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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 318: 'Wild Goose Chase'

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mr. Webster defines a "wild goose chase" as the "hopeless pursuit of an unattainable or imaginary object."

Therefore, the frustrating Yankee pursuit of the elusive phantom like Confederate guerrillas or bushwhackers fighting in Missouri must have very often seemed like a "wild goose chase."

This was the opinion of a frustrated Yankee from the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment who participated in what he believed was a failed military mission or expedition into the Show Me State in May of 1862.

The name of this soldier is not known, but he was articulate and could read and write because his description of this "wild goose chase" was published in the May 24, 1862, edition of the Fort Scott Bulletin newspaper and is as follows:

"The War Trail in Missouri"

"Camp of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, Fort Scott, May 22, 1862.

On the 6th inst., a detachment of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry consisting of 250 men from Companies A, G, D, I and M under the command of Maj. Purlington, accompanied two companies of the 9th Wisconsin Infantry under their Lieutenant Colonel, started on a ramp into some mysterious and benighted region which was pronounced to be inhabited by wood-ticks and jayhawkers. (Note: Jayhawker did not always refer to Kansas soldiers or outlaws. On occasion Union troops called the enemy "Confederate guerrillas" or Bushwhackers in Missouri "Jayhawkers".) The object of this expedition was closely concealed from the docile troopers and the submissive "Dutchmen" shared with us in this blissful ignorance. (Note: Dutchmen refers to the German Dutch soldiers of the 9th Wisconsin inf. Regt.)
We left Carthage at 3 p.m., the cavalry taking the advance and the infantry following in wagons. In the evening we passed through Diamond Grove and an hour before midnight forded Shoal Creek at the rapids and clambering up the shelving rocks beyond, dismounted and got corn from a neighboring mill, fed our horses and spreading our blankets bivouacked (camped) in the open air. An hour before daylight on the following morning we were awakened by the orderlies and told to saddle our horses without noise and in a few minutes were again moving forward in expectation of a nice little fight for a rumor ran through the column that a large force of the enemy was camped a few miles beyond. Morning dawned, however, and there were no indications of the "cantankerous secesh." We continued to move on and soon learned that a force of about 60 recruits for the Southern Army had that morning broken up their camp in the vicinity of the Buffalo Hills and moved on towards Cow Skin prairie.

Meanwhile, the mystery which enshrouded the object of the expedition continued to deepen, until things became so cussed dark that the infantry could no longer be seen. We subsequently learned that they had diverged from the "right" onward course that we were taking in our "mad career" and proceeding to Neosho endeavored to discover an enemy, but couldn't and thereupon returned to Carthage.

I forgot to mention that we were convoyed by a Plug-Hat-Fleet of assiduous guides, scouts and other injured beings, who clad in the costumes (civilian clothes) of the border, armed with long rifles and shotguns and mounted on horses inured (accustomed) to the stealthy (quiet or covert) tread so much prized by the Bushwhackers. They very much resembled the "Romantic Jayhawkers" themselves and I fear would have met with no better fate, had we been mixed up to any extant in an encounter with the enemy. Indeed, they seemed to dread such a consummation for on the morning of the third day out, they appeared decked out with badges of blue ribbons and seemed to feel more at ease.

On entering the valley of Little Lost Creek, among the Buffalo Hills, we came suddenly upon a "horde" of "them fellers" that we had been looking for and immediately gave chase. They at once broke into the bushes and up the ravines, in many instances, leaving their horses and dropping their guns in their anxiety to scrabble over the flint with greater expectation. We roped them in, however at least a few of them, some 12-14; though a greater number effected their escape. Deeming that we had done a big thing, we bivouacked that night on the battleground and sang songs in honor of our victory. The next day we pushed on into the Indian Territory, fording the limped waters of the Cow Skin or Elk River. On the borders of Cow Skin Prairie, we fell in (located) a body of wild men of the Prairies in "Southern Uniforms" who appeared to have urgent business in the woods beyond, to the point they directed their flight and we on our jaded (worn out) and shoeless horses jumped after them until they were beyond our range of observation, when, having captured four of them and a few horses, we returned to Elk River and encamped for the night. Our prisoners informed us that Col. Coffee with his regiment and Stand Watie with his Indians, supported by artillery were encamped in the woods beyond the prairie. Accordingly, guards were posted on the roads leading to our camp and things put in readiness for a night attack.

At midnight a shot was heard and the men were instantly in line and a force was sent to reconnoiter, when it appeared the sentinel shot a horse under the mistaken impression that it was a prowling Jayhawker. With the exception of this little episode the night passed tranquil enough and in the morning the boys were eager to go down and test the prowess of Col. Coffee's men and his Indian allies, but the poor condition of our horses prevented it and after discharging all of the prisoners, for reasons unknown to your correspondent, we saddled up and headed for Neosho.

After marching a few miles a party, a party of men were sent to the rear to look up some of our horses that had strayed into the bushes and when in the discharge of their duty they were fired upon by some persons secreted in a thicket. A small skirmish ensued in which two of the guerrillas were killed and others (several of whom were wounded) were put to flight. In the evening we reached Neosho, looked for the pretty girls and were well received by the inhabitants. We slept in the courtyard that night and the next day (Saturday), May 10, we returned to Carthage. There Maj. Minor assumed the command, condemned our horses by his judicious management and succeeded in bringing them through to Fort Scott, looking far better than they did when they reached Carthage. Though the troopers much prefer to have the horses in proper condition hereafter, before undertaking any of the wild goosey expeditions, as they don't like to go toddling afoot, when there is no use of it.

In conclusion I will submit a verb for their edification of the "Powers" that be and hope they will cut it out and put it in their hats: viz:

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for the want of the shoe a horse was lost, for the want of a horse, the soldier was lost andthus it resulted, the battle was lost!

One of the Survivors."

Now then, was this expedition in Missouri a success or a "Wild Goose Chase?" If success meant dispersing, capturing or killing elusive bushwhackers even in small numbers then it was successful because all of these things happened.

However, "One of the Survivors" didn't believe that it was successful because of the many horses that were jaded, worn out or disabled along with the lack of serious combat with the "Knights of the Bush," and of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches