The title of this column may seem a bit odd because a courier and a surgeon definitely were two different functions during the Civil War. However, during the first year of the war in the summer of 1861, things were very confusing and disorganized for both the "Blue and the Gray," especially here in Kansas and Missouri. It was in August of 1861 that surgeon Andrew Jackson Huntoon of the fifth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment became a "courier" carrying dispatches to the commanding officers at Camp Union in Kansas City and Fort Leavenworth. How he came about this assignment is unknown. Perhaps he had an assistant surgeon to take charge of his regimental hospital and there was no immediate threat to Fort Scott where he and his regiment were stationed as part of Lane's Brigade. The following letters describe his journey to Kansas City and Fort Leavenworth and the establishment of the Union hospital at Mapleton, Kan., in September of 1861. The letters are part of the A.J. Huntoon Collection and are located in the Kansas Historic Society in Topeka, Kan.
"Camp Union, Kansas City, Mo.
Saturday, Aug. 17, 1861.
My Dear Wife,
When I get to the office I hope to receive one of your kind letters. I left Fort Scott on the 14th at five o'clock p.m. alone, instead of having company as was first arranged entrusted with the business of the company and bearing dispatches to the commanders at this camp, Maj. Van Horn and to Capt. Prince at Fort Leavenworth. Arrived here late last evening at nine o'clock p.m., having made 110 miles.
I leave my horse here and take the boat to Leavenworth this morning. If my horse was two years older I could take two hundred dollars for him. This trip has nearly made his back sore, still he stands it very well, but is getting thin.
When I left Fort Scott fears were entertained of a premeditated attack on the supplies at that point. As McColloch, had his train of 1,200 wagons entirely destroyed by Gen. Sigel's Artillery at the late battle. McCollochs' camp is only 100 miles from Fort Scott. Ritchey with 30 men was sent to scout in that direction. As I desire to mail this, this morning you will excuse me from writing more. With much love and sincere desire for your peace and happiness, with kisses I am truly yours,
It is no wonder Capt. Huntoon's horse's back was sore because they traveled 110 miles in two days and four hours, probably with one overnight stop along the way. After delivering the dispatches Dr. Huntoon returned to Fort Scott. Then, before the Battle of the Mules or Drywood on Sept. 2, 1861, he along with his regiment was transferred to Fort Lincoln on the Little Osage River approximately 15 miles north of Fort Scott.
On Thursday, Sept. 14; he was ordered to and moved his patients to the General Hospital at Mapleton, Kan., which is described in the following letter.
"General Hospital Lane's Brigade,
Mapleton, Bourbon County, Kansas,
Sunday, Sept. 14, 1861.
My beloved wife and boy,
It is a long while since I have received one of your letters; can it be owing to sickness? I hope not.
I am anxious to hear from you often and cannot but what you write but they are delayed in coming through and that will be remedied before long I think. I hardly know what I wrote you last, there has been so much on my mind and for my hands to do that I have no remembrance of where my last ended.
Last Tuesday morning, our regiment left Fort Lincoln in company with Wier's, Montgomery's and Jennison's regiments commanded by Gen. Lane in person for Missouri. What particular point is unknown as all orders are secret. I was left with the sick. On Thursday I was ordered to move my sick to Mapleton the seat (location) of the General Hospital of the Brigade to assist Dr. Gilpatrick of Anderson's Company, Brigade Surgeon and Dr. Scott of Allen Company, fourth regiment in taking charge of the institution where I may have to stay for the present judging from all appearances.
I would rather go on to the field, I am free from all danger here, but it is too confining. Have a very good building for our sick. Mapleton is miles west of Fort Lincoln on the Little Osage River and 15 miles from Fort Scott. We have some 40 patients under treatment. One with a broken thigh. T.M. Laws of New Hampshire says that he is acquainted with sister Hannah, used to attend school at Westminster. One shot through the knee at the Battle of Drywood Creek; one through the arm; one in the groin; one stabbed in the back through the right shoulder blade in a quarrel; one with fractured skull from a blow with a spade on top of the head and one with two fingers shot away accidently. Three bad cases of lung disease. The rest are bowel disarrangements, inst. fever and remittent. Generally doing well.
I was so pleasantly surprised on Thursday morning by the arrival of Joel in camp. He was from home, having left Missouri a few days before. He stopped but a short time, but went on toward the command as he wished to see J.H. Lane. You need not be disappointed to hear from him next in the army either as a captain or a regimental office.
It is impossible to lay idle in this section of the country when treason shows its dragoon head in every settlement and our homes and our liberties and our lives are threatened if we dare avow our principles and sympathies on the side of the American Union. You in New Hampshire where the rumors of the armies and war are the absorbing items of interest know nothing of the realities.
The battleground of the West which Missouri is destined to be in no being laid to waste by the approaching armies. Females and children are all that commands respect and in many cases their homes are fired over their heads .
I must close for I have been absent from the sick to long already. With much love and affection for my Lizzie and Prentice, I Remain,
This letter provides new information about the medical department of Lane's Brigade and identifies the location of a General Hospital U. S. Army Hospital in a building at Mapleton, Kansas which was previously unknown. It is not known how long the this hospital remained in Mapleton, but it was probably closed when Lane's Brigade advanced into southwest Missouri in the early winter of 1861, and of course, the war went on.