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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 308: 'Mutinous rabble'

Friday, March 16, 2012

During the first year of the Civil War, from April of 1861 to April of 1862, there was in all of the states north and south a good bit of disorganized discontent and confusion. This was understandable, because the United States had never been in such a tumultuous internal conflict that was tearing the country apart. Therefore, many of the volunteer regiments that were organized during the first year of the war were rough, ready and undisciplined in the ways of the "regular spit and polished" U.S. Army.

This was true of most of the regiments west of the Mississippi River and was especially true of the Kansas regiments of "Lane's Brigade," who were excellent combat soldiers but were very definitely irregular in their appearance and attitude.

The following report is a description of the organization of the Kansas regiments in 1861 and contains a graphic, searing description of the Lane's Brigade. It was written by an assistant adjutant general who was on the staff of Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, who despised Lane's Brigade and is located on pages 615 to 617 in Series 1, Volume 8 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion."Headquarters Department of Kansas

Fort Leavenworth, March 14, 1862

Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck

Comanding Department of the Mississippi, St. Louis, Mo.;

General: I have the honor, in reply to your telegram received late last evening, of requesting to be furnished immediately with a correct statement of the number and position of troops in this department, to transmit herewith copy of General Orders, No. 26, of this department, reorganizing the Kansas troops, now in process of being carried out, and further to state that the only regiments in Kansas at present in effective condition for active service are the 1st and 8th Kansas, the former at Fort Scott, the latter distributed through the disturbed counties of the state as provost guard.

The 7th Kansas (Jennison's), with a field piece and a mountain howitzer at Humboldt, 70 miles from Fort Scott, and the 9th, 12th and 13th Wisconsin Regiments (Infantry) and the 2nd Ohio Cavalry and Rabb's Indiana battery of six rifled pieces (cannons), all at Fort Scott or now moving south from there, under the command of Col. George W. Deitzler, left by Gen. Hunter in command of the department, to whom your communications announcing the position of Gen. Curtis, were duly forwarded by express immediately on their arrival.

Of the regiments at Fort Scott, the following from last report is the effective strength for the field, there being much sickness now in this department. First Kansas Infantry, 750; 13th Wisconsin Infantry, 800; 2nd Ohio Cavalry, 850 -- 140 men having been detailed from this regiment to form a battery now being organized at this post (Fort Leavenworth) under the command of Lt. George S. Hollister, 7th U.S. Infantry, which battery is not completed yet, owing to the non-arrival of carriages, caissons and equipment for the guns (cannon) and Rabb's Indiana Battery complete.

The 7th Kansas Cavalry (Jennison's) has 830 men in effective condition at Humboldt, and the 8th Kansas Infantry, until recently commanded by Maj. Wessells of the regular service and distributed through the state to protect its peace, is a full regiment, 1,000 strong and in good condition.

Believing that owing to various causes, the condition and resources of this department have been misrepresented and grossly exaggerated by the press and in public speeches, I would most respectfully submit the following statement as to the condition of the other Kansas troops.

Nothing could exceed the demoralized condition in which Gen. Hunter found the 3rd and 4th Kansas Infantry and 5th and 6th Kansas Cavalry, formerly known as "Lane's Brigade," on his arrival in this department. The regimental and company commanders knew nothing of their duties and apparently had never made returns or reports of any kind.

The regiments appeared in worse condition than they could possibly have been in during the first week of their enlistment, their camps being little better than pig-pens, officers and men sleeping and messing together; furloughs in immense numbers being granted, or, where not granted, taken; drill having been abandoned almost wholly and the men constituting a mere ragged, half-armed, diseased and mutinous rabble, taking votes as to whether any troublesome or distasteful order should be obeyed or defied.

Vast amounts of public property had been taken from the depots at Fort Scott and Fort Lincoln without requisition or any form of responsibility, and horses in great quantities and at extravagant prices had been purchased under irregular orders and paid for by the United States; these horses being then turned over to men and officers who were drawing 40 cents extra per day for them as private property.

Without troops from other states or of a better kind to hold the mutinous in subjection, Gen. Hunter had a difficult and most laborious task in the administration of the department (of Kansas). The few officers willing to do right, if they knew how, had to be instructed in nearly every branch of their duties, and this was more difficult as for the first two months the department was almost entirely destitute of blanks (official military forms) and has never had a proper supply.

To remedy these things, mustering officers were sent to re-muster the regiments of Lane's Brigade and consolidate the companies to the minimum standing, mustering out the surplus officers and all who could prove that they had been enlisted as home guards under Gen. Lyon's call.

These mustering officers found that the companies ranged from 25 to 60 men each, but the average was about 50 each, having a captain and two lieutenants and, in some instances, more; and had the department, as previously, been without troops from other states, there is every probability that a general mutiny of the regiments named would have taken place, instead of the partial mutinies which have been suppressed.

The mustering is now, I believe, complete or will be in a few days; but the rolls have not yet been received, and until they are, no reliable returns of Lane's Brigade or Clark's Cavalry Battalion (formerly 10th Kansas Regiment) can be prepared.

Four or five companies have been mustered out as home guards, who should have been mustered out last October; and when the re-muster rolls are received, no doubt the 3rd and 4th Kansas Infantry will be consolidated into one regiment, their excess, if any, being needed to fill the ranks of the 1st Kansas, which has lacked its full complement by several hundred since the Battle of Wilson's Creek. This will leave the state but three infantry regiments, the 1st, 3rd and 4th consolidated and the 8th.

The 5th and 6th Cavalry, too, can be consolidated into one regiment, absorbing a portion of Clark's Battalion and turning over the balance to fill the incomplete companies of the 9th Kansas, hereafter, by Gov. Robinson's order, to be known as the Kansas 2nd (Cavalry). This last named regiment of 12 companies is now being armed, mounted and equipped in camp near Lawrence, about 200 of its men belonging to the old Kansas Second (disbanded after the Battle of Springfield) and six companies of the 9th Kansas Cavalry, with other cavalry companies drawn from infantry regiments. This will give three full regiments of cavalry of 12 companies each, as the complement of the state the 2nd and 5th and 6th consolidated and the 7th (Col. Jennison's).

Meantime the state had recently 12 regiments nominally, 10 quasi regimental organizations, and attempts were in progress to raise two more Kansas regiments for service in New Mexico. This, no doubt, has caused exaggerated opinions as to the strength of the department (of Kansas).

It was represented that all Kansas had flocked to arms, whereas, in fact, no state has been more backward.

In the posts of the state there are distributed altogether 1,600 troops, 1,000 at this post (Fort Leavenworth), of whom 200 cavalry have been dispatched today to Independence, Jackson and Johnson counties.

In Colorado there are about 700 troops, the Colorado volunteers now re-enforcing Col. Canby in New Mexico.

In Nebraska two volunteer companies have been authorized but have never reported, and in Dakota, one.

Finally, I have the honor to submit that Col. Deitzler has now under his command at Fort Scott the effective troops already set forth and could raise 500 more cavalry by selecting the least badly mounted and armed of the 5th and 6th Kansas Cavalry, who all have old smooth-bore muskets, most of them pistols, their private property, but no swords (sabers). It was the intention to have armed and equipped them properly on the roll of their re-muster, when it could be seen what men and companies were mustered out as home guards and what were retained.

I may add, however, that Gen. Hunter entered a respectful remonstrance against raising in and sending to this department so many cavalry regiments, Kansas, except in spring and summer, being more destitute of forage than any of the other states. In conclusion, I would state that it was Gen. Hunter's opinion and that of all the experienced regular officers at the post that until the more objectionable of the Kansas regiments can be re-officered to a great extent and removed from local influences, they can never assume a respectful position in the service of their country.

Pardon me for having intruded at such length on time so valuable as yours, my motive having been an eager desire to place you at the earliest possible moment in possession of information that might possibly be important to your plans.

I have the honor to be general, with sincere respect, your most obedient servant,

Maj. and Assistant Adjt. Gen."

Now then, were things as bad in Lane's Brigade as the good Maj. Charles E. Halpine (an administrative assistant who probably rarely saw any combat or campaign duty) described? Probably not, and yet things were bad and disorganized but did get better; and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches