SUNBONNET DAYS - CHAPTER XI - THE ARMY OF THE FRONTIER
The Army of the Frontier, in which my husband served, was poorly rationed, inadequately sheltered, and indifferently armed. At first Christian carried a discarded Prussian musket. When loading it he had first to bite off the end of the paper cartridge with his teeth. The war was half over before he was issued a first-class cavalry carbine. But despite inadequate equipment Christian was on the fighting line almost daily. Much of his campaigning was with small scouting detachments, often with no more than a dozen in the party. Numerous encounters were with bushwhackers, who used the war as a cover for banditry. Since these irregulars could not be exchanged, they were shot when captured. Consequently, a skirmish with bushwhackers was a fight to the finish.
The entries in my husband's Civil War diary reveal the nature of his service. Here are diary notes written while foraging and scouting along the Missouri-Kansas line in 1863:
"June 3. We got marching yesterday late in the evening and marched all night and made a charge on a bushwhacker's house. Today we came in contact with bushwhackers and killed one.
"June 6. Today we marched 12 miles up the Neosho to the Osages Trading Post (Kansas) to distribute some presents for their bravery in killing 17 bushwhackers. (The Osages were one of the few tribes remaining loyal to the Union.)
"June 16. Today we went across Dry Fork and near to Spring River and gathered up Secesh (Secessionist) stock.
"June 19. We encamped in a timothy meadow on Spring River, 15 miles northeast of Carthage (Missouri) and today we started back with 200 head of cattle and 20 horses to Lamar.
"June 20. Some of our boys were fired upon last evening by some bushwhackers. We lost poor Peter Busey in the operation. We expected an attack all night.
"June 21. We came safely back with all the stock to Drywood and we 2nd boys got safe.
"June 25. Today we started on a guerilla hunt and found some. Killed one on Clear Creek.
"June 26. We had quite a chase after guerrillas last evening. In the night they fired upon our camp, but no one was hurt, thank God.
"June 28. We were again fired upon. One of our men was slightly hurt. Poor P. Busey returned alive.
"June 29. We got into camp on Drywood today noon with about 500 head of cattle, horses and sheep, young and old.---"
Here are entries written in Arkansas in August:
"August 1. Ten of us camped near Cross Hollows last night and this morning we returned back and were fired on by bushwhackers near Elkhorn Tavern.
"August 8. Jas. Tidwell and Joe Engalls that were shot by bushwhackers are getting better. I sat up with them.
"August 15. We took a few prisoners at Bentonville. A detail of us scouted around west of Bentonville, but found nobody at home but old men, women and children."
The latter part of August and first of September were spent by the Second Kansas Cavalry in routing Confederates from Indian Territory, where sixty thousand Indians were helping the South. Later they maneuvered the enemy from Fort Smith, Arkansas. This was a period of horseback fighting in which the cavalry rode hundreds of miles without baggage and subsisted on the country. Here are a few significant entries:
"August 22. We had a fine camping place on the Verdigris beyond Fort Gibson (Indian Territory), but we had to leave it to cross the Arkansas, but we missed the road on account of Capt. Gunther's folly.
"August 24. We marched part of last night and camped near Canadian River. It rained some. Our Reg. went on a scout. We burned North Fork and run on the rebel rear.
"September 1. We had quite a skirmish with the rebs last night. Today we pursued them and found they had gone out of Fort Smith also. We pursued them 15 miles and had a fight with them.
"September 2. In the fight yesterday my dear friend, Corp. Wm. Statz was killed. We lost five. We camped at Jenny Lind last night and today we came into Fort Smith (Arkansas).
"September 12. This morning sad news came to our ears. 20 men of Gen. Blunt's bodyguard had a skirmish with rebels (Quantrill's Guerrillas) 40 miles out and only 9 escaped."
Through the following fall and winter the Second Kansas had headquarters at Fort Smith. During this time Christian served with paymaster escorts on foraging expeditions, on scouts, and in raids. Some of these rides carried him north across the Ozarks into Missouri while others took him south across the Ouachita Range to the Louisiana border. Here are a few selected items from the diary:
"November 8. We camped on a secesh farm last night. We had plenty honey, chickens, etc. Today we captured several notorious rebels.
"November 9. We camped on secesh Capt. Perkin's farm last night. He was killed yesterday.
"November 10. We are camped on secesh Scott's farm and live on what the traitor has accumulated.
"December 29. Picket posts had a fight last night. Eight were killed and wounded.
"December 30. In the picket fight night before last the notorious guerrilla chief Gibson was killed.
"January 4, l864. (Waldron, Ark.). We have very hard times at present on account of something to eat. This morning we had a little lean pork and slapjacks made out of flour as blue as our uniforms.
"February 13. Crossed the Ouachita River at sunrise; took mountain paths and roads to intercept a rebel force at Caddo Gap. Were, however, too late. Came to a secesh Capt's. home in the woods. Fed his corn to our horses. Robbed his bees.
"February 14. The rebels made an attack on our camp and fired briskly in among us. However, as fortune would have it, only one of our boys was wounded. The rebels retired across the mountains before daylight. Marched in a westerly course all day. Camped on a prong of the Ouachita.
"February 15. It rained much nearly all night. We kept up no fire for fear that the enemy might discover us. Slept but little. Our bed was made of fence rails and a rail we had for a pillow. We also had rails over us and rubber blankets spread over them."
In the spring of 1864 the military heads planned the ill-fated Red River Expedition, in which the Second Kansas Cavalry participated. Here are some notes written in my husband's diary following the collapse of the movement:
"April 15. Our company was on rear guard last night. We had to march until 12 o'clock and afterwards go on picket.
"April 18. We lost many in killed and missing, 4 pieces of artillery, and the whole train of 180 or 190 teams. 4 of our company are missing--Riggs, Selig, Thorp and Wright. Col. Cloud came to us with a small escort to take command. We cheered him loudly.
"April 20. Col. Cloud made us a speech last night and filled our hearts with gladness.
"April 21. About 100 of our regiment went out west of town to feel out the enemy. Run nearly into their camp. We also ran out in a hurry again. They came near cutting us off. Captain Barker was in command.
"April 26. Our supply train of 220 teams which were sent to Pine Bluff, were captured and 1300 of our men and 5 cannon on Salina River.
"April 27. Our whole force evacuated Camden (Arkansas) last night under cover of darkness. Our Co. was on patrol guard to keep the soldiers from doing violence to the citizens. We were the last that passed over the pontoons except the picket guard. We crossed at about 2 o'clock and marched all night and today.
The hardships of campaigning were somewhat mitigated by a sense of humor which usually aids humankind in hours of difficulty. One day when rations were limited to half an ear of corn each, the man took turns describing the grandest dinners of their lives, and at the end voted on what they would like to have to eat. Fried mush received the highest vote. On another occasion when the only water was so saturated with white soapstone that it colored the coffee, they smacked their lips and said they had cream in their coffee. When their issue of hardtack was wormy, they gave three cheers for Andrew Jackson, on the theory that the hardtack was left over from the Battle of New Orleans. Shaking out the worms, they ate every crumb with relish.
Even when under fire the men joked each other. Once when eating by the roadside, a small party, of which Christian was a member, was suddenly charged upon by a troop of Confederates. The men mounted so hastily that one of them, Peter Busey, left his gum blanket on the ground. As the bullets were whistling all around the others began to joke Busey, urging him to go back for his blanket.
"Let thim have it," he answered, "but if iver I catch any reb with it, I'll shoot him full of holes as a skimmer."
At this boast his comrades roared with laughter, although bullets were whining dangerously near.
On one occasion the advance guard of the Second Kansas was under artillery fire. The fuses of the enemy shells, however, were cut long so that the shells burst beyond their objective. This fact did not prevent the men dodging every time a shell screamed past their heads.
"Don't dodge, boys," Lieutenant Colonel Bassett cautioned as he rode up to the front ranks to reconnoitre.
A moment later a shell flew so near Bassett that he involuntarily dodged. Quick as a flash he cried: "Dodge the big ones, boys.!"
The commander of the Second Kansas was Colonel W.F.Cloud who was much beloved by his men. He wore his hair in a long mane down his shoulder, which was a style affected by many scouts and officers in the Army of the Frontier. His prompt decisions in action got his men out of many a tight place. On one occasion, when on a scout with a dozen men, of whom Christian was one, Colonel Cloud rode into a battalion of the enemy on the edge of a pine forest. There was no going back, for Cloud's detail was being followed by a large rebel cavalry force.
Cloud quickly deployed his men on a wide front, instructing each to pretend to be a captain, while the colonel thundered orders as though he was commanding his entire regiment. At each order from the colonel, the supposed captain repeated the commands to their mythical companies, which were supposedly hidden in the edge of the forest. By a few commands Cloud placed the mythical regiment in position for a charge. Upon first seeing the small detachment, the Confederate battalion had drawn sabres and prepared to capture or destroy them. But when the colonel's commands indicated that an entire regiment was deployed for an attack, the Confederates skedaddled as precipitately as did the ancient host of Midian when Gideon's band, armed only with candles and pitchers, shouted at them. Possibly Colonel Cloud learned his strategy from Gideon, for he was a Bible-reading colonel, who taught his men to discard profanity no matter how hard was their situation.
Near the end of the war "Pap" Price made his final foray into Missouri and headed for Kansas. He was not checked until he reached Kansas City. My brother Fred had now reached the age of seventeen, and he enlisted in the Kansas militia to repel Price. The invasion delayed mails and I was torn with anxiety for several weeks; but when the raid had ended, there came the cheering news that Fred was safe and that Christian's three-year enlistment was over, and he was on his way to Fort Leavenworth. There he was discharged at the outset of winter. When he arrived in Ohio he was so yellow from malaria and so emaciated from starvation rations that I wondered how he could walk. He was very weak, but good food restored his health. Soon he was visiting his boyhood friends and wandering about his childhood haunts.
Late in the winter, while Grant was closing in on Richmond, Christian went to Winesburg on an errand and walked into the store of Colonel Joss, a cousin of the Joss with whom I had lived in Leavenworth. Gathered about the stove was a group of Copperheads venomously denouncing Grant and predicting that Lee would annihilate him. Christian listened to their talk as long as he could. Around the stove were some of the friends of his youth and others to whom he had looked up when he was a mere child but who now were old men. Their words angered him so that he could not keep silence.
So vehemently did he denounce the assembly, charging those present with being traitors to their Fatherland, that, one after another, they hastily departed, except Colonel Joss. Joss was a loyal unionist, but like any other business man he had kept silent during the years of the war because he had feared that talk might hurt his business. Now, as the last disloyalist disappeared from the store, the merchant's face wreathed in smiles.
"You gave it to them exactly right," he declared. "They have been needing a talk like that for four years."
Christian came home much elated by the results of his impromptu oration. I believe it speeded his return to health. From that time the hollows of his cheeks filled out and by spring he was well enough to enlist again. But there was no need. Lee surrendered and the war was over.
Since the Holmes County Farmer was a weekly paper and no dailies came to our community, the word of Lee's surrender came by word of mouth. That was how all the big news arrived. I recall vividly how news came of the death of Lincoln. A day or two after the assassination a neighbor, Henry Herger, brought the word. I remember how we were shocked, especially Christian, who went to bed for three days. Even the Copperheads were sorry, and the Holmes County Farmer came out in mourning, and had nothing but praise for the man whom they had criticized during the years of war.
In spite of our grief we had our work to do; and now that the war was over we packed our belongings and returned to St. Joseph.