The Summer of 1863 - Gettysburg and Vicksburg - Pea Ridge - Indian Prisoners - March to Rolla - The Seventh Iowa Cavalry - September 19, 1863 - Omaha - The Camp - Sole in Command - Drilling by Bugle - The Loyal League - General H. H. Heath
IT WAS the summer of 1863. The battle of Gettysburg had been fought, and the Confederates had retreated to the south side of the Potomac. Pemberton had surrendered Vicksburg with 27,000 prisoners, and the Mississippi River had been opened to navigation for the people of the United States. The Confederacy having thus been cut in two, its government should have then seen that it was impossible to succeed, and should have surrendered, thereby saving the vast destruction of property and life which was ultimately to ensue from the overrunning of its territory by the United States forces.
All Europe deemed the Confederacy as no longer possible of success. Its recognition by European powers was now out of the question, and the United States was enabled to turn its attention to matters of detail. And among these matters was the question of the Indian nations then on the northwest, west, and southwest.
In the last days of the Buchanan administration, while preparations were being made for secession and war, the South had arranged to carry with it the support of the Indian tribes. The Indian tribes were governed by agents appointed by a dishonest Secretary of the Interior, and the spirit of rebellion was fomented among them as an incident to the coming war. After the Southern Confederacy had been ushered in, and an army put into the field, in 1861, the Confederate Government immediately turned its attention to the utilization of the Indian. The tribes in the Indian Territory, then powerful and warlike, having long been treated as separate nations, exercised rights of sovereignty, and, under the influence of Confederate legations, gathered together in conventions, and formally seceded from the Union. This idea of secession, although ridiculous, because independent powers do not secede from one another, was nevertheless a strong factor in favor of the Confederacy, and a matter of great danger to the southwestern States of Kansas and Missouri and the weak frontiers thereof. But not only the tribes of the Indian Territory seceded, and put themselves in the scale of antagonism to the United States of America, but through their efforts the whole Indian population of the West was precipitated against the border States as far north as Minnesota, where barbarous massacres took place. When it was reported that the Indians of the Indian Territory were to be turned upon the Union forces, an intense feeling prevailed in the North against these Indians, and it recalled to mind the historical fact, known to every American, how the British did the same thing during our wars for independence, and even tried to turn those tribes against us in the Northwest in the War of 1812, and partially succeeded.
After the battle of Wilson Greek, which took place in southwestern Missouri August 10, 1861, General MacIntosh, the senior Confederate in command, retired with his army to Arkansas, leaving General Price to look after the Missouri troops, and the Missouri field. While recruiting was going on for the Confederate service in Arkansas, and while fearing the result of Frémont's appointment to the command at St. Louis -- a fear which was groundless -- the Confederates took into their service a number of Indians from the Indian Territory. This fact was rumored around, and finally got into the Northern newspapers. As the methods of Indian warfare were known, and no one expected any quarter from Indians, the sentiment prevailed that every Indian caught in hostility to the Government should be summarily killed, and no feelings of humanity or sentiment seemed to oppose it.
At the battle of Pea Ridge, which was fought on the 6th, 7th and 8th days of March, 1862, a large number of these Indians were found among the Rebel forces. This battle, fought with grim determination on both sides, ended in crushing defeat for the Confederate General, his death, and the retreat and scatterment of the Confederate army there engaged. It so happened that eleven Indians were captured upon that field by persons so mild-tempered that they spared the lives of the captives. All the other Indians were killed outright. When these eleven Indians were got together, it was determined to send them North, for the purpose of (to use an expression of the day) "firing the Northern heart." It was believed that if these Indians could be exhibited as being captured with arms in their hands there would be an immediate outpouring of sentiment which would bring to the aid of the army, money and volunteers in increased ratio; although even at that time, sentiment was strong, because McClellan had gathered together and organized a fine army on the Potomac, which he was shortly to move, as was believed, to quash the Confederacy at Richmond. A large number of those captured at the Pea Ridge battle, "poor white trash," that did not know what they were fighting for except that they thought they were fighting to prevent the negroes from marrying into white families -- these most ignorant people, as a general rule, when captured, had things explained to them, were given the oath of loyalty; and they agreed to go home, not fight any more, and attend to their own business. But among the captives were a great many intelligent persons, men who had held official positions, civil and military, and these it was thought best to send up North to the military prison at Chicago. The writer of this book was detailed to go with these persons, numbering slightly over four hundred, including these eleven Indians, to the city of Rolla, which was the end of the railroad then projected from St. Louis to Springfield, Missouri. Rolla was one hundred and thirty miles from Springfield, and seventy miles from St. Louis.
The Pea Ridge battlefield was 80 miles southwest of Springfield. For the purpose of conveying these prisoners, together with wagons to haul back supplies, there was detailed a motley sort of guard. They were composed of convalescents who at Springfield had got out of the hospital, and who were believed equal to the light duty of convoying these prisoners, rather than the severe duty of campaigning down through Arkansas. In addition to these there were a few furlough men, who, after the battle of Pea Ridge, and the dissolution of the Confederate army, were permitted to go home for thirty days. There were also a few whose term of service had expired; there were a few Missouri Home Guards; there were a few cavalrymen detailed as wagon guards; there were some who were wounded so slightly that they could still do effective guard duty. The whole escort could, perhaps, be classed as a hundred cavalrymen, and fifty infantrymen. From Pea Ridge as far as Springfield, Missouri, the prisoners were escorted by several companies of cavalry who came along to take back from Springfield a lot of army supplies.
The route from Pea Ridge to Springfield was the most dangerous part of the route. From Springfield to Rolla the writer was not the commander of this expedition, but was a subordinate. Nominally, the officer in command was an Iowa Cavalry Lieutenant, named Patterson, who had been a very brave man, but had become ill through the exposure of the winter. The doctor believed that the Lieutenant had acquired the rudiments of consumption, and had suggested that the Lieutenant be given a furlough of ninety days to go home, and receive treatment. This officer was feeble, and as a fact, he never returned to the service, but died shortly afterwards; so that the responsibility of this trip was largely upon the writer of this. The orders were to keep the strictest guard upon these Indians, and not let any of them escape. It was desired that all should be taken safely and surely to the North, so that they might be exhibited as a show in the Northern cities, in a group. The indignation of the soldiers of our command towards the Indians was very great.
The line of march from Springfield to Rolla lay through a timber country all of the distance. The prisoners were marched compactly in the road. In the front was a slight cavalry advance guard; along each side marched some of the infantry and some of the cavalry. The cavalry rode one behind the other, with their revolvers in their bands. In front of the prisoners was a little squad of infantry to keep the prisoners from running forward, and back of the prisoners another squad of infantry, to make them keep up. Behind came the wagons. When we camped at night these prisoners were herded together and compelled to build a stake-and-rider fence around themselves every night. They all knew how to build such fences, and they were hurried up in doing it. It was not possible, as the march was arranged, for any one to attempt to escape without being shot. The Indians somehow began to feel that they had no sympathy, not even from their co-prisoners, and seemed determined to take every opportunity to escape. In marching on the line, they would always manage to occupy the positions in the line from which escape was easiest and least hazardous. One after another of these Indians made efforts to escape, but the eyes of the guards and of the whole escort were upon the Indians, and every time that one of them made an attempt he lost his life. The result was that when we got to Waynesville, Missouri, which was about 28 miles from Rolla, there was only one Indian left, and during that night one of the guards killed him. The fact of the death of all these Indians was of course known to the Confederate prisoners, and word of it got back, soon, through them, to the South. The death of these Indians was proclaimed and really appeared in the light of a massacre or assassination. The result seems to have been that many more Indians immediately joined the Southern Confederacy, and formed regiments, and great hostility spread through the entire Indian country as far north as the Canada line; all of which was fomented by the Confederacy.
The Indians in 1863, outside of the Indian Territory, were numerous and powerful, and there were many forts guarding the frontiers and the lines of Western travel; but nevertheless, vast areas were not only unguarded, but even unexplored at that time. It was for the purpose of protecting the frontier that on September 19, 1863, eight companies of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry found themselves in Omaha, destined for the Indian country. The other four, of the twelve companies composing the regiment had been in advance sent up and camped at Sioux City, Iowa, which was then called the "jumping-off place."
The companies which arrived on the date stated, in Omaha, were A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H. The regiment was well mounted and had been provided with new uniforms, but was poorly armed. Each cavalryman had a Gallager carbine, an exceedingly inefficient weapon; a Colt's .44 calibre revolver, which loaded at the muzzle with a paper cartridge; a heavy dragoon sabre, which was becoming obsolete, and which, subsequently, before the regiment's term of service expired, was boxed up and stored.
The city of Omaha at that time was a straggling town scattered all over the second bottom of the river, the mud in places very deep, and adhesive, and the streets filled with wagon trains coming in from the west or going out The transportation of that day was mainly by ox teams. The wagons were large and heavy and with boxes about four feet high, with bows and cotton-duck covers. They had a way of coupling one wagon to another, and of putting in front of the double freight, a dozen yoke of oxen, more or less, according to the load. There were a few mule teams, but not many, and much fewer horse teams. The transportation of the plains was effected mainly with oxen, which could be grazed upon the valley grass as they went. The city of Omaha did not seem to have much local business, but did seem to have a very great "freighting" business. The wind constantly blew at the rate of about fifteen to thirty miles an hour. While we were there upon a street I noticed a large roll or pile of damaged tin roofing, and upon asking a bystander what it meant, he said they had a building upon the hill which they had used for a Territorial capitol building, but the wind had blown the roof off. The saloons were many in number, and miserable in quality. It is probable no town ever sold, per capita, more mean and destructive whisky. Fights were constantly in progress, and somebody was being killed every day. There were a large number of persons wearing some portion of a Confederate uniform, but they all disclaimed having been in the Confederate army, and either said they had bought the piece of uniform or captured it. As a matter of fact, the city was full of deserters from the Confederate army. We were camped out on the western edge of town; our tents were in rows double-guyed to resist the wind, and with holes dug in the ground in which to cook, so that the wind would not blow the fire out over the tents. We got our camp made about sundown of September 19, 1863, and in a short time a large number of our men were in various stages of inebriation, and telling how they were going to punish "Mr. Lo," as they called the Indian, as soon as they could get out where he was. Alas, some of these very men were buried out in the Indian country with their boots on. The first night in camp in Omaha was a very convivial occasion.There was then one large hotel in Omaha, called the Herndon House. It had been built as a sort of boom hotel. It was named after a Lieutenant Herndon, of the United States service, who, by his then recent exploration of the Amazon River, had made quite a reputation. General McKean was commanding the district of Nebraska, or "Nebraska and the Plains," as it was officially called. He had his headquarters in this Herndon building, with a large staff, mostly young men, who were a very jolly set of officers. Besides these there were galloping around over the streets frequently, groups of officers who had come down from the plains, or down the river from above, or were connected with the supply department. On the edge of town were many freighters' camps. I remember the first night that we were there a woolen-shirted, sombrero-hatted teamster came into our camp with a guitar, and sang all the army songs of the period. He also sang "Joe Bowers'" and also "Betsey from Pike." I had heard "Joe Bowers" often sung before in the army, but had never heard "Betsey from Pike." The song represented a woman going overland with her husband to the mines, and the trials, troubles and tribulations of the road. I remember only two verses, which were as follows:
"The wagon broke down with the tear of bull-crash,|
And out of the end-gate rolled all kinds of brash;
A small volume of infantry clothes done up with care
Looked remarkably suspicious, though all on the square.
Says a miner to Betts, 'Won't you dance along with me?'
'Oh, I will that, old hoss, if you don't make too free;
But don't dance me hard, for I'll tell you the reason why,
Dog-gon you, I'm chuck-full of alca-ho-li.'"
We drilled during the second afternoon of our stay in Omaha. It was entirely by the bugle. Indian-fighters must be drilled by the bugle, and the men must be taught the bugle-calls, and constantly exercised lest they forget.
That night there was some kind of a show in Omaha, theatrical or otherwise -- I do not remember. It just happened, as the regiment was then organized, and at that particular time situated, that I, being a Second Lieutenant, was the youngest officer in rank immediately with the regiment. So the Colonel after supper turned over the command of the regiment to the Major, who was next; and the Major turned it over to the Senior Captain, and the Senior Captain turned it over to some one else, and all started for town on horseback. Finally it got down to the Lieutenants, and by eight o'clock my immediate superior had turned the regiment over to me. There was no commissioned officer to whom I could turn; they all outranked me, and I had to stay up, and take care of the regiment while all of my seniors went into the city. By nine o'clock the regiment was boisterous. Reveille was sounded, then tattoo, and afterwards "taps." By the time taps were sounded, I found a large part of the regiment drunk, and once in a while some soldier in a shriek of ecstasy would fire his revolver at the moon. Then I would take the Corporal and guard, and put the man under arrest. In a little while I had the guard tent full, and still things were as lively as ever. I finally got a crowd of about twenty-five sober men, and went around and gathered up the noisiest and set a sergeant drilling them. But they soon ran, helter-skelter, and the camp guards could not stop them. My escort and I smashed up all the whisky we could find, and finally got to tying the loudest ones up to the wagons with lariats, and by about eleven o'clock there was some semblance of order. Finally the officers began to string in, but I had a bad three hours. This all sounds worse than it really was; the men were going out on the plains, and intended to have a celebration before they went. They carried it further than they should. I was glad when all was over that no one was killed.
At the wharf were a lot of steamboats unloading supplies. They were light-draft Missouri boats. Omaha was a great steamboat town. Everything had to be brought there by steamboat. The boats were stem-wheelers. There was yet no railroad to Omaha. Vast quantities of supplies were being piled up, on the wharf, and it was said that we were waiting in Omaha so as to escort a train, and so as to take out a large amount of supplies for ourselves. The only way we kept the men from carousing was by drilling. And while they were well drilled to the word of command, they were not thoroughly up on the bugle-calls. They were drilled constantly; in the morning on foot, obeying in a modified way the bugle-calls, and drilling on horseback in the afternoon, and then we had classes in the evening, and sounded the bugle-calls, and had the pupils give the equivalent military command.
Shortly before our arrival in Omaha I had met and been introduced to a man who was a national organizer of the Union League. It was called the "National Loyal Union League. "Only such officers were let into it as were of known loyalty. The army was so honeycombed with disloyal men and Rebel sympathizers that it was difficult to know always whom to trust. These were to be weeded out, and the obligation of the Loyal League was administered only to those of whom the organization was dead sure. It was a strange thing to me to be approached by one whom I did not know, and be talked to upon the subject. He said there were persons in my regiment who were Rebels, and who were disloyal; that he was authorized to give me admission to the order. This was before we reached Omaha. He said it cost nothing, but it must be kept profoundly a secret. He said that it had a civil branch, and a military branch; that the obligations were different, and the object different; but that any officer or soldier who belonged to the military order could make himself known, and could be admitted, and visit a lodge of civilians. I expressed a thorough appreciation of the plan, and he took an hour, and put me through a verbal drill, and gave me some signs, and passwords. The day before marching into Omaha, while riding on the road with my company, a farmer with a load of hay alongside of the road gave the hailing-sign. I stopped, and talked with him a few moments, and he told me that near where we were stopping that night was a large Union League organization that had arrested and put in jail a gang of Confederate deserters, and that they would be glad to see me present. When our command went into camp, I rode that night into the village, and I had gone but a short distance before I got the "hailing-sign," in both instances given in the same way. I found out where there was to be a meeting of the lodge that night, and I went up, and attended it. The hailing-sign was a remarkable invention. It was "two and two." in any way that two and two could be designated, the hailing-sign was made. For instance, if the hand should be held up and the four fingers divided in the middle, two on each side. With a bugle it was two short notes, then an interval, and two short notes. It could be made almost any way; two fingers to the chin. The persons who hailed me, as stated, put two of their fingers in their vest pockets, leaving their other two fingers out. Nobody in the regiment that I know of, was initiated when I was, and I was told where to make reports in case I had something to communicate. I did not know whether there were any persons in the regiment when I got to Omaha, who belonged to the Loyal League. But the third day while I was there, I was lying down in the tent, late in the afternoon, with my feet near the mess-chest. My Captain came in, and as he was a warm-hearted, true-blue Union officer of great gallantry, and great courage, it occurred to me that he might belong to the Loyal League, so with my foot I tapped on the mess-chest two couplets of raps. Captain O'Brien looked up at me and said, "What sort of a sign is that?" and I said, -How do you know it is a sign?" And he said, "When did you join?" And I said, "What do you mean? Join what?" Then he put out his hand and gave me the grip, to which I responded. The grip was a two-and-two grip. I had been recently promoted into the company Thereupon he told me who belonged to the Union League in our regiment, and told me who was suspected. Among others was our senior Major, who was believed to be thoroughly "secesh," although professing quite the contrary. His name was H. H. Heath, and afterwards, in 1866, one of his letters was found in the Rebel archives, and read upon the floor of Congress. He had arrived in 1885 to the rank of Brigadier General, but had offered his services to the Confederates for a remuneration of magnitude during the dark days. Once at roll-call shortly afterwards, in the presence of my men, while the first sergeant was calling the roll, I gave the sign, and some half-dozen of them responded. How or where they got into the order I never knew, but I tied up to them afterwards.
We had a number of accidents in Omaha. Several of our men were sick and our company became reduced to about 80 effective men.
I kept a daily journal, and while in the service I frequently wrote to my mother long letters. Upon her death many years afterwards I found that she had saved them. So, the journal and letters and the company field-desk still in my possession enable me to write more fully and accurately than I otherwise might about the happenings of the year and a half hereinafter described.