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Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015

Battlefield Dispatches No. 354: Destitute and starving

Friday, February 1, 2013

During the Civil War, or for that matter in any war, the civilian population in a combat zone suffered beyond belief. Such was the case in the Indian Territory, Missouri and Arkansas between 1861 and 1865.

Whenever possible, the civilian refugees tried to escape from the war zone to a "friendly" safe location and this is what Fort Scott became "a haven for refugees."

By 1864, there were three large refugee camps near or in Fort Scott. One was located north of the Marmaton River, another on both sides of Spring Branch or "Buck Run" and the third was located about 12 miles southeast of Fort Scott where the "Old Military Road" crossed Drywood Creek at the border of Bourbon and Crawford County.

Who was to provide relief for these refugees? In the Civil War that was not an easy question to answer. There was no guidance in the Articles of War on how to solve this problem and at the beginning of the war there was no civilian organization to provide assistance.

Eventually, in the north the United States Sanitary Commission was organized and it provided what assistance it could to wounded and convalescent soldiers and civilian refugees. In Fort Scott, Quartermaster Insley provided what relief he could in the form of blankets and food, but that was precious little because his primary mission was to provide for the soldiers.

Eventually, the "Union" Quartermaster Department found a way to help solve the refugee problem in the Indian Territory and Arkansas. The answer was to transport the refugees and wounded soldiers from the combat zone in U.S. government supply wagons by filling the empty supply wagons with a human cargo on their return trip to Fort Scott and other points north from places like Fort Gibson in the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) and Fort Smith, Ark. The following letters describe the plight of many of the refugees in the Indian Territory and both letters are found on Pages 96 and 97 and 101 and 102 in Series I, Vol. 22, Part II, Correspondence in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

"In the Field, Camp John Ross, Indian Territory Feb. 4, 1863.

(To) Maj. General Curtis,

Commanding Department of the Missouri:

Sir: I moved my main command 10 miles northeast. I did so for two reasons -- to be nearer forage and to protect the assemblage of the national legislature of the Cherokee Nation, which convened today and which of course had to meet in the "Nation." I left a post at Maysville, near Camp Curtis of about 200 men to guard my connection to the Arkansas (River) and Fayetteville and to run a small mill that otherwise would feed the Rebel guerrillas.

I sent another (supply) train of provisions down toward Fort Gibson, to relieve the "Destitute and Starving Citizens." I have a distributing agent at Park Hill and one at Hilderbrand's Mill about the center of the Nation where I have a company running the mill.

There is no grain there and I have to supply it from above and east of this place. The extreme want of the people below here steadily assumes a more serious cast. My supply train arrived safely from Fort Scott last night. Have sent two trains of flour and meal into the Indian Nation and have subsisted about 1,000 refugees, principally women and children around my camp.

We have here severe cold and snow.

Different parties of my command have had skirmishes with the guerrillas, always with good results. They attack my foraging trains and scouts from the brush, but generally suffer severely, as the Indians are dangerous customers in such conflicts and bushwhacking is sensibly on the decline here.

I remain with profound respect, your obedient servant,

William A. Phillips

Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade."

"In the Field, Camp John Ross, Feb. 6, 1863.

(To) Maj. Gen. Curtis,

Commanding Department of the Missouri:

Sir: Capt. Christy, Third Indian Regiment, has just returned from the Arkansas River opposite Fort Smith. In the cane on this side of the river (in the big bend), there are about 300 half-breeds and whites of the Nation who have forsaken Stand Watie. They refuse to go south of the river and do not appear to want to fight, but are, I suspect, afraid of the old feud between them and the full bloods of the Nation. I think the case is one requiring rather delicate handling, but from which good results may follow.

I have just learned that a "long line of persons," many on foot, are straggling up this way through the snow from the direction of the Creek Nation. They wear on their hats a white badge of cloth, on the right side, the sign agreed upon with McIntosh's men as the one to wear when they come within our camp as friends.

I have sent a train of 35 wagons and some ambulances to Fayetteville (Ark.) to move the sick and wounded who are sufficiently convalescent, as all are reported to be to Fort Scott. I deemed it better to reduce the proportions of a hospital in such an advanced position as soon as I could with propriety do so. Shall the sick and wounded of Gen. Herron's command be sent to Springfield (Mo.) or remain at Fayetteville?

With Respect, I remain, your obedient servant,

William A. Phillips

Colonel Commanding."

Now then, the problem of removing and providing for the refugees remained constant throughout the war and Fort Scott remained a "haven for hundreds of "white," "American Indians" and "African-American" refugees and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches