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Chapter XXIII

  • Assignment to the Department of the Missouri
  • -- a cordial reception from former Opponents in St. Louis -- origin of the military school at Fort Riley -- funeral of General George H. Thomas -- death of General George G. Meade -- assigned to the Division of the Pacific -- a visit to Hawaii -- military men in the exercise of political power -- trouble with the Modoc Indians -- the Canby massacre.

when I went into the War Office in 1868, the cordial greeting extended from all quarters was exceedingly gratifying to me, and, I thought, highly honorable to those gentlemen, especially in the Senate, who had so long opposed me, only one of whom, I believe, failed to call at the office and express a kindly welcome; and that one was so great a man, in his own estimation, I flattered myself that was the only reason he had not called to greet me. So when I returned to St. Louis in March, 1869, the good citizens of that place gave me a banquet and a most cordial welcome, in which all participated, save one, of those who had seemed to be my most bitter enemies in 1862 and 1863. It was especially noteworthy that the Hon. Charles D. Drake, who had been chairman of the large delegation which went to Washington, and one of the recognized leaders in the movement, to obtain my removal from the command in Missouri, was among the most cordial in his expressions of esteem and regard from March, 1869, up to the time [425] of his death, at which time I was in command of the army. But his principal associate, the Hon. Henry T. Blow, could not forgive me, for what thing especially I do not know, unless for my offense in arresting a ‘loyal’ editor, for which he denounced me in a telegram to the President. That was, no doubt, a very grave offense, but a natural one for a young soldier. Indeed, old as I am now, and much sad experience as I have had with the press, I would probably do the same thing again. That ‘loyal’ editor, professing the greatest zeal for the Union cause and devotion to the National Government, had published, in a city under martial law, a confidential letter from the President, the commander-in-chief of the army, to the commanding general of that department. The ever kind and indulgent President was only too willing to overlook such an offense on the part of one who professed to be a friend of the Union. But a soldier could not overlook such an outrage as that upon his commander-in-chief, and upon the cause he was sworn to defend. Though his respect for a free press be profound, there are some kinds of freedom which must, in time of war, be crushed, even though the soldier himself may also be crushed. A soldier who is not ready to meet his fate in that way, as well as in battle, is not fit to command.

In President Grant's order of March, 1869, assigning the general officers to commands, the Department of the Missouri again fell to my lot. I relieved Lieutenant-General Sheridan, who took command of the Division of the Missouri, and removed his headquarters from St. Louis to Chicago, which then became for the first time the principal military center of all the Western country. These arrangements were intended to be as nearly permanent as practicable, so that all might have a period of comparative rest after the eight years of war and strife. I then reverted, for the first time in those eight [426] years, to the thoughts and ambitions of my youth and young manhood, for I had grown much older in that time. First was the ambition, inherited from my grandfather McAllister, to acquire a farm big enough to keep all the neighbors at a respectful distance. In company with my brother and another officer, I bought in Colorado a ranch about ten miles square, and projected some farming and stock-raising on a large scale. My dream was to prepare a place where I could, ere long, retire from public life and pass the remainder of my days in peace and in the enjoyment of all those outof-door sports which were always so congenial to me. But events ‘over which I had no control’ soon defeated that scheme. That, like all the other plans of my own invention, came to naught. The ranch was sold, and I got out of it, as I always tried to do, about as much as I had put in.

Upon a suggestion from General Henry J. Hunt, the famous chief of artillery, when I was in the War Department, I ordered a light-artillery school to be established at Fort Riley, Kansas. Also, upon his suggestion, I directed that the four batteries which were to compose that school should be supplied with carbines, so that they might serve as cavalry when necessary to protect the neighboring settlements against Indian raids, and thus overcome any objection which might be urged on the ground that the barracks at Fort Riley were needed for cavalry. The school was organized, under Colonel John Hamilton; the batteries did good service as cavalry in the summers of 1869 and 1870; and all was working, as I thought, in a highly satisfactory manner so long as I remained in command of that department. But after I went to California, for some inscrutable reason the school was broken up and the batteries again scattered to separate posts.

When that department again came under my command, [427] as part of the Division of the Missouri, and General Sheridan was in command of the army, a move was made by somebody to get possession of that splendid military reservation of Fort Riley for some other purpose. Hence it became necessary to manifest in some more striking way the importance of that place for military uses. The occasion had again come for carrying out that scheme which Hunt and I had devised for doing what was so much needed for the artillery. Fortunately, General Sheridan wanted also to do something beneficial for the cavalry, in which he felt much the same special interest that I did in the artillery. So a sort of alliance, offensive and defensive, was formed, which included as its most active and influential member Senator Plumb of Kansas, to obtain the necessary funds and build a suitable post and establish at Fort Riley a school of cavalry and light artillery. The result finally attained, when I was in command of the army, is well known, and is an honor to the country.

The department headquarters were removed to St. Louis during the winter of 1869-70 to make room at Fort Leavenworth for the cavalry who had been on the plains during the summer. I then had the pleasure of renewing the intimate friendships which had been formed between 1860 and 1863 in that most hospitable city. Even those ties which had been so rudely severed by war in the spring of 1861 were restored and became as strong as ever. I found that the memory of a little humanity displayed in mitigating somewhat the horrors of war had sufficed to obliterate in those few years the recollection of a bitter sectional enmity; while, on the other hand, a record of some faithful service far enough from their eyes to enable them to see it without the aid of a microscope, and the cooler judgment of a few years of peace, had so far obscured the partizan contests of a period of war that none were more cordial friends in 1869 than those who [428] had seemed bitterest enemies six years before. Human nature is not half so bad as it sometimes pretends to be. As a rule, it would be pretty good all the time if men could only keep cool. Among all the enjoyments of that season in St. Louis, that which left the deepest impression on my memory, as has always been the case with me, was the sport at Hat Island, under the management of that most genial of companions, Ben Stickney. We hunted with hounds before breakfast every morning, and shot water-fowl from breakfast till supper. What was done after supper has never been told. What conclusive evidence of the ‘reversionary’ tendency in civilized man to a humbler state! He never feels so happy as when he throws off a large part of his civilization and reverts to the life of a semi-savage. The only thing that saves him from total relapse is the fact that he takes with him those little comforts, both liquid and solid, which cannot be found in the woods. He thus keeps up the taste that finally draws him back again to a civilized, or, more accurately, semi-civilized life. If any sportsman knows any better reason than that for not living like a savage when in his hunting-camp, I would like him to give that reason to me!

We returned to Fort Leavenworth in the spring, and expected to make that our permanent home. Some necessary improvements had been made in the quarters during the winter, and no one could have desired a more comfortable residence, more congenial companionship, or more agreeable occupation than that of guarding and protecting the infant settlements of industrious but unarmed and confiding people rapidly spreading far out upon the plains. With my cavalry and carbined artillery encamped in front, I wanted no other occupation in life than to ward off the savage and kill off his food until there should no longer be an Indian frontier in our beautiful country. [429]

But soon after my pickets were put out on the plains, there came the sad news of the sudden death, in San Francisco, of my old commander, General George H. Thomas. His body was brought east to Troy, New York, for interment. All his old companions, including President Grant, assembled to pay the last tribute of respect and honor to that noble old soldier, whose untimely death was deeply mourned by all. It was a most impressive scene. All the high commanders of the vast army which had been disbanded five years before assembled around the grave of one of their number. The hero was buried, as he had lived, honored by all who knew him, and mourned by the nation he had so faithfully served.

Immediately after the funeral of General Thomas there was, if I recollect rightly, a large assembly, in Philadelphia, of the Society of the Army of the Potomac. General Grant and General Sherman were there, and we met at an early dinner at the house of General Meade, who had been designated by General Sherman to succeed General Thomas in command of the Division of the Pacific. After dinner General Meade took me to drive through Fairmount Park, in which he was greatly interested as president of the commission having it in charge. He explained to me the great sacrifice he would make in giving up command of the Division of the Atlantic, and his congenial occupation and pleasant home in Philadelphia, where he was best known and most highly respected, and where, as I could see in driving along, almost everybody recognized and saluted him. I thought he had indeed better reason to feel satisfied with his home than any other man I had ever known. But he, too, great and brave soldier, was given but little longer to enjoy the high honors he had so nobly won in command of the Army of the Potomac. When I had so far recovered from a severe attack of pneumonia as to be permitted to look for [430] the first time at a morning paper, one of the first things that attracted my attention was the death of General Meade, from the same disease, the day before.

Of course the President did not hesitate to accede to General Meade's desire, for he had given him, only a year before, the division of his choice. As is well known, the relations between General Grant and General Hancock were not at that time quite satisfactory. As I knew the exact truth at the time, I think it my duty to state that General Grant believed that General Hancock had not at one time shown that degree of subordination which a soldier ought always to feel. But to the honor of both be it said that their difference was ere long removed, and General Hancock was assigned to command the Division of the Atlantic, according to his rank. In the meantime, it fell to my lot to take the Division of the Pacific, which I had a year before gladly relinquished in favor of General Thomas.

Soon after my arrival in San Francisco, General Sherman met me there, and we went together, by sea, to Oregon, where we met General Canby, then commanding the Department of the Columbia. We ascended the Columbia River to Umatilla, and rode by stage from that place to Kelton, on the Central Pacific Railroad, seven hundred and fifty miles. After a visit to Salt Lake City, we returned to St. Louis, where I had some work to complete as president of a board on tactics and small arms, upon the completion of which I returned to San Francisco.

In the summer of 1871, after the great earthquake of that year, I made a trip across the Sierra to Camp Independence, which had been destroyed, to consider the question of rebuilding that post. Of the buildings, brick or adobe, not one remained in condition to be occupied. Very fortunately, all in the garrison had received timely warning from the first shock, so that none were injured by the second and third shocks, which tumbled everything [431] to the ground. Some thirty people living in small adobe houses in Owens River valley were killed. Sounds like heavy artillery in the distance were still heard at intervals after our arrival. For many miles along the length of the valley a great crevasse had been formed by the upheaval, which must have been many feet in height. In the subsidence one side had fallen several feet lower than the other, and at a place where the crack crossed the wagon-tracks a horizontal motion of several feet had taken place, the road marking its permanent effect.

We ascended Owens River valley to the source of that stream, recrossed the mountains by the ‘bloody’ cañon, and descended through the great Yosemite valley, which from the higher altitude looked like a little ‘hole in the ground.’ That was the least interesting of all my four visits to that wonderful work of nature. Our round trip occupied about seven weeks.

At our last camp, in Tuolumne meadows, some time in August, after the temperature had been above eighty degrees in the daytime, it fell below thirty at night. I contracted a cold which developed into pneumonia, from which I did not recover for many months. It was during my convalescence that I went with Colonel B. S. Alexander to the Hawaiian Islands, under an arrangement previously made with the War Department.

It was the year 1872 when I and Colonel Alexander, the senior engineer officer on the Pacific coast, who had applied to the War Department and obtained an order to visit the Hawaiian Islands for the purpose of reporting to the War Department, confidentially, the value of those islands to the United States for military and naval purposes, went to Hawaii with Rear-Admiral Pennock on the flag-ship California, and returned, three months later, on the war-steamer Benicia. During our stay we visited the largest island of the group,—Hawaii,—and its principal seaport,—Hilo,—and the great crater of Kilauea. [432] We made a careful examination of the famous harbor of Pearl River, in the island of Oahu, a few miles from Honolulu, including a survey of the entrance to that harbor and an estimate of the cost of cutting a deep ship-channel through the coral reef at the extremity of that entrance toward the sea.

At that time the young king Lunalilo had just ascended the throne made vacant by the death of the last of the ancient reigning house of Hawaii. The policy of the preceding king had been annexation to the United States; but the new sovereign and his advisers were opposed to that policy, although very friendly to Americans, and largely controlled by their influence in governmental affairs. It was manifest that the question of annexation ought not to be discussed at that time, but that action ought to be taken at once to secure to the United States the exclusive right to the use of Pearl River harbor for naval purposes, and to prepare the way to make annexation to the United States sure in due time. This could readily be done by making such concessions in favor of the products of Hawaiian industries as would develop the resources of the islands and increase their wealth, all of which would be to the ultimate benefit of the United States when the islands should become a part of this country.

The continuous and rapid decay of all the ancient families of chiefs, from which alone would the people ever think of electing a king or a queen, and the notorious corruption in blood and character of the few remaining half-castes nominally belonging to those ancient families, made it plain to all that the monarchical government must soon die a natural death, or become so intolerably corrupt as to make its overthrow inevitable. Americans by birth or descent were then, and had been for a long time, the controlling element in the government. While perfectly faithful to that government, they [433] had lost none of their love for their native country, and looked forward with confidence to the time when the islands, like ripe fruit, should fall into the lap of their beloved mother. These American Hawaiians were men of very high character, and much above the average of intelligence even in this country. They had no desire to force the ripening of the fruit, but were perfectly content to bide the course of nature, which must of necessity produce the result in no long time.

It seems to me a very narrow view of the intelligence of the people of this country which suggests any serious difficulty in the government of outlying possessions which are essential military and naval outposts simply because their heterogeneous populations are not yet capable of self-government, or fit for admission to the Union as a State. If the Territorial system to which the country is accustomed is not appropriate in any special case, and the prejudice against a military government is regarded as insurmountable, we have an example in the present government of the District of Columbia,—one of the best and most economical in the world,—which would require very slight modification to make it perfectly applicable to any of the islands of the Atlantic, the Pacific, or the gulf which may be acquired by this country. I do not believe any man worthy of the title of statesman will admit for a moment that the United States cannot govern, and govern well, any national outposts or other possessions which the interests of the country may require it to hold. In fact, it seems an almost self-evident proposition that a government, under exclusive national authority, exercised over comparatively small districts of country and small population, under the constant observation of the people and public press of the entire country, is more likely to be just and pure than any other. Responsibility to a local constituency undoubtedly has great advantages, but responsibility to [434] the government and entire people of the United States has vastly greater.

When it was proposed to me in Virginia, in 1867, that I become a candidate for the United States Senate under the State government which I was trying to ‘reconstruct,’ I replied that in my opinion the highest qualification I possessed for the difficult duty I was then required to perform resided in the fact that there was ‘nothing in the gift of Virginia which I could afford to accept.’ I believe now that the highest external incentive to honorable conduct anywhere in the world is that of responsibility to the government and the whole people of the United States. There need be no apprehension that any American who has a national reputation at stake will be guilty of any of the crimes which are said to stain the administration of viceroys in some parts of the world. The prejudice which still exists in this country in respect to military government is due solely to the fact that the people do not yet appreciate the legitimate influence which they themselves exercise over their public servants, military no less than civil. Indeed, there is perhaps no other class of citizens so sensitive to public criticism as those in the military service, certainly none who value more highly their reputation for faithful and honorable conduct in the public service. I do not hesitate to give it as my deliberate judgment, based upon the experience of half a century, that the best and most satisfactory government any island of the West Indies can have in the next hundred years will be a military government under an officer of the United States army.

It is only an incident of despotic governments, past or present, that soldiers have been employed to execute despotic orders. The common inference that military government is essentially despotic is absolutely false. On the contrary, military men are, as a rule, the most humane. This has been most notably so in the history [435] of this country. Almost without exception, the soldiers of all grades in the Union army desired to treat the conquered South with all possible kindness and humanity, while the men who inflicted upon the Southern people the worst form of cruelty were men who had never fought a battle. There have been some cruel soldiers in the world, many more cruel men who were not soldiers except perhaps in name. Men of that character generally avoid danger. What mankind has most to dread is the placing of military power in the hands of men who are not real soldiers. They are quite sure to abuse it in one way or the other, by cruelty to their own men, or else to others. The same disregard for human life which induces an ignorant man to take command of troops and send them to useless slaughter may well manifest itself in barbarity toward prisoners of war or non-combatants; but a real soldier is never guilty of either of those crimes, which seem to me alike among the greatest in military experience.

The Modoc Indians were a brave people, and had always been friends of the whites; but their old home in southern Oregon was rich grazing-land, and was much coveted by the ranchmen of that region. Hence the Modocs were induced in some way to leave their homes and go upon the Klamath reservation. There they were starved and generally abused until they could stand it no longer. They went back to their old place, and declared they would die rather than go to live with the Klamaths again. Repeated requests were made by the Indian Bureau to the War Department to force the Modocs to go back to the Klamaths; but this was firmly opposed by General Canby, commanding the department; by me, who then commanded the Division of the Pacific; and by General Sherman, commanding the army. No such order could be obtained in the regular way. Resort was had to an innocent old army regulation which directed department commanders to render such military [436] assistance as might be necessary to enable the Indian superintendents to carry out their orders from Washington. Without the knowledge of the President, or the Secretary of War, or the general of the army, an order was sent from the Indian Bureau in Washington to send the Modocs back to the Klamath reservation, and to call on the department commander for troops to enforce the order. General Canby, honorable and simple-hearted man that he was, never imagined that such an order could come from Washington, after all that had been said about it, unless with the sanction of the highest authority and the knowledge of the War Department. He did not even think it necessary to report to the division commander the requisition which had been made upon him for troops, but loyally obeyed the old regulation. The first information that came to me was that the troops had been beaten with heavy loss, and that many of the surrounding settlers had been killed by the Indians. A long and bloody war ensued, with some results which were deplorable in the extreme. General Canby's confiding nature had led him into a terrible mistake. He had executed an unwise regulation which placed military power in unworthy hands, without waiting to inquire whether that power was not, in fact, about to be unlawfully abused, and thus had become a party to the sacrifice of many innocent lives. The brave and noble-hearted Canby strove in every possible way to make peace with the Modocs without further shedding of innocent blood. But the savage red man, who had never been guilty of breaking faith with a civilized white man, would no longer trust any one of the ‘treacherous race.’ He paid them back ‘in their own coin,’ according to his traditional method. Though warned of the danger, Canby went calmly into the trap they had laid for him, in the hope that his confidence might inspire their respect; but he was the very man [437] whose troops had been ordered to drive them out from their happy homes, and they treacherously killed him. And I doubt not, if more blood must be shed, he preferred to be the first to die. This is the true history of the ‘Canby massacre.’

After a long contest, costing many lives, the Modocs were subdued and made prisoners. Those Indians who had been engaged in the massacre were tried and justly executed according to the laws of civilized war, while those white men who, in no less flagrant disregard of the laws of civilization, brought on the war were not called to any account for their crime. But President Grant, when I called his attention to the abuse of that old regulation, promptly abolished it. Since that time, as I understand it, no man but the head of the nation can order the army to kill unless necessary in defense, nor determine for what purposes the army may be employed. The people of the United States are advancing, though slowly, in civilization. Their fundamental law has very wisely always provided that Congress alone should have power to ‘declare war’; but for many years any Indian agent, or any bloodthirsty white man on the frontier, who chose to kill an Indian in cold blood, could inaugurate a war without waiting for anybody to declare it, and that without the slightest danger of punishment. A little military justice, in the absence of any possible civil government, in what was so long called the ‘Indian country’ would have saved many hundreds of millions of dollars and many thousands of lives. But the inherited prejudice against ‘military despotism’ has hardly yet been eradicated from the minds of the millions of freemen who inhabit this country—as if seventy or fifty, or even thirty, millions of people could not defend their liberties against a little standing army! A white murderer was long regarded as so much better than an honest Indian that the murderer must go free because there [438] was no judge or jury to try him, while the Indian must be shot by the soldiers, without trial, for trying to protect himself from murder. If the innocent could be separated from the guilty, ‘plague, pestilence, and famine’ would not be an unjust punishment for the crimes committed in this country against the original occupants of the soil. And it should be remembered that when retribution comes, though we may not understand why, the innocent often share the fate of the guilty. The law under which nations suffer for their crimes does not seem to differ much from the law of retribution which governs the savage Indian.

No possible plea of the demands of civilization, or of the interests of a superior race, can be held to justify such a policy as that long pursued by the people of this country. The natural law of the ‘survival of the fittest’ may doubtless be pleaded in explanation of all that has happened; but that is not a law of Christianity, nor of civilization, nor of wisdom. It is the law of greed and cruelty, which generally works in the end the destruction of its devotees. In their greedy and blind pursuit of their own prey, they lose sight of the shark that is waiting to devour them. It is still the ‘fittest’ that survives. It were wiser to remember that the shark is always well armed, and if you would survive him you must be fitter than he. If the benign law of civilization could be relied upon always to govern, then all would be well. But so long as the sharks still live, the cruel law of nature cannot be ignored. The highest principles and the highest wisdom, combined, would seem to suggest the higher law as the rule of action toward the weaker, and the natural law as the rule for defense against the stronger. This country has, happily, already made some progress in both directions. If that is continued a few more years, then all, strong as well as weak, will be glad to ‘arbitrate’ if we ask them to.

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