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Aspects, Chiefly Military 1864 - 1865

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The assignment of General Maxey to the command of Indian Territory invigorated Confederate administration north of the Red River, the only part of the country in undisputed occupancy. Close upon the assumption of his new duties, came a project897 for sweeping reforms, involving army reorganization, camps of instruction for the Indian soldiery, a more general enlistment, virtually conscription, of Indians—this upon the theory that "Whosoever is not for us is against us"—the selection of more competent and reliable staff officers, and the adoption of such a plan of offensive operations as would mean the retaking of Forts Smith and Gibson.898 To Maxey, thoroughly familiar with the geography of the region, the surrender of those two places appeared as a gross error in military technique; for the Arkansas River was a natural line of defense, the Red was not. "If the Indian Territory gives way," argued he, "the granary of the Trans-Mississippi Department, the breadstuffs, and beef of this and the Arkansas army are gone, the left flank of Holmes' army is turned, and with it not only the meat and bread, but the salt and iron of what is left of the Trans-Mississippi Department."899

Army reorganization was an immense proposition and was bound to be a difficult undertaking under the most favorable of auspices, yet it stood as fundamental to everything else. Upon what lines ought it to proceed? One possibility was, the formation of the two brigades, with Stand Watie and Cooper individually in command, which had already been suggested to General Smith and favored by him; but which had recently been found incompatible with his latest recommendation that all the Indian troops should be commanded, in toto, by Cooper.900 One feature of great importance in its favor it had in that it did not ostensibly run counter to the Indian understanding of their treaties that white troops should be always associated with Indian in the guaranteed protection of the Indian country, which was all very well but scarcely enough to balance an insuperable objection, which Cooper, when consulted, pointed out.901 The Indians had a strong aversion to any military consolidation that involved the elimination of their separate tribal characters. They had allied themselves with the Confederacy as nations and as nations they wished to fight. Moreover, due regard ought always to be given, argued Cooper, to their tribal prejudices, their preferences, call them what one will, and to their historical neighborhood alliances. Choctaws and Chickasaws might well stay together and Creeks and Seminoles; but woe betide the contrivance that should attempt the amalgamation of Choctaws and Cherokees.

It seems a little strange that the Indians should so emphasize their national individualism at this particular time, inasmuch as six of them, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Caddo, professing to be still in strict alliance with the Southern States, had formed an Indian confederacy, had collectively re-asserted their allegiance, pledged their continued support, and made reciprocal demands. All these things they had done in a joint, or general, council, which had been held at Armstrong Academy the previous November. Resolutions of the council, embodying the collective pledges and demands, were even at this very moment under consideration by President Davis and were having not a little to do with his attitude toward the whole Maxey program.

Facsimile Of Monthly Inspection Report Of The First Creek Regiment Of Mounted Volunteers.

In the matter of army reorganization, Smith was prepared to concede to Maxey a large discretion.902 The brigading that would most comfortably fit in with the nationalistic feelings of the Indians and, at the same time, accord, in spirit, with treaty obligations and also make it possible for Cooper to have a supreme command of the Indian forces in the field was that which Cooper himself advocated, the same that Boudinot took occasion, at this juncture, to urge upon President Davis.903 It was a plan for three distinct Indian brigades, a Cherokee, a Creek-Seminole, and a Choctaw-Chickasaw. Maxey thought "it would be a fine recruiting order,"904 yet, notwithstanding, he gave his preference for the two brigade plan.905 The promotion of Cooper, implicit in the three brigade plan, was not at all pleasing to General Smith; for he thought of it as reflecting upon Steele, whom he loyally described as having "labored conscientiously and faithfully in the discharge of his duties."906 With Steele removed from the scene907—and he was soon removed for he had been retained in the Indian country only that Maxey might have for a brief season the benefit of his experience908—the case was altered and Boudinot again pressed his point,909 obtaining, finally, the assurance of the War Department that so soon as the number of Indian regiments justified the organization of three brigades they should be formed.910

The formation of brigades was only one of the Indian demands that had emanated from the general council. Another was, the establishment of Indian Territory as a military department, an arrangement altogether inadvisable and for better reasons than the one reason that Davis offered when he addressed the united nations through their principal chiefs on the twenty-second of February.911 Davis's reason was that as a separate department Indian Territory could not count upon the protection of the forces belonging to the Trans-Mississippi Department that was assured to her while she remained one of its integral parts. A distinct military district she should certainly be.

When Davis wrote, the ambition of Cooper had, in a measure, been satisfied; for he had been put in command of all "the Indian troops in the Trans-Mississippi Department on the borders of Arkansas."912 It was by no means all he wanted or all that he felt himself entitled to and he soon let it be known that such was the state of affairs. He tried to presume upon the fact that his commission as superintendent of Indian affairs had issued from the government, although never actually delivered to him, and, in virtue of it, he was in military command.913 The quietus came from General Smith, who informed Cooper that his new command and he himself were under Maxey.914

It was hoped that prospective Indian brigades would be a powerful incentive to Indian enlistment and so they proved. Moreover, much was expected in that direction from the reassembling of the general council at Armstrong Academy, and much had to be; for the times were critical. Maxey's position was not likely to be a sinecure. As a friend wrote him,

Northern Texas and the Indian Department have been neglected so long that they have become the most difficult and the most responsible commands in the Trans-Mississippi Department. I tremble for you. A great name is in store for you or you fall into the rank of failures; the latter may be your fate, and might be the fate of any man, even after an entire and perfect devotion of all one's time and talent, for want of the proper means. In military matters these things are never considered. Success is the only criterion—a good rule, upon the whole, though in many instances it works great injustice. Good and deserving men fall, and accidental heroes rise in the scale, kicking their less fortunate brothers from the platform.915

With a view to strengthening the Indian alliance and accomplishing all that was necessary to make it effective, Commissioner Scott was ordered by Seddon to attend the meeting of the general council.916 Unfortunately, he did not arrive at Armstrong Academy in time, most unfortunately, in fact, since he was expected to bring funds with him and funds were sadly needed. Maxey attended and delivered an address917 that rallied the Indians in spite of themselves. In council meeting they had many things to consider, whether or no they should insist upon confining their operations henceforth to their own country. Some were for making a raid into Kansas, some for forming an alliance with the Indians of the Plains,918 who, during this year of 1864, were to prove a veritable thorn in the flesh to Kansas and Colorado.919 As regarded some of the work of the general council, Samuel Garland, the principal chief of the Choctaws, proved a huge stumbling block, and Cooper was forced, so he said, to "put the members of the grand council to work on" him.920 It was Cooper's wish, evidently, that the council would "insist under the Indian compact that all Choctaw troops shall be put at once in the field as regular Confederate troops for the redemption and defense of the whole Indian Territory." The obstinacy of the Choctaw principal chief had to be overcome in order "to bring out the Third Choctaw Regiment speedily and on the proper basis." In general, the council reiterated its recommendations of November previous and so Boudinot informed President Davis,921 it being with him the opportunity he coveted of urging, as already noted, the promotion of Cooper to a major-generalship.

In January and so anterior to most of the foregoing incidents, the shaking of the political dice in Washington, D.C., had brought again into existence the old Department of Kansas, Curtis in command.922 Its limits were peculiar for they included Indian Territory923 and the military post of Fort Smith as well as Kansas and the territories of Nebraska and Colorado. The status of Fort Smith was a question for the future to decide; but, in the meantime, it was to be a bone of contention between Curtis and his colleague, Frederick Steele, in command of the sister Department of Arkansas; for Steele had control over all Federal forces within the political and geographical boundaries of the state that gave the name to his department except the Fort Smith garrison.924 The termination of Schofield's career in Missouri925 was another result of political dice-throwing, so also was the call for Blunt to repair to the national capital for a conference.926

But politics had nothing whatever to do with an event more notable still. With the first of February began one of the most remarkable expeditions that had yet been undertaken in the Indian country. It was an expedition conducted by Colonel William A. Phillips and it was remarkable because, while it professed to have for its object the cleaning out of Indian Territory,927 its incidents were as much diplomatic and pacific as military. Its course was only feebly obstructed and might have been extended into northern Texas had Moonlight of the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry chosen to coöperate.928 As it was, the course was southward almost to Fort Washita. Phillips carried with him copies of President Lincoln's Amnesty Proclamation929 and he distributed them freely. His interpretation of the proclamation was his own and perhaps not strictly warranted by the phraseology but justice and generosity debarred his seeing why magnanimity and forgiveness should not be extended betimes to the poor deluded red man as much as to the deliberately rebellious white. To various prominent chiefs of secessionist persuasion he sent messages of encouragement and good-will.930 More sanguine than circumstances really justified, he returned to report that, for some of the tribes at least, the war was virtually over.931 What his peace mission may have accomplished, the future would reveal; but there was no doubting what his raid had done. It had produced consternation among the weaker elements. The Creeks, the Seminoles, and the Chickasaws had widely dispersed, some into the fastnesses of the mountains. Only the Choctaws continued obdurate and defiant. It was strange that Phillips should have arrived at conclusions so sweeping; for his course932 had led him within hearing range of the general council in session at Armstrong Academy and there the division of sentiment was not so much along tribal lines as along individual. Strong personalities triumphed; for, as Maxey so truly divined, the Indian nations were after all aristocracies. The minority really ruled. At Armstrong Academy, in spite of tendencies toward an isolation that, in effect, would have been neutrality and, on the part of a few, toward a definite retracing of steps, the southern Indians renewed their pledges of loyalty to the Confederacy. Phillips's olive branch was in their hands and they threw it aside. Months before they might have been secured for the North but not now. For them the hour of wavering was past. Maxey's vigor was stimulating.

The explanation of Phillips's whole proceeding during the month of February is to be found in his genuine friendship for the Indian, which eventually profited him much, it is true, but, from this time henceforth, was lifelong. He stood in somewhat of a contrast to Blunt, whom General Steele thought unprincipled933 and who in Southern parlance was "an old land speculator,"934 and to Curtis, who was soon to show himself, as far as the Indians were concerned, in his true colors. While Phillips was absent from Fort Gibson, Curtis arrived there. He was making a reconnoissance of his command and, as he passed over one reservation after another, he doubtless coveted the Indian land for white settlement and justified to himself a scheme of forfeiture as a way of penalizing the red men for their defection.935 Phillips was not encouraged to repeat his peace mission.

Blunt's journey to Washington had results, complimentary and gratifying to his vanity because publicly vindicatory. On the twenty-seventh of February he was restored to his old command or, to be exact, ordered "to resume command of so much of the District of the Frontier as is included within the boundaries of the Department of Kansas."936 His headquarters were at Fort Smith and immediately began the controversy between him and Thayer, although scornfully unacknowledged by Thayer, as to the status of Fort Smith. Thayer refused to admit that there could be any issue937 between them for the law in the case was clear. What Blunt and Curtis really wanted was to get hold of the western counties of Arkansas938 so as to round out the Department of Kansas. To them it was absurd that Fort Smith should be within their jurisdiction and its environs within Steele and Thayer's. The upshot of the quarrel was, the reorganization of the frontier departments on the seventeenth of April which gave Fort Smith and Indian Territory to the Department of Arkansas939 and sent Blunt back to Leavenworth. His removal from Fort Smith, especially as Curtis had intended, had no change in department limits been made, to transfer Blunt's headquarters to Fort Gibson,940 was an immense relief to Phillips. Blunt and Phillips had long since ceased to have harmonious views with respect to Indian Territory. During his short term of power, Blunt had managed so to deplete Phillips's forces that two of the three Indian regiments were practically all that now remained to him since one, the Second Indian Home Guards, had been permanently stationed at Mackey's Salt Works on the plea that its colonel, John Ritchie, was Phillips's ranking officer and it was not expedient that he and Phillips "should operate together."941 Blunt had detached also a part of the Third Indian and had placed it at Scullyville as an outpost to Fort Smith. There were to be no more advances southward for Phillips.942 Instead of making them he was to occupy himself with the completion of the fortifications at Fort Gibson.943

897: Maxey to Anderson, January 12, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 856-858.
898: To this list might be added the proper fitting out of the troops, which was one of the first things that Maxey called to Smith's attention [ibid., vol. xxii, part ii, 1112-1113].
899: This idea met with Smith's full approval [ibid., vol. xxxiv, part ii, 918].
900: This is given upon the authority of Maxey [Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 857]. It seems slightly at variance with Smith's own official statements. Smith would appear to have entertained a deep distrust of Cooper, whose promotion he did not regard as either "wise or necessary" [ibid., vol. xxii, part ii, 1102].
901: Cooper to T.M. Scott, January, 1864 [Ibid., vol. xxxiv, part ii, 859-862].
902: Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 917.
903: Boudinot to Davis, January 4, 1864 [ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 920-921]. Boudinot also suggested other things, some good, some bad. He suggested, for instance, that Indian Territory be attached to Missouri and Price put in command. Seddon doubted if Price would care for the place [ibid., 921].
904: Ibid., vol. xxxiv, part ii, 858.
905: Maxey to Smith, January 15, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 875.
906: Ibid., vol. xxii, part ii, 1101-1102.
907: Ibid., vol. xxxiv, part ii, 845, 848.
908: So Smith explained [ibid., 845, when Steele objected to staying in the Indian Territory in a subordinate capacity [ibid., vol. xxii, part ii, 1108]. Steele was transferred to the District of Texas [ibid., vol. xxxiv, part ii, 961]. The withdrawal of Steele left Cooper the ranking officer and the person on whom such a command, if created, would fall [ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 968-969].
909: Boudinot to Davis, February 11, 1864, ibid., 968.
910: Seddon to Davis, February 22, 1864, ibid., 968-969.
911: Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, vol. i, 477-479; Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part iii, 824-825. Davis addressed the chiefs and not the delegation that had brought the resolutions [ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 1030-1031]. John Jumper, Seminole principal chief, was a member of the delegation.
912: Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 848; Special Orders of the Adjutant and Inspector General's Office, 1864, Confederate Records, no. 7, p. 15.
913: Cooper to Davis, February 29, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 1007.
914: Ibid., 1008.
915: S.A. Roberts to Maxey, February 1, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 936-937.
916: Seddon to Scott, January 6, 1864, ibid., 828-829.
917: Moty Kanard, late principal chief of the Creek Nation, spoke of it as a noble address and begged for a copy [ibid., 960].
918: Vore to Maxey, January 29, 1864, ibid., 928; Maxey to Anderson, February 9, 1864, ibid., 958; same to same, February 7, 1864, ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 963-966.
919: Inasmuch as the alliance with the Indians of the Plains was never fully consummated and inasmuch as these Indians harassed and devastated the frontier states for reasons quite foreign to the causes of the Civil War, the subject of their depredations and outrages is not considered as within the scope of the present volume.
920: Cooper to Maxey, February, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 959. The report reached Phillips that the Choctaws wanted a confederacy quite independent of the southern [ibid., part i, 107].
921: Although Davis's address of February 22 could well, in point of chronology, have been an answer to the applications and recommendations of the second session of the general council, it has been dealt with in connection with those of the first session, notwithstanding that Boudinot made his appeal less than a fortnight before Davis wrote. In his address, Davis specifically mentioned the work of the first session and made no reference whatsoever to that of the second.
922: Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 10.
923: Ewing wanted the command of Indian Territory, ibid., 89.
924: Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 167, 187.
925: Ibid., 188.
926: Lane, Wilder, and Dole, requested that Blunt be summoned to Washington [ibid., 52].
927: See Phillips's address to his soldiers, January 30, 1864, ibid., 190.
928: Phillips to Curtis, February 16, 1864, ibid., part i, 106-108.
929: Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. vi, 213-215.
930: To Governor Colbert of the Chickasaw Nation [Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part i, 109-110], to the Council of the Choctaw Nation [ibid., 110], to John Jumper of the Seminole Nation [ibid., 111], to McIntosh, possibly D.N. [ibid., part ii, 997]. For Maxey's comments upon Phillips and his letters, see Maxey to Smith, February 26, 1864, ibid., 994-997.
931: Phillips to Curtis, February 24, 1864, ibid., part i, 108-109.
932: For the itinerary of the course, see ibid., 111-112.
933: F. Steele to S. Breck, March 27, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 751.
934: T.M. Scott to Maxey, April 12, 1864, ibid., part iii, 762.
935: This matter is very much generalized here for the reason that it properly belongs in the volume on reconstruction that is yet to come.
936: February 23, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 408.
937: John M. Thayer to Charles A. Dana, March 15, 1864, ibid., 617.
938: Thayer to Grant, March 11, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 566.
939: Ibid., part iii, 192, 196.
940: Ibid., part ii, 651. Blunt would have preferred Scullyville [ibid., part iii, 13].
941: Blunt to Curtis, March 30, 1864, ibid., part ii, 791.
942: Blunt to Phillips, April 3, 1864, ibid., part iii, 32; Phillips to Curtis, April 5, 1864, ibid., 52-53.
943: Curtis had ordered the completion of the fortifications which might be taken to imply that he too was not favoring a forward policy.

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The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War, 1919

Participant in the Civil War


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