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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 255: 'Destination Fort Scott'

Friday, March 4, 2011

During the Civil War, Supply Trains often encountered abandoned or occupied farms as they passed through a given area and it often did not matter what the loyalty of the farmers and their families was. Anything of use was normally taken by the passing "Union" or Confederate soldiers. Last week's column concluded with W.M. Peck's supply train stopping at an abandoned farm in the northeast comer of the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma), only to discover that the house was occupied by five or six Confederate Bushwhackers whose "breakfast" was interrupted by the approaching "Yankees." This account of Peck's journey and arrival in Fort Scott was published in the July 28, 1904 edition of the Washington, D.C newspaper, the National Tribune.

They, the Bushwhackers, had all but one, fortunately for them, saddled up before we appeared and had their horses tied to the fence, ready for traveling. The one who had failed to saddle his horse was forced to abandon his saddle and horse blanket and ride away bareback. As there was a lot of poultry and other stock left by the owners when they had abandoned the house and a nice lot of vegetables growing in the garden, the rebels had found it a very comfortable stopping place and had been preparing to treat themselves to a breakfast of milk, eggs, potatoes, onions and a nice pan full of fried chicken, which we found baking in the stove. We had already eaten our breakfast, but still found room to stow away most of that which we had frightened the rebels away from.

By this time Capt. Schuarte, with the escort and train, had arrived in front of the house and halted and the soldiers and "Mule Skinners" (teamsters) turned loose on the poultry around the place and soon had caught or killed all the chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys to be found. As we could not well take the cows along, we turned them and their calves out on the range. We confiscated everything in the way of supplies to be found about the place, even to the vegetables in the garden, destroying what we could not take along, to prevent such subsistence from being made use of by the rebels and incidentally "to fill a long felt want," as we had been living on Uncle Sam's hardtack, pork and beans principally of late and the poultry and vegetables were a welcome addition to our Commissary Department.

If the settlements (farms) along the way had not been so few and scattering, we could have kept ourselves pretty well supplied with such "extras" by the means of this "confiscation" scheme and at the same time put such supplies out of the way of the roving guerrillas (Bushwhackers) for most of the families who had been living along the route had hurriedly evacuated their homes, leaving all kinds of stock, poultry and other property that they could not take, to be carried off by whom so ever desired it. (Note: By the end of 1863, there was very little left on the farms for either Union or Confederate soldiers to "confiscate" because most of the rural Indian Territory was barren and destitute from the ravages of war!)

As we were passing down the road to Flat Rock, I had noticed that this Stand Watie house was occupied and a guard had been placed over it by the commanding officer, to prevent men from robbing or molesting the family. But as the folks had since abandoned the place and were presumed to have gone to the rebels, we felt justified in helping ourselves to what they had left, especially as the Bushwhackers seemed to be now making it a rendezvous.

On arriving at Fort Scott, George Anderson, the arrested wagon master, whose train I was temporarily running, was released from arrest and restored to duty. After turning over the outfit to him and disclosing of my contraband stock, all except one good riding mule, I concluded to go on to Leavenworth to visit my family.

As before stated, mails were very irregular and uncertain along the border during the war and important government papers were usually sent from one military post or camp to another by means of mounted messengers or "express riders" as they were called.

On drawing my pay at the Quartermaster's office and mentioning my intention to go to Leavenworth, Captain Instey, the Quartermaster at Fort Scott, offered me the job of carrying some dispatches to that Post, which I accepted. Express riders were allowed from $3 to $5 a day and rations and were generally expected to make as quick as time as possible; but in this instance there was no hurrying required and as I was riding my own mule, I took it leisurely. I was accompanied by one of my late teamsters, Dan Eckenberger, who was also going home, riding a "jay-hawked" (stolen) mule.

So ended W.M. Peck's first extended job as a wagon boss and mule mechanic and he now became an "express rider" for which he was very well compensated because of the commensurate danger and short lifespan (if the rider was unlucky enough to be killed or captured by the Bushwhackers), and of course, the War Went On!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches