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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 348: Treasure Trove

Friday, December 21, 2012

One of the most fascinating aspects in the study of the Civil War for the historians is the discovery of original letters, diaries or related documents. After the passing of 150 years, these historic documents are still being discovered and when this happens a "Treasure Trove" becomes reality for the finder. Where, you might ask, are these documents found?

The answer to this question is that they are found in a variety of places, such as an old trunk in an attic, a family safety deposit box, at an estate auction, private museums, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., or state historical societies. The following is the first in a series of original letters that are located in the Andrew Jackson Huntoon Collection in the Kansas Historic Society. Dr. A.J. Huntoon came to Topeka, Kan., Territory in 1857 from his home in New Hampshire and served as a surgeon with the 5th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment from 1861-1864. All of these letters were written to his wife, Lizzie, who came to be with the doctor after the Civil War and they lived the balance of their lives in Topeka.

The significance of this letter is that it provides an additional "original" view and it is a primary resource of the Battle of the Mules, or Drywood, which occurred near Deerfield, Mo., on Sept. 2, 1861, the evacuation of Fort Scott by Lane's Brigade to Fort Lincoln, the threatened burning of Fort Scott and the care of the sick and wounded.

"Camp Lincoln, Sept. 2, 1861

Headquarters of Lane's Brigade

(In Fort Scott, Kan.)

My Dear Wife,

You will see by the date of this letter that I have changed camp since my letter of last Sunday was commenced. Within one hour after I had stopped writing an alarm was given in our camp that 200 Sesesh (Confederates) had come upon a heard of mules about five miles from camp in care of four herdsmen; killing two of the herders and taking away 70 mules belonging to Col. Wier of the 3rd Regt. Our regiment was on the move immediately and in one hour were on the ground and drawn up in line of battle opposite the enemy. Our regiment only engaged them that evening and Capt. R's Company being all that were armed with Sharps Rifles did the fighting. His company was divided in two squads and skirmished on the right and left flank of the enemy with good effect. Not over 600 of our men were engaged with 3,000 secessionists. They drove the rebels 12 miles and night compelled them to return to the Fort (Scott). I was ordered to remain in charge of the hospital and Dr. Johnson went on to the field.

About sundown, Gen. Lane ordered our camp to pack up and move into town. I put my charge numbering 16 patients aboard the ambulances and accompanied the train. On arriving at Lane's headquarters, we were ordered to repair (go) at once to Fort Lincoln situated on the Little Osage (River), 12 miles north of Fort Scott. A new point where our forces have been fortifying for the month past. Where we arrived about 2 o'clock a.m., I had tents pitched and disposed of my patients just as day was breaking and started back to the Fort (Scott) to assist in the care of the wounded, but not a man of ours was injured. They had several horses killed. Seventeen Sesesh were left dead on the field. Monday morning, our forces gathered to the number of 3,500 and moved south five miles where the enemy was found 10,000 strong and were drawn up in line of battle; having five pieces of cannon while we had only two. Our first shot silenced one of their guns (cannon).

I returned to Fort Lincoln. They fought most of the day and our forces left the field, but were not pursued. Two of Ritchey's men were wounded and they slightly. The wounded arrived at our camp about midnight Tuesday. Only two killed and eight wounded of our men and of the enemy we know nothing. Our men retreated to town (Fort Scott) and moved all their infantry to this point (Fort Lincoln) and our supplies have been transported hither. The cavalry remained and have been skirmishing all of the day today, but we have not heard with what result.

I was called to consult with the surgeons of the 3rd Regiment as to the propriety of amputating on one man wounded in the knee and another in the forearm. (We) decided to postpone the operation for the present. In my hospital rounds this morning, I prescribed for three patients of our own Regt. and 17 from others in the absence of their surgeons. Fever, ague, diarrhea, bilious fever, colds, with sore throat and cough, the chief difficulty. Do not consider any dangerous as my worst cases are improving. I must close. My duties keep me busy all day.

We expect our men in at any hour and are making preparation for an attack on this point (Fort Lincoln). Fort Scott is evacuated by all but our cavalry.

Fagots (piles of kindling) are piled in the places and will be fired if our men are compelled to retreat. (Note: Gen. Lane left orders with Col. Jewell to burn Fort Scott to the ground, which Col. Jewell disobeyed and the town was saved from destruction.)

In great Haste, I am Truly Yours,

A.J. Huntoon.

P.S: Kiss P and remember Pa does not forget him and a kiss for my wonderful Lizzie."

Additional letters of Dr. Huntoon will be included in future "Battlefield Dispatches," and of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches