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Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2014

Battlefield Dispatches 249: 'Powder, Lead and Molds'

Friday, January 21, 2011

During the Civil War, most of the standard musket ammunition was the .58 Caliber Minnie Ball that was issued to the "infantry." In fact, the "Minnie Ball" was not a round ball, but rather it was a conical shaped bullet or projectile. There were, however, soldiers of the Blue and Gray who were issued standardized round "ball" ammunition in .58 or .69 calibers. "Standardization" was the key that enabled the ordnance departments to purchase and issue large amounts of identical ammunition.

However, in Kansas the "Union" soldiers of the (3) Regiments of Indian Home Guards created a unique problem for their ordnance officers. When the Indians of these regiments initially joined the Union Army, they brought their own weapons that included their tomahawks, knives and rifles. Their rifles were normally hunting rifles of different or non-standardized calibers such as .32, .36, .44 and etc. This was an ordnance officer's worst nightmare and it was very quickly solved the "old fashioned way." The Indians were provided with bars of lead, bullet molds and gunpowder with which they could make their own ammunition.

They melted the lead from the heat of a campfire, poured the liquid lead into the bullet mould that could produce multiple round balls, let it cool and then trimmed any excess lead with their knives. Then they had an ample supply of round ammunition for their rifles.

The key, of course, was that they had to have all three of the basic necessities of powder, lead and molds. Obviously, if one or more of these necessities was missing no ammunition could be made. The following report by an Officer of the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment describes this very situation when he conducted a "Council", or meeting with some Osage Indian chiefs and head men near lola, Kan., on Oct. 24, 1862. The report is located in the Old Military Branch of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in Record Group 94 that contains the Bound Regimental Records of the 2nd Ohio Vol. Cavalry. The report indicates that the absence of powder and lead were the least of the problems that required a meeting with the Osage.

"To; Major B. S. Henning

Comdg. Post,

Fort Scott.

Head Quarters, Co. B, 2nd Regt. O.V.C.

Camp near Fort Scott, Oct. 24th/62

Sir,

I have the honor to report, the arrival of my command at regimental Head Quarters near Fort Scott and reported on the 23rd in obedience to your orders I marched the detachment of the 2nd Reg. 0. V. C. consisting of three commissioned officers, 23 mounted men and 71 dismounted men with transportation under my command from camp to camp on Turkey Creek on the 3rd of October direction west 14 miles. I marched from camp to camp near the town of lola in Allen County, Kan., direction west 25 miles (on the 4th). In obedience to your orders I notified the chiefs and leading men of the Osage Tribe of Indians encamped at and within a distance of 20 miles that I should hold a council with them on the 9th and at that time should enquire into the complaints that had been made to you by the settlers of their stealing horses and cattle and committing other depredations. I then notified the white settlers that they must appear and state their complaints. On the day for the council the different chiefs and head men appeared. I fully stated to them in obedience to your orders and instructions their past conduct and the consequences of the same. From them in return and from other facts I am led to believe that they had in most part committed depredations as of stealing cattle and some produce of the farmers. They appeared willing to pay for the same when they could obtain money they claimed was due them from the government. They stated that all of their warriors enlisted to fight in the service of the United States (and) they had been away all summer and that now they had been sent home without their pay (and) that they had disposed of everything, their robes and horses for provisions to live on and that they were forced to steal cattle to live on until they could get their pay to buy powder, lead and provisions to go on their fall hunt. I could not find any intention to molest or to quarrel with the settlers. They complained to me that their agent, Mr. Elder, had not attended to their affairs as they thought he should and the chiefs were afraid that they could not keep their men from stealing unless they were paid and could make their regular fall hunt.

I should respectfully advise that they should at once be provided with powder, lead and provisions enough to take them to their hunting grounds and to prosecute their hunt. And on their return paid after deducting a fair amount for their depredations on the settlers in the vicinity. There have been settlements made on their lands and in connection with other causes, serious difficulties might be apprehended unless they can make their fall hunt to provide for the coming winter.

I reported to you the condition in which I found the following ordnance and Q. M. Stores: 134 Sibley Tent stoves in good order, 270 serviceable and 96 unserviceable rifles and 366 bullet molds.

In connection with the excuses made to me by the chiefs of the Indians, my finding this government property entirely open leads me to place confidence in their statement as these guns are very much desired by them and the whole of them could have been stolen without much risk on their part. I found no one in charge and in obedience to your orders have delivered them to the Dept. Q. M. (at) Fort Scott and have his receipt. I respectfully submit this report.

Benj. Stanhope

Capt, Comdg, Co. B. 2nd Regt. O.V.C."

Now then, did the Osage ever receive the necessary powder and lead, go on their fall hunt, stop stealing the settlers' cattle and were they paid? In the short term, Yes, they probably did and were until their supplies and money were exhausted. Then the settlers' cattle and produce probably started to disappear again and of course the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches