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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 263: 'King Cotton'

Friday, April 29, 2011

Before the Civil War, cotton was the king of all the agricultural products that were produced south of the Mason-Dixon Line. In addition to cotton, the south produced tobacco, indigo and rice, but Cotton was the King. The southern gross national product of all of these agricultural crops was many millions of dollars and then came the Civil War.

During the war, cotton was still produced in large quantities and was still a very valuable product until the wrath of war reached the Dixie cotton fields. Then cotton became a very valuable prize of war for the Union Army.

In fact, there were civilian buying agents looking for baled cotton who would locate the said cotton and were supposed to turn it all over to the Union Army as contraband property.

West of the Mississippi River cotton was a very lucrative crop in Arkansas, Texas and the Indian Nation (present-day Oklahoma) and, of course, the Union Army was always looking for it.

There were also civilian merchants who would search for and illegally purchase any baled cotton that could be found in hopes of selling it for a clandestine profit. One of the following letters mentions a Fort Scott merchant who may have been in this business.

The three letters are located in the "Letter Book" of Co. F, 15th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry in Record Group 94 in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.:

"Headquarters, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Dec. 10, 1863.


Pursuant to instructions from District Headquarters you will seize all the cotton which you may find in the city of Leavenworth, Kan., which may have come from the state of Arkansas or the Cherokee Nation (present Oklahoma.)

The cotton is probably owned by McDonald of Fort Scott (Alexander McDonald) and is intended for shipment to St. Louis or some point east.

You will not allow the cotton to leave the City under any circumstances.

Your better plan is to send some discreet officer or trusty man and find where the cotton is stored and immediately place a guard over it.

It would be well to place some trusty men on the levee to watch for any attempt to ship it. Keep the matter quiet.

If necessary, use every man under you to ascertain the where abouts of the cotton immediately. Notify me immediately of any seizure you may make and let me know by 3 o'clock today what success you have met with.

It is very probable that the cotton is in some storage house and some discreet men should be used to ascertain that fact.

Very Respectfully,

M.Quigg, Capt. 10th Kan., Vol., Comdg. Post."

"Headquarters Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Dec. 11,1863.


Yours just received.

In reply I would say to place a guard over the cotton and prevent its being removed. If you cannot guard it conveniently where it is, you may remove it to some convenient and safe place.

Ascertain if possible to whom the cotton belongs and who brought it there.

Also, continue to search for more.

Thank you for your promptness in this matter.

I remain very respectfully yours,

M. Quigg,

Captain, 10th Kan. Vol., Comdg. Post"

Now then, all of these letters were addressed to Capt. 0. A. Curtis who was a very trusted officer of Captain Quigg. Was this particular shipment of cotton owned by Alexander McDonald of Fort Scott and did he traffic in illegal cotton? History does not tell us, so we will probably never know and, of course, the war went on.

"Headquarters, Fort Leavenworth, Dec. 11,1863.

Yours just received. If the cotton you speak of is on the road between Fort Scott and Leavenworth city is this side of the river (on the north side of the Kansas River) you might send in a small detachment and escort it to the city.

I have several reasons to believe that there is a large amount of cotton coming up from Fort Scott and now they will doubtless turn it off to some other point.

Make all possible inquiry in relation to the cotton said to be on the road. I will have more definite instructions from the Commanding General in relation to this matter and will forward them to you.

Very Respectfully,

M. Quigg,

Capt. 10th Kas. Vol. Comdg. Post."

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches