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Battlefield Dispatches No. 323: 'Exterminating the Rebels'

Friday, June 29, 2012

One might think the very title of this column would refer to a battle in Missouri because the phrase "exterminating the rebels" was often used by Union officers as one of their goals.

However, this column describes the Battle of Locust Grove, Indian Territory, which occurred on July 3, 1862, in which Union and Confederate "Indians" were among the troops fighting against each other. This battle was one of the few Union successes that occurred during the Indian or Southern Expedition in the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) in July and August of 1862.

The following after-action reports are located on pages 137-138 in Vol. 13 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

"Headquarters Indian Expedition Camp near Grand Saline, July 4, 1862

Captain: On the night of the 2nd and after having marched one brigade under Col. Judson some 20 miles southward from Cowskin Prairie to Cabin Creek, I started with 300 men to the Grand Saline where I heard a force of the enemy was encamped.

After traveling rapidly all night, I came up with them on the east side of the Grand River about sunrise. They were under the command of Col. Clarkson: number not known. I completely surprised them, killed some 30, captured 100 prisoners and their entire baggage wagons, mules, guns, ammunition, tents, etc. Lost one man of the 9th Kansas and Dr. Holliday of the First Indian (Home Guards). The latter was killed in mistake by one of the 9th. Col. Clarkson and the other officers are in our hands. The Indians behaved nobly under Col. Wattles and Adjutant Ellithorpe.

A full report will be made as soon as movements are made. We are much exhausted. Respectfully, your obedient servant,

W.M. Weer, Colonel, Commanding."

"Headquarters Indian Expedition Camp near Grand Saline, July 6, 1862.

Captain: As promised, I send you a more detailed account of the affair on the 3rd inst. Its locality I find to be known as Locust Grove, that being the name of the post office there. It is some two miles east of the Grand River and about 30 miles north of Tahlequah. The troops composing the party under myself consisted of a detachment of the First Indian Regiment, under Lt. Col. Wattles; one from the 9th Kansas under Maj. Bancroft; one of the 10th Kansas Vol. Infantry in wagons, under Capt. Quigg and a section of Allen's Battery, under Lt. Baldwin, superintended by Lt. Taylor, my chief of artillery.

The only troops engaged were the detachments from the First Indian and the 9th Kansas. The artillery, however, planted in battery defended the detachment from the 10th Kansas and was only prevented from paying its respects to the enemy from fear of destroying our own men, who were engaged with the enemy in the woods in scattered parties.

The suddenness of the attack and the bushy nature of the ground caused the fight to be one in which each participant was thrown more or less on his individual resources. The Indians and the 9th Kansas attacked and pursued the enemy with great vigor, while the remainder of the troops was with difficulty restrained from joining the attack. Our forces were between 200 and 300. The enemy was about the same number. The pursuit was contained nearly all day through the heavy timber.

The Indians now say that the enemy lost some 100. We have some 100 prisoners, including Col. Clarkson and officers and a large amount of camp and garrison equipage, transportation, munitions of war, etc., as will be seen from the accompanying report of Division Quartermaster Clark. Our loss was two privates killed -- one from First Indian and one from the 9th Kansas and Assistant Surgeon Holliday was shot by mistake (meaning by 'friendly fire').

The fleeing enemy ran to Tahlequah and there spread the report of the disaster. It caused the immediate disbanding of Drew's regiment of rebel Cherokees, some 1,000 strong. Four-hundred of them have already joined Col. Ritchie's Regiment (the 2nd Indian Home Guards), thus filling it up at a point some 20 miles north of the scene of the fight, where I caused the army to encamp. Dowing, with 200 more, will reach me this morning, while other parties of Cherokees are advancing to join us.

During the same day (the 3rd) the 6th Kansas, whom I had sent from Cowskin by Maysville, Ark., down and the east side of the Grand River, came up with Stand Watie's command, killed one of them and put to flight the remainder. The news that the enemy are concentrating about Fort Smith and that Pike with 6,000 Texans is south of them toward the Red River.

This command, in view of the long line of communication to be kept open, should be reinforced immediately. Our little victory has had a wonderful effect upon the Cherokees deciding all wavering in our favor. I have great difficulty in restraining the Indians with me from exterminating the rebels. A good deal of property has been destroyed in spite of all my efforts. In the absence of instructions I feel at some loss as to what course to pursue in the treatment of the Indians. I consider the Cherokee Country as virtually conquered. (Note: History indicates that this was a false conclusion by Col. Weer.) Our movements are so rapid and unexpected by the enemy that they are completely bewildered.

I send you the Regimental Books of the enemy, by which it will be seen that Col. Clarkson was instructed by Van Dorn to enter the state of Kansas. As instructed by the commanding general, I will go into camp and await further orders; in the meantime opening communication with the Cherokee authorities. I shall endeavor so to act as not to increase the complication between them and the government. If thwarted, it will be only on account of the intractability of the enemy and a portion of my command.

I am Captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant, W.M. Weer, Colonel, Commanding."

The Battle of Locust Grove was a welcome Union victory in the summer of 1862 and one of its major effects was to convince the southern Cherokees of the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles that the "Great White Father" in Washington, D.C., was stronger than the "Big Chief" in Richmond, Va., so they switched sides and joined the Union Army.

As indicated in this report, approximately 200 of these Cherokees joined the 2nd Regiment of Indian Home Guards commanded by Col. John Ritchie. The balance of the former Confederate 2nd Regiment of Cherokee Mounted Rifles and more Cherokee Warriors and their families followed the Union army into Missouri and eventually Kansas.

In Carthage, Mo., in September of 1862, these Cherokees were organized into the 3rd Regiment of Indian Home Guards which compiled an excellent combat record throughout the balance of the Civil War, and of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches