Produced by David Widger
PERSONAL MEMOIRES OF P. H. SHERIDAN
By Philip Henry Sheridan
AT FORT LEAVENWORTH–THE TREATY OF MEDICINE LODGE–GOING TO FORT DODGE–DISCONTENTED INDIANS–INDIAN OUTRAGES–A DELEGATION OF CHIEFS –TERRIBLE INDIAN RAID–DEATH OF COMSTOCK–VAST HERDS OF BUFFALO –PREPARING FOR A WINTER CAMPAIGN–MEETING “BUFFALO BILL” –HE UNDERTAKES A DANGEROUS TASK–FORSYTH’S GALLANT FIGHT–RESCUED.
The headquarters of the military department to which I was assigned when relieved from duty at New Orleans was at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and on the 5th of September I started for that post. In due time I reached St. Louis, and stopped there a day to accept an ovation tendered in approval of the course I had pursued in the Fifth Military District–a public demonstration apparently of the most sincere and hearty character.
From St. Louis to Leavenworth took but one night, and the next day I technically complied with my orders far enough to permit General Hancock to leave the department, so that he might go immediately to New Orleans if he so desired, but on account of the yellow fever epidemic then prevailing, he did not reach the city till late in November.
My new command was one of the four military departments that composed the geographical division then commanded by Lieutenant-General Sherman. This division had been formed in 1866, with a view to controlling the Indians west of the Missouri River, they having become very restless and troublesome because of the building of the Pacific railroads through their hunting-grounds, and the encroachments of pioneers, who began settling in middle and western Kansas and eastern Colorado immediately after the war.
My department embraced the States of Missouri and Kansas, the Indian Territory, and New Mexico. Part of this section of country–western Kansas particularly–had been frequently disturbed and harassed during two or three years past, the savages every now and then massacring an isolated family, boldly attacking the surveying and construction parties of the Kansas-Pacific railroad, sweeping down on emigrant trains, plundering and burning stage-stations and the like along the Smoky Hill route to Denver and the Arkansas route to New Mexico.
However, when I relieved Hancock, the department was comparatively quiet. Though some military operations had been conducted against the hostile tribes in the early part of the previous summer, all active work was now suspended in the attempt to conclude a permanent peace with the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, and Comanches, in compliance with the act of Congress creating what was known as the Indian Peace Commission of 1867.
Under these circumstances there was little necessity for my remaining at Leavenworth, and as I was much run down in health from the Louisiana climate, in which I had been obliged to live continuously for three summers (one of which brought epidemic cholera, and another a scourge of yellow fever), I took a leave of absence for a few months, leaving Colonel A. J. Smith, of the Seventh Cavalry, temporarily in charge of my command.
On this account I did not actually go on duty in the department of the Missouri till March, 1868. On getting back I learned that the negotiations of the Peace Commissioners held at Medicine Lodge, about seventy miles south of Fort Larned had resulted in a treaty with the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, and Comanches, by which agreement it was supposed all troubles had been settled. The compact, as concluded, contained numerous provisions, the most important to us being one which practically relinquished the country between the Arkansas and Platte rivers for white settlement; another permitted the peaceable construction of the Pacific railroads through the same region; and a third requiring the tribes signing the treaty to retire to reservations allotted them in the Indian Territory. Although the chiefs and head-men were well-nigh unanimous in ratifying these concessions, it was discovered in the spring of 1868 that many of the young men were bitterly opposed to what had been done, and claimed that most of the signatures had been obtained by misrepresentation and through proffers of certain annuities, and promises of arms and ammunition to be issued in the spring of 1868. This grumbling was very general in extent, and during the winter found outlet in occasional marauding, so, fearing a renewal of the pillaging and plundering at an early day, to prepare myself for the work evidently ahead the first thing I did on assuming permanent command was to make a trip to Fort Larned and Fort Dodge, near which places the bulk of the Indians had congregated on Pawnee and Walnut creeks. I wanted to get near enough to the camps to find out for myself the actual state of feeling among the savages, and also to familiarize myself with the characteristics of the Plains Indians, for my previous experience had been mainly with mountain tribes on the Pacific coast. Fort Larned I found too near the camps for my purpose, its proximity too readily inviting unnecessary “talks,” so I remained here but a day or two, and then went on to Dodge, which, though considerably farther away from the camps, was yet close enough to enable us to obtain easily information of all that was going on.
It took but a few days at Dodge to discover that great discontent existed about the Medicine Lodge concessions, to see that the young men were chafing and turbulent, and that it would require much tact and good management on the part of the Indian Bureau to persuade the four tribes to go quietly to their reservations, under an agreement which, when entered into, many of them protested had not been fully understood.
A few hours after my arrival a delegation of prominent chiefs called on me and proposed a council, where they might discuss their grievances, and thus bring to the notice of the Government the alleged wrongs done them; but this I refused, because Congress had delegated to the Peace Commission the whole matter of treating with them, and a council might lead only to additional complications. My refusal left them without hope of securing better terms, or of even delaying matters longer; so henceforth they were more than ever reckless and defiant. Denunciations of the treaty became outspoken, and as the young braves grew more and more insolent every day, it amounted to conviction that, unless by some means the irritation was allayed, hostilities would surely be upon us when the buffalo returned to their summer feeding-grounds between the Arkansas and the Platte.
The principal sufferers in this event would be the settlers in middle and western Kansas, who, entirely ignorant of the dangers hanging over them, were laboring to build up homes in a new country. Hence the maintenance of peace was much to be desired, if it could be secured without too great concessions, and although I would not meet the different tribes in a formal council, yet, to ward off from settlers as much as possible the horrors of savage warfare, I showed, by resorting to persuasive methods, my willingness to temporize a good deal. An abundant supply of rations is usually effective to keep matters quiet in such cases, so I fed them pretty freely, and also endeavored to control them through certain men who, I found, because of former associations, had their confidence. These men, employed as scouts, or interpreters, were Mr. William Comstock, Mr. Abner S. Grover, and Mr. Richard Parr. They had lived on the Plains for many years with different tribes of Indians, had trapped and hunted with them, and knew all the principal chiefs and headmen. Through such influences, I thought I saw good chances of preserving peace, and of inducing the discontented to go quietly to their reservations in the Indian Territory as soon as General Hazen, the representative of the Peace Commissioners, was ready to conduct them there from Fort Larned.
Before returning to Leavenworth I put my mediators (as I may call them) under charge of an officer of the army, Lieutenant F. W. Beecher, a very intelligent man, and directed him to send them out to visit among the different tribes, in order to explain what was intended by the treaty of Medicine Lodge, and to make every effort possible to avert hostilities. Under these instructions Comstock and Grover made it their business to go about among the Cheyennes–the most warlike tribe of all–then camping about the headwaters of Pawnee and Walnut creeks, and also to the north and west of Fort Wallace, while Parr spent his time principally with the Kiowas and Comanches.
From the different posts–Wallace, Dodge, and Larned Lieutenant Beecher kept up communication with all three scouts, and through him I heard from them at least once a week. Every now and then some trouble along the railroad or stage routes would be satisfactorily adjusted and quiet restored, and matters seemed to be going on very well, the warm weather bringing the grass and buffalo in plenty, and still no outbreak, nor any act of downright hostility. So I began to hope that we should succeed in averting trouble till the favorite war season of the Indians was over, but the early days of August rudely ended our fancied tranquility.
In July the encampments about Fort Dodge began to break up, each band or tribe moving off to some new location north of the Arkansas, instead of toward its proper reservation to the south of that river. Then I learned presently that a party of Cheyennes had made a raid on the Kaws–a band of friendly Indians living near Council Grove–and stolen their horses, and also robbed the houses of several white people near Council Grove. This raid was the beginning of the Indian war of 1868. Immediately following it, the Comanches and Kiowas came to Fort Larned to receive their annuities, expecting to get also the arms and ammunition promised them at Medicine Lodge, but the raid to Council Grove having been reported to the Indian Department, the issue of arms was suspended till reparation was made. This action of the Department greatly incensed the savages, and the agent’s offer of the annuities without guns and pistols was insolently refused, the Indians sulking back to their camps, the young men giving themselves up to war-dances, and to powwows with “medicine-men,” till all hope of control was gone.
Brevet Brigadier-General Alfred Sully, an officer of long experience in Indian matters, who at this time was in command of the District of the Arkansas, which embraced Forts Larned and Dodge, having notified me of these occurrences at Larned, and expressed the opinion that the Indians were bent on mischief, I directed him there immediately to act against them. After he reached Larned, the chances for peace appeared more favorable. The Indians came to see him, and protested that it was only a few bad young men who had been depredating, and that all would be well and the young men held in check if the agent would but issue the arms and ammunition. Believing their promises, Sully thought that the delivery of the arms would solve all the difficulties, so on his advice the agent turned them over along with the annuities, the Indians this time condescendingly accepting.
This issue of arms and ammunition was a fatal mistake; Indian diplomacy had overreached Sully’s experience, and even while the delivery was in progress a party of warriors had already begun a raid of murder and rapine, which for acts of devilish cruelty perhaps has no parallel in savage warfare. The party consisted of about two hundred Cheyennes and a few Arapahoes, with twenty Sioux who had been visiting their friends, the Cheyennes. As near as could be ascertained, they organized and left their camps along Pawnee Creek about the 3d of August. Traveling northeast, they skirted around Fort Harker, and made their first appearance among the settlers in the Saline Valley, about thirty miles north of that post. Professing friendship and asking food at the farm-houses, they saw the unsuspecting occupants comply by giving all they could spare from their scanty stores. Knowing the Indian’s inordinate fondness for coffee, particularly when well sweetened, they even served him this luxury freely. With this the demons began their devilish work. Pretending to be indignant because it was served them in tin cups, they threw the hot contents into the women’s faces, and then, first making prisoners of the men, they, one after another, ravished the women till the victims became insensible. For some inexplicable reason the two farmers were neither killed nor carried off, so after the red fiends had gone, the unfortunate women were brought in to Fort Harker, their arrival being the first intimation to the military that hostilities had actually begun.
Leaving the Saline, this war-party crossed over to the valley of the Solomon, a more thickly settled region, and where the people were in better circumstances, their farms having been started two or three years before. Unaware of the hostile character of the raiders, the people here received them in the friendliest way, providing food, and even giving them ammunition, little dreaming of what was impending. These kindnesses were requited with murder and pillage, and worse, for all the women who fell into their hands were subjected to horrors indescribable by words. Here also the first murders were committed, thirteen men and two women being killed. Then, after burning five houses and stealing all the horses they could find, they turned back toward the Saline, carrying away as prisoners two little girls named Bell, who have never been heard of since.
It was probably the intention to finish, as they marched back to the south, the devilish work begun on the Saline, but before they reached that valley on the return, the victims left there originally had fled to Fort Harker, as already explained, and Captain Benteen was now nearing the little settlement with a troop of cavalry, which he had hurriedly marched from Fort Zarah. The savages were attacking the house of a Mr. Schermerhorn, where a few of the settlers had collected for defense, when Benteen approached. Hearing the firing, the troopers rode toward the sound at a gallop, but when they appeared in view, coming over the hills, the Indians fled in all directions, escaping punishment through their usual tactics of scattering over the Plains, so as to leave no distinctive trail.
When this frightful raid was taking place, Lieutenant Beecher, with his three scouts–Comstock, Grover, and Parr–was on Walnut Creek. Indefinite rumors about troubles on the Saline and Solomon reaching him, he immediately sent Comstock and Grover over to the headwaters of the Solomon, to the camp of a band of Cheyennes, whose chief was called “Turkey Leg,” to see if any of the raiders belonged there; to learn the facts, and make explanations, if it was found that the white people had been at fault. For years this chief had been a special friend of Comstock and Grover. They had trapped, hunted, and lived with his band, and from this intimacy they felt confident of being able to get “Turkey Leg” to quiet his people, if any of them were engaged in the raid; and, at all events, they expected, through him and his band, to influence the rest of the Cheyennes. From the moment they arrived in the Indian village, however, the two scouts met with a very cold reception. Neither friendly pipe nor food was offered them, and before they could recover from their chilling reception, they were peremptorily ordered out of the village, with the intimation that when the Cheyennes were on the war-path the presence of whites was intolerable. The scouts were prompt to leave, of course, and for a few miles were accompanied by an escort of seven young men, who said they were sent with them to protect the two from harm. As the party rode along over the prairie, such a depth of attachment was professed for Comstock and Grover that, notwithstanding all the experience of their past lives, they were thoroughly deceived, and in the midst of a friendly conversation some of the young warriors fell suddenly to the rear and treacherously fired on them.
At the volley Comstock fell from his horse instantly killed. Grover, badly wounded in the shoulder, also fell to the ground near Comstock Seeing his comrade was dead, Grover made use of his friend’s body to protect himself, lying close behind it. Then took place a remarkable contest, Grover, alone and severely wounded, obstinately fighting the seven Indians, and holding them at bay for the rest of the day. Being an expert shot, and having a long-range repeating rifle, he “stood off” the savages till dark. Then cautiously crawling away on his belly to a deep ravine, he lay close, suffering terribly from his wound, till the following night, when, setting out for Fort Wallace, he arrived there the succeeding day, almost crazed from pain and exhaustion.
Simultaneously with the fiendish atrocities committed on the Saline and Solomon rivers and the attack on Comstock and Grover, the pillaging and murdering began on the Smoky Hill stage-route, along the upper Arkansas River and on the headwaters of the Cimarron. That along the Smoky Hill and north of it was the exclusive work of, the Cheyennes, a part of the Arapahoes, and the few Sioux allies heretofore mentioned, while the raiding on the Arkansas and Cimarron was done principally by the Kiowas under their chief, Satanta, aided by some of the Comanches. The young men of these tribes set out on their bloody work just after the annuities and guns were issued at Larned, and as soon as they were well on the road the rest of the Comanches and Kiowas escaped from the post and fled south of the Arkansas. They were at once pursued by General Sully with a small force, but by the time he reached the Cimarron the war-party had finished its raid on the upper Arkansas, and so many Indians combined against Sully that he was compelled to withdraw to Fort Dodge, which he reached not without considerable difficulty, and after three severe fights.
These, and many minor raids which followed, made it plain that a general outbreak was upon us. The only remedy, therefore, was to subjugate the savages immediately engaged in the forays by forcing the several tribes to settle down on the reservations set apart by the treaty of Medicine Lodge. The principal mischief-makers were the Cheyennes. Next in deviltry were the Kiowas, and then the Arapahoes and Comanches. Some few of these last two tribes continued friendly, or at least took no active part in the raiding, but nearly all the young men of both were the constant allies of the Cheyennes and Kiowas. All four tribes together could put on the war-path a formidable force of about 6,000 warriors. The subjugation of this number of savages would be no easy task, so to give the matter my undivided attention I transferred my headquarters from Leavenworth to Fort Hays, a military post near which the prosperous town of Hays City now stands.
Fort Hays was just beyond the line of the most advanced settlements, and was then the terminus of the Kansas-Pacific railroad. For this reason it could be made a depot of supplies, and was a good point from which to supervise matters in the section of country to be operated in, which district is a part of the Great American Plains, extending south from the Platte River in Nebraska to the Red River in the Indian Territory, and westward from the line of frontier settlements to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, a vast region embracing an area of about 150,000 square miles. With the exception of a half-dozen military posts and a few stations on the two overland emigrant routes–the Smoky Hill to Denver, and the Arkansas to New Mexico–this country was an unsettled waste known only to the Indians and a few trappers. There were neither roads nor well-marked trails, and the only timber to be found–which generally grew only along the streams–was so scraggy and worthless as hardly to deserve the name. Nor was water by any means plentiful, even though the section is traversed by important streams, the Republican, the Smoky Hill, the Arkansas, the Cimarron, and the Canadian all flowing eastwardly, as do also their tributaries in the main. These feeders are sometimes long and crooked, but as a general thing the volume of water is insignificant except after rain-falls. Then, because of unimpeded drainage, the little streams fill up rapidly with torrents of water, which quickly flows off or sinks into the sand, leaving only an occasional pool without visible inlet or outlet.
At the period of which I write, in 1868, the Plains were covered with vast herds of buffalo–the number has been estimated at 3,000,000 head–and with such means of subsistence as this everywhere at hand, the 6,000 hostiles were wholly unhampered by any problem of food-supply. The savages were rich too according to Indian standards, many a lodge owning from twenty to a hundred ponies; and consciousness of wealth and power, aided by former temporizing, had made them not only confident but defiant. Realizing that their thorough subjugation would be a difficult task, I made up my mind to confine operations during the grazing and hunting season to protecting the people of the new settlements and on the overland routes, and then, when winter came, to fall upon the savages relentlessly, for in that season their ponies would be thin, and weak from lack of food, and in the cold and snow, without strong ponies to transport their villages and plunder, their movements would be so much impeded that the troops could overtake them.
At the outbreak of hostilities I had in all, east of New Mexico, a force of regulars numbering about 2,600 men–1,200 mounted and 1,400 foot troops. The cavalry was composed of the Seventh and Tenth regiments; the infantry, of the Third and Fifth regiments and four companies of the Thirty-Eighth. With these few troops all the posts along the Smoky Hill and Arkansas had to be garrisoned, emigrant trains escorted, and the settlements and routes of travel and the construction parties on the Kansas-Pacific railway protected. Then, too, this same force had to furnish for the field small movable columns, that were always on the go, so it will be rightly inferred that every available man was kept busy from the middle of August till November; especially as during this period the hostiles attacked over forty widely dispersed places, in nearly all cases stealing horses, burning houses, and killing settlers. It was of course impossible to foresee where these descents would be made, but as soon as an attack was heard of assistance was always promptly rendered, and every now and then we succeeded in killing a few savages. As a general thing, though, the raiders escaped before relief arrived, and when they had a few miles the start, all efforts to catch them were futile. I therefore discouraged long pursuits, and, in fact, did not approve of making any at all unless the chances of obtaining paying results were very evident, otherwise the troops would be worn out by the time the hard work of the winter was demanded from them.
To get ready for a winter campaign of six months gave us much to do. The thing most needed was more men, so I asked for additional cavalry, and all that could be spareds–even troops of the Fifth Cavalry–was sent tome. Believing this reinforcement insufficient, to supplement it I applied for a regiment of Kansas volunteers, which request being granted, the organization of the regiment was immediately begun at Topeka. It was necessary also to provide a large amount of transportation and accumulate quantities of stores, since the campaign probably would not end till spring. Another important matter was to secure competent guides for the different columns of troops, for, as I have said, the section of country to be operated in was comparatively unknown.
In those days the railroad town of Hays City was filled with so called “Indian scouts,” whose common boast was of having slain scores of redskins, but the real scout–that is, a ‘guide and trailer knowing the habits of the Indians–was very scarce, and it was hard to find anybody familiar with the country south of the Arkansas, where the campaign was to be made. Still, about Hays City and the various military posts there was some good material to select from, and we managed to employ several men, who, from their experience on the Plains in various capacities, or from natural instinct and aptitude, soon became excellent guides and courageous and valuable scouts, some of them, indeed, gaining much distinction. Mr. William F. Cody (“Buffalo Bill”), whose renown has since become world-wide, was one of the men thus selected. He received his sobriquet from his marked success in killing buffaloes for a contractor, to supply fresh meat to the construction parties, on the Kansas-Pacific railway. He had given up this business, however, and was now in the employ of the quartermaster’s department of the army, and was first brought to my notice by distinguishing himself in bringing me an important despatch from Fort Larned to Fort Hays, a distance of sixty-five miles, through a section infested with Indians. The despatch informed me that the Indians near Larned were preparing to decamp, and this intelligence required that certain orders should be carried to Fort Dodge, ninety-five miles south of Hays. This too being a particularly dangerous route–several couriers having been killed on it–it was impossible to get one of the various “Petes,” “Jacks,” or “Jims” hanging around Hays City to take my communication. Cody learning of the strait I was in, manfully came to the rescue, and proposed to make the trip to Dodge, though he had just finished his long and perilous ride from Larned. I gratefully accepted his offer, and after four or five hours’ rest he mounted a fresh horse and hastened on his journey, halting but once to rest on the way, and then only for an hour, the stop being made at Coon Creek, where he got another mount from a troop of cavalry. At Dodge he took six hours’ sleep, and then continued on to his own post–Fort Larned –with more despatches. After resting twelve hours at Larned, he was again in the saddle with tidings for me at Fort Hays, General Hazen sending him, this time, with word that the villages had fled to the south of the Arkansas. Thus, in all, Cody rode about 350 miles in less than sixty hours, and such an exhibition of endurance and courage was more than enough to convince me that his services would be extremely valuable in the campaign, so I retained him at Fort Hays till the battalion of the Fifth Cavalry arrived, and then made him chief of scouts for that regiment.
The information brought me by Cody on his second trip from Larned indicated where the villages would be found in the winter, and I decided to move on them about the 1st of November. Only the women and children and the decrepit old men were with the villages, however enough, presumably, to look after the plunder most of the warriors remaining north of the Arkansas to continue their marauding. Many severe fights occurred between our troops and these marauders, and in these affairs, before November 1 over a hundred Indians were killed, yet from the ease with which the escaping savages would disappear only to fall upon remote settlements with pillage and murder, the results were by no means satisfactory. One of the most noteworthy of these preliminary affairs was the gallant fight made on the Republican River the 17th of September by my Aide, Colonel George A. Forsyth, and party, against about seven hundred Cheyennes and Sioux. Forsyth, with Lieutenant Beecher, and Doctor J. H. Mooers as surgeon, was in charge of a company of citizen scouts, mostly expert rifle-shots, but embracing also a few Indian fighters, among these Grover and Parr. The company was organized the latter part of August for immediate work in defense of the settlements, and also for future use in the Indian Territory when the campaign should open there. About the time the company had reached its complement–it was limited to forty-seven men and three officers–a small band of hostiles began depredations near Sheridan City, one of the towns that grew up over-night on the Kansas-Pacific railway. Forsyth pursued this party, but failing to overtake it, made his way into Fort Wallace for rations, intending to return from there to Fort Hays. Before he started back, however, another band of Indians appeared near the post and stole some horses from the stage company. This unexpected raid made Forsyth hot to go for the marauders, and he telegraphed me for permission, which I as promptly gave him. He left the post on the 10th of September, the command consisting of himself, Lieutenant Beecher, Acting Assistant Surgeon Mooers, and the full strength, forty-seven men, with a few pack mules carrying about ten days’ rations.
He headed north toward the Republican River. For the first two days the trail was indistinct and hard to follow. During the next three it continued to grow much larger, indicating plainly that the number of Indians ahead was rapidly increasing. Of course this sign meant a fight as soon as a large enough force was mustered, but as this was what Forsyth was after, he pushed ahead with confidence and alacrity. The night of the 16th of September he encamped on the Arickaree branch of the Republican, not far from the forks of the river, with the expectation of resuming the march as usual next day, for the indications were that the main body of the savages must be still a long way off, though in the preceding twenty-four hours an occasional Indian had been seen.
But the enemy was much nearer than was thought, for at daybreak on the morning of the 17th he made known his immediate presence by a sudden dash at Forsyth’s horses, a few of which were stampeded and captured before the scouts could reach them. This dash was made by a small party only to get the horses, so those engaged in it were soon driven off, but a few minutes later hundreds of savages–it was afterward learned that seven hundred warriors took part in the fight –hitherto invisible, showed themselves on the hills overlooking the camp and so menacingly as to convince Forsyth that his defense must be one of desperation. The only place at hand that gave any hope of successful resistance was a small island in the Arickaree, the channel on one side being about a foot deep while on the other it was completely dry; so to this position a hurried retreat was made. All the men and the remaining animals reached the island in safety, but on account of the heavy fire poured in from the neighboring hills the packs containing the rations and medicines had to be abandoned.
On seeing Forsyth’s hasty move, the Indians, thinking they had him, prepared to overwhelm the scouts by swooping down on one side of the island with about five hundred mounted warriors, while about two hundred, covered by the tall grass in the river-bottom attacked the other side, dismounted. But the brave little band sadly disappointed them. When the charge came it was met with such a deadly fire that a large number of the fiends were killed, some of them even after gaining the bank of the island. This check had the effect of making the savages more wary, but they were still bold enough to make two more assaults before mid-day. Each of these ending like the first, the Indians thereafter contented themselves with shooting all the horses, which had been tied up to some scraggy little cottonwood-trees, and then proceeded to lay siege to the party.
The first man struck was Forsyth himself. He was hit three times in all–twice in one leg, both serious wounds, and once on the head, a slight abrasion of the scalp. A moment later Beecher was killed and Doctor Mooers mortally wounded: and in addition to these misfortunes the scouts kept getting hit, till several were killed, and the whole number of casualties had reached twenty-one in a company of forty-seven. Yet with all this, and despite the seeming hopelessness of the situation, the survivors kept up their pluck undiminished, and during a lull succeeding the third repulse dug into the loose soil till the entire party was pretty well protected by rifle-pits. Thus covered they stood off the Indians for the next three days, although of course their condition became deplorable from lack of food, while those who were hurt suffered indescribable agony, since no means were at hand for dressing their wounds.
By the third day the Indians, seeming to despair of destroying the beleaguered party before succor might arrive, began to draw off, and on the fourth wholly disappeared. The men were by this time nearly famished for food. Even now there was nothing to be had except horse-meat from the carcasses of the animals killed the first day, and this, though decidedly unpalatable, not to say disgusting, had to be put up with, and so on such unwholesome stuff they managed to live for four days longer, at the end of which time they were rescued by a column of troops under Colonel Bankhead, which had hastened from Fort Wallace in response to calls for help, carried there by two brave fellows–Stilwell and Truedell–who, volunteering to go for relief, had slipped through the Indians, and struck out for that post in the night after the first day’s fight.
FITTING OUT THE WINTER EXPEDITION–ACCOMPANYING THE MAIN FORCE–THE OTHER COLUMNS–STRUCK BY A BLIZZARD–CUSTER’S FIGHT ON THE WASHITA –DEFEAT AND DEATH OF BLACK KETTLE–MASSACRE OF ELLIOTT’S PARTY –RELIEF OF COLONEL CRAWFORD.
The end of October saw completed the most of my arrangements for the winter campaign, though the difficulties and hardships to be encountered had led several experienced officers of the army, and some frontiersmen like Mr. James Bridger, the famous scout and, guide of earlier days, to discourage the project. Bridger even went so far as to come out from St. Louis to dissuade me, but I reasoned that as the soldier was much better fed and clothed than the Indian, I had one great advantage, and that, in short, a successful campaign could be made if the operations of the different columns were energetically conducted. To see to this I decided to go in person with the main column, which was to push down into the western part of the Indian Territory, having for its initial objective the villages which, at the beginning of hostilities, had fled toward the head-waters of the Red River, and those also that had gone to the same remote region after decamping from the neighborhood of Larned at the time that General Hazen sent Buffalo Bill to me with the news.
The column which was expected to do the main work was to be composed of the Nineteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Crawford; eleven troops of the Seventh United States Cavalry, under General Custer, and a battalion of five companies of infantry under Brevet Major John H. Page. To facilitate matters, General Sully, the district commander, was ordered to rendezvous these troops and establish a supply depot about a hundred miles south of Fort Dodge, as from such a point operations could be more readily conducted. He selected for the depot a most suitable place at the confluence of Beaver and Wolf creeks, and on his arrival there with Custer’s and Page’s commands, named the place Camp Supply.
In conjunction with the main column, two others also were to penetrate the Indian Territory. One of these, which was to march east from New Mexico by way of Fort Bascom was to be composed of six troops of the Third Cavalry and two companies of infantry, the whole under Colonel A. W. Evans. The other, consisting of seven troops of the Fifth Cavalry, and commanded by Brevet Brigadier-General Eugene A. Carr, was to march southeast from Fort Lyon; the intention being that Evans and Carr should destroy or drive in toward old Fort Cobb any straggling bands that might be prowling through the country west of my own line of march; Carr, as he advanced, to be joined by Brevet Brigadier-General W. H. Penrose, with five troops of cavalry already in the field southeast of Lyon. The Fort Bascom column, after establishing a depot of supplies at Monument Creek, was to work down the main Canadian, and remain out as long as it could feed itself from New Mexico; Carr, having united with Penrose on the North Canadian, was to operate toward the Antelope Hills and headwaters of the Red River; while I, with the main column was to move southward to strike the Indians along the Washita, or still farther south on branches of the Red River.
It was no small nor easy task to outfit all these troops by the time cold weather set in, and provide for them during the winter, but by the 1st of November I had enough supplies accumulated at Forts Dodge and Lyon for my own and Carr’s columns, and in addition directed subsistence and forage for three months to be sent to Fort Gibson for final delivery at Fort Arbuckle, as I expected to feed the command from this place when we arrived in the neighborhood of old Fort Cobb, but through some mismanagement few of these stores got further than Gibson before winter came on.
November 1, all being ready, Colonel Grawford was furnished with competent guides, and, after sending two troops to Fort Dodge to act as my escort, with the rest of his regiment he started from Topeka November 5, under orders to march straight for the rendezvous at the junction of Beaver and Wolf creeks. He was expected to reach his destination about the 20th, and there unite with the Seventh Cavalry and the battalion of infantry, which in the mean time were on the march from Dodge. A few days later Carr and Evans began their march also, and everything being now in motion, I decided to go to Camp Supply to give the campaign my personal attention, determined to prove that operations could be successfully conducted in spite of winter, and bent on showing the Indians that they were not secure from punishment because of inclement weather–an ally on which they had hitherto relied with much assurance.
We started from Fort Hays on the 15th of November, and the first night out a blizzard struck us and carried away our tents; and as the gale was so violent that they could not be put up again, the rain and snow drenched us to the skin. Shivering from wet and cold, I took refuge under a wagon, and there spent such a miserable night that, when at last morning came, the gloomy predictions of old man Bridger and others rose up before me with greatly increased force. As we took the road the sleet and snow were still falling, but we labored on to Dodge that day in spite of the fact that many of the mules played out on the way. We stayed only one night at Dodge, and then on the 17th, escorted by a troop of cavalry and Forsyth’s scouts, now under the command of Lieutenant Lewis Pepoon, crossed the Arkansas and camped the night of the 18th at Bluff Creek, where the two troops of the Nineteenth Kansas, previously detailed as my escort, were awaiting our coming. As we were approaching this camp some suspicious looking objects were seen moving off at a long distance to the east of us, but as the scouts confidently pronounced them buffalo, we were unaware of their true character till next morning, when we became satisfied that what we had seen were Indians, for immediately after crossing Beaver Creek we struck a trail, leading to the northeast, of a war party that evidently came up from the head-waters of the Washita River.
The evening of November 21st arrived at the Camp Supply depot, having traveled all day in another snowstorm that did not end till twenty-four hours later. General Sully, with Custer’s regiment and the infantry battalion, had reached the place several days before, but the Kansas regiment had not yet put in an appearance. All hands were hard at work trying to shelter the stores and troops, but from the trail seen that morning, believing that an opportunity offered to strike an effective blow, I directed Custer to call in his working parties and prepare to move immediately, without waiting for Crawford’s regiment, unaccountably absent. Custer was ready to start by the 23d, and he was then instructed to march north to where the trail had been seen near Beaver Creek and follow it on the back track, for, being convinced that the war party had come from the Washita, I felt certain that this plan would lead directly to the villages.
The difficulties attending a winter campaign were exhibited now with their full force, as the march had to be conducted through a snow-storm that hid surrounding objects, and so covered the country as to alter the appearance of the prominent features, making the task of the guides doubly troublesome; but in spite of these obstacles fifteen miles had been traversed when Custer encamped for the night. The next day the storm had ceased, and the weather was clear and cold. The heavy fall of snow had of course obliterated the trail in the bottoms, and everywhere on the level; but, thanks to the wind, that had swept comparatively bare the rough places and high ground, the general direction could be traced without much trouble. The day’s march, which was through a country abounding with buffalo, was unattended by any special incident at first, but during the afternoon, after getting the column across the Canadian River–an operation which, on account of the wagons, consumed considerable time–Custer’s scouts (friendly Osages) brought back word that, some miles ahead, they had struck fresh signs, a trail coming into the old one from the north, which, in their opinion, indicated that the war party was returning to the villages.
On the receipt of this news, Custer, leaving a guard with the wagons, hastily assembled the rest of his men’ and pushing on rapidly, overtook the scouts and a detailed party from his regiment which had accompanied them, all halted on the new trail awaiting his arrival. A personal examination satisfied Custer that the surmises of his scouts were correct; and also that the fresh trail in the deep snow could at night be followed with ease. After a short halt for supper and rest the pursuit was resumed, the Osage scouts in advance, and although the hostile Indians were presumed to be yet some distance off, every precaution was taken to prevent detection and to enable our troops to strike them unawares. The fresh trail, which it was afterward ascertained had been made by raiders from Black Kettle’s village of Cheyennes, and by some Arapahoes, led into the valley of the Washita, and growing fresher as the night wore on, finally brought the Osages upon a campfire, still smoldering, which, it was concluded, had been built by the Indian boys acting as herders of the ponies during the previous day. It was evident, then, that the village could be but a few miles off; hence the pursuit was continued with redoubled caution until, a few hours before dawn of the 27th, as the leading scouts peered over a rise on the line of march, they discovered a large body of animals in the valley below.
As soon as they reported this discovery, Custer determined to acquaint himself with the situation by making a reconnoissance in person, accompanied by his principal officers. So, sending back word to halt the cavalry, he directed the officers to ride forward with him; then dismounting, the entire party crept cautiously to a high point which overlooked the valley, and from where, by the bright moon then shining, they saw just how the village was situated. Its position was such as to admit of easy approach from all sides. So, to preclude an escape of the Indians, Custer decided to attack at daybreak, and from four different directions.
The plan having been fully explained to the officers, the remaining hours of the night were employed in making the necessary dispositions. Two of the detachments left promptly, since they had to make a circuitous march of several miles to Teach the points designated for their attack; the third started a little later; and then the fourth and last, under Custer himself, also moved into position. As the first light grew visible in the east, each column moved closer in to the village, and then, all dispositions having been made according to the prearranged plan, from their appointed places the entire force to the opening notes of “Garry Owen,” played by the regimental band as the signal for the attack–dashed at a gallop into the village. The sleeping and unsuspecting savages were completely surprised by the onset; yet after the first confusion, during which the impulse to escape principally actuated them, they seized their weapons, and from behind logs and trees, or plunging into the stream and using its steep bank as a breastwork, they poured upon their assailants a heavy fire, and kept on fighting with every exhibition of desperation. In such a combat mounted men were useless, so Custer directed his troopers to fight on, foot, and the Indians were successively driven from one point of vantage to another, until, finally, by 9 o’clock the entire camp was in his possession and the victory complete. Black Kettle and over one hundred of his warriors were killed, and about fifty women and children captured; but most of the noncombatants, as well as a few warriors and boys, escaped in the confusion of the fight. Making their way down the river, these fugitives alarmed the rest of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, and also the Kiowas and Comanches, whose villages were in close proximity–the nearest not more than two miles off.
Then of course all the warriors of these tribes rallied to attack Custer, who meantime was engaged burning Black Kettle’s camp and collecting his herds of ponies. But these new foes were rather wary and circumspect, though they already had partial revenge in an unlooked for way by cutting off Major Elliott and fifteen men, who had gone off in pursuit of a batch of young warriors when the fight was going on at the village. In fact, the Indians had killed Elliott’s whole party, though neither the fate of the poor fellows, nor how they happened to be caught, was known till long afterward. It was then ascertained that the detachment pursued a course due south, nearly at right angles to the Washita River, and after galloping a couple of miles over the hills, crossing a small branch of the Washita on the way, they captured some of the fugitives. In bringing the prisoners back, Elliott was in turn attacked on the open prairie by a large number of savages from farther down the Washita, who by this time were swarming to the aid of Black Kettle’s village. The little band fought its way gallantly to within rifle-range of the small creek referred to, but could get no farther, for the Indians had taken up a position in the bed of the stream, and from under cover of its banks Elliott and all his remaining men were quickly killed. No relief was sent them, for Custer, not having seen Elliott set out, knew nothing of the direction taken, and, besides, was busy burning the villages and securing the ponies, and deeply concerned, too, with defending himself from the new dangers menacing him. Elliott and his brave little party were thus left to meet their fate alone.
While Custer was burning the lodges and plunder and securing the ponies, the Indians from the villages down the Washita were gathering constantly around him till by mid-day they had collected in thousands, and then came a new problem as to what should be done. If he attacked the other villages, there was great danger of his being overwhelmed, and should he start back to Camp Supply by daylight, he would run the risk of losing his prisoners and the ponies, so, thinking the matter over, he decided to shoot all the ponies, and keep skirmishing with the savages till nightfall, and then, under cover of the darkness, return to Camp Supply; a programme that was carried out successfully, but Custer’s course received some severe criticism because no effort was made to discover what had become of Elliott.
Custer had, in all, two officers and nineteen men killed, and two officers and eleven men wounded. The blow struck was a most effective one, and, fortunately, fell on one of the most villainous of the hostile bands that, without any provocation whatever, had perpetrated the massacres on the Saline and Solomon, committing atrocities too repulsive for recital, and whose hands were still red from their bloody work on the recent raid. Black Kettle, the chief, was an old man, and did not himself go with the raiders to the Saline and Solomon, and on this account his fate was regretted by some. But it was old age only that kept him back, for before the demons set out from Walnut Creek he had freely encouraged them by “making medicine,” and by other devilish incantations that are gone through with at war and scalp dances.
When the horrible work was over he undertook to shield himself by professions of friendship, but being put to the test by my offering to feed and care for all of his band who would come in to Fort Dodge and remain there peaceably, he defiantly refused. The consequence of this refusal was a merited punishment, only too long delayed.
I received the first news of Custer’s fight on the Washita on the morning of November 29. It was brought to me by one of his white scouts, “California Joe,” a noted character, who had been experiencing the ups and downs of pioneer life ever since crossing the Plains in 1849. Joe was an invaluable guide and Indian fighter whenever the clause of the statute prohibiting liquors in the Indian country happened to be in full force. At the time in question the restriction was by no means a dead letter, and Joe came through in thirty-six hours, though obliged to keep in hiding during daylight of the 28th. The tidings brought were joyfully received by everybody at Camp Supply, and they were particularly agreeable tome, for, besides being greatly worried about the safety of the command in the extreme cold and deep snows, I knew that the immediate effect a victory would be to demoralize the rest of the hostiles, which of course would greatly facilitate and expedite our ultimate success. Toward evening the day after Joe arrived the head of Custer’s column made its appearance on the distant hills, the friendly Osage scouts and the Indian prisoners in advance. As they drew near, the scouts began a wild and picturesque performance in celebration of the victory, yelling, firing their guns, throwing themselves on the necks and sides of their horses to exhibit their skill in riding, and going through all sorts of barbaric evolutions and gyrations, which were continued till night, when the rejoicings were ended with the hideous scalp dance.
The disappearance of Major Elliott and his party was the only damper upon our pleasure, and the only drawback to the very successful expedition. There was no definite information as to the detachment, –and Custer was able to report nothing more than that he had not seen Elliott since just before the fight began. His theory was, however, that Elliott and his men had strayed off on account of having no guide, and would ultimately come in all right to Camp Supply or make their way back to Fort Dodge; a very unsatisfactory view of the matter, but as no one knew the direction Elliott had taken, it was useless to speculate on other suppositions, and altogether too late to make any search for him. I was now anxious to follow up Custer’s stroke by an immediate move to the south with the entire column, but the Kansas regiment had not yet arrived. At first its nonappearance did not worry me much, for I attributed the delay to the bad weather, and supposed Colonel Crawford had wisely laid up during the worst storms. Further, waiting, however, would give the Indians a chance to recover from the recent dispiriting defeat, so I sent out scouting parties to look Crawford up and hurry him along. After a great deal of searching, a small detachment of the regiment was found about fifty miles below us on the North Canadian, seeking our camp. This detachment was in a pretty bad plight, and when brought in, the officer in charge reported that the regiment, by not following the advice of the guide sent to conduct it to Camp Supply, had lost its way. Instead of relying on the guides, Crawford had undertaken to strike through the canyons of the Cimarron by what appeared to him a more direct route, and in the deep gorges, filled as they were with snow, he had been floundering about for days without being able to extricate his command. Then, too, the men were out of rations, though they had been able to obtain enough buffalo meat to keep from starving. As for the horses, since they could get no grass, about seven hundred of them had already perished from starvation and exposure. Provisions and guides were immediately sent out to the regiment, but before the relief could reach Crawford his remaining horses were pretty much all gone, though the men were brought in without loss of life. Thus, the regiment being dismounted by this misfortune at the threshold of the campaign, an important factor of my cavalry was lost to me, though as foot-troops the Kansas volunteers continued to render very valuable services till mustered out the next spring.
A WINTER EXPEDITION–HERDS OF BUFFALO–WOLVES–BLIZZARDS–A TERRIBLE NIGHT–FINDING THE BODIES OF ELLIOTT’S PARTY–THE ABANDONED INDIAN CAMPS–PUSHING DOWN THE WASHITA–THE CAPTURED CHIEFS–EVANS’S SUCCESSFUL FIGHT–ESTABLISHING FORT SILL–“CALIFORNIA JOE”–DUPLICITY OF THE CHEYENNES–ORDERED TO REPAIR TO WASHINGTON.
A few days were necessarily lost setting up and refitting the Kansas regiment after its rude experience in the Cimarron canyons. This through with, the expedition, supplied with thirty days’ rations, moved out to the south on the 7th of December, under my personal command. We headed for the Witchita Mountains, toward which rough region all the villages along the Washita River had fled after Custer’s fight with Black Kettle. My line of march was by way of Custer’s battle-field, and thence down the Washita, and if the Indians could not sooner be brought to terms, I intended to follow them into the Witchita Mountains from near old Fort Cobb. The snow was still deep everywhere, and when we started the thermometer was below zero, but the sky being clear and the day very bright, the command was in excellent spirits. The column was made up of ten companies of the Kansas regiment, dismounted; eleven companies of the Seventh Cavalry, Pepoon’s scouts, and the Osage scouts. In addition to Pepoon’s men and the Osages, there was also “California Joe,” and one or two other frontiersmen besides, to act as guides and interpreters. Of all these the principal one, the one who best knew the country, was Ben Clark, a young man who had lived with the Cheyennes during much of his boyhood, and who not only had a pretty good knowledge of the country, but also spoke fluently the Cheyenne and Arapahoe dialects, and was an adept in the sign language.
The first day we made only about ten miles, which carried us to the south bank of Wolf Creek. A considerable part of the day was devoted to straightening out matters in the command, and allowing time for equalizing the wagon loads, which as a general thing, on a first day’s march, are unfairly distributed. And then there was an abundance of fire-wood at Wolf Creek; indeed, here and on Hackberry Creek–where I intended to make my next camp–was the only timber north of the Canadian River; and to select the halting places near a plentiful supply of wood was almost indispensable, for as the men were provided with only shelter-tents, good fires were needed in order to keep warm.
The second day, after marching for hours through vast herds of buffalo, we made Hackberry Creek; but not, however, without several stampedes in the wagon-train, the buffalo frightening the mules so that it became necessary to throw out flankers to shoot the leading bulls and thus turn off the herds. In the wake of every drove invariably followed a band of wolves. This animal is a great coward usually, but hunger had made these so ravenous that they would come boldly up to the column, and as quick as a buffalo was killed, or even disabled, they would fall upon the carcass and eagerly devour it. Antelope also were very numerous, and as they were quite tame –being seldom chased–and naturally very inquisitive, it was not an unfrequent thing to see one of the graceful little creatures run in among the men and be made a prisoner. Such abundance of game relieved the monotony of the march to Hackberry Creek, but still, both men and animals were considerably exhausted by their long tramp, for we made over thirty miles that day.
We camped in excellent shape on the creek and it was well we did, for a “Norther,” or “blizzard,” as storms on the Plains are now termed struck us in the night. During the continuance of these blizzards, which is usually about three days, the cold wind sweeps over the Plains with great force, and, in the latitude of the Indian Territory, is weighted with great quantities of sleet and snow, through which it is often impossible to travel; indeed, these “Northers” have many times proved fatal to the unprotected frontiersman. With our numbers the chance of any one’s being lost, and perishing alone (one of the most common dangers in a blizzard), was avoided; but under any circumstances such a storm could but occasion intense suffering to all exposed to it, hence it would have been well to remain in camp till the gale was over, but the time could not be spared. We therefore resumed the march at an early hour next morning, with the expectation of making the south bank of the main Canathan and there passing the night, as Clark assured me that timber was plentiful on that side of the river. The storm greatly impeded us, however, many of the mules growing discouraged, and some giving out entirely, so we could not get to Clark’s “good camp,” for with ten hours of utmost effort only about half a day’s distance could be covered, when at last, finding the struggle useless, we were forced to halt for the night in a bleak bottom on the north bank of the river. But no one could sleep, for the wind swept over us with unobstructed fury, and the only fuel to be had was a few green bushes. As night fell a decided change of temperature added much to our misery, the mercury, which had risen when the “Norther” began, again falling to zero. It can be easily imagined that under such circumstances the condition of the men was one of extreme discomfort; in truth, they had to tramp up and down the camp all night long to keep from freezing. Anything was a relief to this state of things, so at the first streak of day we quit the dreadful place and took up the march.
A seemingly good point for crossing the Canadian was found a couple of miles down the stream, where we hoped to get our train over on the ice, but an experiment proving that it was not strong enough, a ford had to be made, which was done by marching some of the cavalry through the river, which was about half a mile wide, to break up the large floes when they had been cut loose with axes. After much hard work a passage-way was thus opened, and by noon the command was crossed to the south bank, and after thawing out and drying our clothes before big fires, we headed for a point on the Washita, where Clark said there was plenty of wood, and good water too, to make us comfortable till the blizzard had blown over.
We reached the valley of the Washita a little before dark, and camped some five or six miles above the scene of Custer’s fight, where I concluded to remain at least a day, to rest the command and give it a chance to refit. In the mean time I visited the battle-field in company with Custer and several other officers, to see if there was a possibility of discovering any traces of Elliotts party. On arriving at the site of the village, and learning from Custer what dispositions had been made in approaching for the attack, the squadron of the escort was deployed and pushed across the river at the point where Elliott had crossed. Moving directly to the south, we had not gone far before we struck his trail, and soon the whole story was made plain by our finding, on an open level space about two miles from the destroyed village, the dead and frozen bodies of the entire party. The poor fellows were all lying within a circle not more than fifteen or twenty paces in diameter, and the little piles of empty cartridge shells near each body showed plainly that every man had made a brave fight. None were scalped, but most of them were otherwise horribly mutilated, which fiendish work is usually done by the squaws. All had been stripped of their clothing, but their comrades in the escort were able to identify the bodies, which being done, we gave them decent burial. Their fate was one that has overtaken many of our gallant army in their efforts to protect the frontiersmen’s homes and families from savages who give no quarter, though they have often received it, and where the possibility of defeat in action carries with it the certainty of death and often of preceding torture.
From the meadow where Elliott was found we rode to the Washita, and then down the river through the sites of the abandoned villages, that had been strung along almost continuously for about twelve miles in the timber skirting the stream. On every hand appeared ample evidence that the Indians had intended to spend the winter here, for the ground was littered with jerked meat, bales of buffalo robes, cooking utensils, and all sorts of plunder usually accumulated in a permanent Indian camp. There were, also, lying dead near the villages hundreds of ponies, that had been shot to keep them from falling into our hands, the scant grazing and extreme cold having made them too weak to be driven along in the flight. The wholesale slaughter of these ponies was a most cheering indication that our campaign would be ultimately successful, and we all prayed for at least a couple of months more of cold weather and plenty of snow.
At the Kiowa village we found the body of a white woman–a Mrs. Blynn–and also that of her child. These captives had been taken by the Kiowas near Fort Lyon the previous summer, and kept close prisoners until the stampede began, the poor woman being reserved to gratify the brutal lust of the chief, Satanta; then, however, Indian vengeance demanded the murder of the poor creatures, and after braining the little child against a tree, the mother was shot through the forehead, the weapon, which no doubt brought her welcome release, having been fired so close that the powder had horribly disfigured her face. The two bodies were wrapped in blankets and taken to camp, and afterward carried along in our march, till finally they were decently interred at Fort Arbuckle..
At an early hour on December 12 the command pulled out from its cosy camp and pushed down the valley of the Washita, following immediately on the Indian trail which led in the direction of Fort Cobb, but before going far it was found that the many deep ravines and canyons on this trail would delay our train very much, so we moved out of the valley and took the level prairie on the divide. Here the traveling was good, and a rapid gait was kept up till mid-day, when, another storm of sleet and snow coming on, it became extremely difficult for the guides to make out the proper course; and fearing that we might get lost or caught on the open plain without wood or water–as we had been on the Canadian–I turned the command back to the valley, resolved to try no more shortcuts involving the risk of a disaster to the expedition. But to get back was no slight task, for a dense fog just now enveloped us, obscuring all landmarks. However, we were headed right when the fog set in, and we had the good luck to reach the valley before night-fall, though there was a great deal of floundering about, and also much disputing among the guides as to where the river would be found Fortunately we struck the stream right at a large grove of timber, and established ourselves, admirably. By dark the ground was covered with twelve or fifteen inches of fresh snow, and as usual the temperature rose very sensibly while the storm was on, but after night-fall the snow ceased and the skies cleared up. Daylight having brought zero weather again, our start on the morning of the 17th was painful work, many of the men freezing their fingers while handling the horse equipments, harness, and tents. However, we got off in fairly good season, and kept to the trail along the Washita notwithstanding the frequent digging and bridging necessary to get the wagons over ravines.
Continuing on this line for three days, we at length came to a point on the Washita where all signs indicated that we were nearing some of the villages. Wishing to strike them as soon as possible, we made a very early start next morning, the 17th. A march of four or five miles brought us to a difficult ravine, and while we were making preparations to get over, word was brought that several Indians had appeared in our front bearing a white flag and making signs that they had a communication to deliver. We signaled back that they would be received, when one of the party came forward alone and delivered a letter, which proved to be from General Hazen, at Fort Cobb. The letter showed that Hazen was carrying on negotiations with the Indians, and stated that all the tribes between Fort Cobb and my column were friendly, but the intimation was given that the Cheyennes and Arapahoes were still hostile, having moved off southward toward, the Red River. It was added that Satanta and Lone Wolf–the chiefs of the Kiowas–would give information of the whereabouts of the hostiles; and such a communication coming direct from the representative of the Indian Department, practically took the Kiowas–the village at hand was of that tribe–under its protection, and also the Comanches, who were nearer in to Cobb. Of course, under such circumstances I was compelled to give up the intended attack, though I afterward regretted that I had paid any heed to the message, because Satanta and Lone Wolf proved, by trickery and double dealing, that they had deceived Hazen into writing the letter.
When I informed the Klowas that I would respect Hazen’s letter provided they all came into Fort Cobb and gave themselves up, the two chiefs promised submission, and, as an evidence of good faith, proposed to accompany the column to Fort Cobb with a large body of warriors, while their villages moved to the same point by easy stages, along the opposite bank of the river–claiming this to be necessary from the poor condition of the ponies. I had some misgivings as to the sincerity of Satanta and Lone Wolf, but as I wanted to get the Kiowas where their surrender would be complete, so that the Cheyennes and Arapahoes could then be pursued, I agreed to the proposition, and the column moved on. All went well that day, but the next it was noticed that the warriors were diminishing, and an investigation showed that a number of them had gone off on various pretexts–the main one being to help along the women and children with the villages. With this I suspected that they were playing me false, and my suspicions grew into certainty when Satanta himself tried to make his escape by slipping beyond the flank of the column and putting spurs to his pony. Fortunately, several officers saw him, and quickly giving chase, overhauled him within a few hundred yards. I then arrested both him and Lone Wolf and held them as hostages–a measure that had the effect of bringing back many of the warriors already beyond our reach.
When we arrived at Fort Cobb we found some of the Comanches already there, and soon after the rest of them, excepting one band, came in to the post. The Kiowas, however, were not on hand, and there were no signs to indicate their coming. At the end of two days it was plain enough that they were acting in bad faith, and would continue to unless strong pressure was brought to bear. Indeed, they had already started for the Witchita Mountains, so I put on the screws at once by issuing an order to hang Satanta and Lone Wolf, if their people did not surrender at Fort Cobb within forty-eight hours. The two chiefs promised prompt compliance, but begged for more time, seeking to explain the non-arrival of the women and children through the weak condition of the ponies; but I was tired of their duplicity, and insisted on my ultimatum.
The order for the execution brought quick fruit. Runners were sent out with messages, by the two prisoners, appealing to their people to save the lives of their chiefs, and the result was that the whole tribe came in to the post within the specified time. The two manacled wretches thus saved their necks; but it is to be regretted that the execution did not come off; for some years afterward their devilish propensities led them into Texas, where both engaged in the most horrible butcheries.
The Kiowas were now in our hands, and all the Comanches too, except one small band, which, after the Custer fight, had fled toward the headwaters of the Red River. This party was made up of a lot of very bad Indians–outlaws from the main tribe–and we did not hope to subdue them except by a fight, and of this they got their fill; for Evans, moving from Monument Creek toward the western base of the Witchita Mountains on Christmas Day, had the good fortune to strike their village. In the snow and cold his approach was wholly unexpected, and he was thus enabled to deal the band a blow that practically annihilated it. Twenty-five warriors were killed outright, most of the women and children captured, and all the property was destroyed. Only a few of the party escaped, and some of these made their way in to Fort Cobb, to join the rest of their tribe in confinement; while others, later in the season, surrendered at Fort Bascom.
This sudden appearance of Evans in the Red River region also alarmed the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, and their thoughts now began to turn to submission. Food was growing scarce with them, too, as there was but little game to be found either in the Witchita Mountains or on the edge of the Staked Plains, and the march of Carr’s column from Antelope Hills precluded their returning to where the buffalo ranged. Then, too, many of their ponies were dead or dying, most of their tepees and robes had been abandoned, and the women and children, having been kept constantly on the move in the winter’s storms, were complaining bitterly of their sufferings.
In view of this state of things they intimated, through their Comanche-Apache friends at Fort Cobb, that they would like to make terms. On receiving their messages I entered into negotiations with Little Robe, chief of the Cheyennes, and Yellow Bear, chief of the Arapahoes, and despatched envoys to have both tribes understand clearly that they must recognize their subjugation by surrendering at once, and permanently settling on their reservations in the spring. Of course the usual delays of Indian diplomacy ensued, and it was some weeks before I heard the result.
Then one of my messengers returned with word that Little Robe and Yellow Bear were on their way to see me. They arrived a few days later, and, promptly acceding to the terms, promised to bring their people in, but as many of them would have to come on foot on account of the condition of the ponies, more time was solicited. Convinced of the sincerity of their professions I gave them a reasonable extension, and eventually Yellow Bear made good his word, but Little Robe, in spite of earnest and repeated efforts, was unable to deliver his people till further operations were begun against them.
While these negotiations were in progess I came to the conclusion that a permanent military post ought to be established well down on the Kiowa and Comanche reservation, in order to keep an eye on these tribes in the future, Fort Cobb, being an unsuitable location, because too far to the north to protect the Texas frontier, and too far away from where it was intended to permanently place the Indians. With this purpose in view I had the country thoroughly explored, and afterward a place was fixed upon not far from the base of the Witchita Mountains, and near the confluence of Medicine Bluff and Cash creeks, where building stone and timber could be obtained in plenty, and to this point I decided to move. The place was named Camp Sill-now Fort Sill–in honor of my classmate, General Sill, killed at Stone River; and to make sure of the surrendered Indians, I required them all, Kiowas, Comanches, and Comanche-Apaches, to accompany us to the new post, so they could be kept under military control till they were settled.
During the march to the new camp the weather was not so cold as that experienced in coming down from Camp Supply; still, rains were frequent, and each was invariably followed by a depression of temperature and high winds, very destructive to our animals, much weakened by lack of food. The men fared pretty well, however, for on the rough march along the Washita, and during our stay at Fort Cobb, they had learned to protect themselves materially from the cold. For this they had contrived many devices, the favorite means being dugouts–that is, pits dug in the ground, and roofed over, with shelter-tents, and having at one end a fire-place and chimney ingeniously constructed with sod. In these they lived very snugly –four men in each–and would often amuse themselves by poking their heads out and barking at the occupants of adjacent huts in imitation of the prairie-dog, whose comfortable nests had probably suggested the idea of dugouts. The men were much better off, in fact, than many of the officers, for the high winds frequently made havoc with our wall-tents. The horses and mules suffered most of all. They could not be sheltered, and having neither grain nor grass, the poor beasts were in no condition to stand the chilling blasts. Still, by cutting down cottonwood-trees, and letting the animals browse on the small soft branches, we managed to keep them up till, finally even this wretched food beginning to grow scarce, I had all except a few of the strongest sent to Fort Arbuckle, near which place we had been able, fortunately, to purchase some fields of corn from the half-civilized Chickasaws and Choctaws.
Through mismanagement, as previously noted, the greater part of the supplies which I had ordered hauled to Arbuckle the preceding fall had not got farther on the way than Fort Gibson, which post was about four hundred miles off, and the road abominable, particularly east of Arbuckle, where it ran through a low region called “boggy bottom.” All along this route were abandoned wagons, left sticking in the mud, and hence the transportation was growing so short that I began to fear trouble in getting subsistence up for the men. Still, it would not do to withdraw, so I made a trip to Arbuckle chiefly for the purpose of reorganizing the transportation, but also with a view to opening a new route to that post, the road to lie on high ground, so as to avoid the creeks and mud that had been giving us so much trouble. If such a road could be made, I hoped to get up enough rations and grain from the cornfields purchased to send out a formidable expedition against the Cheyennes, so I set out for Arbuckle accompanied by my quartermaster, Colonel A. J. McGonigle. “California Joe” also went along to guide us through the scrub-oaks covering the ridge, but even the most thorough exploration failed to discover any route more practicable than that already in use; indeed, the high ground was, if anything, worse than the bottom land, our horses in the springy places and quicksands often miring to their knees. The ground was so soft and wet, in fact, that we had to make most of the way on foot, so by the time we reached Arbuckle I was glad to abandon the new road project.
Finding near Arbuckle more fields of corn than those already purchased, I had them bought also, and ordered more of the horses back there to be fed. I next directed every available mule to be put to hauling rations, having discovered that the full capacity of the transportation had not yet been brought into play in forwarding stores from Gibson, and with this regulation of the supply question I was ready to return immediately to Camp Sill. But my departure was delayed by California Joe, who, notwithstanding the prohibitory laws of the Territory, in some unaccountable way had got gloriously tipsy, which caused a loss of time that disgusted me greatly; but as we could not well do without Joe, I put off starting till the next day, by which time it was thought he would sober up. But I might just as well have gone at first, for at the end of the twenty-four hours the incorrigible old rascal was still dead drunk. How he had managed to get the grog to keep up his spree was a mystery which we could not solve, though we had had him closely watched, so I cut the matter short by packing him into my ambulance and carrying him off to Camp Sill.
By the time I got back to Sill, the Arapahoes were all in at the post, or near at hand. The promised surrender of the Cheyennes was still uncertain of fulfillment, however, and although Little Robe and his family had remained with us in evidence of good faith, the messages he sent to his followers brought no assurance of the tribe’s coming in–the runners invariably returning with requests for more time, and bringing the same old excuse of inability to move because the ponies were so badly off. But more time was just what I was determined not to grant, for I felt sure that if a surrender was not forced before the spring grass came, the ponies would regain their strength, and then it would be doubtful if the Cheyennes came in at all.
To put an end to these delays, Custer proposed to go out and see the Cheyennes himself, taking with him for escort only such number of men as could be fairly well mounted from the few horses not sent back to Arbuckle. At first I was inclined to disapprove Custer’s proposition, but he urged it so strongly that I finally consented, though with some misgivings, for I feared that so small a party might tempt the Cheyennes to forget their pacific professions and seek to avenge the destruction of Black Kettle’s band. However, after obtaining my approval, Custer, with characteristic energy, made his preparations, and started with three or four officers and forty picked men, taking along as negotiators Yellow Bear and Little Robe, who were also to conduct him to the head-waters of the Red River, where it was supposed the Cheyennes would be found. His progress was reported by couriers every few days, and by the time he got to the Witchita foot-hills he had grown so sanguine that he sent California Joe back to me with word that he was certain of success. Such hopeful anticipation relieved me greatly, of course, but just about the time I expected to hear that his mission had been achieved I was astonished by the party’s return. Inquiring as to the trouble, I learned that out toward the Staked Plains every sign of the Cheyennes had disappeared. Surprised and disappointed at this, and discouraged by the loneliness of his situation–for in the whole region not a trace of animal life was visible, Custer gave up the search, and none too soon, I am inclined to believe, to save his small party from perishing.
This failure put a stop to all expeditions till the latter part of February, by which time I had managed to lay in enough rations to feed the command for about thirty days; and the horses back at Arbuckle having picked up sufficiently for field service they were ordered to Sill, and this time I decided to send Custer out with his own and the Kansas regiment, with directions to insist on the immediate surrender of the Cheyennes, or give them a sound thrashing. He was ordered to get everything ready by March 1, and then move to the mouth of Salt Creek, on the North Fork of the Red River, at which place I proposed to establish a new depot for feeding the command. Trains could reach this point from Camp Supply more readily than from Arbuckle, and wishing to arrange this part of the programme in person, I decided to return at once to Supply, and afterward rejoin Custer at Salt Creek, on what, I felt sure, was to be the final expedition of the campaign. I made the three hundred and sixty miles from Sill to Supply in seven days, but much to my surprise there found a despatch from General Grant directing me to repair immediately to Washington. These orders precluded, of course, my rejoining the command; but at the appointed time it set out on the march, and within three weeks brought the campaign to a successful close.
In this last expedition, for the first few days Custer’s route was by the same trail he had taken in January–that is to say, along the southern base of the Witchita Mountains–but this time there was more to encourage him than before, for, on getting a couple of marches beyond old Camp Radziminski, on all sides were fresh evidences of Indians, and every effort was bent to strike them.
From day to day the signs grew hotter, and toward the latter part of March the game was found. The Indians being in a very forlorn condition, Custer might have destroyed most of the tribe, and certainly all their villages, but in order to save two white women whom, it was discovered, they held as captives, he contented himself with the renewal of the Cheyennes’ agreement to come in to Camp Supply. In due time the entire tribe fulfilled its promise except one small band under “Tall Bull,” but this party received a good drubbing from General Carr on the Republican early in May. After this fight all the Indians of the southern Plains settled down on their reservations, and I doubt whether the peace would ever again have been broken had they not in after years been driven to hostilities by most unjust treatment.
It was the 2d of March that I received at Camp Supply Grant’s despatch directing me to report immediately in Washington. It had been my intention, as I have said, to join Custer on the North Fork of the Red River, but this new order required me to recast my plans, so, after arranging to keep the expedition supplied till the end of the campaign, I started for Washington, accompanied by three of my staff–Colonels McGonigle and Crosby, and Surgeon Asch, and Mr. Deb. Randolph Keim, a representative of the press, who went through the whole campaign, and in 1870 published a graphic history of it. The day we left Supply we, had another dose of sleet and snow, but nevertheless we made good time, and by night-fall reached Bluff Creek. In twenty-four hours more we made Fort Dodge, and on the 6th of March arrived at Fort Hays. Just south of the Smoky Hill River, a little before we got to the post, a courier heading for Fort Dodge passed us at a rapid gait. Suspecting that he had despatches for me, I directed my outrider to overtake him and find out. The courier soon turned back, and riding up to my ambulance handed me a telegram notifying me that General Grant, on the day of his inauguration, March 4, 1869, had appointed me Lieutenant-General of the Army. When I reported in Washington, the President desired me to return to New Orleans and resume command of the Fifth Military District, but this was not at all to my liking, so I begged off, and was assigned to take charge of the Division of the Missouri, succeeding General Sherman, who had just been ordered to assume command of the Army.
INSPECTING MILITARY POSTS IN UTAH AND MONTANA–DESIRE TO WITNESS THE FRANCO-GERMAN WAR–ON A SAND-BAR IN THE MISSOURI–A BEAR HUNT–AN INDIAN SCARE–MYRIADS OF MOSQUITOES–PERMISSION GIVEN TO VISIT EUROPE–CALLING ON PRESIDENT GRANT–SAILING FOR LIVERPOOL–ARRIVAL IN BERLIN.
After I had for a year been commanding the Division of the Missouri, which embraced the entire Rocky Mountain region, I found it necessary to make an inspection of the military posts in northern Utah and Montana, in order by personal observation to inform myself of their location and needs, and at the same time become acquainted with the salient geographical and topographical features of that section of my division. Therefore in May, 1870, I started west by the Union-Pacific railroad, and on arriving at Corinne’ Station, the next beyond Ogden, took passage by stage-coach for Helena, the capital of Montana Territory. Helena is nearly five hundred miles north of Corinne, and under ordinary conditions the journey was, in those days, a most tiresome one. As the stage kept jogging on day and night, there was little chance for sleep, and there being with me a sufficient number of staff-officers to justify the proceeding, we chartered the “outfit,” stipulating that we were to stop over one night on the road to get some rest. This rendered the journey more tolerable, and we arrived at Helena without extraordinary fatigue.
Before I left Chicago the newspapers were filled with rumors of impending war between Germany and France. I was anxious to observe the conflict, if it was to occur, but reports made one day concerning the beginning of hostilities would be contradicted the next, and it was not till I reached Helena that the despatches lost their doubtful character, and later became of so positive a nature as to make it certain that the two nations would fight. I therefore decided to cut short my tour of inspection, so that I could go abroad to witness the war, if the President would approve. This resolution limited my stay in Helena to a couple of days, which were devoted to arranging for an exploration of what are now known as the Upper and the Lower Geyser Basins of the Yellowstone Park. While journeying between Corinne and Helena I had gained some vague knowledge of these geysers from an old mountaineer named Atkinson, but his information was very indefinite, mostly second-hand; and there was such general uncertainty as to the character of this wonderland that I authorized an escort of soldiers to go that season from Fort Ellis with a small party, to make such superficial explorations as to justify my sending an engineer officer with a well-equipped expedition there next summer to scientifically examine and report upon the strange country. When the arrangements for this preliminary expedition were completed I started for Fort Benton, the head of navigation on the Missouri River, on the way passing through Fort Shaw, on Sun River. I expected to take at Benton a steamboat to Fort Stevenson, a military post which had been established about eighty miles south of Fort Buford, near a settlement of friendly Mandan and Arickaree Indians, to protect them from the hostile Sioux. From there I was to make my way overland, first to Fort Totten near Devil’s lake in Dakota, and thence by way of Fort Abercrombie to Saint Cloud, Minnesota, the terminus of the railroad.
Luckily I met with no delay in getting a boat at Benton, and though the water was extremely low, we steamed down the channel of the Missouri with but slight detention till we got within fifty miles of Fort Buford. Here we struck on a sandbar with such force of steam and current as to land us almost out of the water from stem to midships. This bad luck was tantalizing, for to land on a bar when your boat is under full headway down-stream in the Missouri River is no trifling matter, especially if you want to make time, for the rapid and turbid stream quickly depositing sand under the hull, makes it commonly a task of several days to get your boat off again. As from our mishap the loss of much time was inevitable, I sent a messenger to Fort Buford for a small escort, and for horses to take my party in to the post. Colonel Morrow, the commandant, came himself to meet us, bringing a strong party of soldiers and some friendly Indian scouts, because, he said, there were then in the region around Buford so many treacherous band of Sioux as to make things exceedingly unsafe.
Desiring to reach the post without spending more than one night on the way, we abandoned our steamer that evening, and set off at an early hour the next morning. We made camp at the end of the day’s march within ten miles of Buford, and arrived at the post without having had any incident of moment, unless we may dignify as one a battle with three grizzly bears, discovered by our friendly Indians the morning of our second day’s journey. While eating our breakfast –a rather slim one, by the way–spread on a piece of canvas, the Indians, whose bivouac was some distance off, began shouting excitedly, “Bear! bear!” and started us all up in time to see, out on the plain some hundreds of yards away, an enormous grizzly and two almost full-grown cubs. Chances like this for a bear hunt seldom offered, so there was hurried mounting–the horses being already saddled–and a quick advance made on the game from many directions, Lieutenant Townsend, of the escort, and five or six of the Indians going with me. Alarmed by the commotion, bruin and her cubs turned about, and with an awkward yet rapid gait headed for a deep ravine, in which there was brushwood shelter.
My party rode directly across the prairie and struck the trail not far behind the game. Then for a mile or more the chase was kept up, but with such poor shooting because of the “buck fever” which had seized most of us, that we failed to bring down any of the grizzlies, though the cubs grew so tired that the mother was often obliged to halt for their defense, meanwhile urging them on before her. When the ravine was gained she hid the cubs away in the thick brushwood, and then coming out where we could plainly see her, stood on the defense just within the edge of the thicket, beyond the range of our rifles though, unless we went down into the canyon, which we would have to do on foot, since the precipitous wall precluded going on horseback. For an adventure like this I confess I had little inclination, and on holding a council of war, I found that the Indians had still less, but Lieutenant Townsend, who was a fine shot, and had refrained from firing hitherto in the hope that I might bag the game, relieved the embarrassing situation and saved the credit of the party by going down alone to attack the enemy. Meanwhile I magnanimously held his horse, and the Sioux braves did a deal of shouting, which they seemed to think of great assistance.
Townsend, having descended to the bottom of the ravine, approached within range, when the old bear struck out, dashing into and out of the bushes so rapidly, however, that he could not get fair aim at her, but the startled cubs running into full view, he killed one at the first shot and at the second wounded the other. This terribly enraged the mother, and she now came boldly out to fight, exposing herself in the open ground so much as to permit a shot, that brought her down too, with a broken shoulder. Then the Indians and I, growing very brave, scrambled down to–take part in the fight. It was left for me to despatch the wounded cub and mother, and having recovered possession of my nerves, I did the work effectively, and we carried off with us the skins of the three animals as trophies of the hunt and evidence of our prowess.
As good luck would have it, when we reached Buford we found a steamboat there unloading stores, and learned that it would be ready to start down the river the next day. Embarking on her, we got to Stevenson in a few hours, and finding at the post camp equipage that had been made ready for our use in crossing overland to Fort Totten, we set out the following forenoon, taking with us a small escort of infantry, transported in two light wagons, a couple of Mandans and the post interpreter going along as mounted guides.
To reach water we had to march the first day to a small lake forty miles off, and the oppressive heat, together with the long distance traveled, used up one of the teams so much that, when about to start out the second morning, we found the animals unable to go on with any prospect of finishing the trip, so I ordered them to be rested forty-eight hours longer, and then taken back to Stevenson. This diminished the escort by one-half, yet by keeping the Indians and interpreter on the lookout, and seeing that our ambulance was kept closed up on the wagon carrying the rest of the detachment, we could, I thought, stand off any ordinary party of hostile Indians.
About noon I observed that the scouts in advance had left the trail and begun to reconnoitre a low ridge to their right, the sequel of which was that in a few minutes they returned to the wagons on a dead run and reported Sioux just ahead. Looking in the direction indicated, I could dimly see five or six horsemen riding in a circle, as Indians do when giving warning to their camp, but as our halt disclosed that we were aware of their proximity, they darted back again behind the crest of the ridge. Anticipating from this move an immediate attack, we hastily prepared for it by unhooking the mules from the wagon and ambulance, so that we could use the vehicles as a barricade. This done, I told the interpreter to take the Mandan scouts and go over toward the ridge and reconnoitre again. As the scouts neared the crest two of them dismounted, and, crawling slowly on their bellies to the summit, took a hasty look and returned at once to their horses, coming back with word that in the valley beyond was a camp of at least a hundred Sioux lodges, and that the Indians were hurriedly getting ready to attack us. The news was anything but cheering, for with a village of that size the warriors would number two or three hundred, and could assail us from every side.
Still, nothing could be done, but stand and take what was to come, for there was no chance of escape–it being supreme folly to undertake in wagons a race with Indians to Fort Stevenson, sixty miles away. To make the best of the situation, we unloaded the baggage, distributing and adjusting the trunks, rolls of bedding, crackerboxes, and everything else that would stop a bullet, in such manner as to form a square barricade, two sides of which were the wagons, with the mules haltered to the wheels. Every man then supplied himself with all the ammunition he could carry, and the Mandan scouts setting up the depressing wail of the Indian death-song, we all awaited the attack with the courage of despair.
But no attack came; and time slipping by, and we still unmolested, the interpreter and scouts were sent out to make another reconnoissance. Going through just such precautions as before in approaching the ridge, their slow progress kept us in painful suspense; but when they got to the crest the strain on our nerves was relieved by seeing them first stand up boldly at full height, and then descend beyond. Quickly returning, they brought welcome word that the whole thing was a mistake, and no Sioux were there at all. What had been taken for a hundred Indian lodges turned out to be the camp of a Government train on its way to Fort Stevenson, and the officer in charge seeing the scouts before they discovered him, and believing them to be Sioux, had sent out to bring his herds in. It would be hard to exaggerate the relief that this discovery gave us, and we all breathed much easier. The scare was a bad one, and I have no hesitation in saying that, had we been mounted, it is more than likely that, instead of showing fight, we would have taken up a lively pace for Fort Stevenson.
After reciprocal explanations with the officer in charge of the train, the march was resumed, and at the close of that day we camped near a small lake about twenty miles from Fort Totten. From Totten we journeyed on to Fort Abercrombie. The country between the two posts is low and flat, and I verily believe was then the favorite abiding-place of the mosquito, no matter where he most loves to dwell now; for myriads of the pests rose up out of the tall rank grass –more than I ever saw before or since–and viciously attacked both men and animals. We ourselves were somewhat protected by gloves and head-nets, provided us before leaving Totten, but notwithstanding these our sufferings were well-nigh intolerable; the annoyance that the poor mules experienced must, therefore, have been extreme; indeed, they were so terribly stung that the blood fairly trickled down their sides. Unluckily, we had to camp for one night in this region; but we partly evaded the ravenous things by banking up our tent walls with earth, and then, before turning in, sweeping and smoking out such as had got inside. Yet with all this there seemed hundreds left to sing and sting throughout the night. The mules being without protection, we tried hard to save them from the vicious insects by creating a dense smoke from a circle of smothered fires, within which chain the grateful brutes gladly stood; but this relief was only partial, so the moment there was light enough to enable us to hook up we pulled out for Abercrombie in hot haste.
From Abercrombie we drove on to Saint Cloud, the terminus of the railroad, where, considerably the worse for our hurried trip and truly wretched experience with the mosquitoes, we boarded the welcome cars. Two days later we arrived in Chicago, and having meanwhile received word from General Sherman that there would be no objection to my going to Europe, I began making arrangements to leave, securing passage by the steamship Scotia.
President Grant invited me to come to see him at Long Branch before I should sail, and during my brief visit there he asked which army I wished to accompany, the German or the French. I told him the German, for the reason that I thought more could be seen with the successful side, and that the indications pointed to the defeat of the French. My choice evidently pleased him greatly, as he had the utmost contempt for Louis Napoleon, and had always denounced him as a usurper and a charlatan. Before we separated, the President gave me the following letter to the representatives of our Government abroad, and with it I not only had no trouble in obtaining permission to go with the Germans, but was specially favored by being invited to accompany the headquarters of the King of Prussia:
“LONG BRANCH, N. J., July 25, 1870.
“Lieutenant-General P. H. Sheridan, of the United State Army, is authorized to visit Europe, to return at his own pleasure, unless otherwise ordered. He is commended to the good offices of all representatives of this Government whom he may meet abroad.
“To citizens and representatives of other Governments I introduce General Sheridan as one of the most skillful, brave and deserving soldiers developed by the great struggle through which the United States Government has just passed. Attention paid him will be duly appreciated by the country he has served so faithfully and efficiently.
“U. S. GRANT.”
Word of my intended trip was cabled to Europe in the ordinary press despatches, and our Minister to France, Mr. Elihu B. Washburn, being an intimate friend of mine, and thinking that I might wish to attach myself to the French army, did me the favor to take preliminary steps for securing the necessary authority. He went so far as to broach the subject to the French Minister of War, but in view of the informality of the request, and an unmistakable unwillingness to grant it being manifested, Mr. Washburn pursued the matter no further. I did not learn of this kindly interest in my behalf till after the capitulation of Paris, when Mr. Washburn told me what he had done of his own motion. Of course I thanked him gratefully, but even had he succeeded in getting the permission he sought I should not have accompanied the French army.
I sailed from New York July 27, one of my aides-de-camp, General James W. Forsyth, going with me. We reached Liverpool August 6, and the next day visited the American Legation in London, where we saw all the officials except our Minister, Mr. Motley, who, being absent, was represented by Mr. Moran, the Secretary of the Legation. We left London August 9 for Brussels, where we were kindly cared for by the American Minister, Mr. Russell Jones who the same evening saw us off for Germany. Because of the war we secured transportation only as far as Vera, and here we received information that the Prussian Minister of War had telegraphed to the Military Inspector of Railroads to take charge of us on our arrival a Cologne, and send us down to the headquarter of the Prussian army, but the Inspector, for some unexplained reason, instead of doing this, sent us on to Berlin. Here our Minister, Mr. George Bancroft, met us with a telegram from the German Chancellor, Count Bismarck, saying we were expected to come direct to the King’s headquarters and we learned also that a despatch had been sent to the Prussian Minister at Brussels directing him to forward us from Cologne to the army, instead of allowing us to go on to Berlin, but that we had reached and quit Brussels without the Minister’s knowledge.
LEAVING FOR THE SEAT OF WAR–MEETING WITH PRINCE BISMARCK–HIS INTEREST IN PUBLIC OPINION IN AMERICA–HIS INCLINATIONS IN EARLY LIFE–PRESENTED TO THE KING–THE BATTLE OF GRAVELOTTE–THE GERMAN PLAN–ITS FINAL SUCCESS–SENDING NEWS OF THE VICTORY–MISTAKEN FOR A FRENCHMAN.
Shortly after we arrived in Berlin the Queen sent a messenger offering us an opportunity to pay our respects, and fixed an hour for the visit, which was to take place the next day; but as the tenor of the despatch Mr. Bancroft had received from Count Bismarck indicated that some important event which it was desired I should witness was about to happen at the theatre of war, our Minister got us excused from our visit of ceremony, and we started for the headquarters of the German army that evening–our stay in the Prussian capital having been somewhat less than a day.
Our train was a very long one, of over eighty cars, and though drawn by three locomotives, its progress to Cologne was very slow and the journey most tedious. From Cologne we continued on by rail up the valley of the Rhine to Bingebruck, near Bingen, and thence across through Saarbrucken to Remilly, where we left the railway and rode in a hay-wagon to Pont-a-Mousson, arriving there August 17, late in the afternoon. This little city had been ceded to France at the Peace of Westphalia, and although originally German, the people had become, in the lapse of so many years, intensely French in sentiment. The town was so full of officers and men belonging to the German army that it was difficult to get lodgings, but after some delay we found quite comfortable quarters at one of the small hotels, and presently, after we had succeeded in getting a slender meal, I sent my card to Count von Bismarck, the Chancellor of the North German Confederation, who soon responded by appointing an hour–about 9 o’clock the same evening–for an interview.
When the Count received me he was clothed in the undress uniform of the Cuirassier regiment, of which he was the colonel. During the interview which ensued, he exhibited at times deep anxiety regarding the conflict now imminent, for it was the night before the battle of Gravelotte, but his conversation was mostly devoted to the state of public sentiment in America, about which he seemed much concerned, inquiring repeatedly as to which side–France or Prussia–was charged with bringing on the war. Expressing a desire to witness the battle which was expected to occur the next day, and remarking that I had not had sufficient time to provide the necessary transportation, he told me to be ready at 4 o’clock in the morning, and he would take me out in his own carriage and present me to the King–adding that he would ask one of his own staff-officers, who he knew had one or two extra horses, to lend me one. As I did not know just what my status would be, and having explained to the President before leaving America that I wished to accompany the German army unofficially, I hardly knew whether to appear in uniform or not, so I spoke of this matter too, and the Count, after some reflection, thought it best for me to wear my undress uniform, minus the sword, however, because I was a non combatant.
At 4 o’clock the next morning, the 18th, I repaired to the Chancellor’s quarters. The carriage was at the door, also the saddle-horse, but as no spare mount could be procured for General Forsyth, he had to seek other means to reach the battle-field. The carriage was an open one with two double seats, and in front a single one for a messenger; it had also a hand-brake attached.
Count Bismarck and I occupied the rear seat, and Count Bismarck-Bohlen–the nephew and aide-decamp to the Chancellor–and Doctor Busch were seated facing us. The conveyance was strong, serviceable, and comfortable, but not specially prepossessing, and hitched to it were four stout horses–logy, ungainly animals, whose clumsy harness indicated that the whole equipment was meant for heavy work. Two postilions in uniform, in high military saddles on the nigh horse of each span, completed the establishment.
All being ready, we took one of the roads from Pont-a-Mousson to Rezonville, which is on the direct road from Metz to Chalons, and near the central point of the field where, on the 16th of August, the battle of Mars-la-Tour had been fought. It was by this road that the Pomeranians, numbering about 30,000 men, had been ordered to march to Gravelotte, and after proceeding a short distance we overtook the column. As this contingent came from Count Bismarck’s own section of Germany, there greeted us as we passed along, first in the dim light of the morning, and later in the glow of the rising sun, continuous and most enthusiastic cheering for the German Chancellor.
On the way Count Bismarck again recurred to the state of public opinion in America with reference to the war. He also talked much about our form of government, and said that in early life his tendencies were all toward republicanism, but that family influence had overcome his preferences, and intimated that, after adopting a political career, he found that Germany was not sufficiently advanced for republicanism. He said, further, that he had been reluctant to enter upon this public career, that he had always longed to be a soldier, but that here again family opposition had turned him from the field of his choice into the sphere of diplomacy.
Not far from Mars-la-Tour we alighted, and in a little while an aide-de-camp was introduced, who informed me that he was there to conduct and present me to his Majesty, the King of Prussia. As we were walking along together, I inquired whether at the meeting I should remove my cap, and he said no; that in an out-of-door presentation it was not etiquette to uncover if in uniform. We were soon in presence of the King, where–under the shade of a clump of second-growth poplar-trees, with which nearly all the farms in the north of France are here and there dotted–the presentation was made in the simplest and most agreeable manner.
His Majesty, taking my hand in both of his, gave me a thorough welcome, expressing, like Count Bismarck, though through an interpreter, much interest as to the sentiment in my own country about the war. At this time William the First of Prussia was seventy-three years of age, and, dressed in the uniform of the Guards, he seemed to be the very ideal soldier, and graced with most gentle and courteous manners. The conversation, which was brief, as neither of us spoke the other’s native tongue, concluded by his Majesty’s requesting me in the most cordial way to accompany his headquarters during the campaign. Thanking him for his kindness, I rejoined Count Bismarck’s party, and our horses having arrived meantime, we mounted and moved off to the position selected for the King to witness the opening of the battle.
This place was on some high ground overlooking the villages of Rezonville and Gravelotte, about the centre of the battlefield of Mars-la-Tour, and from it most of the country to the east toward Metz could also be seen. The point chosen was an excellent one for the purpose, though in one respect disagreeable, since the dead bodies of many of the poor fellows killed there two days before were yet unburied. In a little while the King’s escort began to remove these dead, however, bearing them away on stretchers improvised with their rifles, and the spot thus cleared was much more acceptable. Then, when such unexploded shells as were lying around loose had been cautiously carried away, the King, his brother, Prince Frederick Charles Alexander, the chief-of-staff, General von Moltke, the Minister of War, General von Roon, and Count von Bismarck assembled on the highest point, and I being asked to join the group, was there presented to General von Moltke. He spoke our language fluently, and Bismarck having left the party for a time to go to a neighboring house to see his son, who had been wounded at Mars-la-Tour, and about whom he was naturally very anxious, General von Moltke entertained me by explaining the positions of the different corps, the nature and object of their movements then taking place, and so on.
Before us, and covering Metz, lay the French army, posted on the crest of a ridge extending north, and about its centre curving slightly westward toward the German forces. The left of the French position was but a short distance from the Moselle, and this part of the line was separated from the Germans by a ravine, the slopes, fairly well wooded, rising quite sharply; farther north, near the centre, this depression disappeared, merged in the general swell of the ground, and thence on toward the right the ground over which an approach to the French line must be made was essentially a natural open glacis, that could be thoroughly swept by the fire of the defenders.
The line extended some seven or eight miles. To attack this position, formidable everywhere, except perhaps on the right flank, the Germans were bringing up the combined forces of the First and Second armies, troops that within the past fortnight had already successfully met the French in three pitched battles. On the right was the First Army, under command of General Von Steinmetz, the victors, August 6, of Spicheren, near Saar, and, eight days later, of Colombey, to the east of Metz; while the centre and left were composed of the several corps of the Second Army, commanded by Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia, a part of whose troops had just been engaged in the sanguinary battle of Mars-la-Tour, by which Bazaine was cut off from the Verdun road, and forced back toward Metz.
At first the German plan was simply to threaten with their right, while the corps of the Second Army advanced toward the north, to prevent the French, of whose intentions there was much doubt, from escaping toward Chalons; then, as the purposes of the French might be, developed, these corps were to change direction toward the enemy successively, and seek to turn his right flank. But the location of this vital turning-point was very uncertain, and until it was ascertained and carried, late in the afternoon, the action raged with more or less intensity along the entire line.
But as it is not my purpose to describe in detail the battle of Gravelotte, nor any other, I will speak of some of its incidents merely. About noon, after many preliminary skirmishes, the action was begun according to the plan I have already outlined, the Germans advancing their left while holding on strongly with their right, and it was this wing (the First Army) that came under my observation from the place where the King’s headquarters were located. From here we could see, as I have said, the village of Gravelotte. Before it lay the German troops, concealed to some extent, especially to the left, by clumps of timber here and there. Immediately in front of us, however, the ground was open, and the day being clear and sunny, with a fresh breeze blowing (else the smoke from a battle between four hundred thousand men would have obstructed the view altogether), the spectacle presented Was of unsurpassed magnificence and sublimity. The German artillery opened the battle, and while the air was filled with shot and shell from hundreds of guns along their entire line, the German centre and left, in rather open order, moved out to the attack, and as they went forward the reserves, in close column, took up positions within supporting distances, yet far enough back to be out of range.
The French artillery and mitrailleuses responded vigorously to the Krupps, and with deadly effect, but as far as we could see the German left continued its advance, and staff-officers came up frequently to report that all was going on well at points hidden from our view These reports were always made to the King first, and whenever anybody arrived with tidings of the fight we clustered around to hear the news, General Von Moltke unfolding a map meanwhile, and explaining the situation. This done, the chief of the staff, while awaiting the next report, would either return to a seat that had been made for him with some knapsacks, or would occupy the time walking about, kicking clods of dirt or small stones here and there, his hands clasped behind his back, his face pale and thoughtful. He was then nearly seventy years old, but because of his emaciated figure, the deep wrinkles in his face, and the crow’s-feet about his eyes, he looked even older, his appearance being suggestive of the practice of church asceticisms rather than of his well-known ardent devotion to the military profession.
By the middle of the afternoon the steady progress of the German left and centre had driven the French from their more advanced positions from behind stone walls and hedges, through valleys and hamlets, in the direction of Metz, but as yet the German right had accomplished little except to get possession of the village of Gravelotte, forcing the French across the deep ravine I have mentioned, which runs north and south a little distance east of ihe town.
But it was now time for the German right to move in earnest to carry the Rozerieulles ridge, on which crest the French had evidently decided to make an obstinate fight to cover their withdrawal to Metz. As the Germans moved to the attack here, the French fire became heavy and destructive, so much so, indeed, as to cause General Von Steinmetz to order some cavalry belonging to the right wing to make a charge. Crossing the ravine before described, this body of horse swept up the slope beyond, the front ranks urged forward by the momentum from behind. The French were posted along a sunken road, behind stone walls and houses, and as the German cavalry neared these obstructions it received a dreadful fire without the least chance of returning it, though still pushed on till the front ranks were crowded into the deep cut of the road. Here the slaughter was terrible, for the horsemen could make no further headway; and because of the blockade behind, of dead and wounded men and animals, an orderly retreat was impossible, and disaster inevitable.
About the time the charge was ordered, the phase of the battle was such that the King concluded to move his headquarters into the village of Gravelotte; and just after getting there, we first learned fully of the disastrous result of the charge which had been entered upon with such spirit; and so much indignation was expressed against Steinmetz, who, it was claimed, had made an unnecessary sacrifice of his cavalry, that I thought he would be relieved on the spot; though this was not done.
Followed by a large staff, General Steinmetz appeared in the village presently, and approached the King. When near, he bowed with great respect, and I then saw that he was a very old man though his soldierly figure, bronzed face, and shortcropped hair gave some evidence of vigor still. When the King spoke to him I was not close enough to learn what was said; but his Majesty’s manner was expressive of kindly feeling, and the fact that in a few moments the veteran general returned to the command of his troops, indicated that, for the present at least, his fault had been overlooked.
The King then moved out of the village, and just a little to the east and north of it the headquarters were located on high, open ground, whence we could observe the right of the German infantry advancing up the eastern face of the ravine. The advance, though slow and irregular, resulted in gradually gaining ground, the French resisting stoutly with a stubborn musketry fire all along the slopes. Their artillery was silent, however; and from this fact the German artillery officers grew jubilant, confidently asserting that their Krupp guns had dismounted the French batteries and knocked their mitrailleuses to pieces. I did not indulge in this confidence, however; for, with the excellent field-glass I had, I could distinctly see long columns of French troops moving to their right, for the apparent purpose of making a vigorous fight on that flank; and I thought it more than likely that their artillery would be heard from before the Germans could gain the coveted ridge.
The Germans labored up the glacis slowly at the most exposed places; now crawling on their bellies, now creeping on hands and knees, but, in the main, moving with erect and steady bearing. As they approached within short range, they suddenly found that the French artillery and mitrallleuses had by no means been silenced–about two hundred pieces opening on them with fearful effect, while at the same time the whole crest blazed with a deadly fire from the Chassepot rifles. Resistance like this was so unexpected by the Germans that it dismayed them; and first wavering a moment, then becoming panic-stricken, they broke and fled, infantry, cavalry, and artillery coming down the slope without any pretence of formation, the French hotly following and pouring in a heavy and constant fire as the fugitives fled back across the ravine toward Gravelotte. With this the battle on the right had now assumed a most serious aspect, and the indications were that the French would attack the heights of