|Site Map||Timeline||Syllabus||Special Offers|
|Gratiot St. Prison||St. Louis History||Boat Burners||Message Board|
|James-Youngers||Outlaws||Books & Sources||Book Reviews|
Posted February 28, 2004
This is copyrighted material--the article, the pictures, and the introduction--and may not be copied or reproduced in any form, including on other websites, without permission of the authors.
Fremont’s Hundred Days in Missouri
Atlantic Monthly, Jan-Mar, 1862
Introduction by G. E. Rule
The unnamed author of Fremont’s Hundred Days in Missouri was a member of the general’s staff. Clearly not a native of Missouri, this Union officer often displayed a definite bias against Missourians; no doubt fueled by reading years of “Border Ruffian” stories in eastern newspapers. He observes of the people of Jefferson City, cited by most historians as the second most pro-Union population in Missouri behind only St. Louis, that “Such vacant, listless faces, with laziness written in every line, and ignorance seated upon every feature! Is it for these that the descendants of New England and the thrifty Germans are going forth to battle? If Missouri depended upon the Missourians, there would be little chance for her safety, and, indeed, not very much to save.” Later he observes of some local farmers that “The Union men of Missouri are quite willing to have you fight for them, but their patriotism does not go farther than this.” These statements might be amusing if one didn’t know that such biases by many Union troops would lead to bitter fruit in the guerrilla war ahead.
Also, there can be no doubt of the author’s opinion of General Fremont. Fremont is depicted as nearly God-like in his attributes and skills in everything he does. To be fair, this is hardly unknown in the history of campaign journals written by junior officers. We have not hesitated to depict Fremont in much less favorable light on the site; we are pleased to have the opportunity to give one of the general’s defenders a chance to tell the story from the other side.
Regardless of the obvious biases of the author, this seems to be an important, detailed primary account by a participant of Fremont’s abortive campaign to catch General Price in the fall of 1861. It appeared in three parts in the national magazine The Atlantic Monthly (still a going concern), Jan through March, 1862, and gained enough national attention that Frank Blair felt the need to refer to it by name, and rebut it, on the floor of the House of Representatives on March 7, 1862. Blair’s rebuttal can be found here on our site.
The author uses almost 24,000 words to cover just five weeks of campaigning, and when he isn’t lauding the general provides some very interesting details of the first large-scale campaign by a Union army west of the Mississippi (an army six times the size of the one Lyon lead at Wilson’s Creek), the general condition of affairs in Missouri, the slavery issue, and the people of Missouri. His account of the famous “Zagonyi’s Charge” at Springfield is particularly fine, and as the author claims to have been a member of the committee of inquiry following the event, may be presumed to be fairly accurate, if a bit breathless –most historians would not agree that it deserves to be compared to the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, as the author alludes to here. His personal observations of two hundred armed and mounted “contrabands” as part of Jim Lane’s Kansas brigade leads one to suspect that “contraband” is a title of convenience here; an armed and mounted man on campaign with an army is a soldier no matter what you call him. Since under the then-current regs of the Union army he could not be called a “soldier”, the author avoids that label –but “a rose by any other name”.
It is also worth noting that most historians would argue with the author’s conclusion at the end that just another forty-eight hours given to Fremont would have resulted in the climactic battle with Price that the Pathfinder sought. Albert Castel’s General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West (1968), widely considered the leading history of Price’s Civil War career, asserts that Price was at Pineville, much further southwest of where Fremont thought he was on November 2, 1861.
Interestingly enough, the standard bio of the general’s life, Fremont: Pathmarker of the West, by Allan Nevins, does not appear to use this article as one of its sources. As it is very sympathetic to Fremont, a fine, detailed campaign journal of his major campaign in Missouri, and impactful enough to warrant a public rebuttal from Frank Blair, this is more than passingly strange. It is unclear if Nevins was unaware of this article or just did not find it interesting enough to use for his book.
We found this article on the excellent (and free) Making of America site of Cornell University, that includes many journals from this period besides The Atlantic Monthly. We will be publishing it in three parts, just as it appeared in the magazine.
goto Part I
goto Part II
THE FORCED MARCH TO SPRINGFIELD.
Bolivar, October 26th. Zagonyi’s success has roused the enthusiasm of the army. The old stagers took it coolly, but the green hands revealed their excitement by preparing for instant battle. Pistols were oiled and reloaded, and swords sharpened. We did all this a month ago, before leaving St. Louis. We then expected a battle, and went forth with the shadow and the sunshine of that expectation upon our hearts; but up to this time we have not seen a shot fired in earnest. Now the blast of war blows in our ears, and we instinctively “stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood.”
Captain H., the young chevalier of the staff, whom we have named Le Beau Capitaine, went this morning to St. Louis with intelligence of the victory. He has ninety miles to ride before midnight, to catch to-morrow’s train.
Under the influence of the excitement which prevailed, we were on horseback this morning long before it was necessary, when the General sent us word that the staff might go forward, and he would over-take us. The gay and brilliant cavalcade which marched out of Jefferson City is destroyed, —the maimed and bleeding Guard is reposing a few miles south of Bolivar,—the detachment which was left at head-quarters has gone on to join the main body,—and the staff broken into small parties, straggles along the road. A more beautiful day never delighted the earth. The atmosphere is warm, the sky cloudless, and the distance is filled with a soft dreamy haze, which veils, but does not conceal, the purple hills and golden forests.
A few miles south of our last night’s camp we came out upon a large prairie, called the Twenty-Five Mile Prairie. It is an undulating plain, seven miles wide and twenty-five long. It was the intention to concentrate the army here. A more favorable position for reviewing and manoeuvring a large force cannot be found. But the plan has been changed. We must hasten to Springfield, lest the Rebels seize the place, capture White and our wounded, and throw a cloud over Zagonyi’s brilliant victory.
Passing from the prairie, we entered a broad belt of timber, and soon reached a fine stream. We drew rein at a farm-house on the top of the river-bank, where we found a pleasant Union family. The farmer came out, and, thinking Colonel Eaton was the General, offered him two superb apples, large enough for foot-balls. He was disappointed to find his mistake, and to be compelled to withdraw the proffered gift. Sigel encamped here last night, and the debris of his camp-fires checker the hill-side and the flats along the margin of the creek. After waiting an hour, the General not coming up, Colonel Eaton and myself set out alone over a road which was crowded with Sigel’s wagons. Everything bears witness to the extraordinary energy and efficiency of that officer. This morning he started before day, and he will be in Springfield by noon to-morrow. His train is made up of materials which would drive most generals to despair. There are mule-teams, and ox-teams, and in some cases horses, mules, and oxen hitched together. There are army-wagons, box-wagons, lumber-wagons, hay-racks, buggies, carriages, —in fact, every kind of animal and every description of vehicle which could be found in the country. Most of our division-commanders would have refused to leave camp with such a train; but Sigel has made it answer his purpose, and here he is, fifty miles in advance of any other officer, tearing after Price.
We were jogging painfully over the incumbered road, and through clouds of dust, when an officer rode up in great haste, and asked for Dr. C., who was needed at the camp of the Guards. By reason of the broken order in which the staff rode to-day, he could not be found. For two mortal hours unlucky aides-de-camp dashed to the front and the rear, and scoured the country for five miles upon the flanks, visiting the farm-houses in search of the missing surgeon. At last he was found, and hurried on to the relief of the Guard. At this moment the General came up, and, to our astonishment, Zagonyi was riding beside him, bearing upon his trim person no mark of yesterday’s fatigue and danger. The Major fell behind, and rode into Bolivar with me. On the way we met Lieutenant Maythenyi of the Guard.
Our camp is on the farm of a member of the State legislature who is now serving under Price. His white cottage and well-ordered farm-buildings are surrounded by rich meadows, bearing frequent groups of noble trees; the fences are in good condition, and the whole place wears an air of thrift and prosperity which must be foreign to Missouri even in her best estate.
Springfield, October 28th. Few of those who endured the labor of yesterday will forget the march into Springfield. At midnight of Saturday, the Sharp-shooters were sent on in wagons, and at two in the morning the Benton Cadets started, with orders to march that day to Springfield, thirty miles. Their departure broke the repose of the camp. To add to the confusion, a report was spread that the General intended to start at daybreak, and that we must have breakfast at four o’clock and be ready for the saddle at six. This programme was carried out. Long before day our servants called us; fires were lighted, and breakfast eaten by starlight. Before dawn the wagons were packed and horses saddled. But the General had no intention of going so early; the report had its origin in the uneasy brain of some officer who probably thought the General ought to leave at daybreak. Some of the old heads paid no attention to the report, or did not hear it, and they were deep in the pleasures of the morning nap while we poor fellows were shivering over our breakfast.
Colonel Wyman reported himself at Bolivar, having marched from Rolla and beaten the Rebels in three engagements. The General set out at nine o’clock for our thirty-mile ride. The black horse fell into his usual scrambling gait, and we pounded along uneasily after him. As we passed through Bolivar, the inhabitants came into the streets and greeted us with cheers and the waving of handkerchiefs, —a degree of interest which is not often exhibited. Fording a small stream, we came into Wyman’s camp, and thence upon a long, rolling prairie. An hour’s ride brought us to the place where the Guard encamped the night before. The troops had left, but the wounded officers were still in a neighboring house, waiting for our ambulances. Those who were able to walk came out to see the General. He received them with marked kindness. At times like this, he has a simple grace and poetry of expression and a tenderness of manner which are very winning. He spoke a few words to each of the brave fellows, which brought smiles to their faces and tears into their eyes. Next came our turn, and we were soon listening to the incidents of the fearful fray. None of them are severely wounded, except Kennedy, and he will probably lose an arm. We saw them all placed in the ambulances, and then fell in behind the black pacer.
A short distance farther on, a very amusing scene occurred. The road in front was nearly filled by a middle-aged woman, fat enough to have been the original of some of the pictures which are displayed over the booths at a county fair.
“Are you Gin’ral Freemount ?” she shouted, her loud voice husky with rage.
“Yes,” replied the General in a low tone, somewhat abashed at the formidable obstruction in his path, and occupied in restraining the black pacer, who was as much frightened at the huge woman as he could have been at a park of artillery.
“Waal, you ‘re the man I want to see. I ‘m a widder. I wus born in Old Kentuck, and am a Union, and allers wus a Union, and will he a Union to the eend, clear grit.”
She said this with startling earnestness and velocity of utterance, and paused, the veins in her face swollen almost to bursting. The black pacer bounded from one side of the road to the other, throwing the whole party into confusion.
The General raised his cap and asked, — “What is the matter, my good woman?”
“Matter, Gin’ral! Ther’ ‘s enough the matter. I ‘ye allers gi’n the sogers all they wanted. I gi’n ‘em turkeys and chickens and eggs and butter and bread. And I never charged ‘em anything for it. They tuk all my corn, and I never said nuthing. I allers treated ‘em well, for I ‘m Union, and so wus my man, who died more nor six yeah ago.”
She again paused, evidently for no reason except to escape a stroke of apoplexy.
“But tell me what you want now. I will see to it that you have justice,” interrupted the General.
“You see, Gin’ral, last night some sogers come and tuk my ox-chains,— two on ‘em, — all I ‘ye got, — and I can’t buy no more in these war-times. I can’t do any work without them chains; they ‘d ‘a’ better uv tuk my teams with ‘em, too.”
“How much were your ox-chains worth,” said the General, laughing.
“Waal now,” answered the fat one, moderating her tone, “they ‘re wuth a good deal jes’ now. The war has made such things dreffle deah. The big one wus the best I ever see; bought it last yeah, up at Hinman’s store in Bolivar; that chain was wuth — waal now — Ho, Jim! ho, Dick! come y’ere! Gin’ral Freemount wants to know how much them ox-chains wus wuth.”
A lazy negro and a lazier white man, the latter whittling a piece of cedar, walked slowly from the house to the road, and, leaning against the fence, began in drawling tones to discuss the value of the ox-chains, how much they cost, how much it would take to buy new ones in these times. One thought “may-be four dollars wud do,” but the other was sure they could not be bought for less than five. There was no promise of a decision, and the black pacer was floundering about in a perfect agony of fear. At last the General drew out a gold eagle and gave it to the woman, asking, —
“Is that enough?”
She took the money with a ludicrous expression of joy and astonishment at the rare sight, but exclaimed, —
“Lor’ bless me! it ‘s too much, Gin’ral! I don’t want more nor my rights. It‘s too much.”
But the General spurred by her, and we followed, leaving the “Union” shouting after us, “It‘s too much! It‘s more nor I expected!” She must have received an impression of the simplicity and promptitude of the quartermaster’s department which the experience of those who have had more to do with it will hardly sustain.
Our road was filled with teams belonging to Sigel’s train, and the dust was very oppressive. At length it became so distressing to our animals that the General permitted us to separate from him and break up into small parties. I made the rest of the journey in company with Colonel Eaton. Our road lay through the most picturesque region we had seen. The Ozark Mountains filled the southern horizon, and ranges of hills swept along our flanks. The broad prairies, covered with tall grass waving and rustling in the light breeze, were succeeded by patches of woods, through which the road passed, winding among picturesque hills covered with golden forests and inlaid with the silver of swift-running crystal streams.
As we came near the town, we saw many evidences of the rapid march Sigel had made. We passed large numbers of stragglers. Some were limping along, weary and foot-sore, others were lying by the road-side, and every farm- house was filled with exhausted men. A mile or two from Springfield we overtook the Cadets. They had marched thirty miles since morning, and had halted beside a brook to wash themselves. As we approached, Colonel Marshall dressed the ranks, the colors were flung out, the music struck up, and the Cadets marched into Springfield in as good order as if they had just left camp.
It was a gala-day in Springfield. The Stars and Stripes were flying from windows and house-tops, and ladies and children, with little flags in their hands, stood on the door-steps to welcome us. This is the prettiest town I have found in Missouri, and we can see the remains of former thrift and comfort worthy a village in the Valley of the Merrimack or Genesee. It has suffered severely from the war. From its position it is the key to Southern Missouri, and all decisive battles for the possession of that region must he fought near Springfield. This is the third Union army which has been here, and the Confederate armies have already occupied the place twice. When the Federals came, the leading Secessionists fled; and when the Rebels came, the most prominent Union men ran away. Thus by the working of events the town has lost its chief citizens, and their residences are either deserted or have been sacked. War’s dreary record is written upon the dismantled houses, the wasted gardens, the empty storehouses, and the deserted taverns. The market, which stood in the centre of the Plaza, was last night fired by a crazy old man, well known here, and previously thought to be harmless: it now stands a black ruin, a type of the desolation which broods over the once happy and prosperous town.
Near the market is a substantial brick edifice, newly built, —the county court-house. It is used as a hospital, and we were told that the dead Guardsmen were lying in the basement. Colonel Eaton and myself dismounted, and entered a long, narrow room in which lay sixteen ghastly figures in open coffins of unpainted pine, ranged along the walls. All were shot to death except one. They seemed to have died easily, and many wore smiles upon their faces. Death had come so suddenly that the color still lingered in their boyish cheeks, giving them the appearance of wax-figures. Near the door was the manly form of the sergeant of the first company, who, while on the march, rode immediately in front of the General. We all knew him well. He was a model soldier: his dress always neat, his horse well groomed, the trappings clean, and his sabre-scabbard bright. He lay as calm and placid as if asleep; and a small blue mark between his nose and left eye told the story of his death. Opposite him was a terrible spectacle, —the bruised, mangled, and distorted shape of a bright-eyed lad belonging to the Kentucky company. I had often remarked his arch, mirthful, Irish-like face; and the evening the Guard left camp he brought me a letter to send to his mother, and talked of the fun he was going to have at Springfield. His body was found seven miles from the battle-field, stripped naked. There was neither bullet nor sabre-wound upon him, but his skull bad been beaten in by a score of blows. The cowards had taken him prisoner, carried him with them in their flight, and then robbed and murdered him.
After leaving the hospital we met Major White, whom we supposed to be a prisoner. He is quite ill from the effects of exposure and anxiety. With his little band of twenty-four men he held the town, protecting and caring for the wounded, until Sigel came in yester- day noon.
Headquarters were established at the residence of Colonel Phelps, the member of Congress from this district, and our tents are now grouped in front and at the sides of the house. The wagons did not come up until midnight, and we were compelled to forage for our supper and lodging. A widow lady who lives near gave some half-dozen officers an excellent meal, and Major White and myself slept on the floor of her sitting-room.
This afternoon the Guardsmen were buried with solemn ceremony. We placed the sixteen in one huge grave. Up on a grassy hill-side, and beneath the shade of tall trees, the brave boys sleep in the soil they have hallowed by their valor.
We are so far in advance that there is some solicitude lest we may be attacked before the other divisions come up. Sigel has no more than five thousand men, and the addition of our little column makes the whole force here less than six thousand. Asboth is two days’ march behind. McKinstry is on the Pomme-de-Terre, seventy miles north, and Pope is about the same distance. Hunter —we do not know precisely where he is, but we suppose him to be south of the Osage, and that he will come by the Buffalo road: he has not reported for some time. Price is at Neosho, fifty-four miles to the southwest. Should he advance rapidly, it will need energetic marching to bring up our reinforcements. Price and McCulloch have joined, and there are rumors that Hardee has reached their camp with ten thousand men. The best information we can get places the enemy’s force at thirty thousand men and thirty-two pieces of artillery. Deserters are numerous. I have interrogated a number of them to-day, and they all say they came away because Price was retreating, and they did not wish to be taken so far from their homes. They also say that the time for which his men are enlisted expires in the middle of November, and if he does not fight, his army will dissolve.
Springfield, October 30th. Asboth brought in his division this morning, and soon after Lane came at the head of his brigade. It was a motley procession, made up of the desperate fighters of the Kansas borders and about two hundred negroes. The contrabands were mounted and armed, and rode through the streets rolling about in their saddles with their shiny faces on a broad grin.
The disposition to be made of fugitive slaves is a subject which every day presents itself. The camps and even head-quarters are filled with runaways. Several negroes came from St. Louis as servants of staff-officers, and these men have become a sort of Vigilance Committee to secure the freedom of the slaves in our neighborhood. The new-comers are employed to do the work about camp, and we find them very useful, —and they serve us with a zeal which is born of their long-baffled love of liberty. The officers of the regular army here have little sympathy with this practical Abolitionism; but it is very different with the volunteers and the rank and file of the army at large. The men do not talk much about it; it is not likely that they think very profoundly upon the social and legal questions involved; they are Abolitionists by the inexorable logic of their situation. However ignorant or thoughtless they may be, they know that they are here at the peril of their lives, facing a stern, vigilant, and relentless foe. To subdue this foe, to cripple and destroy him, is not only their duty, but the purpose to which the instinct of self-preservation concentrates all their energies. Is it to be supposed that men who, like the soldiers of the Guard, last week pursued Rebellion into the very valley and shadow of death, will be solicitous to protect the system which incited their enemies to that fearful struggle, and hurried their comrades to early graves? What laws or proclamations can control men stimulated by such memories? The stern decrees of fact prescribe the conditions upon which this war must be waged. An attempt to give back the negroes who ask our protection would demoralize the army; an order to assist in such rendition would he resented as an insult. Fortunately, no such attempt will be made. So long as General Fremont is in command of this department, no person, white or black, will be taken out of our lines into slavery. The flag we follow will be in truth what the nation has proudly called it, a symbol of freedom to all.
The other day a farmer of the neighborhood came into our quarters, seeking a runaway slave. It happened that the fugitive had been employed as a servant by Colonel Owen Lovejoy. Some one told the man to apply to the Colonel, and he entered the tent of that officer and said, — “Colonel, I am told you have got my boy Ben, who has run away from me.”
“Your boy?” exclaimed the Colonel; “I do not know that I have any boy of yours.”
“Yes, there he is,” insisted the master, pointing to a negro who was approaching. “I want you to deliver him to me: you have no right to him; he is my slave.”
“Your slave?” shouted Colonel Lovejoy, springing to his feet. “That man is my servant. By his own consent he is in my service, and I pay him for his labor, which it is his right to sell and mine to buy. Do you dare come here and claim the person of my servant? He is entitled to my protection, and shall have it. I advise you to leave this camp forthwith.”
The farmer was astounded at the cool way in which the Colonel turned the tables upon him, and set his claim to the negro, by reason of having hired him, above the one which he had as the negro’s master. He left hastily, and we afterwards learned that his brother and two eons were in the Rebel army.
As an instance of the peculiar manner in which some of the fugitive slaves address our sympathies, I may mention the case of Lanzy, one of my servants, He came to my tent the morning after I arrived here, ragged, hungry, foot-sore, and weary. Upon inquiry, I have found his story to be true. He is nearly white, and is the son of his master, whose residence is a few miles west of here, but who is now a captain under Price,— a fact which does not predispose me to the rendition of Lanzy, should he be pursued. He is married, after the fashion in which slaves are usually married, and has two children. But his wife and of course her children belong to a widow lady, whose estate adjoins his master’s farm, and several months ago, by reason of the unsettled condition of the country, Lanzy’s wife and little children were sold and taken down to the Red River. Fearing the approach of the Federal forces, last week the Rebel captain sent instructions to have Lanzy and his other slaves removed into Arkansas. This purpose was discovered, and Lanzy and a very old negro, whom he calls uncle, fled at night. For several days they wandered through the forests, and at last succeeded in reaching Springfield. How can a man establish a stronger claim to the sympathy and protection of a stranger than that which tyranny, misfortune, and misery have given to this poor negro upon me? Bereft of wife and children, whose love was the sunshine of his dark and dreary life, threatened with instant exile from which there was no hope of escape, what was there of which imagination can conceive that could increase the load of evil which pressed upon this unhappy man? Is it strange that he fled from his hard fate, as the hare flies from the hounds?
His case is by no means extraordinary. Go to any one of the dusky figures loitering around yonder fire, and you will hear a moving story of oppression and sorrow. Every slave who runs breathless into our lines and claims the soldier’s protection, not only appeals to him as a soldier struggling with a deadly foe, but addresses every generous instinct of his manhood. Mighty forces born of man’s sympathy for man are at work in this war, and will continue their work, whether we oppose or yield to them.
Yesterday fifty-three Delaware Indians came from Kansas to serve under the General. Years ago he made friends of the Delawares, when travelling through their country upon his first journey of exploration; and hearing that he was on the war-path, the tribe have sent their best young warriors to join him. They are descendants of the famous tribe which once dwelt on the Delaware River, and belonged to the confederacy of the Six Nations,—for more than two centuries the most powerful Indian community in America. Their ancient prowess remains. The Delawares are feared all over the Plains, and their war-parties have often penetrated beyond the Rocky Mountains, carrying terror through all the Indian tribes. These men are fine specimens of their race, — tall, lightly formed, and agile. They ride little shaggy ponies, rough enough to look at, but very hardy and active; and they are armed with the old American rifle, the traditional weapon which Cooper places in the hands of his red heroes. They are led by the chief of their tribe, Fall-Leaf, a dignified personage, past the noon of life, but showing in his erect form and dark eye that the fires of manhood burn with undiminished vigor.
Springfield, November 1st. It is certain that Price left Neosho on Monday and is moving towards us. He probably heard how small the force was with which the General arrived here, and thinks that he can overwhelm us before the other divisions come up. We have had some fear of this ourselves, and all the dispositions have been made for a stubborn defence in case we are attacked. The last two nights we have slept on our arms, with our horses saddled and baggage packed. Now all danger is past: a part of Pope’s division came in this morning, and McKinstry is close at hand. He has marched nearly seventy miles in three days. The evidence that Price is advancing is conclusive. Our scouts have reported that he was moving, and numerous deserters have confirmed these reports; but we have other evidence of the most undoubted reliability. During the last two days, hundreds of men, women, and children have come into our lines, —Union people who fled at the approach of the Rebels. I have talked with a number of these fugitives who reside southwest from here, and they all represent the roads to be filled with vast numbers of men and teams going towards Wilson’s Creek. They give the most exaggerated estimates of the number of the enemy, placing them at from fifty thousand to one hundred and twenty-five thousand men; but the scouts and deserters say that the whole force does not exceed thirty-two thousand, and of these a large number are poorly armed and quite undisciplined. Hunter has not come up, nor has he been heard from directly, but there is a report that yesterday he had not left the Osage: if this be true, he will not be here in time for the battle.
The Rebel generals must now make their choice between permitting themselves to be cut off from their base of operations and sources of supply and reinforcement, and attempting to reach Forsyth, in which case they will have to give us battle. The movement from Neosho leaves no doubt that they intend to fight. It is said by the deserters that Price would be willing to avoid an engagement, but he is forced to offer battle by the necessities of his position, the discontent of his followers, the approaching expiration of their term of enlistment, and the importunities of McCulloch, who declares he will not make another retreat.
We are now perfectly prepared. Hunter’s delay leaves us with only twenty-two thousand men, seventy pieces of artillery, and about four thousand cavalry. In view of our superiority as respects armament, discipline, and ordnance, we are more than a match for our opponent. We sleep to-night in constant expectation of an attack: two guns will be fired as a signal that the enemy are at hand.
Springfield, November 2d. The catastrophe has come which we have long dreaded, but for which we were in no degree prepared. This morning, at about ten o’clock, while I was standing in front of my tent, chatting with some friends, an officer in the uniform of a captain of the general staff rode up, and asked the orderly to show him to the General. He went into the house, and in a few moments came out and rode off. I soon learned that he had brought an order from General Scott informing General Fremont that he was temporarily relieved of his command, and directing him to transfer it to Major-General Hunter and report himself to the head-quarters of the army by letter. The order was originally dated October 7th, but the date had been altered to October 24th, on which day it left St. Louis, —the day the Guards started upon their expedition to Springfield.
This order, which, on the very eve of consummation, has defeated the carefully matured plans upon which the General’s fortunes and in so large a measure the fortunes of the country depended, —which has destroyed the results of three months of patient labor, transferring to another the splendid army he has called together, organized, and equipped, and giving to another the laurel wreath of victory which now hangs ready to fall at the touch, —this order, which has disappointed so many long-cherished hopes, was received by our magnanimous General without a word of complaint. In his noble mind there was no doubt or hesitation. He obeyed it promptly and implicitly. He at once directed Colonel Eaton to issue the proper order transferring the command to General Hunter, and having prepared a brief address to the soldiers, full of pathos and patriotic devotion, he rode out accompanied by the Delawares to examine the positions south of the village.
Hunter has not yet been heard from: three couriers have been sent after him. General Pope is now in command here. It is understood, that, until the Commanding General arrives, the army will stand upon the defensive, and that no engagement will take place, unless it is attacked. General Fremont and his staff will leave to-morrow for St. Louis.
This evening I rode through Sigel’s and McKinstry’s camps. The general order and the farewell address had been read to the regiments, and the camp-fires were surrounded by groups of excited soldiers, and cheers for Fremont were heard on every side.
November 3d, 8 P. M. This morning it became apparent that the departure of the General before the arrival of Hunter would endanger the discipline of the army. Great numbers of officers have offered their resignations, and it has required the constant and earnest efforts of General Fremont to induce them to retain their positions. The slightest encouragement upon his part of the discontent which prevails will disorganize the divisions of Sigel and Asboth.
The attitude of the enemy is threatening, and it does not seem possible to avoid a battle more than a few hours. Great numbers of people, flying before Price, have come in to-day. A reconnaissance in the direction of Springfield has been made, and the following report rendered by General Asboth.
HEADQUARTERS FOURTH DIVISION WESTERN DEPARTMENT.
Springfield, November 3d, 1861.
To MAJOR-GENERAL J. C. FREMONT,
Commanding Western Department.
GENERAL : —The captain commanding the company of Major Wright’s battalion, which was sent out on a scouting party to Wilson’s Creek, has just sent in his report by a runner. He says, last night the enemy’s advanced guard, some two thousand strong, camped at Wilson’s Creek. Price’s forces are at Terrill’s Creek on the Marionsville road, nine miles behind Wilson’s Creek, and McCulloch’s forces are at Dug Springs.
Both these forces were expected to concentrate at Wilson’s Creek to-night, and offer battle there.
The scout depicts every road and path covered with moving troops, estimating them at forty thousand men.
Your obedient serv’t,
Act.. Maj.-Gen’l Com’d’g 4th Div.
According to this report, the whole of Price’s army is within twenty miles of us, and probably nearer. Hunter has not been heard from, and it is impossible to discover his whereabouts. This afternoon General McKinstry designed to make a reconnaissance in force with his whole division towards Wilson’s Creek but yielding to the solicitations of the chief officers, and in view of the imminence of battle, to-day General Fremont resumed the command, and ordered McKinstry not to make his reconnaissance,—not wishing to bring on a general engagement during the absence of Hunter.
All day long officers have visited General Fremont and urged him to give battle, representing, that, if this opportunity were permitted to pass, Price, after ascertaining our force, would retire, and it would be impossible to catch him again. This evening one hundred and ten officers called upon him in a body. They ranged themselves in semicircular array in front of the house, and one of their number presented an address to the General full of sympathy and respect, and earnestly requesting him to lead them against the enemy. At the close of the interview, the General said, that, under all the circumstances, he felt it to be his duty not to decline the battle which our foe offers us,—and that, if General Hunter did not arrive before midnight, he would lead the army forward to-morrow morning at daybreak; and that they might so inform their several commands. This announcement was received with loud cheers. The staff-officers were at once despatched with directions to the division and brigade commanders to repair forth-with to head-quarters and receive their orders. The Generals assembled at eight o’clock, and the following order of battle was then published.
HEADQUARTERS WESTERN DEPARTMENT.
Springfield, November 3, 1861.
The different divisions of the army shall be put in the following order of battle.
Act’g Maj.-Gen. Asboth, right wing.
“ “ McKinstry, centre.
“ “ Sigel, left.
“ “ Pope, reserve.
General McKinstry’s column to leave camp at six o’clock, and proceed by the Fayetteville road to the upper end of the upper cornfield on the left, where General Lyon made his first attack.
General Sigel to start at six o’clock by Joakum’s Mill, and follow his old trail, except that he is to turn to the right some two miles sooner, and proceed to the old stable on the lower end of the lower cornfield.
General Asboth to start at six and one-half o’clock, by the Mount Vernon road, then by a prairie road to the right of the ravine opposite the lower field.
General Pope to start at seven o’clock by the Fayetteville road, following General McKinstry’s column.
General Lane to join General Sigel’s division. General Wyman to join General Asboth’s division.
One regiment and two pieces of artillery of General Pope’s division to remain as a reserve in Springfield.
The different divisions to come into their positions at the same time, about eleven o’clock, at which hour a simultaneous attack will be made.
The baggage-trains to be packed and held in readiness at Springfield. Each regiment to carry three two-horse wagons to transport the wounded.
J. C. FREMONT,
The General and staff with the Body-Guard, Benton Cadets, Sharp-shooters, and Delawares, will accompany McKinstry’s column.
The news has spread like wildfire. As I galloped up the road this evening, returning from McKinstry’s quarters, every camp was astir. The enthusiasm was unbounded. On every side the eager soldiers are preparing for the conflict. They are packing wagons, sharpening sabres, grooming horses, and cleaning muskets. The spirit of our men promises a brilliant victory.
Midnight. At eleven o’clock General Hunter entered the Council of Generals at headquarters. General Fremont explained to him the situation of affairs, the attitude of the enemy, and the dispositions which had been made for the following day, and then gracefully resigned the command into his hands. And thus our hopes are finally defeated, and in the morning we turn our faces to the north. General Hunter will not advance tomorrow, and the opportunity of catching Price will probably be lost, for it is not likely the Rebel General will remain at Wilson’s Creek after he has learned that the whole Federal army is concentrated.
The news of the change has not yet reached the camps. As I sit here, wearied with the excitement and labors of the day, the midnight stillness is broken by the din of preparation, the shouting of teamsters, the clang of the cavalry anvils, and the distant cheers of the soldiers, still excited with the hope of tomorrow’s victory.
The Body-Guard and Sharp-shooters return with us; and all the officers of General Fremont’s staff have received orders to accompany him.
In camp, twenty-five miles north of Springfield, November 4th. At nine o’clock this morning we were in the saddle, and our little column was in marching order. The Delawares led, then came our band, the General and his staff followed, the Body-Guard came next, and the Sharp-shooters in wagons brought up the rear. In this order we proceeded through the village. The Benton Cadets were drawn up in line in front of their camp, and saluted us as we passed, but none of the other regiments were paraded. The band had been directed to play lively airs, and we marched out to merry music. The troops did not seem to know that the General was to leave; but when they heard the band, they ran out of their camps and flocked into the streets: there was no order in their coming; they came without arms, many of them without their coats and bareheaded, and filled the road. The crowd was so dense that with difficulty the General rode through the throng. The farewell was most touching. There was little cheering, but an expression of sorrow on every face. Some pressed forward to take his hand; others cried, “God bless you, General!” “Your enemies are not in the camp!” “Come back and lead us to battle; we will fight for you!” The General rode on perfectly calm, a pleasant smile on his face, telling the men he was doing his duty, and they must do theirs.
We travelled with great rapidity and circumspection; for there was some reason to suppose that parties of the enemy had been thrown to the north of Springfield, in which case we might have been interfered with.
Sedalia, November 7th. We are waiting for the train which is to take us to St. Louis. Our journey here has been made very quickly. Monday we marched twenty-five miles. Tuesday we started at dawn, and made thirty miles, encamping twenty-five miles south of the Osage. Wednesday we were in the saddle at six o’clock, crossed the Osage in the afternoon, and halted ten miles north of that river, the day’s journey being thirty-five miles. We pitched our tents upon a high, flat prairie, covered with long dry grass.
In the evening the Delawares signified, that, if the General would consent to it, they would perform a war-dance. Permission was easily obtained, and, after the Indian braves had finished their toilet, they approached in formal procession, arrayed in all the glory and terror of war-paint. A huge fire had been built. The inhabitants of our little camp quickly gathered, officers, soldiers of the Guard, and Sharp-shooters, negroes and teamsters. The Indians ranged themselves on one side of the fire, and the rest of us completed the circle. The dancing was done by some half-dozen young Indians, to the monotonous beating of two small drums and a guttural accompaniment which the dancers sang, the other Indians joining in the chorus. The performance was divided into parts, and the whole was intended to express the passions which war excites in the Indian nature, —the joy which they feel at the prospect of a fight, —their contempt for their enemies, —their frenzy at sight of the foe, —the conflict, —the operations of tomahawking and scalping their opponents, —and, finally, the triumph of victory. The performances occupied over two hours. Fall-Leaf presided with an air of becoming gravity, smoking an enormous stone pipe with a long reed stem.
After rendering thanks in proper form, Fall-Leaf was told, that, by way of return for their civility, and in special honor of the Delawares, the negroes would dance one of their national dances. Two agile darkies came forward, and went through with a regular break-down, to the evident entertainment of the red men. Afterwards an Irishman leaped into the ring, and began an Irish hornpipe. He was the best dancer of all, and his complicated steps and astonishing tours-de-force completely upset the gravity of the Indians, and they burst into loud laughter. It was midnight before the camp was composed to its last night’s sleep.
This morning we started an hour before day, and marched to this place, twenty miles, by noon.
Thus ended the expedition of General Fremont to Springfield.
In bringing these papers to a close, the writer cannot refrain from expressing his regret that circumstances have prevented him from making that exposition of affairs in the Western Department which the country has long expected. While he was in the field, General Fremont permitted the attacks of his enemies to pass unheeded, because he held them unworthy to be intruded upon more important occupations, and he would not be diverted from the great objects he was pursuing; since his recall, considerations affecting the public service, and the desire not at this time to embarrass the Government with personal matters, have sealed his lips. I will not now disregard his wishes by entering into any detailed discussion of the charges which have been made against him, —but I cannot lay down my pen without bearing voluntary testimony to the fidelity, energy, and skill which he brought to his high office. It will be hard for any one who was not a constant witness of his career to appreciate the labor which he assumed and successfully performed. From the first to the last hour of the day, there was no idle moment. No time was given to pleasure, —none even to needed relaxation. Often, long after the strength of his body was spent, the force of his will bound him to exhausting toil. No religious zealot ever gave himself to his devotions with more absorbing abandonment than General Fremont to his hard, and, as it has proved, most thankless task. Time will verify the statement, that, whether as respects thoroughness or economy, his administration of affairs at the West will compare favorably with the transactions of any other department of the Government, military or civil, during the last nine months. Let it be contrasted with the most conspicuous instance of the management of military affairs at the East.
The period between the President’s Proclamation and the Battle of Manassas was about equal in duration to the career of Fremont in the West. The Federal Government had at command all the resources, in men, material, and money, of powerful, wealthy, and populous communities. Nothing was asked which was not promptly and lavishly given. After three months of earnest effort, assisted by the best military and civil talent of the country, by the whole army organization, by scientific soldiers and an accomplished and experienced staff, a column of thirty thousand men, with thirty-four pieces of artillery and but four hundred cavalry, was moved a distance of twenty-two miles. Though it had been in camp several weeks, up to a few days before its departure it was without brigade or division organization, and ignorant of any evolutions except those of the battalion. It was sent forward without equipage, without a sufficient commissariat or an adequate medical establishment. This armed mob was led against an intrenched foe, and driven back in wild and disgraceful defeat, —a defeat which has prolonged the war for a year, called for a vast expenditure of men and treasure, and now to our present burdens seems likely to add those of a foreign war. The authors of this great disaster remain unpunished, and, except in the opinions of the public, unblamed; while nearly all the officers who led the ill-planned, ill-timed, and badly executed enterprise have received distinguished promotions, such as the soldier never expects to obtain, except as the reward of heroic and successful effort.
When General Fremont reached St. Louis, the Federal militia were returning to their homes, and a confident foe pressed upon every salient point of an extended and difficult defensive position. Drawing his troops from a few sparsely settled and impoverished States, denied expected and needed assistance in money and material from the General Government, he overcame every obstacle, and at the end of eight weeks led forth an army of thirty thousand men, with five thousand cavalry and eighty-six pieces of artillery. Officers of high rank declared that this force could not leave its encampments by reason of the lack of supplies and transportation; but he conveyed them one hundred and ninety miles by rail, marched them one hundred and thirty-five miles, crossing a broad and rapid river in five days, and in three months from his assumption of the command, and in one month after leaving St. Louis, placed them in presence of the enemy, —not an incoherent mass, but a well-ordered and compact army, upon whose valor, steadfastness, and discipline the fate of the nation might safely have been pledged.
If General Fremont was not tried by the crowning test of the soldier—the battle-field —it was not through fault of his. On the very eve of battle he was removed. His army was arrested in its triumphal progress, and compelled to a shameful retreat, abandoning the beautiful region it had wrested from the foe, and deserting the loyal people who trusted to its protection, and who, exiles from their homes, followed its retreating files,—a mournful procession of broken-hearted men, weeping women, and suffering children. With an unscrupulousness which passes belief, the authors of this terrible disaster have denied the presence of the enemy at Springfield. The miserable wretches, once prosperous farmers upon the slopes of the Ozark Hills, who now wander mendicants through the streets of St. Louis, or crouch around the camp-fires of Rolla and Sedalia, can tell whether Price was near Springfield or not.
Forty-eight hours more must have given to General Fremont an engagement. What the result would have been no one who was there doubted. A victory such as the country has long desired and sorely needs, —a decisive, complete, and overwhelming victory, —was as certain as it is possible for the skill and valor of man to make certain any future event. Now, twenty thousand men are required to hold our long line of defence in Missouri; then, five thousand at Springfield would have secured the State of Missouri, and a column pushed into Arkansas would have turned the enemy’s position upon the Mississippi. In the same time and with the same labor that the march to the rear was made, two States might have been won, and the fate of the Rebellion in the Southwest decided.
While I am writing these concluding pages, the telegraph brings information that another expedition has started for Springfield. Strong columns are marching from Rolla, Sedalia, and Versailles, to do the work which General Fremont stood ready to do last November. After three months of experience and reflection, the enterprise which was denounced as aimless, extravagant, and ill-judged, which was derided as a wild hunt after an unreal foe, an exploration into desert regions, is now repeated in face of the obstacles of difficult roads and an inclement season, and when many of the objects of the expedition no longer exist, —for, unhappily, the loyal inhabitants of those fertile uplands, the fruitful farms and pleasant homes, are no longer there to receive the protection of our armies. General Fremont’s military conduct could not have received more signal approval. The malignant criticisms of his enemies could in no other manner have been so completely refuted. Unmoved by the storm of calumny and detraction which raged around him, he has calmly and silently awaited the unerring judgment, the triumphant verdict, which he knew time and the ebb of the bad passions his success excited would surely bring.
©2004 G. E. Rule
No reproduction or distribution without consent of author.
Feel free to link to this or any other page on the site.
Please don't hyperlink to pictures, query for copying permission.
Return to Civil War St. Louis
Total site hits
since January 25, 2001