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Battlefield Dispatches No. 251: Wagon Boss No. 4 Supplies for the '62' Campaign in the Indian Territory

Friday, February 4, 2011

In the early spring of 1862, Wagon Boss R.M. Peck was in charge of a wagon train that was transporting supplies from Fort Scott to Humboldt, Kan., that were to be used in the "Union" Army's summer campaign in the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma). This is the conclusion of Peck's column that was published in the July 21, 1904 edition of the National Tribune newspaper that was published in Washington, D.C.

"Teamsters Supper"

While the mules are eating, the teamsters (drivers), in messes (groups) of five or six, are carrying up water, making fires, cooking and eating. The 'kit" of each mess consists of a sheet-iron camp kettle, for boiling purposes; a cast-iron oven or skillet and lid for baking; a frying pan; coffee pot; a mess pan to mix dough in; a tin plate and cup to each man. Some members of the mess will generally extemporize a mess chest, to carry their grub and plates and cups in, out of an empty packing box.

The Boss's mess kit is the same as the teamster's and rations the same as the soldier's rations, but his mess chest is a large commodious affair, so constructed as to be very handy to contain all sorts of extra rations and etceteras and at mealtime is transformed into a large camp table. The average Wagon Master is a good "forager" (one who can find food and other necessary items and the boss's mess is usually better supplied with what the Commissary Department and country affords than the commanding officer's table.

The muleskinner's fuel is laid in as he travels along the road by stealing (it is called "Jayhawking" in Kansas) a fence rail here and there. To clear my conscience, I always took the trouble to caution my teamsters that if they found it necessary to "confiscate" (another term for stealing) a rail occasionally to take the top rail and each one would obediently take the rail on top, which is always the top rail, till the bottom is reached (and of course the entire fence would have disappeared!)

On coming into camp frequently the ends of fence rails sticking out from under the wagon sheets (covers) would look like we were moving fences instead of army supplies.

Wagon-masters and teamsters generally carry a (Colt) navy revolver apiece on their own account, but are not furnished arms (weapons) by the government as they are supposed to be non- combatants and in dangerous times are intended to be protected by military escorts. Not that this protection is intended for the mule whackers so much as for the U.S. property in their care. But as the protection of the soldiers is not always a safe dependence, the skinner feels safe to be prepared to "look a leetle out" for himself.

Each "skinner" furnishes his own blankets, generally buying them for a song, from some soldier who is hard up for whiskey money and in like manner most of a teamster's clothing is procured.

On the march, when traveling with a military command, wagon-masters have to move and camp their trains to suit the convenience of the commanding officer, but where the military is merely acting as an escort, the wagon master is allowed to use his own discretion as to drivers, camps, etc., the escort conforming to his movements.

"Buying Feed"

While traveling in Kansas we were usually furnished money, by our Quartermaster to purchase feed along the route for the mules; this being preferable to carrying our feed. During the fall of 1862 corn, oats and hay were abundant and cheap in Kansas. Isometimes bought grain as low as 15 cents a bushel and 25 cents was the highest price I paid for grain that season. I could get good prairie hay delivered at my camp for $2 a ton. When I had not the money to pay for the feed I was authorized to give the seller a receipt for the amount purchased, giving the price of same and the bill would be paid at the quartermaster's office when presented.

After "62" the prices of all kinds of feed and in fact horses, mules and all materials used in carrying on the war advanced or went up!

"Indian Soldiers"

On arriving at "Humboldt" I found that my train had been transferred by mail to the Quartermaster of the Indian Brigade, my teamsters being transferred also, but as said quartermaster already had a friend waiting to take my place, I was ordered to Fort Scott, about 40 miles east of Humboldt to look for another job. After transferring my freight to the consignee. Quartermaster of the Indian Brigade, taking his receipt for same, I was allowed to retain a riding mule and received transportation for my baggage in an empty train that was to return to Fort Scott in a few days.

(to be continued)


"of course the war went on!"

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches