Kansas Troops in the Civil War

Battle of Baxter Springs (Baxter Springs Heritage Center & Museum)

Battle of Baxter Springs (Baxter Springs Heritage Center & Museum)

As a postscript to our review of Albert Castel’s Civil War Kansas, here’s another brief excerpt from the book on . . .

Kansas Troops in the Civil War

“What part Kansas troops would play in Northern military operations was for some time indeterminate. Kansans were inclined to feel that they should be employed in or near their own state, yet some of the Kansas regiments saw most of their service in Tennessee and Georgia. During the winter and spring of 1861-1862, Kansas troops, principally Lane’s Brigade, were in such poor condition that Halleck contemptuously dismissed them all with the word ‘humbug.’ Plans to use them to reinforce the Union army in Arkansas failed to materialize, and a proposed expedition from Fort Riley to New Mexico was abandoned when Halleck, early in May, requested that the regiments intended for it be sent to bolster Grant’s army in Mississippi.

“Not until June, 1862, did an operation of any consequence involving Kansas units get under way. This was an expedition under Colonel Weer into the Indian Territory. Weer’s force consisted of the Second, Sixth, and Ninth Kansas cavalry regiments, the Tenth Kansas Infantry, the Ninth Wisconsin Infantry, the Second Ohio Cavalry, the First and Second Indiana batteries, and two Indian regiments, numbering in all 6,000 effectives. The purpose of the campaign was to reassert Federal authority over the Indian Territory, to protect the southern borders of Kansas and Missouri from Confederate Indian troops in the area, and to restore Unionist Indian refugees to their homes. By the summer of 1862 thousands of these refugees had congregated in the southern part of the state, where they presented a serious problem both to the settlers and to the Government, which had to feed and take care of them. What little money Congress appropriated for their relief had been quickly squandered, and many had died of exposure, hunger and disease. The Indians were desperately anxious to return to their homes and joined with alacrity the two regiments into which they were formed.

“Confederate troops in the Indian Territory were unable to offer any resistance to Weer’s column, which had little difficulty in occupying Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation. Weer planned next to Capture Fort Gibson on the Arkansas River, but before he could undertake this operation, his army mutinied and Colonel Frederick Salomon of the Ninth Wisconsin usurped command. Saloman and the other officers accused Weer of gross incompetency, drunkenness, insanity, and of exposing the army to destruction. Although there was no danger from the Confederates, Salomon promptly marched back towards Fort Scott with all the white units, leaving behind only the Indian regiments. Blunt first learned of the mutiny in a letter of explanation from Salomon. Flabbergasted, but relieved that the Indian Territory had not been totally evacuated, he ordered Salomon to halt and send back two of the Kansas regiments in order to reinforce the Indian units. When Blunt arrived at Fort Scott on the way to take personal command of the expedition, he found Salomon and all the white troops there already, even though his order had reached them at Baxter Springs. He thereupon sent back the reinforcements himself and convened a general court-martial to investigate the mutiny. Nothing came of the court-martial, however, for too many officers were involved and there were insufficient time and means to deal with them. Yet, in spite of Salomon’s mutiny and retreat, Weer’s expedition resulted in the permanent occupation of the upper portion of the Indian Territory by Federal forces.

“On September 24 Kansas again became part of the Department of the Missouri under the command of Major General Samuel R. Curtis, victor of the Battle of Pea Ridge. Blunt remained in charge of the now District of Kansas, but instead of staying at Fort Leavenworth he took the field at the head of the ‘Army of the Frontier,’ as the troops of his district were designated. On October 1 his army joined the forces of Schofield in southwestern Missouri in a campaign to forestall a Confederate invasion from Arkansas. Marching in advance of the rest of Schofield’s army, Blunt pushed into northwestern Arkansas and the adjoining Indian country. On October 22, he fought a successful engagement at Old Fort Wayne, and on November 28 he once more forced the small Confederate army facing him to fall back in a battle at Cane Hill.

“Blunt was unable to follow up this victory, however, for a superior Confederate army under Major General T. C. Hindman was now advancing toward him. Hindman had hastily formed this army in a desperate effort to save Arkansas from being overrun by the Union forces and was hoping to deliver a quick, crushing blow at either Blunt or Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, commander of the other wing of Schofield’s army. Instead of withdrawing northward to gain Herron’s support, as he should have, Blunt remained at Cane Hill and awaited Herron to join him there, in expectation that Hindman would attack him first. But Hindman forced his way through a mountain pass which Blunt had failed to protect adequately and moved around Blunt’s left flank to strike Herron. Blunt, who had been completely fooled by Hindman’s maneuver, was ‘sound asleep or sitting up with some female hangers-on,’ when he first heard the sound of firing off to the northeast. ‘What was that?’ he cried, and then blurted out, ‘My God, they’re in my rear!’ Yet Blunt did not lose control of himself or of the situation, but set his army in a pell-mell rush toward ‘the sound of the guns’ to aid the embattled Herron, he himself bounding along on horseback far ahead of his army. Herron, with a superiority of artillery fire power that compensated for his inferiority in numbers, was holding Hindman at Prairie Grove when Blunt’s men streamed on the field. The Kansas troops aided materially in beating back Hindman’s frantic thrusts, but it is debatable whether they ‘saved the day’ as Blunt later claimed. Frenzied and bloody fighting continued until after dark, with neither side gaining a clear-cut advantage. In the morning, under the cover of a truce, Hindman retreated with his badly battered army, much to the relief of Herron and Blunt.

“Nearly three weeks elapsed before Blunt and Herron pursued Hindman, who had retired to Van Buren. They made a rapid march to that town and drove a rear guard of Texas cavalry to the other side of the Arkansas River, where Hindman’s main force stood. The two armies waged an artillery duel across the river, but Blunt and Herron did not attempt to follow the Confederates when they resumed their retreat. The next day, after a night of drunken plundering and burning, the Union army marched back to Cane Hill, from where it dispersed into winter quarters. For the time being Confederate power north of the Arkansas was destroyed.

The Kansas press, at least the pro-Lane portion thereof, hailed Blunt as a great general and hero. He, too, thought very highly of his performance and began to plume himself as a military leader, especially of cavalry. In truth he had displayed many of the attributes of a successful commander – courage, aggressiveness, promptness, confidence, and, above all, luck. Nevertheless he probably owed his victories more to the weakness of the Confederates than to his own strength. Most of the commanders he opposed were either drunk or incompetent or both, and the troops they led were miserably equipped and poor in morale – at Prairie Grove entire regiments of Arkansas conscripts surrendered en masse. Furthermore, there is some reason to doubt whether he deserved full credit even for what he apparently did well. Many years after the war his chief of staff, Thomas Moonlight, a former soldier in the regular army, asserted that had it not been for his advice ‘Blunt would not stand in history with the same military victories attached to him,’ in particular Old Fort Wayne, Cane Hill, Prairie Grove, and Van Buren. Yet at the time Blunt was well regarded by his soldiers, the general public and Congress, which in May promoted him to major general.”

Published in: on April 26, 2009 at 5:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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