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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Battlefield Dispatches 229: 'Beset by Bushwhackers'

Friday, August 27, 2010

In the summer of 1863, the Quartermaster and the Assistant Adjutant General at Fort Scott were faced with a major logistical problem. The problem was, how to SAFELY transport supplies and the military mail across 180 miles of the unprotected Military Road from Fort Scott to Fort Blunt (formerly Fort Gibson) in the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma). At this time, there were no permanent "Union" Posts or Camps between these forts and the only protection a supply train had was the accompanying army escort which most of the time was to small to protect the entire supply train. According to Major M. Insley, the Post Quartermaster at Fort Scott, the entire 180 miles was "Beset by the Enemy"!

"Beset" is a very interesting word and according to Mr. Webster's dictionary (the author would be lost without one!) the appropriate definition of "beset" in the context of this column is "to attack from all sides or harass." This is an excellent brief description of the tactics and the type of warfare successfully practiced by Confederate Guerrillas (Bushwhackers, if one is of the northern persuasion) in eastern Kansas and the entire state of Missouri during the Civil War.

Therefore, the Union command at Fort Scott attempted to solve this problem by establishing two permanent "outposts" or "stations" at strategic locations along the unprotected 180 mile stretch of the Military Road between Forts Scott and Blunt.

The following correspondence describes why and where these posts were and is located on "Pages 393, 478 & 479 in Series I, Vol. 22, Part II Correspondence in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion."

"Headquarters District of the Frontier, Fort Scott, Kansas, July 25, 1863.

Respectfully forwarded to Lieutenant Colonel Marsh, Assistant Adjutant General, for the information of the Commanding General. Particular attention called to the facts that here [Fort Scott] is a base, itself 125 miles from a main river depot [Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River], 180 miles away from the army in the field [at Fort Blunt], total distance for wagon supplies 305 miles; almost the whole of the latter (180 miles) through a country BESET BY THE ENEMY and without a single intermediate station [outpost] of friendly troops, but small escorts for trains and in case of disaster, hardly a company for re-enforcements from this post. Force at the extreme point being subsisted: Present troops [at Fort Scott], about 4,000; an equal number probably refugees, mostly Indians, old men, women and children.

H.Z.CURTIS

Major and Assistant Adjutant General"

"Headquarters District of the Frontier,

Fort Scott, Kansas, August 26, 1863.

Lieut. Colonel C. W. Marsh,

Asst. Adjt. Gen., Dept. of the Missouri, St. Louis, Mo.:

Colonel: As will be seen by General Orders No. 11, from these headquarters, I have taken the liberty to establish an outpost at BAXTER SPRINGS, 58 miles south of this post and to organize an EXPRESS [mail couriers] to Fort Gibson (generally called here Fort Blunt), with a change of riders and horses or rather mules at the outpost. The distance from Baxter springs to Fort Blunt is 105 miles (whole distance from here 163 miles) [not the 180 miles originally estimated] and another post with a small force, I think, maybe established below Cabin Creek, say 50 miles from Baxter Springs. A very little system will reduce the time carrying dispatches [mail] through from this post to Fort Blunt (quickest time yet made, 4 days) to 2 l/2 days or 36 hours.

Lieut. J. B. Pond, company C, 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, will have a command at Baxter Springs of about 75 men and officers of his regiment and one company of the 2nd Kansas (colored) Infantry, under a lieutenant.

This Lieut. Pond has greatly distinguished himself during the past six months in this country in fighting guerrillas, fighting them at all times in their own style, principally at night by watching the crossings of streams, suspected houses, etc. He is a brave and gallant officer and if new corps are to be organized at Washington with specified object in view of fighting guerrillas in their own way, I would beg to recommend Lieutenant Pond for advancement therein.

I do not, of course pretend to know the plans of the Government concerning future army movements in this Western country, but it has occurred to me that if an expedition against Texas should move up the Red River, as was suggested in a recent telegram from the commanding general, the main portion of the forces at Fort Blunt may be sent through Indian Territory or Arkansas to join it and then, communication being kept up on this line, the express may constitute by far the speediest route for dispatches that can be had with that force. As by that time the guerrillas in Missouri will be more subdued [Now this was really wishful thinking!] than at present, the express may, for a still more immediate connection with a telegraph line, start from Springfield instead of Fort Scott. Springfield to Baxter Springs cannot be more than 10 or 15 miles farther than from here to the same point. I have the honor to forward, for the information of the Commanding General, a particular map of the route hence to Fort Blunt, MEASURED BY AN ODOMETER and the notes made by Captain Boyd, second Colorado volunteers and Lieutenant Gould, Adjutant Fifth Indian Regiment

I have the honor to be Colonel, respectfully, your obedient servant,

H.Z.CURTIS,

Major & Assistant Adjutant General."

Headquarters District of the Frontier

Assistant Adjutant General's Office

Fort Scott, Kansas, August 22, 1863.

General Orders No. 11;

To facilitate communication with the troops in the field, Captain M. H. Insley, Depot Quartermaster, is directed to establish a MILITARY EXPRESS between this Post and Fort Blunt, Cherokee Nation, to make semi-weekly trips, each trip to b e made in as short a space of time as possible.

The Post Quartermaster at Fort Blunt and the commanding officer at the outpost at Baxter Springs will have charge of the stock and control of the expressmen while at their stations, under such instructions as maybe furnished them by Captain Insley and other officers and men are hereby prohibited from any interference whatever with the men or animals employed on this special and important duty.

With this express in operation for public business, officers in the field will have no further excuse for delays in the rendition of the various reports and returns required by the different departments of the service. Private letters will not be carried by this express, except when of great importance and when the public matter [mail] is so light as in so doing to work to no detriment to the public service.

By command of Major General Blunt:

H.Z.CURTIS

Assistant Adjutant General."

Note: Captain H. ZARAH CURTIS, one of the sons of Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis, was killed in the Battle of Baxter Springs on October 6, 1863 and Fort Zarah (1864-1869) on the Santa Fe Trail was named after him. Lieutenant James B. Pond, 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, successfully commanded the defense of the outpost in the first Battle of at Baxter Springs on the morning October 6, 1863 and for his bravery in action was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Now then, did the establishment of the Union "outposts" or stations at Baxter Springs, Kansas and below Cabin Creek, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) help in the protection of the "Union" supply trains that traveled on the Old Military Road? Yes, they did; but being BESET BY THE ENEMY or being harassed and attacked by the Confederate guerrillas were never completely eliminated and of course the War Went On!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches