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Chapter 4:

  • Colonel W. A. Phillips assumes command of the Indian division
  • -- the author to go with it -- the division marches to Maysville on the western line of Arkansas -- a skirmish with guerrillas -- a snow storm and difficulty in getting forage -- Colonel Phillips, not only a military commander but also a governor of several Indian tribes -- his position requires great executive ability -- skirmishes with guerrillas becoming frequent -- bushwhackers living in a cave -- remarks on how caves are formed -- how stalactites are formed -- how stalacmitic matter may preserve to distant ages in the future some account of the war -- in a few years all external evidences of the war will have disappeared -- Description of the country and of its resources -- colored refugees increasing -- their destitute condition -- Col. Phillips' orders -- Repairing of the mills -- the battle at Springfield -- Gen. Marmaduke defeated.

In some respects perhaps it would have been more agreeable to me to have remained with that portion of the Army of the Frontier from which we have been detached. But with a soldier, preferences should count for nothing when duty stands in the way. And looking at the matter in this light, I of course accept the situation and enter upon the discharge of my duties in this new field without the slightest dissatisfaction. How he can be of most service to his country is a thought that should animate the true soldier, and outweigh [89] all other thoughts in his mind. But it may turn out that-our new field of operations will not be destitute of interest or barren of results worth setting down. If it should be, however, it will be easy enough to stop writing, or expunge that which is worthless. But our new Commander, Colonel W. A. Phillips, I know is an able and an accomplished officer, and it is not likely that he will allow us to languish in inglorious inactivity. No officer of the first division has impressed me more favorably. The first time that I ever saw him was at the battle of Locust Grove, near Grand Saline, the 2d of last July, when we captured Colonel Clarkson and his command of one hundred and ten men. Even Colonel Jewell, who was also present on that occasion, did not display more conspicuous bravery than Colonel Phillips. The night's march, the short and decisive engagement, just at the dawn of that lovely summer's morning, will be remembered by those who participated, while they live. Colonel Phillips received much praise for the ability with which he handled his brigade at Indian Creek, Neosho, and Newtonia, last September. On other occasions, too, he has shown himself to be a brave officer, and yet one who never loses his head. It was mainly through his exertions that authority was obtained from the War Department to organize and equip the three Indian regiments. Having been a staff correspondent of the New York Tribune, and a personal friend of Assistant Secretary of War, Dana, perhaps no one in Kansas could command more respectful attention from the authorities at Washington, in such a matter. [90]

I shall not, however, start out with a panegyric, or endeavor to build up hopes of any extraordinary military achievement, for he has taken a command with which I think it will be exceedingly difficult, if not almost impossible, to accomplish anything of great consequence. We must be patient. The future will disclose to us the wisdom or folly of his actions.

We left Elm Springs on the morning of 10th, and arrived at Camp Walker, near Maysville, on the evening of the 11th, having marched a distance of about thirty-five miles. The country that we passed over is generally poor, but has some fine forests, and is supplied with abundance of good spring water. In some of these springs the water is as clear as crystal; it rises out of the earth almost like a fountain, and runs away in a strong swift current. How delightful these springs would be to the thirsty traveller in an arid region. The hills that we passed over are covered with flints of every conceivable shape and size, except that there are few above a hundred pounds weight. They do not, however, seem to have ever been rolled about and worn by the action of water, like pebbles along the sea shore, constantly kept in motion by the tides.

Our camp here is called Camp Curtis, in honor of General Samuel R. Curtis who commanded our forces at the battle of Pea Ridge in this county last March. This locality has been quite noted as a camping ground and rendezvous of the rebel armies of Missouri and Arkansas since the beginning of the war. It is just [91] in the edge of the prairie region, and grounds could scarcely be laid out to better advantage for drilling and maneuvering large bodies of troops. The enemy, however, are not likely to have a camp of instruction here again. We were encamped near here upwards of a week last October, after the battle of Old Fort Wayne, in which we captured General Cooper's artillery.

It looks now as if our chief occupation, for a while at least, is going to be that of fighting and chasing bushwhackers. Captain Anderson, of the 3rd Indian regiment, was sent out on the 12th with a detachment of fifty men, and had a skirmish with a party of guerrillas, in which he lost one man killed and had one wounded. He reports that he killed two of the enemy, the rest having made their escape. The hilly condition of the country to the east of us is favorable for carrying on guerrilla operations. But this is a kind of warfare more suitable to the disposition of our Indian than to our white soldiers. Guerrillas in the vicinity of this command will therefore probably have all they desire of their own kind of warfare.

Col. Phillips sent out on the morning of the 13th, his first train to Fort Scott for supplies, guarded by an escort of two hundred men. At this season, escort duty and teaming are not very desirable kinds of service. We are just beginning to feel the pinch of winter, though we had three or four inches of; snow and several rather cold days about a week before we started on the expedition to Van Buren. Men and animals [92] now on the road, especially if they are facing the northwest winds on those bleak prairies which extend for a distance of seventy-five miles south of Fort Scott, will suffer much more from cold than we do in camp. It takes from five to seven days for a train to come down from Fort Scott, the distance being about one hundred and twenty-five miles.

Yesterday morning (15th) a violent snow storm set in and continued all day. We are therefore beginning to experience considerable difficulty in getting sufficient forage for our animals, for when the First division was encamped in this vicinity last fall, we consumed nearly all the forage that could be found for miles around. A large force of the enemy under General Cooper, had also been foraging off this section before our arrival. And as this is not much of an agricultural region, it will be seen that there is just cause for the complaint of scarcity of forage. But Colonel Phillips is watchful of the wants of his troops and public animals, and will no doubt do all that can be done to prevent them from suffering for want of necessary supplies. He sends out daily foraging parties and trains, and they generally go from ten to fifteen miles from camp. This gives us a circuit of about thirty miles, a considerable area of country to forage from. When we shall have exhausted all the forage within fifteen miles of our camp, we will probably establish another camp outside of this radius. If this plan is carried out, as I have no doubt it will be, I think that we can get our animals through the winter [93] in fair condition. Although we have been constantly scouting and marching and skirmishing since we came into this State last fall, we have lost comparatively few animals from having been broken down in the service. Our main losses have of course been cavalry horses. But the safety and comfort of his command, while conducting military operations in this section, are not the sole object of solicitude to Colonel Phillips. Nor is his function that of a military commander alone. He is placed in a position where he must act as governor of several different nations, all in a state of chaos. Since the war commenced, the Indians of the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole nations, have been almost equally divided on the questions which have arrayed the two sections of the country against each other. But as the rebel authorities sent troops to occupy the country of these Indians immediately after hostilities commenced, and held undisputed possession of it until our expedition of last summer, the loyalists were obliged to leave their homes or contend with unequal odds, with the chances of being continually beaten and finally driven out. Hence when we withdrew from the Indian Territory last August, and brought out the Chief, John Ross, and some of the national archives and treasury, thousands of loyal Indian families, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles, accompanied us as far as. Baxter Springs, on the southern line of Kansas. While at Baxter Springs, and indeed since they have been exiles from their homes, the Government has issued them rations, and looked after them to mollify their hardships [94] as much as possible. And though the greater proportion of these Indian families have remained in Southwest Missouri, since the opening of the campaign last September ; and though some have returned to their homes in the nation since we drove the enemy out; yet there seems to be a fair prospect that the “Refugee camp” will continue to increase in size during the rest of the winter. The wants and necessities of these people will constantly demand the attention of Colonel Phillips in various ways. How ably and satisfactorily he shall conduct the affairs which devolve upon him, remains to be seen. It will thus also be seen that his position requires of him to be, if he manages matters successfully, not only a judicious military commander, but-also to possess, in a fair measure, the knowledge of civil affairs. A man who possesses both of these qualifications in a marked degree, is rarely found. We have reason to believe that we have such a man in the person of Colonel Phillips, for every one has some pride that those with whom he acts in any given venture shall act creditably. That is, no man who possesses a sense of patriotic devotion, likes to have his name associated with inglorious defeat, or any public action upon which rests a stigma or even unfavorable comment.

The skirmishes between our scouting parties and small detachments of guerrillas which infest this section are becoming so frequent, that hereafter I shall not attempt to give the details and result of each day separate, but will endeavor to give some account of the [95] most important contests. There would be a good deal of repetition should I detail the movements and skirmishes of every scouting or foraging party sent out. When any casualties occur they are noted on the muster rolls of the company. That is, if a soldier is killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, or has his horse killed or captured, the fact is duly noted. I may add that since we left Elm Springs, our troops have killed, according to my daily memoranda, nine bushwhackers, and sustained a loss of three men killed and two wounded.

A woman from the country came into camp yesterday evening (17th) and reported that she knew of three or four bushwhackers, who were living in a cave, some eight miles distant from the command. A detachment of cavalry was sent to the locality of the cave; but returned without being able to find the enemy or any indications that they had recently occupied the cave as an abiding place. Our men, however, did not venture into the cave, as it would have required too great a sacrifice of life to dislodge them from such a fortress, if they were really there and well armed, unless we should close the mouth of the cave and compel them to feel the pinch of hunger. What a novel place for men to take up their abode! But when we are enjoying freedom and security, and the rewards of honest toil, it is perhaps difficult for us to imagine what modes of life we might be inclined to adopt under the pressure of circumstances. It is well known that caves do not undergo very radical changes of temperature during the seasons. I have visited a [96] cave on my father's estate a good many times, and I remember that it was always almost uncomfortably cool on a warm summer day, and pleasantly warm on a winterday. Considerable attention has recently been given to cavern researches in England and France. And in several instances the bones of men and some domestic implements and rudely-made weapons have been found, which show beyond a reasonable doubt that the human race has existed on this earth for a period much longer than that which we have been taught. While we were encamped at Camp Moonlight, about twenty miles south of here, the early part of last November, I was permitted to accompany a party of officers and soldiers on a visit to a cave much larger than the one near our present camp. We did not go very far into it from the entrance, but we went far enough to see some beautiful stalactites hanging from the roof like icicles which hang from the eaves of a house after the snow has commenced to melt and run down its sloping roof. Were everything favorable, I should like to visit the cave near us, but of course not with the view of making careful investigations, for that would take time and a large expenditure of money. But when peace shall bless our country again, and the spirit of inquiry increases, perhaps interesting researches will be made into the history of these caves, which will throw some light on the various forms of life that once inhabited them. Curious thoughts are apt to come into one's mind after visiting one of these natural wonders. What [97] caused it? How long since it was formed? These are exceedingly interesting questions to those whose minds seek a rational explanation of every natural phenomenon. But when we come to understand something about how a cave has been formed, we are not likely to press the question, “How long since?” It is a notable fact that all the caves in this country are in limestone formations. Now it is well known to every one who has given any attention to chemistry,that a solution of water and carbonic acid will dissolve pieces of limestone, when put into it. Rainwater is known to contain carbonic acid, the proportion, perhaps, depending upon the season. It is easy to imagine, then, that the rain falling on these hills must have always run down through the soil until the water came to the limestone; and that when it penetrated it, it dissolved a portion of it, the extent of dissolution, however, depending upon the amount of carbonic acid the rain water contained. Everyone who has been in a cave can probably call to mind the sound of dropping water from the roof of the cave, which he heard here and there. Well, every drop of water that falls from the roof to the floor, is supposed to hold in solution a very small quantity of the limestone. But when the water comes to separate from the dissolved limestone it leaves a thin film of solid material, different in character from the original limestone. When the water drops from the roof of the cave, it leaves a thin film attached to the roof, which gradually assumes the form and [98] appearance of an icicle. This is called a stalactite. The film that forms on the floor after the water has left it, is called the stalacmite.

It will thus be seen that the formation of a cave is a perfectly natural, though an extremely slow process. It is like removing the sands from the sea shore by taking a grain at a time. How long it has taken to form a stalactite as long as one's arm, we have no means of knowing as far as the caves in this section are concerned. Nor have I ever heard that the thickness of the stalacmite formations of the caves of this region have ever been measured or any efforts made to find out the nature of the deposits under them, or contemporaneous with their growth.

Reflecting on stalacmitic formations and the evidences of ancient life they may contain, this thought has come into my mind. Suppose that one of our soldiers or one of the enemies, on account of the stress of weather or imminent danger, should take to a cave and die in it with his arms and accoutrements beside him.-After a while, perhaps, the drops of water from the roof of the cave falling on his bones and arms, would leave thereon a formation of stalacmitic matter. And should the men of some future age decide to investigate the history of these caves and find the bones and arms cemented together with stalacmitic matter, they might be able to determine the age to which they belonged, and nearly the exact time it had taken to produce a formation of stalacmitic matter of a given thickness. Our pistols and carbines and sabers have [99] the name of the manufacturer or patentee, and the year they were made, stamped upon them. Though there are many chances that in time these would become obliterated by rust, yet under certain conditions they might not. At any rate the subject is one upon which the mind delights to dwell for a moment. And in this connection there arises the further thought. Is it possible, that in a few years, not a vestige of the storms of war which have recently swept back and forth over this section, will be left to the future inhabitants of these pleasant valleys and prairies? Is it possible that in a few years and on these grounds a comfortable mansion may arise, whose dwellers will be all unconscious that we were ever here for warlike purposes, and our arms stained with the blood of men who were recently our friends and brothers? Probably in a few years from now there will be many peaceful dwellings by the road-side in this section, whose occupants may never dream that the tramping of marching squadrons, the rattling of artillery carriages, and the clanging of sabers, might have recently been heard upon the public highways. How evanescent are the actions of men! Even the pyramids of Egypt must in time crumble to dust. We do not know but that if the light of the past could be thrown upon these grounds and over these regions, we should see hostile armies of even greater magnitude than ours or that of the enemy, operating against each other. It is now considered by those who ought to be competent authority, that this western country was once occupied by [100] a race of people quite different, in some respects, to our present Indians. At various places in the Mississippi valley mounds are found which are known to have been thrown up by human hands; and in some instances there have also been found human skeletons, pieces of pottery and implements indicative of their domestic life. These mounds are believed to be of high antiquity and not to have been made by any of the existing races of North America. If a numerous people inhabited the Mississippi valley at some distant age of the past, they also probably spread over this region, for its ever-living streams, lovely valleys, and occasional prairies, must always have been very inviting to peoples following a nomadic or pastoral life.

Though our camp is on the edge of a prairie, the country a few miles to the east of us is rugged and hilly, and less adapted to agricultural purposes than the country to the west of us, in the Grand River valley. But as the Grand River country belongs to the Cherokees, no one can say when its agricultural resources will be developed, even should the war close immediately.

The number of negro refugees, who have gained their freedom since we came into this State, are getting to be a good deal of a burden. Their almost destitute condition, causes many of them to commit acts that are not sanctioned by our ideas of strict morality. We find employment for some of them as teamsters and servants, but still there are many more who are unemployed. We send a good many to Kansas every time that our supply trains return to Fort Scott. [101] Many of them are quite shiftless, and it will probably be some time before they appreciate to a very great extent the value of their freedom. But we should be charitable towards them, and not magnify their shortcomings, nor oppress them, so that they will feel obliged to commit unlawful acts. I think that there is a tendency on our part to overlook their many disadvantages, when considering their moral actions. With their past life of slavery and degradation, and with the pinch of hunger and cold affecting them at present, we ought not to expect all their actions to be perfectly free of censure. Those who have tasted of only a small proportion of the fruits of their own toil, are not likely to try before their consciences with much deliberation, the offense of chicken stealing, when they are suffering from hunger. As these people have not been property owners, it will probably be some time before they have very definite ideas of proprietary rights. We should not therefore be surprised to hear of a larger proportion of them during the next generation, guilty of unlawfully appropriating the property of others, than among the white population.

It seems to me that we might be relieved of a good deal of our present embarrassment by organizing a corps of colored troops. The amount of money the Government paid the men for their services would be almost sufficient to take care of their families. There is, however, considerable prejudice yet among our officers and soldiers in regard to organizing them into regiments, but as their freedom throughout the [102] country is sure to come at an early day, I can see no good reason why they should not be taken into the military service at once, indeed just as fast as they see fit to enlist. Having always been accustomed to obey orders, and being naturally of docile dispositions, I am inclined to believe that, if properly organized and officered, they will make excellent soldiers. While I think that intelligent soldiers may be more effective in the field than those of lower intelligence, I do not believe that either are likely to accomplish great deeds under incompetent and inefficient officers.

To relieve as far as possible the demands of hunger among the refugee families on the outskirts of our camp, Colonel Phillips has ordered that all the mills in this vicinity be repaired, so that such grain as can be found may be ground into meal and flour for distribution among those whose necessities are most pressing. He also occasionally makes a tour of personal inspection among the refugees, that he may know from his own observation something of the condition of those whom the fortunes of war have driven to seek our protection.

Yesterday evening (17th) a detachment of cavalry guarding a supply train from Cross Hollows, near Pea Ridge, with rations for this command, brought information that General Marmaduke, whom we fought at Cane Hill last November, attacked Springfield, Missouri, on the 8th instant, with a force of three or four thousand rebel cavalry and artillery. General E. B. Brown who commanded our troops, nearly all of [103] whom were Missouri State Militia, made a gallant defense of the place, and repulsed the enemy after a day of fighting and skirmishing. General Marmaduke captured two unimportant positions in the southern quarter of the city, but after some sharp fighting his men were soon driven from them. Our troops had constructed several temporary forts, which were protected by stockades and trenches, so that a small force could hold the place against a superior force of the enemy. Though the enemy made several gallant charges and captured two positions, he could not hope to capture the stronger positions except by storming them, and he had not made sufficient preparations to undertake this with a reasonable prospect of success. General Marmaduke, finding that General Brown was hourly expecting reinforcements and would soon be able to take the offensive, withdrew from the contest and marched in a southeast direction. Many of the houses of the citizens were badly damaged by shot and shell from the enemy's artillery, and a few were also destroyed by fire. General Brown congratulated his troops for their gallant defense of the city, and regretted that he was unable to vigorously press the enemy in his retreat for want of cavalry.

Our troops that left Elm Springs on the night of the 8th were nearly two days too late to participate in the engagement at Springfield. There was undoubtedly a blunder somewhere, or else our commanding General is not shrewd enough to match General Marmaduke. It was almost stupidity to allow the enemy to march around us without our knowledge of his movements. [104]

We hear now that Colonel Phillips' new command is to be known as the Eighth and Ninth Districts Department of the Missouri. It embraces southwest Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, and the Cherokee Nation. Considering the interests involved and the difficulties of his new position, he is justly entitled to the rank of Brigadier General, particularly if his present assignment is not a temporary arrangement.

In the afternoon of the 21st, Captain Hopkin's battery was taken out on the prairies near camp,for the purpose of spending a few hours in artillery practice. This is the battery that I have already referred to as the one we captured from General Cooper's command at Old Fort Wayne, three miles west of our present camp, the 21st of last October. The guns are in excellent condition, and though most of the artillerymen have had only a few months' drill, yet from the target practice this afternoon, they show that they would do effective work should the occasion shortly arise.

While on this ground I may mention that my father was held as a citizen prisoner near here last April by the rebel Colonel Coffey; and was condemned to be shot, but was exchanged the day before execution was to take place. He was captured by the enemy while guiding Colonel Doubleday's Second Ohio Cavalry from Kansas into South-west Missouri, and brought to Camp Walker and held several weeks. The rebel authorities had ordered shot quite a number of Union citizen prisoners, because they charged [105] that our troops had shot a number of disloyal citizens. I doubt whether our troops ever shot any disloyal citizens after they were regularly captured, unless they were among those classed as bushwhackers, and who had committed some outrageous acts.

At eight o'clock on the evening of the 22d, with a detail of fourteen men, I was directed to proceed to Neosho with dispatches for the commanding officer at that post, and for the commanding general at Springfield. As it is the intention of our division to spend the winter in this section ; and as we are not likely to commence any offensive operation until towards spring, I have permission to remain at Neosho two weeks, to see some of my relatives and friends whom I have not seen since the war commenced. I look back upon the past year with a good deal of pride, for I have not been absent from my post of duty a single day. And in the discharge of my duties, 1 believe that I have given satisfaction to those with whom I have had to deal. Though we have had a Lieutenant and Commissary with us a part of the time, being a subordinate, I have generally had all the work to do, and it is no small task to issue rations to a full regiment of cavalry, as I have had to do when the regiment was all together. If I could issue unbroken packages, of course there would be but little labor. As it is, I am obliged to weigh and measure in all conceivable quantities, sugar, salt, coffee, tea, beans, etc., besides I must cut up the fresh beef and bacon into pieces of just so many pounds weight, and if a scouting [106] party is going out during the night, as generally happens, it may become necessary to issue to it extra rations, and to stay up half the night to do it. I must be extremely careful in all my calculations, seeing to it that no company, detachment or the hospital, gets any more or less than its exact regulation allowance. This little retrospect of my own — duties I hope is permissible, as I am going to have a respite of a few days. The sky was heavily overcast, and there was no moon, and the night was intensely dark. But on this account we thought that we would be less likely to come in contact with the enemy's guerillas, and the necessity of being constantly on our guard would chase sweet sleep from our eyes.

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