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The Battle of Wilson's Creek

 Native American Nations | Participant in the Civil War                     

 

The Battle of Wilson's Creek, lost to the Federals largely because of Frémont's failure to support Lyon, was an unmitigated disaster in more than one sense. The death of Lyon, which the battle caused, was of itself a severe blow to the Union side as represented in Missouri; but the moral effect of the Federal defeat upon the Indians was equally worthy of note. It was instantaneous and striking. It rallied the wavering Cherokees for the Confederacy99 and their defection was something that could not be easily counterbalanced and was certainly not counterbalanced by the almost coincident, cheap, disreputable, and very general Osage offer, made towards the end of August, of services to the United States in exchange for flour and whiskey.100

The disaster in its effect upon Lane was, however, little short of exhilarating. It brought him sympathy, understanding, and a fair measure of support from people who, not until the eleventh hour, had really comprehended their own danger and it inspired him to redouble his efforts to organize a brigade that should adequately protect Kansas and recover ground lost. Prior to the battle, "scarcely a battalion had been recruited for each" of the five regiments, the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Kansas, which he had been empowered by the War Department to raise.101 It was in the days of gathering reinforcements, for which he made an earnest plea on August 29,102 that he developed a disposition to utilize the loyal Indians in his undertaking. The Indians, in their turn, were looking to him for much needed assistance. About a month previous to the disaster of August 10, Agent Elder had been obliged to make Fort Scott, for the time being, the Neosho Agency headquarters, everything being desperately insecure at Crawford's Seminary.103

Lane, conjecturing rightly that Price, moving northwestward from Springfield, which place he had left on the twenty-sixth of August, would threaten, if he did not actually attempt, an invasion of Kansas at the point of its greatest vulnerability, the extreme southeast, hastened his preparations for the defense and at the very end of the month appeared in person at Fort Scott, where all the forces he could muster, many of them refugee Missourians, had been rendezvousing. On the second of September, the two armies, if such be not too dignified a name for them, came into initiatory action at Dry Wood Creek,104 Missouri, a reconnoitering party of the Federals, in a venture across the line, having fallen in with the advance of the Confederates and, being numerically outmatched, having been compelled to beat a retreat. In its later stages, Lane personally conducted that retreat, which, taken as a whole, did not end even with the recrossing of the state boundary, although the pursuit did not continue beyond it. Confident that Price would follow up his victory and attack Fort Scott, Lane resolved to abandon the place, leaving a detachment to collect the stores and ammunition and to follow him later. He then hurried on himself to Fort Lincoln on the north bank of the Little Osage, fourteen miles northwest. There he halted and hastily erected breastworks of a certain sort105. Meanwhile, the citizens of Fort Scott, finding themselves left in the lurch, vacated their homes and followed in the wake of the army106. Then came a period, luckily short, of direful confusion. Home guards were drafted in and other preparations made to meet the emergency of Price's coming. Humboldt was now suggested as suitable and safe headquarters for the Neosho Agency107; but, most opportunely, as the narrative will soon show, the change had to wait upon the approval of the Indian Office, which could not be had for some days and, in the meantime, events proved that Price was not the menace and Fort Scott not the target.

It soon transpired that Price had no immediate intention of invading Kansas108. For the present, it was enough for his purpose to have struck terror into the hearts of the people of Union sentiments inhabiting the Cherokee Neutral Lands, where, indeed, intense excitement continued to prevail until there was no longer any room to doubt that Price was really gone from the near vicinity and was heading for the Missouri River. Yet his departure was far from meaning the complete removal of all cause for anxiety, since marauding bands infested the country roundabout and were constantly setting forth, from some well concealed lair, on expeditions of robbery, devastation, and murder. It was one of those marauding bands that in this same month of September, 1861, sacked and in part burnt Humboldt, for which dastardly and quite unwarrantable deed, James G. Blunt, acting under orders from Lane, took speedy vengeance; and the world was soon well rid of the instigator and leader of the outrage, the desperado, John Matthews.109

As soon as Lane had definite knowledge that Price had turned away from the border and was moving northward, he determined to follow after and attack him, if possible, in the rear. Governor Robinson was much opposed110 to any such provocative and apparently purposeless action, no one knowing better than he Lane's vindictive mercilessness. Lane persisted notwithstanding Robinson's objections and, for the time being, found his policies actually endorsed by Prince at Fort Leavenworth.111 The attack upon Humboldt, having revealed the exposed condition of the settlements north of the Osage lands, necessitated his leaving a much larger force in his own rear than he had intended.112 It also made it seem advisable for him to order the building of a series of stockades, the one of most immediate interest being at Leroy.113 By the fourteenth of September, Lane found himself within twenty-four miles of Harrisonville but Price still far ahead. On the twenty-second, having made a detour for the purpose of destroying some of his opponent's stores, he performed the atrocious and downright inexcusable exploit of burning Osceola.114 Lexington, besieged, had fallen into Price's hands two days before. Thus had the foolish Federal practice of acting in detachments instead of in force produced its own calamitous result. There had never been any appreciable coordination among the parts of Fremont's army. Each worked upon a campaign of its own. To some extent, the same criticism might be held applicable to the opposing Confederate force also, especially when the friction between Price and McCulloch be taken fully into account; but Price's energy was far in excess of Fremont's and he, having once made a plan, invariably saw to its accomplishment. Lincoln viewed Fremont's supineness with increasing apprehension and finally after the fall of Lexington directed Scott to instruct for greater activity. Presumably, Fremont had already aroused himself somewhat; for, on the eighteenth, he had ordered Lane to proceed to Kansas City and from thence to cooperate with Sturgis,115 Lane slowly obeyed116 but managed, while obeying, to do considerable marauding, which worked greatly to the general detestation and lasting discredit of his brigade. For a man, temperamentally constituted as Lane was, warfare had no terrors and its votaries, no scruples. The grim chieftain as he has been somewhat fantastically called, was cruel, indomitable, and disgustingly licentious, a person who would have hesitated at nothing to accomplish his purpose. It was to be expected, then, that he would see nothing terrible in the letting loose of the bad white man, the half-civilized Indian, or the wholly barbarous negro upon society. He believed that the institution of slavery should look out for itself117 and, like Governor Robinson,118 Senator Pomeroy, Secretary Cameron, John Cochrane,119 Thaddeus Stevens120 and many another, fully endorsed the principle underlying Fremont's abortive Emancipation Proclamation. He advocated immediate emancipation both as a political and a military measure.121


99: The Daily Conservative (Leavenworth), October 5, 1861.
100: Ibid., August 30, 1861, quoting from the Fort Scott Democrat.
101: Britton, Civil War on the Border, vol. i, 122.
102: Official Records, vol. iii, 465.
103: The following letter, an enclosure of a report from Branch to Dole, August 14, 1861, gives some slight indication of its insecurity:

Office Of Neosho Agency
Fort Scott, July 27, 1861.

Sir—I deem it important to inform the Department of the situation of this Agency at this time. After entering upon the duties of this office as per instructions—and attending to all the business that seemed to require my immediate attention—I repaired to Franklin Co. Kan. to remove my family to the Agency.

Leaving the Agency in care of James Killebrew Esq the Gov't Farmer for the Quapaw Nation. Soon after I left I was informed by him that the Agency had been surrounded by a band of armed men, and instituted an inquiry for "that Abolition Superintendent and Agent." After various interrogatories and answers they returned in the direction of Missouri and Arkansas lines from whence they were supposed to have come. He has since written me and Special Agent Whitney and Superintendent Coffin told me that it would be very unsafe for me to stay at that place under the present excited state of public feeling in that vicinity. I however started with my family on the 6th July and arrived at Fort Scott on the 9th intending to go direct to the Agency. Here I learned from Capt Jennison commanding a detachment of Kansas Militia, who had been scouting in that vicinity, that the country was full of marauding parties from Gov. Jackson's Camp in S.W. Mo. I therefore concluded to remain here and watch the course of events believing as I did the Federal troops would soon repair thither and so quell the rebellion as to render my stay here no longer necessary. But as yet the Union forces have not penetrated that far south, and Jackson with a large force is quartered within 20 or 25 miles of the Agency—I was informed by Mr. Killebrew on the 23d inst. that everything at the Agency was safe—but the house and roads were guarded—Hence I have assumed the responsibility of establishing my office here temporarily until I can hear from the department.

And I most sincerely hope the course I have thus been compelled to pursue will receive the approval of the department.

I desire instructions relative to the papers and a valuable safe (being the only moveable's there of value) which can only be moved at present under the protection of a guard. And also instructions as to the course I am to pursue relative to the locality of the Agency.

I feel confident that the difficulty now attending the locality at Crawford Seminary will not continue long—if not then I shall move directly there unless instructions arrive of a different character.

All mail matter should be directed to Fort Scott for the Mail Carrier has been repeatedly arrested and the mails may be robbed—Very respectfully your Obedient Servant

Peter P. Elder, U.S. Neosho Agent.

H.B. BRANCH Esq, Superintendent of Ind. Affairs C.S.
St. Joseph, Mo.
[Indian Office Files, Neosho, B 719 of 1861].

104: For additional information about the Dry Wood Creek affair and about the events leading up to and succeeding it, see Official Records, vol. liii, supplement, 436; Britton, Civil War on the Border, vol. i, chapter x; Connelley, Quantrill and the Border Wars, 199.
105: In ridicule of Lane's fortifications, see Spring, Kansas, 275.
106: As soon as the citizens, panic-stricken, were gone, the detachment which Lane had left in charge, under Colonel C.R. Jennison, commenced pillaging their homes [Britton, Civil War on the Border, vol. i, 130.]
107: H.C. Whitney to Mix, September 6, 1861, Indian Office Consolidated Files, Neosho, W 455 of 1861.
108: By the fifth of September, Lane had credible information that Price had broken camp at Dry Wood and was moving towards Lexington [Britton, Civil War on the Border, vol. i, 144].
109: (a)

Ft. Lincoln, Southern Kansas
Sept. 25, 1861.

Hon. Wm.P. Dole, Com. of Ind. Af'rs

Dear Sir, We have just returned from a successful expedition into the Indian Country, And I thought you would be glad to hear the news.

Probably you know that Mathews, formerly an Indian Trader amongst the Osages has been committing depredations at the head of a band of half breed Cherokees, all summer.

He has killed a number of settlers and taken their property; but as most of them were on the Cherokee neuteral lands I could not tell whether to blame him much or not, as I did not understand the condition of those lands.

A few days ago he came up to Humbolt and pillaged the town. Gen. Lane ordered the home guards, composed mostly of old men, too old for regular service, to go down and take or disperse this company under Mathews.

He detailed Lieut. Col. Blunt of Montgomery's regiment to the command, and we started about 200 strong. We went to Humbolt and followed down through the Osage as far as the Quapaw Agency where we came up with them, about 60 strong.

Mathews and 10 men were killed at the first fire, the others retreated. We found on Mathews a Commission from Ben. McCulloch, authorizing him to enlist the Quapaw and other Indians and operate on the Kansas frontier.

The Osage Indians are loyal, and I think most of the others would be if your Agents were always ready to speak a word of confidence for our Government, and on hand to counteract the influence of the Secession Agents.

There is no more danger in doing this than in any of the Army service. If an Agent is killed in the discharge of his duty, another can be appointed the same as in any other service. A few prompt Agents, might save a vast amount of plundering which it is now contemplated to do in Kansas.

Ben. McCulloch promises his rangers, and the Indians that he will winter them in Kansas and expel the settlers.

I can see the Indians gain confidence in him precisely as they loose it in us. It need somebody amongst them to represent our power and strength and purposes, and to give them courage and confidence in the U.S. Government.

There is another view which some take and you may take the same, i.e. let them go—fight and conquer them—take their lands and stop their annuities.

I can only say that whatever the Government determines on the people here will sustain. The President was never more popular. He is the President of the Constitution and the laws. And notwithstanding what the papers say about his difference with Frémont, every heart reposes confidence in the President.

So far as I can learn from personal inquiry, the Indians are not yet committed to active efforts against the Gov. AUG. WATTLES.

[Indian Office Special Files, no. 201, Central Superintendency, W 474 of 1861.

(b)

Sack And Fox Agency, Dec. 17th 1861.

Hon.W.P. Dole, Commissioner of Indian Affairs

Dear Sir: After receiving the cattle and making arrangements for their keeping at Leroy I went and paid a visit to the Ruins of Humboldt which certainly present a gloomy appearance. All the best part of the town was burnt. Thurstons House that I had rented for an office tho near half a mile from town was burnt tho his dwelling and mill near by were spared. All my books and papers that were there were lost. My trunk and what little me and my son had left after the sacking were all burnt including to Land Warrents one 160 acres and one 120. Our Minne Rifle and ammunition Saddle bridle, etc.... About 4 or 5 Hundred Sacks of Whitney's Corn were burnt. As soon as I can I will try to make out a list of the Papers from the Department [that] were burnt. As I had some at Leavenworth I cannot do so til I see what is there. As Mr. Hutchinson is not here I leave this morning for the Kaw Agency to endeavour to carry out your Instructions there and will return here as soon as I get through there. They are building some stone houses here and I am much pleased with the result. The difference in cost is not near so much as we expected but I will write you fully on a careful examination as you requested. Very respectfully your obedient Servant

W.G. COFFIN, Superintendent of Indian Affairs
Southern Superintendency

[Indian Office Files, Southern Superintendency, C 1432 of 1861]

110: Official Records, vol. iii, 468-469.
111: Ibid., 483.
112: Ibid., 490.
113: Ibid.
114: Ibid., 196; vol. liii, supplement, 743; Britton, Civil War on the Border, vol. i, 147-148; Connelley, Quantrill and the Border Wars, 208-209, 295.
115: Official Records, vol. iii, 500.
116: Ibid., 505-506.
117: Ibid., 516.
118: Spring, Kansas, 272.
119: Daily Conservative, November 22, 1861.
120: Woodburn, Life of Thaddeus Stevens, 183.
121: Lane's speech at Springfield, November 7, 1861 [Daily Conservative, November 17, 1861].


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The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War, 1919

Participant in the Civil War

 

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