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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 274: 'Venomous she-rebels'

Friday, July 22, 2011

Early in the spring of 1863, Wagon Boss and Mule Mechanic R.M. Peck hired on as a teamster in a large brigade supply train of 125 wagons going from Fort Scott, Kan., to Fort Gibson near present Muskogee, Okla., in what then was called in the Civil War the "Indian Nation" or the "Cherokee Nation."

On this trip, Peck did not ride his customary "wheel" mule. Instead, he was astride the near lead driver horse of a six-horse team that was pulling an artillery "caisson" or loaded ammunition wagon.

During this trip he described the process of "foraging" or looking for and finding hay or grain to feed the train's horses and mules and an encounter with some vicious women who were of the Southern persuasion.

All of this is located in the Aug. 4, 1904, edition of the National Tribune that was a newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

"Foraging along the route is done in this way: At starting from camp each morning, an empty wagon or two from each train, escorted by a squad of soldiers, is sent out to pick up a load of hay, fodder, straw or other roughness or a load of grain either, if they chance to find it among the farms on either flank (side) within two or three miles of the road, as we travel along.

The owners of the stuff found are not asked whether they wish to sell or what price they ask for it. When anything is taken, the commander of the foraging party has it loaded into the wagons without ceremony. He then writes out a receipt and hands it to the owner, giving the amount (guessed at) of the stuff he has taken.

The owner can present this receipt at the quartermaster's office in Fort Scott, and if he (the former owner) can prove by responsible loyal citizens that he is and has been a loyal citizen of the United States, he gets paid at a fair (generally liberal) price. If he can't establish (prove) his loyalty, he gets nothing!

As soon as the forage wagons succeed in getting loads, they make for the train, which is traveling slowly along the road, unload into other wagons and strike out for more.

These foragers do an excellent service as scouts and flankers. If there are any rebels or signs of them in their range, they will find it out, though the getting of this information frequently costs the lives of a few soldiers or teamsters; still, the risk is seldom seriously considered --it's in their line (of duty).

The foragers are frequently attacked by bushwhackers, but if they succeed in killing as many of the rebels as they lose of their men and still get away with the forage, they consider themselves that much ahead of the game.

Sometimes when such attacks are made at or near a house, a detail from the train's escort goes back and utterly destroys the place, burning buildings and everything on justification that the people of the house are harboring bushwhackers.

In this way, families are often bereft of home and everything they have in a very short time but are usually the families or friends or helpers of our worst enemies, the bushwhackers. Although to one unaccustomed to the hardships of war, this would seem barbarous cruelty inflicted on possibly innocent parties, yet the usage of war justifies it. This kind of retaliation on the guerrillas has a tendency to keep them from taking advantage of farm buildings to ambush our men.

A soldier of one of our foraging parties was badly wounded in a skirmish with bushwhackers near a farmhouse. He was left at the house while the party came to the train to get medical aid for him and an ambulance to haul him to our camp.

When they went back after him, they found that he had again been shot and stabbed in a most cowardly and inhuman manner by some of the bushwhackers, who had returned to the house while he was lying there wounded and helpless. They had thrown him out in a hog lot for the hogs to devour. He was not dead yet, however, when the relief party reached him, and, fortunately, the hogs had not yet found him. He lived long enough to tell his companions how the women of the house had continually reviled and cursed him after his party had left, and how they had sent for the guerrillas and urged them to finish him and throw his body to the hogs.

Those "she-rebels" were the most venomous kind. It was with difficulty that the officer in charge of the relief party restrained his men from doing these women bodily harm; for many of them wanted tie the she-devils to a tree and give them a severe horse whipping! When prevailed on to forego this satisfaction, they compromised by striking a match in the house and sticking it "where it would do the most good," as one of them said.

In a few minutes the house and outbuildings and contents were in flames. The soldiers refused to let the women and children remove a thing from the house; they had to stand and see all they had consumed. Can anyone say they did not deserve all this punishment and more too?

The cowardly bushwhackers had skipped out on the reappearance of our men and did not again dare show themselves, for fear our soldiers would vent fury on them."

Wagon Boss and Mule Mechanic Peck continued on his journey to Fort Gibson as an "artilleryman" and lead driver of an ammunition caisson, and his stories will be featured in future columns and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches