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Battlefield Dispatches No. 328: Lacking rations; abundant refugees

Friday, August 3, 2012

It has been said for ages that "an army marches on its stomach," meaning it should be well fed and when on campaign, the troops should be provided with ample rations of food.

This was and still is easier said than done. During the Civil War and in particular any campaign into the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) from Fort Scott required a supply line of more than 125 miles or so to furnish the necessary rations and supplies to actively pursue the enemy.

In late July of 1862, during the Union Expedition into the Indian Territory, Col. William A. Phillips found his command in a precarious position because he lacked the necessary rations for his troops.

The following after-action report describes the significance of no rations and is followed by his concern for an abundance of Indian refugees and is located in Series I, Vol. 13 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion on pages 181-182 and 184.

"Camp near Battlefield, Bayou Bernard, Tahlequah and (Fort) Gibson Road.

Dear Sir: I have to inform you that we have had an engagement with the enemy. I had proceeded some 40 miles by forced and night marches to Tahlequah and Park Hill and sent forward my command in three lines along three roads, verging to a fork or crossroad in the Bayou Bernard seven miles from Fort Gibson. At the junction of the road, the enemy, coming up toward Park Hill, ran into Lt. Haneway's command and that officer after checking them with the fire of his men, fell back on the Park Hill road. The enemy, pushing forward, fell into the center and after a brief fight, was utterly routed and fled precipitately in great confusion to Fort Gibson.

We have one man severely wounded, a private in Capt. Downing's Company (F). We have found 32 dead bodies of the enemy on the field in the prairie and there was probably a number more in the woods. We took 25 prisoners and would have taken them all if they had not been mounted on fresh horses. Among the enemy's killed is Lt. Col. Taylor of Stand Watie's regiment. The enemy's loss in killed, wounded and missing cannot be much short of 100 men.

We are, unfortunately, out of provisions. I had ordered the men to have five days' rations yesterday, but they did not have them. This evening I had to issue six of my nine boxes of hard bread and tonight issue the last I have. We can live until the day after tomorrow.

As I do not wish to fall back for provisions and as we have important work to do which we can do, please send us down two or three loads of rations for the force from the different regiments. We have plenty of beef. Send it down on the road to the old camp on Grand River with 100 men to guard it. We will be near our old camp or have a force there tomorrow night.

I must notice the good conduct of some of the officers. Capt. Fall Leaf behaved admirably. Lt. Haneway behaved very coolly in a rather critical position while Lts. Howard, Robb and Blunt drew up their men in good style and behaved well. Lt. Phillips, who had the advance center, was shot at a dozen times while trying to keep the advance from falling back.

I was very much pleased with the conduct of the whole Indian force. The only difficulty was in restraining their impetuous charge and in keeping back a reserve and guard for the wagons.

I learn not only from the prisoners, but from other sources, that they have 14 soldiers of my regiment prisoners at Fort Davis. They were the men who went after the Osage deserters. A scout of 125 men was above us on the Verdigris while we encamped there and took these men and one of the Osages. They have two white soldiers; I do not know from what command.

Please furnish me supplies and a little more ammunition. I can hold the line of the Arkansas (River) and shall not fall back until I drive the last Secesh (enemy) across it unless forced back by a very heavy force or your orders.

I had not the time to close my diplomatic business at Tahlequah. The people there feel well grounded apprehensions and unless I can hold the Arkansas (River) line they are doomed to frightful misery. The enemy was pouring in his forces to overrun and destroy, when our rapid advance checked and appalled him. Help us to keep it up.

W.M. A. Phillips

Major, First Regiment Indian Home Guard, Commanding Expedition."

It appears that Col. Phillips did receive some rations, but they were not enough to sustain continued operations as indicated in his following report:

"Camp at Baxter Springs, Kan., Aug. 6, 1862.

Sir: I had entertained hopes that the whole force detailed to my command could have rejoined the brigade previous to my report, but as I do not deem it proper longer to delay my report, I proceed to state further the result of the expedition.

I remained facing the enemy for two days, but finding that he would not venture to cross the (Arkansas) River to attack us and as our provisions were exhausted and my men had been on half rations for four or five days, I fell back to Wolf Creek but found that all the forces had fallen back.

We brought a large quantity of stock from the face of the enemy. Some of the cattle in the herd belong to our Cherokee soldiers and have not yet been separated. Believing that the remainder of them would be amply sufficient to supply the Indian Brigade for months to come and save the government a great expense, I respectfully urge that they be retained as a herd for that purpose and not sold to speculators at a nominal price to the prejudice of the government. A large number of refugee Indians and their families are following the retreating army for protection, having exposed themselves to the fury of the rebels by declaring for the Union.

To aid in supporting these people this herd can be usefully employed even while it sustains the army. Impressed with the importance and stern necessity of this matter, I respectfully protest against any disposal of this stock that would defeat so praiseworthy a bestowal of it.

I remain, very respectfully,

W.M. A. Phillips,

Major, Commanding Third Regiment Indian Home Guard."

Eventually, Col. Phillips received enough rations for his troops. However, the refugees and providing them with relief in the form of food and blankets became a major problem for the Union Quartermaster and Commissary Departments throughout the Civil War, and the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches