January 1, 1865 - Ordered to Cottonwood Springs - No Escort - Driver Drunk on Prairie - The New Recruits - February 6, 1865 - Detailed as Aide-de-Camp - The Man-frog - The Premonition - Drilling Co. "I" Ordered to Julesburg - Ordered Back - Alkali - Returned to Cottonwood - Indian Expedition Forming at Cottonwood
ON THE first day of January, 1865, I received a telegraphic order to proceed immediately to Cottonwood Springs and not wait for anything; to be there to receive instructions by wire at noon on the third. In a little while afterwards I received a specific telegram to be in Cottonwood Springs at 12 o'clock, noon, January 3rd, with the addendum to it, "This order is peremptory."
I saw that it would not be possible to make it in the winter on horseback without great inconvenience, and I went down to the stage station to see if I could get a stage with four horses, to run me through, night and day; which would bring me in in good time. There was an old driver there, a reckless fellow, the man who got the arrow through his coat collar, of whom I have spoken. He said that be would hitch up as soon as he could have a couple of horses shod, and he would start off with me. I told him I would have ten men detailed as an escort. He said, "What in thunder do we want of an escort? I'll drive you through all right." I said, "Suppose some Injun shoots you off from the box?" He said: "Well, if they get me they get you; but I'll take you through all right. The Injun won't trouble us at night, and I can get you through to O'Fallon's Bluffs before morning; then if you want an escort at O'Fallon's Bluffs we can get it there."
Of course, it would never do for me to appear scared, if a stage-driver wasn't scared. I would have eternally lost my reputation if I had said anything more about an escort. If my men should ever hear that I had wanted an escort when the stage-driver didn't, they would have probably called upon me to resign. I thought it very unsafe, but still I told him that if he didn't want an escort I didn't, so I put up the "bluff" that all I wanted of an escort was for his benefit; that I could take care of myself. This seemed to please him.
About nine o'clock on that evening, all by our lone selves, on the stage, we started for Cottonwood Springs. There was no snow on the ground anywhere to be seen. It had all gone. The whole landscape was slate-gray as far as could be seen; there was no moonlight -- just a bright starlight.
The stage-driver told me to get inside, which I did, with a little bundle of blankets and paraphernalia done up in a strap; a Smith & Wesson carbine, two revolvers strapped on, a box of ammunition, a field-glass, a big heavy overcoat, and two buffalo-robes. The driver primed himself with ranch whisky before we started, and asked me to keep the windows of the coach down so that I could fire out on either side, and be ready to get out whenever he shouted.
So we started, I with a revolver on the seat on each side of me, and with the carbine across my lap. The wind whistled in with a strong December chill through the open sides of the coach door, and it was anything but pleasant and comfortable. We heard wolves yelping from time to time, and I kept on the lookout for fire signals. On and on went the coach at a mad rate. Every once in a while the driver would shout back to me, "Do you see anything?" or "Do you hear anything?" or "How are you getting on?"
At about broad daylight I woke up. I had been asleep. The stage was stopped. It took me a little while to gather myself together. I looked out, and saw that we were right close to the hills. From the other side I saw we were two or three miles from the river, and the horses had their heads down to the ground, nipping the dried grass. It immediately occurred to me that the driver had been killed on the box. The next thing occurred to me was that there were some Indians around; so I began to peer cautiously around the sides from one side to the other, and I could see the driver's foot sticking out on one side above me. I spoke to him, then again and again, louder and louder, and got no response. I soon, by gazing around, was satisfied that there was no Indian around the coach nor under it, and I got out. And there lay the driver extended out on the box. The horses were nipping along, and the reins were tangled up with the horses' heels of the rear span. I got up and shook the driver, and saw no blood, but I did smell a good deal of whisky, and saw the cork end of the bottle sticking out of his overcoat pocket. I pulled it out, and it was empty. I then shook him some more. He stupidly aroused himself up, and I saw that he had got drunk on the box. I got the lines up as fast as I could from the horses amid the tangle, and, unaccustomed to driving a stage, I managed to get the horses twisted around, and started back to the road. I got them back there as fast as I could. I expected every minute to see some Indian rise up somewhere or come over the hill. In a little while the stage-driver began to come to, after I had got the horses into the road. They were galloping down, and I with my foot on the brake was trying to keep the stage in the road, and right side up. The driver came to -- slowly and painfully, but he came to. Come to find out, we had not made much progress. He had got primed up high, and in a little while the coach had slowed down; I, with the carbine across my lap, had gone to sleep, and we had been camping out a couple of miles off from the road all night. And when we got back to the road we found that we had come only about twenty miles.
We finally got down to O'Fallon's Bluffs. We got breakfast, and I sent a telegram to my orderly to come down with the next train that came to Cottonwood Springs, and bring my stuff and the two horses with him. At O'Fallon's Bluffs a regular stage-coach pretty full of passengers overtook us, under escort. I preferred to let my stage-driver go back, and I got aboard the crowded stage, and went on down to Cottonwood Springs, where I arrived about nine o'clock in the morning.
The object of my mission and the order for me to go to Cottonwood, was this: Recruiting officers in Iowa had forwarded to Omaha a lot of recruits for our regiment, and they were to arrive, one hundred and sixteen of them, that day from Fort Kearney, whence they had been brought in six mule wagons. I was to take command, and immediately organize them into a company, and go to work drilling them as rapidly as possible. I was told privately that an Indian expedition bad been organized to go down and drive the Indians out of eastern Colorado and northwestern Kansas. That the object was to keep the Indians on the go; that an Indian expedition for that purpose had been arranged, and that these new recruits had to be drilled, so that when they were divided up and put into the companies they would be able to know what to do. I was authorized to appoint corporals and sergeants, was told to drill the company on foot in all the cavalry movements, and to instruct the non-commissioned officers in their duties, so that by the time the horses would get there, which they thought would be in a week, the men could go to work drilling on horseback. I was further told to drill them all they would stand, clear to the point of exhaustion. Of course, this meant exhausting myself as well. When I found out what I was detailed to do I did not like the job.
I received the men, drew them up into line on their arrival, told them that they were a company, and that we would call it Company "I" (The real Company "I" of the regiment was many miles off, up at Sioux City, Iowa.) I told them that they had just come in time to get in a glorious Indian campaign, and would all be covered with glory; that I wanted them to be drilled in shape before they went, and wanted their hearty coöperation, for I would drill with them and do just as much as they. I then went and telegraphed my arrival and the assuming of the command, and that I had begun work, and suggested that someone be sent to relieve me, as my own company demanded all of my services. My telegram received no response.
The weather turned off blusteringly cold. The poor young recruits dressed in their overcoats were got out for a drill right after breakfast, and I drilled them all over the country until noon. Then I gave them an hour in which to get dinner, and an hour to play poker, and then I drilled them until supper-time. After supper-time I opened at the post headquarters a school of instruction. With wrapping paper and charcoal I made a wall blackboard, and demonstrated to them the calls, and the movements. The boys took hold of it all in a strenuous way. There was no grumbling; they were tired out every day, but learned quite rapidly. They learned it theoretically at night by the lectures I gave them, and in daytime by the drill.
On the morning of January 6th, I received a telegram from General Mitchell, commanding the district at Omaha, asking me if I would act as his personal aide-decamp; and, if so, for me to proceed immediately to Omaha. I wired him that I would be glad to serve as aide-de-camp, and that I would start early the next morning. In the mean time my orderly and two horses had arrived, and I was all ready to proceed to Omaha. Owing to the crowded condition of the post, I was sleeping on the floor which was temporarily used by the adjutant of the regiment, Mr. Sheffield, who had moved his headquarters to Cottonwood Springs. Cottonwood Springs had become in point of strength and equipment the largest and most important post at that time from Fort Kearney to Denver, but in point of importance and danger Julesburg, or, as we called it then, "Fort Sedgwick," was of the most consequence. The post had been named "Fort Sedgwick" from Major-General Sedgwick, who served in the Civil War. On the forenoon of the 6th of January a band of Indians made a dash on a train near Julesburg, killed four men, and retreated. It could not be ascertained what tribe they were of, or whither they went.
That evening I went to sleep rolled up in a blanket, and lying upon a buffalo-robe stretched upon the dirt floor. I had all my equipment and worldly possessions right there, and the next forenoon was going to start according to orders with my orderly and an escort for Fort Kearney. I was tired, had eaten a hearty supper, and during the night I had a very strange sort of nightmare. It is not unusual for soldiers to grow superstitious, but I think that I had gained as little of it as anyone. But in the night I was awakened by something like a great man-frog jumping upon me, with knees and feet, and weighing about a ton, and saying to me in a stern and threatening tone, "You will never see Omaha." I woke up, making an effort as if to throw off the incubus which was heavy on top of me, and in a little while went again to sleep. After having slept soundly for a while, this incubus was weighing me down again with its knees on my chest, and its hands on my shoulders, looking me in the face, and saying, "You will never see Omaha." I knocked him off again, and after lying awake, and thinking of what I had had for supper, and imagining my nerves were a little bit unstrung at my very sudden and unaccounted for promotion to being aide-de-camp for the General, I went again to sleep. And in less than an hour the whole thing was done over again; this frightful object which was holding me down, told me again, "You will never see Omaha." This third time scared me. It seemed so natural, vivid and real, that I couldn't sleep. I floundered around a little, started a chip fire in the sheet-iron stove, got up and smoked some pipefuls of tobacco, and began to philosophize on the whole business, and think of all the strange things I had heard in regard to spiritualistic manifestations and premonitions. I remembered how in another regiment an old Mexican war soldier had always said that the initial of a man's name was on the bullet which killed him, and that people always had premonitions about these things. During the war the newspapers were full of premonitions, most of them written up by imaginative novelists. As dawn came I rolled up and got a little bit of a nap, and was called for breakfast. Here is a copy of my order.
Head Quarters District of Nebraska,
OMAHA, N.T., January 6th, 1865
BRIG. GENL. ROBT. L. MITCHELL.Official.
As I had a march of several hundred miles to make on horseback, I started to have my horses shod with great heavy shoes. I counted and inventoried the ordnance stores, pistols, and everything which my company had been drilling with, and took a receipt from the post commander. I also turned over all the stuff which I had received in shape of quartermaster stores for the company, and by the time I had got through getting receipts for the public property, and got ready to go, in the forenoon, a telegram came that the Indians were besieging Fort Sedgwick, and that my company had lost several men, killed, and wanted help. I immediately received an order from General Mitchell by telegram to take a detachment of forty men, and a piece of artillery, and proceed to Julesburg; and before I got started the commander at O'Fallon's Bluffs telegraphed that the Indians had run all around his post, and had halted a train and killed several persons. It was difficult to organize the new detachment quickly, and word came that the Indians had been seen around Gilmans' ranch east of us, at which place a company of Nebraska cavalry had been stationed.
The Post Commander at Cottonwood did not want to give me more than ten men, but I finally succeeded in getting twelve mounted men, a twelve-pound mountain howitzer, and thirty-two of Company "I." The latter were armed and put into covered wagons with three drivers, making twelve cavalrymen and thirty-two infantrymen, and four drivers. I determined also to throw a wagon-sheet over the artillery, so as to make it look like a wagon. This would lead the Indians to believe that twelve mounted men were escorting four wagons loaded with supplies, and might induce them to pitch onto the train, and try to take it. The men on the inside all had their guns and ammunition, and the wagons were filled with hay as forage for the horses, and shelter for the men.
We started out, and rode all night against a northwest wind, making good time. We saw a fire-arrow go up from the "Sioux Lookout" near Jack Morrow's ranch, and we saw a fire-arrow go up in the air ahead of us, farther on. We stopped at O'Fallon's Bluffs, and were told that a train had been wrecked and burned within three miles of there by the Indians, the horses all lost, but none of the white people killed. They had all got to the post.
The ride had been very hard upon my twelve cavalrymen, and the drivers of the howitzer and wagons. It was about 40 miles. Some of the men in the wagons had frosted their feet, or thought they had, and had suffered a great deal from cold. They had been obliged to get out in little detachments, and hold on to the end-gates of the wagons and run, to keep up their circulation.
At O'Fallon's Bluffs I received a telegraphic order to come back with the detachment immediately to Cottonwood Springs. In fact, this order had got to O'Fallon's Bluffs before I got there. We stopped to cook a meal, and give the men some sleep before starting back, when all at once the order was countermanded, and I was ordered to proceed on immediately to Alkali Station, which was being threatened by Indians, and to lose no time. Thereupon all the men were waked up, and, amid a great deal of grumbling, we started out for Alkali Station, getting in there late in the afternoon. I then said to myself: "I see now what the premonition meant. I was ordered to go back to Omaha, and here now I am under orders going west. It was a very wise and sensible premonition that knew what was going on. I may never see Omaha."
When I got to Alkali I wired my arrival, and told them that there was news that the Indians were dancing around Julesburg, said to be Arapahoes and Cheyennes, and that Alkali Station was all right. I thought I had better be permitted to go on to my destination. The word was that quite a battle had taken place at Julesburg, but the telegraph line was so occupied that I could not get into it. As soon as I had reported my arrival at Alkali I was immediately ordered to send back the men and artillery to Cottonwood Springs. Hearing of the trouble my company was having at Julesburg, I did not obey the order, and protested to Colonel Livingston, commanding the sub-district, asking him to rescind it, and let me go to the relief of my company. At 10 A.M. on January 10, 1865, Colonel Livingston sent me a very cross and peremptory order, telling me to send back the whole detachment immediately. I construed the words "send back the detachment" to mean that I need not go back myself, but that it could go back under any proper commander so it got back. So I sent the detachment back in the charge of a sergeant, and I remained at Alkali to get into communication with Captain O'Brien, and ascertain what the trouble was at Julesburg. Finally I heard from Captain O'Brien the full reports of the battle.
I quickly received a peremptory order to return to Cottonwood Springs. I rode that night all by my lone self down to O'Fallon's Bluffs on my horse "Old Bill." I knew no Indian could catch me as long as I rode him. At O'Fallon's Bluffs a caravan going east had been halted for some little time, and with ten men belonging to Captain Wilcox's company, that was stationed at O'Fallon's Bluffs, we started late in the afternoon, marched all night, and arrived in the morning of the 13th of January at Cottonwood Springs, and there I found General Mitchell, and to him I reported for duty. This riding all night up and down the dreary, arid wastes of Nebraska in winter was no fun. The General detailed me as Acting Assistant Adjutant-General of the district, and told me that an Indian expeditionary command would march on the second day, January 15, 1865.
All this time companies of cavalry were arriving from the East. The Indians had disappeared, having committed great depredations all along the route from within fifty miles of Denver to Cottonwood Springs. Almost every ranch had been besieged or had had a fight with the Indians. The Indians had captured a number of horses, killed a lot of people, and had disappeared, going south. And while this was going on on the Platte, they had raided the Arkansas River, and had done great damage. They had burned trains, and great quantities of stores and supplies. Newspapers said that a million dollars of damage had been done on the Platte, and another million had been done on the Arkansas River. I think it must have been overdrawn considerably, but yet much damage had been done. The Indians had had a fight wherever they had appeared. They had either struck frontiersmen, pioneers or soldiers, and they made no movement without they had a fight. The country was all ready for a fight, and every man in it expected to fight. I will stop now here to tell of the fight at Julesburg, in which my company was engaged. It was a matter of great regret that I was not with my company at the time it happened, but it was all unexpected at Julesburg. I will make it the subject of the next chapter.