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Chapter 17:

  • The Federal supply train returns to Fort Scott
  • -- the battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry and the author accompany it -- Colonel Phillips commended for his successful military operations -- Federal troops with which author has acted for two years have been uniformly successful -- the colored soldiers anxious to meet the enemy -- their physical endurance -- well adapted to campaigning in warm climate -- Colonel Phillips will be able to cross the Arkansas River and attack General Cooper -- large quantities of hay should be put up at Fort Gibson -- salt works at Grand Saline -- families of English blood cling to their homesteads -- on the march up the beautiful Grand River country -- looking out for General Cabell's force -- the escort meets General Blunt at Cabin Creek -- examination of the battle-field -- active operations to be commenced against General Cooper immediately -- the train and escort pass the section of Livingston's operations -- arrival at Fort Scott.

The supply train started back to Fort Scott July 7th, and as the battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry, which has been with Colonel Phillips' division of this command since the first of last January, was ordered to accompany the train as a part of its escort, my chronicles of the operations of the Federal troops in the Indian Territory will not hereafter be so full as usual. As my duties may take me to some other field, or so far away that I will not be conscious of all that [331] is going on here, a little review of the past six months may be of some interest. In looking back over this period, the first thought that comes into my mind is, that Colonel Phillips has shown remarkable executive ability in the management of the troops of his division. And we feel quite sure that no graduate of West Point could have been found who would have displayed greater military sagacity than our commander, Colonel Phillips, in the handling of troops, in seizing advantageous positions, and in meeting all the contingencies liable to arise in administering the affairs of a large district like his. From the time that this division left the Army of the Frontier at Elm Springs, he has gained in popularity with his troops and the people within his military jurisdiction. With every possible shade of humanity flocking to his camp, he maintained a tone of moral order that would be creditable to the best organized army unencumbered with such difficulties. His lines of march have nowhere been marked by the smoking ruins of destroyed towns. I do not believe that half a dozen houses have been burned during the last six months by his troops in southwest Missouri, northwest Arkansas, and in the Indian nation. When his troops left northwest Arkansas the latter part of winter, I will venture the belief that many rebel families even regretted it, for he respected their persons, and such property as they possessed, as was not needed for army use. I have already stated that they exchanged their chickens, eggs, milk, butter, &c., with our soldiers for certain of [332] their surplus rations. By great care and diligence he prevented the small-pox from spreading among our troops early last March. He has kindled among the Indians such a strong feeling of friendship for the Government, that their women ride sixty miles to inform him of the movements of rebel troops. And this spring and summer he has displayed conspicuous bravery at Webber's Falls, the Rapid Ford, and in the engagement with the enemy on the morning of the 25th May, when they attacked our train four miles northwest of Fort Gibson. His marching here and seizing this post in the face of a large force of the enemy, was a master movement which the military critic would be especially happy to dwell upon, had he been commanding troops in a section where military operations are conducted on a larger scale. And his holding this place against the forces of two Generals of the enemy, during the most trying season of the year, would afford thought for further words of commendation. If the Government intends that promotions shall be earned by meritorious services, his promotion should not now be long delayed. I doubt whether another officer of his rank can be found in the service who has been entrusted with a command of equal importance, and who has accomplished so much. When we hear that the Generals around Washington, without commands, are almost numerous enough to make a battalion, we feel the injustice of the Government, in neglecting to properly reward him for his meritorious services, more keenly than we might otherwise do. [333]

It is a rather pleasant reflection that the troops with which I have acted for two years, less one month, have never met with a single reverse, though we have repeatedly marched up and down the border from the Missouri River to the Arkansas River, and had numerous contests with the enemy. When we came into this country early in the spring, we did not feel sure that Colonel Phillips would be able to hold it with the force which he then had under him. And when Colonel Harrison, without sufficient cause, withdrew his troops from Fayetteville, and retreated to Cassville, Missouri, we felt sure that the pressure of the enemy would be still greater to force us from this position. We have not only held our position, but we have defeated the enemy in every engagement; even where he had the choosing of time and position in several instances. In fact, the military operations in this Territory under Colonel Phillips, since we came here in the spring, have been as brilliant and successful as our campaign under General Blunt, in northwestern Arkansas, last fall.

Assistant Adjutant General Gallaher, an officer who has honored me with his friendship, has kindly answered questions that I have sometimes put to him, in regard to points upon which I was not fully advised. I have not, however, drawn on him very often for information.

It is likely now that active operations will be commenced against the enemy on the south side of the Arkansas shortly. We have a sufficient number of [334] troops, and artillery enough to march out and attack them in their camp; and unless they stand firmer than they have done in all the recent contests in this section, we shall rout them completely. I have talked with some of the colored soldiers, and they seen anxious to meet the enemy on an open field. They said that the other day, at Cabin Creek, they expected to have an opportunity of letting their bayonets drink a little rebel blood, but that the enemy were not inclined to grant them this privilege. These colored soldiers say that they have heard that the enemy are furious for the blood of those negroes who have gone into the “Yankee” service, and that they have come down here to give the rebels an opportunity of satiating themselves with their blood. But they are convinced that there will be as much rebel as negro blood spilt, when the time comes for the enemy to slake his thirst for blood. With their slave clothes they have thrown off the slave caste of expression They are armed with one of the most recently improved patterns of musket, and they have been drilled until they can handle them, in going through the manual, as gracefully and with as much ease as almost any of our white troops. Had there not been a prejudice against them going into the field with the white troops, they would probably have been to the front long ere this. Though they had not acted with the white troops until they left Baxter Springs ten days ago, they have, nevertheless, seen considerable service at different stations along the border. Most of [335] them were brought up in Missouri and are quite intelligent-far more intelligent than plantation hands. They are strong built, and in size are fully up to the average of our white soldiers, and in regard to endurance, particularly in a warm climate, I doubt whether our white soldiers, or even those of the enemy, can compete with them. Indeed it is their capacity for endurance that has contributed in keeping them in slavery so long. Perhaps their masters never once thought that this capacity for endurance would be turned to advantage in gaining their freedom, as it is likely to be from now on until the close of the war. There are sections of the south where the climate will be very unfavorable for our northern troops during a summer campaign. But colored troops who are acclimated, can occupy such regions without detriment to their health, and without increasing the percentage of mortality by sickness. All this the rebel leaders failed to take into account when they made war on the Government and attempted to secede.

In view of the prospective active operations soon to be commenced, it would be more agreeable to my feelings to remain with this command a while longer. As Colonel Phillips has shown his ability to hold all the country north of the Arkansas, except as to cavalry raids of the enemy, with his three Indian regiments, and one battery, and one battalion of white troops, we do not doubt but that, with the additional troops now here, he will be able to carry our arms beyond the Canadian River, and sweep around and capture [336] Fort Smith. This would be the natural plan of operations, whether it is carried out or not. Whoever may command our troops in this section will hardly be satisfied to remain inactive north of the Arkansas during the balance of the summer and autumn. Unless some disposition has been made of the troops in southwest Missouri, of which we have not heard, a force almost equal to ours here, we believe might easily be concentrated at Cassville in a short time, and marched down the western border counties of Arkansas to Van Buren, and form a junction with the forces under Colonel Phillips at Fort Smith.

The principal object of the battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry accompanying the train through to Fort Scott, is to have the dismounted men furnished with remounts at as early a day as practicable. A good many men of the four companies of this battalion lost their horses on the 20th of May, when the enemy made a raid on our herds near this post. Others have lost their horses for want of forage, and by being worn out in the service by constant scouting and marching. Detachments from this battalion have accompanied nearly all the reconnaissances sent out since we have; been with this division. We have not been able to act in a body, for the reason that we have been called upon to furnish detachments for reconnaissances going in this direction and in that, and for guards at the fords along the Arkansas. There are no horses in this country suitable for cavalry service; and we are really deficient in that arm of the service. The [337] commanding officer here will probably have large quantities of good prairie hay put up this fall at this post, so that there will be no necessity for our animals running down so much in flesh another season, even if the service shall be as arduous as it has been this season. When the enemy shall have been driven south towards Red River, as they doubtless will be before autumn, unless part of our force is ordered to some other field, if the government would send down here, from Fort Scott, half a dozen mowing machines and hands to work them, all the hay required for animals at this post could be put up in a month or so. There should be no unnecessary delay in attending to the matter, as the season is near at hand for putting up hay. Excellent prairie grass can be found within ten miles of this post on the west side of Grand River. With most of our troops south of the Arkansas, a very strong guard would not be required to protect the workmen; and government trains could be used to haul the hay in, to be put up in large ricks. The corn and oat rations, however, will have to be transported here from the north. The Indians raised some wheat this season, but have in cultivation but very little corn; not more than enough for their own consumption. The season has been favorable for corn crops, and the yield would have been heavy had a large acreage been planted and given proper attention. Though the Indians have a fine country, and were considered to be in good circumstances before the war, this wealth consisted mostly of stock. lands and [338] money. They have never raised a surplus of cereals, and some seasons not sufficient for their own use; for traders among them in ante-bellum times brought large quantities of salt, as well as cattle, ponies and peltries, into Missouri to exchange for corn, flour, etc. Their teams, also, frequently came without being loaded with commodities for exchange, but brought gold to make their purchases. Whilst occupying this rich country our troops will be able to get built little out of it to contribute to their support, with the exception of hay and fresh beef. The salt works, however, might be re-opened at Grand Saline, but the expense of working and protecting the workmen operating them would, perhaps, be more than the cost of transportation on salt from the east. Now in the States the white families, consisting of the old men, women and children, both union and rebel, have generally stuck to their homesteads, when they have not been burned, and endeavored to raise the same kinds of products that were raised on their farms in former times; but, of course, in smaller quantities and numbers. From what I have seen, I believe that the nomadic and pastoral tendencies are almost entirely extinguished in the English race. Wherever I have seen a family whose faces showed their English blood, I have seen this strong attachment for the homestead. If the calamities of war have destroyed their dwellings, they have, in many instances, moved into the smoke-house, or barn with such effects as they were able to preserve. To those brought up with the usual [339] notions of country life, there are many hallowed associations that generally cling around the homestead. Fathers and mothers, for instance, recall the earlier periods of their lives, when they struggled against adversity, and when their children, some of whom may be away in the army, played upon the green sward around them, or climbed the peach, apple and cherry trees to assist in gathering these fruits. Or to take one case out of many similar ones, it may be that the parents now getting advanced in years, have lost a child, a bright little fellow, whose memory is still cherished. A child buried in a sacred spot upon the homestead or in the little cemetery near by, increases the attachment for the old home where they have passed the greater part of their lives. With us the affections for our departed relatives and friends are not so transitory as among the Indians. They display emotions of grief when a near relative is stricken down by death, the same as we do, but I am told that such grief is generally more evanescent than with us. I believe, therefore, that it is less difficult for an army to occupy a region inhabited by a people whose home attachments are very strong, than a country like this in which the people have less settled habits of life.

No one could have easily believed, if he had seen our Indian soldiers a year ago, that they could have been brought under such discipline, as to make them such efficient soldiers as they have recently shown themselves to be under Colonel Phillips. When I saw hundreds of men, women and children, bathing [340] perfectly nude in the Neosho River a little over a year ago, the thought never entered my mind that the men could be used as soldiers to fight an enemy, except Indians of the same character. But under Colonel Phillips, these same Indians, during the spring and summer, have contended successfully, and in point of numbers, less than man for man, mainly with white troops of the enemy. Were it not for the white troops of the enemy, there would now be no armed resistance to the authority of the Government in this whole region, so skillfully has Colonel Phillips managed the Indian affairs of this Territory.

The commissary train finished unloading on the 6th, and was all ferried over Grand River during the night, to be in readiness to start north early on the morning of the 7th. The crossing was slow and tedious, as the trains were obliged to be taken over on flat boats attached to ropes stretched across the river. It would be a great convenience if we had a steam ferry at this post, when the river is high. It is not likely, however, that one will get here until the Arkansas River is opened to navigation to its mouth.

In a few days I shall have quite different surroundings, though, in a military point of view, I cannot say more pleasant ones. It has been some pleasure to chronicle the steady progress of our arms, under such great disadvantages as we have had to contend with, and to feel conscious that our commander has not made a single mistake, during the six months that we have had our eyes upon him. The importance of [341] this position is now recognized by higher authorities, and there is no thought of abandoning it. Nor is this all. It will be a point from which expeditions will be fitted out to operate in that section south of the Arkansas, lying in the direction of the Red River. From this time on the enemy will probably cease to play around us, as they have been doing during the past summer and spring.

I shall miss the continual picket firing, that has sounded in our ears during the spring and summer, with the exception of a few days' intermission, from along the banks of the Arkansas. As I have been with that portion of our troops occupying the most advanced positions in the enemy's country, over a year without a break, I shall hardly feel at home for a while, removed from the field of active operations. If I am to keep up my Chronicles of the Rebellion on the Border, it would be better that I should remain with the most active division of the army.

A few days more will take us to Kansas, where we shall see a larger sprinkling of white faces than we have been accustomed to see here, provided that the enemy has not decided to make an effort to capture our empty train, since he failed to take it loaded. One section of Hopkins' battery and detachments from the Second Colorado, and the Indian regiments, will also accompany the train forty or fifty miles, and even further north if deemed necessary.

The train and escort left the west side of Grand River, opposite Fort Blunt, on the morning of the [342] 7th, and marched to Flat Rock Creek, twenty miles.

Strong flanking parties were kept out during the day, and the most recent signs of the enemy we saw were his trails going south, probably from the field of his defeat at Cabin Creek, on the 2nd instant. It was deemed advisable, however, to move cautiously until we passed Cabin Creek, as it was not known but that General Cabell might have crossed Grand River at Grand Saline, with his force, with the view of attacking the train on its return. Flat Rock is familiar to most of us, as we were encamped here two weeks in the latter part of July, last year. It was from this point that the “Indian expedition,” returned to Southern Kansas, from whence we marched to Lone Jack via Fort Scott, a distance of over two hundred miles.

We met General Blunt, July 9th, with a force of about four hundred men, under command of Colonel Judson, of the Sixth Kansas cavalry. He also had two twelve pounder mountain howitzers attached to the sixth, and two six pound field pieces, under Captain E. A. Smith. He left Fort Scott only three days ago, and has marched in this time one hundred and twenty miles. As soon as the report that the enemy had attacked our escort to the train on the 1st instant reached him, he started out on a forced march. He will have to tone himself down a little very shortly in regard to rapid marches, over long distances, or his cavalry horses will be run down, and unfit for active service before his soldiers have an opportunity of meeting the enemy on the field. He will have when he arrives at [343] Fort Blunt (Gibson), eight field pieces and four howitzers, and between three and four thousand cavalry and infantry-quite an effective little army. If properly handled, this little army will be able to drive the enemy from his present position and to capture Fort Smith, unless it has recently been strengthened by increasing the garrison, or building new fortifications. It is General Blunt's intention to move against General Cooper immediately on his arrival at Gibson. Those who know General Blunt, do not doubt his fighting qualities. It is safe, therefore, to predict that the enemy will be obliged to fight very shortly, or retreat from their camp on Elk Creek. General Cooper would not likely be able to hold his present position undisturbed many days longer, even if General Blunt were not on the way to Gibson, for, as I have already stated, we had reasons for believing that it was the intention of Colonel Phillips, as soon as the force which he has sent to this point, or perhaps to Horse Creek, twenty miles further north, with the train, returns, to cross the Arkansas, and attack General Cooper in his camp. Those who have been with Colonel Phillips will believe that he should have control of whatever movement is made against the enemy, and that to him should belong the praise or blame of its success or failure. But that he would be able to rout the enemy, there can be scarcely a shadow of doubt. If General Blunt goes on now to Gibson, and takes the troops there, and attacks and routs the enemy, his friends will no doubt claim for him [344] all the glory, though he will not be justly entitled to it.

I spent a little time in looking over the field of the engagements of 1st and 2nd instant, during the few hours the train stopped there. The position of the enemy was even stronger than I had supposed, and it is a little surprising that they should have given it up without a harder struggle than they made.

From reports that have reached us since we left Gibson, we have expected that we should be obliged to fight General Cabell's force in this vicinity. We heard that his command was encamped not more than ten or fifteen miles from Cabin Creek, on the east side of Grand River.

We went into camp, on the Neosho River, on the 10th. The escort under Lieutenant Colonel Dole returned to Fort Gibson on the evening of the 9th, having accompanied us fifteen miles north of Cabin Creek. The crossing of the Neosho River is just about half way between Forts Scott and Gibson. The only trouble north of this point to be apprehended is from guerrillas. Livingston operates through this section, and is now reported to have about two hundred effective men. He was at Sherwood, Missouri, about ten miles northeast of Baxter Springs, a few days ago, and is perhaps watching for our train. The train and escort left Neosho River on the morning of the 11th, and, after marching leisurely, passed Baxter Springs about three o'clock. We went into camp early on Brush Creek, about six miles north of Baxter [345] Springs. We were at that point not more than seven or eight miles from Livingston's old headquarters.

When we crossed the State line, and passed into Kansas, about a mile south of Baxter Springs, I saluted with reverence the State that has to me always represented a principle, a principle, too, involving the very essence of progress.

We have been out of the State nearly eleven months, and I am sure that others felt as I did, when they first stepped upon her soil. This, the southeast portion of the State, is a fine section, and will be densely settled within a few years, after the hostile forces on both sides of the line shall have sheathed their swords, and peace shall reign over the land.

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