, even after one has used his most deliberate judgment, to be sometimes mistaken or deceived. From such information as we have on the subject, I think it is generally regarded as safest to use the virus obtained from the cow. If animals were raised for this special purpose, kept isolated and in good condition, and properly inspected, then there should be only an infinitesimal danger in using the virus obtained from them. If individual enterprise cannot find it renumerative enough to go to this trouble, I think that, in time of war, the Government would not go outside of its legitimate functions to stock a farm or farms with animals, for the purpose of furnishing virus for its soldiers and sailors and citizen employes.

Our Medical department will, no doubt, after proper inquiries, be able to vaccinate most of those who have not already been recently vaccinated, and thus do much to prevent the spread of the disease. The approach of spring and a warmer season, will also, perhaps, be more favorable towards stamping it out.

1 The Federal army that fought the battle of Pea Ridge was divided by General Curtis into four divisions, as follows:

The First Division, commanded by Colonel P. J. Osterhaus, Twelfth Missouri infantry, was composed of the following organizations: Illinois-Twenty-fifth, Thirty-sixth, Thirty-ninth and Forty-fourth regiments of infantry. Missouri-Third, Twelfth and Seventeenth regiments infantry, two battalions Benton Hussars and two batteries, A and B, six guns each, Second regiment light artillery.

Second Division, commanded by Brigadier General A. Asboth, consisted of the following organizations: Missouri-Second and Fifteenth regiments infantry, and Fourth and Fifth regiments of cavalry, and flying battery, six guns, Ohio Second battery light artillery.

Third Division, commanded by General Jeff. C. Davis, consisted of the following organizations: Indiana-Eighth, Eighteenth and twenty-second regiments infantry; Illinois-Thirty-seventh and fifty-ninth regiments infantry; Missouri-First and Ninth regiments cavalry, and Colonel Phelps' regiment of infantry, and two batteries, one of four guns and another of six guns, Fourth Division, commanded by Colonel Eugene Carr, Third Illinois cavalry, was composed of the following organizations: Iowa-Fourth and Ninth regiments infantry, and Third cavalry, and first and third batteries Light artillery; Illinois-Thirty-fifth regiment infantry and Third cavalry; Missouri-Twenty-fifth regiment infantry and Bowen's battalion cavalry.

General Sigel commanded the First and Second Divisions, which formed our left wing, General Davis our centre, and Colonel Carr our right wing.

The Federal losses were as follows: First division 144, Second division 119, Third division 329, and Fourth division 701, making a total of 1,351 killed, wounded and missing. The total killed in the four divisions was 203, according to official reports.

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