Another Expedition - Fighting on North Platte - The Indians Get Away - Colonel Livingston Starts Back - I Return to Kearney - The Poker Game - Orderly Turns Up - Dance at Columbus - Hunting Plumb's Regiment - The Postoffice at Beatrice - Prairie-grass - Galvanized Yanks - General Conner Assumes Command - Declined Appointment as Aide-de-Camp - March 30, 1865 - Started for Omaha - Arrived at Omaha - Richmond Surrendered - Trip to Leavenworth - The War Ended - Lincoln Assassinated - Lieutenant-Colonel Hoyt - Troops Sent West - Made Captain and Aide-de-Camp - General Grenville M. Dodge
CONCURRENTLY with our telegraph repair expedition which went west under Captain Murphy, of which I have just spoken, another expedition was organized to go north, repair the line, open up communication with Salt Lake, and punish the Indians. In addition to getting in touch with Laramie and the garrisons on the "Salt Lake Trail," Colonel Livingston had determined to go over on the North Platte and see if he could get back some of the cattle from the Indians. When he got up to the North Platte he found a very peculiar condition of things. The Indians had got the cattle all across the river by sanding a track on the ice, the river being frozen solidly across. The Indians had to go slowly and it took a long time to get the cattle over. The moment that Colonel Livingston appeared in sight, the Indians, being on the north side, came charging over the river on the sanded track. Colonel Livingston's command was not near enough to the river to be able to command the track with his artillery, and the Indians came on over before he could get near enough. When it was seen that the Indians were going to come over and make a fight, the first thing which the Colonel did was very properly to corral his wagons and men and prepare to resist the attack, because if the cavalry should be deployed out the Indians could defeat them in short order. The Colonel occupied a spot where he thought he could deliver a good fight, and the Indians surrounded him, lying on the ground and in the gullies and shooting under cover, so that the fight was a very difficult and desultory one. Our soldiers got scarcely any opportunity of firing the artillery, but the cannon was sufficient to scare off the Indians from a charge upon the command; the Colonel could see other Indians across the river driving the cattle off, until he watched them drive plumb out of sight in the hills to the northeast. Several of the soldiers were killed, also several of the horses, and several of the Indians. The soldiers understood Indian fighting as well as the Indians did themselves, and were able to hold them off.
During the night the Indians withdrew, and in the morning there was not an Indian to be seen; they had all gone up into the hills and struck northeast for the head of the Bluewater River, a most beautiful stream, the "Minne-to-wacca-pella" -- "Water-blue-river." So the Colonel returned to Julesburg, but there was one big feature of his trip: about two hundred head of the wildest of the cattle had got away from the Indians, and not having time to bother with them, the Indians had let them go and our boys gathered them up and brought them in. Colonel Livingston got into Julesburg just about as I did, on the evening of the 15th, and he proceeded to communicate by wire with General Mitchell.
This was the last that I ever saw of Julesburg until more than forty years after. I visited the place in 1908, and tried to find where the post had been; nobody could tell me. I finally located it, and found a house standing on the site of the old stables. The house was occupied by renters who had no knowledge or tradition of the old post, although it was occupied by the regular army after we left it, and was one of the important posts of the frontier for a time. Thus does glory fade. Near it was a promising field of corn, growing well without irrigation, a thing impossible to conceive of when we were there. Across the river near Julesburg was a modern bridge.
Colonel Livingston told me to get ready immediately to start with him on horseback, together with a small detail of well-mounted cavalry, down the Platte, leaving the balance of the command to return to their respective posts. The roads were now all opened up both ways to Denver and Salt Lake, and the telegraph working both ways, and the post of Julesburg relieved from siege; so the Colonel got ready to start east. I was exceedingly tired from the work that I had been doing of late, and from riding all that day thirty-two miles in the wind, and I was a little surprised when the Colonel said that he would start promptly at eight o'clock that night on horseback; but I got ready, and off we rode. We rode all night, halting in the morning for breakfast; we then rode all day in a most terrible windstorm, and arrived at Cottonwood Springs, a distance of one hundred miles, late at night on Feb. 16th, 1865, making the trip in a little over twenty-four hours.
As this was also my last visit to Cottonwood Springs, until the year 1908, I will briefly describe what I found on the latter visit. Nobody could tell me where the old fort was. The whole country was peopled by foreigners. I located MacDonald's ranch in the midst of a fine corn-field. I located the well by a depression where it had caved in. Beside it I plucked an ear of corn that would have looked well at a county fair. Upon the site of the old post a field of wheat had been harvested and was being stacked. Of eleven men working in and around the field a few of them could not speak English, and none of them knew anything about the military post or had any tradition of its existence. Up in the cañon, several miles, was a large horse ranch, but nobody was at home. Not a cedar tree was in sight. On the old parade-ground, which I could pick out by its location with the hills, I found a few of the trees which we had planted. Such a field of wheat, grown without irrigation, would have been impossible in 1864. Not far off, in the junction of the Plattes, was the bright new city of "North Platte."
Between the old site of the post at Cottonwood and the spot where Jack Morrow's Ranch was, there is now a National Cemetery, of recent date. In it are buried all of my men who lost their lives on the plains. Their bones have all been taken up from their original resting-places and all placed together under the trees where the sun is shining and the birds of summer singing; guarded by the great nation they fought for; unknown heroes, the vanguard of their race, they did their share, and they loved their country. If they could rise from their graves they would do their work over again if it were necessary. I went up to where Jack Morrow's ranch stood; I found near its site a house in which people were living in much comfort, surrounded with trees and smiling gardens; they were Swedes, they had never heard of Jack Morrow, and had lived there 18 years. The entire valley of the river was a mass of fine farms, and about all I could recognize in the landscape was the Sioux-Lookout. Pardon the digression; I now return to February 16, 1865.
We slept four hours at Cottonwood. I met some of the officers of the post and they all said to me, "You will never see Omaha." I thought that was about true, as I was almost ready to drop from fatigue. After four hours of sleep, we started out before daylight, and rode all day and night until two o'clock a.m. of the 19th; making two hundred miles, in the dead of winter, through that country, which we had ridden from eight o'clock in the evening of the 15th to two o'clock in the morning of February 19th, 1865. Colonel Livingston was as nearly used up as we were and we got into Kearney without any of the soldiers that we started with. From time to time their horses had given out and we had left them at the various posts. I had my big black horse, "Old Bill," and my Indian pony, which I rode alternately, and we made the two-hundred-mile ride on a run about all the way. I had averaged sixty miles a day for four days after leaving Lillian Springs. My horses were tired but uninjured. As we arrived at 2 p.m., I wanted to smoke a cigar before I went to sleep. I saw a light in the sutler's store, went there to get the cigar, and found a party of officers, all of whom I knew, engaged in a poker game. I was most enthusiastically received, and was asked to sit in the game, or, to use the language of the period, to "take some of the chicken pie." I do not like to tell these stories, but it is necessary to do so in order to depict the men and the times. It is due to history. Of course I sat in; it would not have done for me to do otherwise; an officer must never get tired, must never admit he is tired. He is judged and rated, and his usefulness considered, according to his durability. It was the best possible thing I could do, to raise myself in the esteem of those officers, to sit in the game. They knew the kind of work I had been on for a week, and not to be tired was a matter of admiration to them; under the circumstances I could not help "sitting in." I was, in fact, very tired, but I told them I felt gay and frisky and was just looking for a game. I would have given forty dollars for a chance to sleep, but I sat in, and when we quit at breakfast-time I had won $55.
Then I slipped away and slept all day. War furnishes a great outlet for a superabundant energy.
Returning now to the North Platte, I will briefly describe what took place. When the Cheyennes appeared before Julesburg on February 1st, and before the telegraph was destroyed, Laramie and the North Platte posts were all notified. The sudden destruction of the line caused them all alarm. Scouts came down from Mud Springs, saw what the trouble was, and, being unable to cope with the situation, returned and gave the alarm to the other posts. Soon afterwards, seeing an advanced scouting party of the Cheyennes, all the posts east of Scott's Bluffs retired west to Camp Mitchell at that place, and some cavalry from Laramie came down to Fort Mitchell to prevent it from being taken. When the Indians were crossing "Jules Stretch," the whole command from Camp Mitchell came down to oppose them, but were soon driven back with several killed; but this turned the Indians to the northeast, towards the head of the Bluewater river. These troops had been driven west before Colonel Livingston had come up with the Indians. Owing to loss of telegraph line they did not know of each other's movements, and could not make a junction. Between both parties, however, the telegraph line was finally restored through to Laramie and Salt Lake.
Here at Fort Kearney, for the first time, I began to do duty as an aide-de-camp; and, here for the first time in my journal, appears the name of General Grenville M. Dodge as commander of the Department. As stated heretofore, on December 31st, 1864, the Department had been in command of General Samuel R. Curtis, with whom I had served down South in the Invasion of Arkansas. Sometime between January 1, 1865, and the fifteenth of February, his place had been assigned to General Dodge. As I afterwards served as aide-de-camp for General Dodge, I will briefly refer to him. The General was born in Massachusetts, and was a graduate of a Vermont military academy at Norwich. He was at first Colonel of the Fourth Iowa Infantry. I had seen him being hauled away from the battle-field of Pea Ridge, all shot up. He recovered, was made Brigadier-General, and soon after on merit made a Major-General, and served with Sherman. He was one of the best and bravest, and in the Atlanta campaign was shot up again. He was one of the great generals of the war -- prompt, efficient and capable. He was not yet 34 years of age when General Grant assigned to him, sometime in January or February, 1865, the command of the very difficult task of looking after the West, and the Indians of the vast country then called "Kansas and the Territories." His home was Council Bluffs, Iowa. He was afterwards Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad, and his civil career was as illustrious as was his military career. He was a member of Congress shortly after the war, and was the one who read on the floor of the house the letter which our Major had written to Jeff. Davis, seeking employment in the Southern Army, of which I have spoken in a former chapter. General Dodge, in his 80th year, is still living at the time of the publication of this book.
While I was at Fort Kearney my orderly turned up, the one who had been taking care of my horses theretofore, and I sent them by him down to Omaha, intending to go by the stage. General Mitchell was wiring me from time to time to make haste. I went down to Columbus on the stage and found the orderly -- he being the one who had lived with the Indians -- in a sad state of mind; he had gone on a spree, lost all of his own money and the money that I had given him to take care of the horses with, and he was tied up at a livery stable, unable to move. When the stage came down to Columbus, the Loup Fork was frozen over; there was a ford, but it looked quite dangerous. There were a couple of officers going down with me, and they were constantly telling me that I would "never see Omaha." The ford looked quite dangerous, and we all got out of the stage and walked on the ice, I saying to them that while I might not see Omaha, I did not want to get drowned under such unfavorable circumstances. When I got into Columbus, which was on the east side of the river, I got my horses and equipment all ready and determined to ride from there into Omaha. At Columbus I met my old regimental friend Lieut. E. K. Valentine, who was in later years Congressman from Nebraska.
That night at Columbus, the post got up a big dance, they said in my favor; everybody was invited, and it was a great occasion. I hadn't been to many dances lately, and we kept up the waltz and the cotillion until it was daylight, and, getting my breakfast, I mounted my horse to start for Omaha. Just as I got ready to start I got a telegram to go back immediately to Fort Kearney. This puzzled me very much, but I turned around and rode my horses back 110 miles to Fort Kearney. Again a sort of irresistible feeling came over me that I would "never see Omaha" and as the times increased in number in which I had started for Omaha and been called back, the more I began to doubt whether I was superstitious or not, -- but back I went to Fort Kearney. I arrived in Fort Kearney on the 24th, and found General Mitchell there with Lieut.-Colonel Baumer, of the First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Cavalry. The General was having a conversation as to what matters were necessary in view of an approaching change in the command. On the evening of the 25th, General Mitchell sent for me and told me that he was hurrying troops forward as fast as possible, and that the Sixteenth Kansas Cavalry, of which Mr. Plumb, afterwards United States Senator, was then in temporary command, had started for Kearney, but could not be found nor heard from. General Mitchell directed me to start out towards Leavenworth, and where the roads divided to cross over from one to the other and ascertain where the regiment was. There was no telegraph line on this road. It started to rain about the time that I got ready to go, and with a poncho I rode all over the country inquiring for the regiment, until I got down into southeastern Nebraska, where, at a place called Pawnee City, a place away off from the traveled road, I found the Sixteenth Regiment, stuck deeply in the mud and unable to move. It seems that in coming up they had encountered high waters and bad weather, and their horses were not well shod, and some of them had their hoofs so worn that they were disabled, and Colonel Plumb had been scouring the country for horse-shoes. He had finally gathered a lot in and made up his mind to stop at Pawnee City and shoe up his regiment. For that purpose he had got all the blacksmiths and horseshoers in the country and was busily engaged in this work. Having communicated to Colonel Plumb the orders of General Mitchell, urging him forward, I set out to return to Fort Kearney.
One incident I remember very plainly. I came to a place which was called Beatrice; there was one house there, and a blacksmith shop, and it was Sunday. I saw up on a post a board marked "Postoffice." Out of the house a family came and got into a large farm wagon, and, as I found out, were starting off somewhere to go to a church. I asked them if it was really a postoffice there, and they said it really was; so at my request they were courteous enough to wait until I could send a letter to my mother from that place, and I gave it to one of the people in the wagon, and it went through all right. It is the same town and place which now appears on the map as a very important city.
I had ridden twenty miles without seeing a house, to Beatrice, thence to Blue Springs, a distance of thirty miles. At Blue Springs I stopped with an old gentleman who had been ten years a soldier in the regular army; they called him "Old Pap Tyler." At Pawnee City I stopped with a Mrs. Fry, and was told by her that they had a young and growing institution there, called "The Nemaha Valley Female Seminary." From Pawnee City I rode twenty-two miles south to Seneca, so as to get onto the traveled road again. Seneca was a mere hamlet, and there, for the first time, I saw patches of prairie-grass. Prairie-grass as we generally know it and as the early settlers found it, is in fact a domestic grass, moving steadily westward, and as I came into Seneca I saw patches of prairie-grass growing around among the buffalo-grass; but the solid sheet of prairie-grass was considerably east of Seneca. Its invasion west was told me to be about four miles a year.
From Seneca I started back to Fort Kearney, along with a captain and six lieutenants of the Third United States Volunteers. These "United States Volunteers," as they were called, were soldiers recruited from the military prison-pens at Chicago and Rock Island, and were made up of men taken from the Southern Confederacy who were willing to go West and swear allegiance to the United States on the condition that they would not be requested to go South and fight their own brethren. They wanted to get out of prison, were tired of the war, didn't want to go back into the service, did not want any more of the Southern Confederacy, did not want to be exchanged, and were willing to go into the United States service for the purpose of fighting the Indians. A detachment of these troops had gone up the road from Omaha, but I had not seen them. They were called "galvanized Yanks." These officers were all officers of undoubted courage and ability, who had been selected from among the capable sergeants of the State regiments, and I became much attached to this captain and six lieutenants before I got through to Fort Kearney, for I had served in the same army down South with some of them, though I had not known them. They were as intelligent and capable a lot of young men as you could hope to find; in fact, they were selected from the best, and averaged up much higher and better than the usual run of volunteer lieutenants.
This trip down into the country was a very interesting one to me, and it took considerable time, but there is nothing to it worth going into details about. It was March 26th when I got back to Fort Kearney. General Mitchell then said to me, "Now, you will see Omaha."
On arrival at Kearney, I found that troops were being hurried forward -- several regiments -- to the West. General P. Edward Conner was placed in command of the district. The application of General Mitchell to be sent South had been approved by President Lincoln, and he was ordered to turn over the district to his successor on arrival.
On March 30, 1865, General Conner assumed command of the district, and I was detailed as his aide-decamp. This detail was without the consent of General Mitchell. I was in a good deal of a quandary; the premonition of which I have spoken so often, that I would "never see Omaha," had become a matter of interest and discussion to all the officers not only of my regiment, but along the line. It had been talked up so much for nearly three months, and discussed so freely, that everyone wanted to see how it would come out. I was beginning to feel a little bit superstitious myself, and now that General Conner had taken charge of the district and was said to be about to make his headquarters at Fort Laramie, it looked a good deal as if I might not see Omaha. In a discussion at headquarters in Fort Kearney on March 30th, 1865, I was asked what I was going to do. General Mitchell desired me to go with him. He was going down to take command at Fort Leavenworth, of the "District of Kansas," which extended south and took in the Indian Territory.
I had thought my dream over a good deal, and there was so much of "premonition" stuff in the papers and magazines that I thought I had better come to a conclusion and see what there was to it. Being now about to go to Omaha, it would be considered an act of cowardice to take any step that would postpone the situation. On the other hand, I didn't feel like having the thing hanging over me and its being continuously discussed, and with perhaps a final eventuality to it. So, after considerable thought, I made up my mind that the first thing for me to do was to see whether I would ever see Omaha. So I begged off from the detail on General Conner's staff, and started on March 31st with General Mitchell for Omaha. Our horses were all rested, and as we had some baggage, a new six-mule wagon was detailed to haul the headquarters stuff, which included a small office desk and valise for me, and light camping equipment for the headquarters. There was General Mitchell, his Adjutant-General, John Pratt (the handsomest man in the army), two aide-de-camps, Lieutenant Schenck and myself; a medical director by the name of McClelland, and a couple of officers of the First Nebraska. The day was raw and cold; the wind blew from the west; our horses were all well shod, and we started out on a run and kept it up about all day and the next. When we got to Columbus, General Mitchell's observation to me was to be very careful and not get drowned at that point, because that was the only serious difficulty on our way. I got across the river the same as the rest did, and on we went.
On the 4th of April, in the evening, we were arriving near Omaha, and the General said, "Now, nothing can happen to you except that your horse throws you off and breaks your neck." I said to him, "Things will have to happen now quite soon, and I will get onto my Indian pony and go on ahead and see what will take place." So on I went, pellmell, ahead of the party. As the city appeared in sight I became more interested; I soon reached the city limits and I said, I wonder if there is any technicality about this, -- will the city limits fill the prophecy?" So on I went at a good round speed, and finally was dashing down through the middle of the street into the bottoms and past where we had been camped a year and a half before. Ahead of me, in the heart of the city, I saw a big sign labeled, "Saloon." The load was off from my mind; I had ridden right into the very heart of Omaha; the superstition was a thing of the past. In a little while, along came General Mitchell and his staff. They saw me there on the curb waiting for them, and General Mitchell said, "You made it all right." I said, "Yes, and I will never believe in premonitions again." Then the General gravely said: "There is nothing in them, absolutely nothing. If a man believes in them they will make him a coward. The future is a sealed book, and anybody that thinks he knows anything about it or can find out anything about is badly mistaken." So we all went in and took a drink on it, each a good old-fashioned American cocktail, and everyone in the party said he would never put any faith in premonitions thereafter. We had scarcely had time to reach headquarters that evening when cannon began to boom. Local companies were firing salutes to celebrate the news from Virginia. Lee had abandoned Richmond, and Grant was in full pursuit. The War was ending.
Here I ought to conclude my story, but I will briefly epitomize what followed. We waited for a steamboat, and after a few days we loaded up horses and baggage, and in an April snow-storm started down the river, and on the fifth day of our boat-ride arrived in Leavenworth, on April 13, 1865, amid thunders of artillery celebrating the final surrenders. Everybody, every man, woman and child, was "hurrahing." The War was ended.
The next day Lincoln was assassinated. The next day, by telegraph from the War Department, every officer was ordered to put crape on his sabre. The first officer I was introduced to on my arrival in Leavenworth was Lieutenant-Colonel Hoyt, who had been one of the attorneys defending John Brown at Harper's Ferry. I afterwards got well acquainted with him, and he told me all about Brown's trail.
Very soon troops were rushed to the West, and the following were on duty there:
Five regiments of "Galvanized Yanks," known as the First, Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth, United States Volunteer Infantry. Two regiments of Regular Infantry, viz.: The Thirteenth and the Eighteenth. Also, the Third California Infantry, Twelfth Kansas Infantry, and the Forty-eighth Wisconsin Infantry, being a total of ten regiments of infantry.
Also the following cavalry regiments, viz.:
First and Second California.
Also the ten following named cavalry regiments: Second United States Cavalry, First Michigan, First Nevada, Seventh Iowa, Sixth West Virginia, Eleventh Ohio, Twenty-first New York, Seventeenth Illinois, Third Massachusetts, Third Wisconsin. In all representing twenty-six cavalry regiments. There were also the Fourth United States Artillery and the Ninth Wisconsin Battery, together with twenty-six other guns stationed at the posts.
Separate, and in addition to the foregoing, were the large number of troops south in the Indian Territory and north in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas.
In addition to this was the vast Western emigration by the hundred thousand of the soldiers of both armies, thirsting for land, gold and adventure. The Indian had to get out of the way. The lines of travel were soon garrisoned and guarded; the stage lines ran uninterruptedly. Soon the Union Pacific Railroad was built, and the Indian problem was solved.
The Seventh Iowa Cavalry was continued in service, but our company never lost a man after the date of which I speak. Captain O'Brien resigned to get married, and I was commissioned Captain in his place.
Here I was detailed as confidential aide-de-camp for Major-General Dodge, who, as stated, had been one of Sherman's division commanders, and my subsequent experience need not be related here, as it does not pertain to the Indian Campaigns. I had ridden on horseback, as a soldier, North and South, during the war, over ten thousand miles. The condition of Leavenworth at this time is shown by a contemporary newspaper article, which is as follows:
"Russell, Majors & Waddell's transportation establishment, between the fort and the city, is the great feature of Leavenworth. Such acres of wagons! Such pyramids of extra axletrees! Such herds of oxen! Such regiments of drivers and other employés! No one who does not see can realize how vast a business this is, nor how immense are its outlays as well as its incomes! I presume this great firm has at this hour $2,000,000 invested in stock, mainly oxen, mules and wagons. (They last year employed 6,000 teamsters and worked 45,000 oxen.) Of course, they are capital fellows -- so are those at the fort -- but I protest against the doctrine that either army officers or army contractors, or both together, may have power to fasten slavery on a newly organized Territory (as has just been done in New Mexico) under the guise of letting the people of such Territories govern themselves. Yet this is just what 'Squatter Sovereignty,' unmodified by law, amounts to."