Tag Archives: Native Americans

Massacre at Sand Creek

November 29, 1864 – U.S. troops slaughtered peaceful Native Americans on their reservation, which paved the way toward permanently banishing Indians from Colorado.

In 1851, U.S. officials signed a treaty with various Indian tribes allowing for white settlement west of Kansas in what later became Colorado. Both parties agreed “to maintain good faith and friendship in all their mutual intercourse, and to make an effective and lasting peace.”

White settlement exploded during the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858, leading to the establishment of Denver City and other villages. The U.S. Indian commissioner admitted, “We have substantially taken possession of the country and deprived the Indians of their accustomed means of support.”

This vast encroachment led to another treaty in early 1861, in which Indians agreed to live on a reservation as long as they retained the freedom of movement needed to hunt for food. Movement held special importance because the reservation held little game and the land was too poor to farm.

The Territory of Colorado was established less than a month after the treaty was signed, and the Civil War broke out soon afterwards. The war caused both an influx of settlers and a drop in military presence in Colorado. This resulted in heightened tensions that included Indian attacks on the incoming farmers and miners, and settlers’ reprisals. Consequently, the Federal troops still stationed in Colorado began gradually restricting Indian movement.

To ease tensions, U.S. officials invited Cheyenne Chiefs Mo’ohtavetoo’o (Black Kettle) and Awoninahku (Lean Bear) to Washington, where President Abraham Lincoln received them in March 1863. They received medals, a U.S. flag, and assurances that as long as they held the flag, no troops would attack them. Lean Bear was hailed by his tribe as “a big friend of the whites.”

But by 1864, Territorial Governor John Evans had determined that Indians were impeding Colorado’s development, so he began working to remove them from the territory. Federal troops attacked an Indian band and killed Chief Lean Bear before he could show them proof of his loyalty to the U.S. The troops were part of the 3rd Colorado Cavalry, which consisted of “street toughs, claim jumpers, and assorted riffraff.” They were commanded by Colonel John M. Chivington, who ordered them to “kill Cheyennes whenever and wherever found,” regardless of whether they were peaceful.

Evans then ordered all “Friendly Indians of the Plains” to prove their friendship by reporting to military posts within the territory. Black Kettle accepted a deal in which the Southern Cheyennes would move to the Sand Creek Reservation in exchange for Federal protection at Fort Lyon, 40 miles northeast of Sand Creek. Black Kettle said:

“All we ask is that we have peace with the whites. We want to hold you by the hand. You are our father. We have been traveling through a cloud. The sky has been dark ever since the war began. We want to take good tidings home to our people, that they may sleep in peace. I want you to give all these chiefs of the soldiers here to understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken by them for enemies. I have not come here with a little wolf bark, but have come to talk plain with you.”

Soon afterward, the commander was removed for “letting the Indians run things at Fort Lyon” and replaced by Major Scott J. Anthony, an officer of Chivington’s Colorado Volunteers. Black Kettle considered leaving Colorado, but Anthony’s assurances that they would continue receiving protection convinced him and his band to stay at Sand Creek.

Meanwhile, Anthony worked to disarm and disband the Arapaho tribes, and he called for military reinforcements to attack hostiles. Before his 100-day enlistments expired, Chivington led them in an attack on Black Kettle’s camp. Some men, including interpreter John Smith, protested that such an attack would violate pledges given to Black Kettle’s tribe, but Chivington replied, “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.”

On the morning of the 29th, 700 Federal troops under Chivington and Anthony attacked Black Kettle’s tribe at Sand Creek. Most of the Indian men were out hunting buffalo when the troops descended on their camp. The Federals slaughtered the Indians’ ponies first to prevent escape. Then, as they entered the camp from three sides, hundreds of women and children huddled under Black Kettle’s flagpole, which held both his U.S. flag and a white flag of surrender. White Antelope, a 75-year old chief, was shot dead while calling for the troops to stop.

The Sand Creek Massacre | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The troops rode through the camp and indiscriminately killed men, women, and children. Many victims were scalped or otherwise mutilated, and the encampment was burned down. Only lack of discipline and drunkenness from the night before prevented more carnage. Chivington’s men left 28 men and 105 women and children dead. Federal losses were minimal, mostly caused by troops accidentally shooting each other.

Chivington officially claimed to have killed up to 500 Indians. He reported, “It may perhaps be unnecessary for me to state that I captured no prisoners.” Many western settlers who feared Indian attacks applauded the action, but news of the massacre horrified easterners, including army officials in Washington. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck called for Chivington’s court-martial, but by that time Chivington had resigned from the army.

Members of Congress demanded an investigation of “the condition of the Indian tribes and their treatment by the civil and military authorities of the United States.” In May 1865, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War concluded that Sand Creek was “the scene of murder and barbarity,” with Chivington’s conduct disgracing “the veriest savage” and Governor Evans’s testimony consisting of “prevarications and shuffling.” President Andrew Johnson demanded and got Evans’s resignation as territorial governor.

Despite this massacre, Black Kettle continued calling for peace, if only because the Indians could not hope to win a war against the U.S. But he acknowledged, “Although wrongs have been done me, I live in hopes. I have not got two hearts… I once thought that I was the only man that persevered to be the friend of the white man, but since they have come and cleaned out our lodges, horses, and everything else, it is hard for me to believe white men any more.”

The Southern Cheyenne chiefs disagreed with Black Kettle and joined with the Kiowas and Arapahos to go on the warpath. This ensured that more anguish and bloodshed would follow. In October 1865, the remaining Cheyennes and Arapahos signed yet another treaty with U.S. officials, under which the Indians would “relinquish all claims or rights” to the Colorado Territory in exchange for “perpetual peace.” Thus, the Sand Creek massacre began a process that ended with Indians forever losing their land in Colorado.

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References

Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 68-71, 73-74, 84, 86-87, 89, 91-94, 101-02; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 494; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 655; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15209-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 525-26; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 127-31; LegendsofAmerica.com/BlackKettle; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 602-03; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 93; Richardson, Heather Cox, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 36-37; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 408; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 139-40

The Cherokee Nation Joins the Union

February 26, 1863 – The National Council of Cherokee Indians approved resolutions repealing its ordinance of secession, renouncing its support for the Confederacy, declaring new support for the U.S., and abolishing slavery in the Cherokee Nation.

John Ross | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The council’s decision to change course was difficult because many Cherokee slaveholders sympathized with the Confederacy, and many who did not own slaves wanted to stay neutral. Prominent Cherokee leader John Ross had urged allying with the Confederates after their victories at Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek in 1861, arguing that they would likely win the war, and their land bordered the Indian Territory on three sides.

However, the Confederacy could do little to aid the Native Americans in the Indian Territory, leading to widespread poverty, famine, and death. Indians serving the Confederacy had not been paid for months, and the government commandeered their horses. As long as the Cherokee sided with the Confederacy, the U.S. government would not pay them annuities promised in prior treaties.

Finally, Unionist Indian forces serving in the Federal Army of the Frontier were dispatched under Colonel William A. Phillips to protect not only the suffering Indians in the Indian Territory, but the refugees who had fled to Missouri and Kansas as well. Phillips and Brigadier General James G. Blunt provided $12,000 worth of supplies for relief.

During this time, Colonel Stand Watie, a Cherokee serving the Confederacy, led his force back into the Indian Territory to prevent the Cherokee Nation from assembling the Council and voting to support the U.S. The Council assembled under Phillips’s protection, without John Ross and others who supported the Confederacy.

On the 26th, the Council approved “an act revoking the alliance with the Confederate States and re-asserting allegiance to the United States.” The Council also approved “an act emancipating slaves throughout the Cherokee Nation.” This included granting citizenship to all freed male slaves. Thus, the Cherokee Nation became the first government to voluntarily end slavery in America.

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References

Abel, Annie Heloise, The American Indian in the Civil War (University of Nebraska Press, 1992); Cunningham, Frank, General Stand Watie’s Confederate Indians (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998); Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 265-66; Lause, Mark A., Race and Radicalism in the Union Army; Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 323

The Sioux Uprising of 1862

August 17, 1862 – In southwestern Minnesota, Dakota Sioux Native Americans rebelled against local settlers and Federal authorities in what became known as the Sioux Uprising, or the Dakota War, of 1862.

The Mdewkanton Santee (Dakota Sioux) Indians had long endured hardships on government reservations due to treaty violations and inadequate annuity payments. By 1862, their territory consisted of just a small plot of land on the south bank of the Minnesota River that lacked adequate wild game and farming soil, leaving the Indians to depend on government handouts. But the war slowed the handouts, leaving the Indians to face starvation.

When the Indians’ crops failed this summer, new Federal Indian Agent Thomas J. Galbraith delayed paying the tribes their $71,000 annuity until Congress decided whether to pay in gold or greenbacks. In the meantime, he locked away all provisions while the Indians grew hungrier.

Starving Indians looted sacks of flour at the Upper Sioux Agency (the reservation’s distribution center) in early August, and the Federal post commander finally persuaded Galbraith to issue some goods on credit pending the annuity payment. Galbraith also agreed to provide for the Indians at the Lower Sioux Agency, but the goods never came.

Dakota Chief Little Crow | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Dakota Chief Little Crow | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Indians tried bargaining with local traders to get needed food and supplies, but the traders refused to sell goods to them until their annuity payments arrived. Dakota Chief Taoyateduta (Little Crow) angrily protested to Galbraith, “We have no food, but here are these stores filled with food.” If no food came, “we may take our own way to keep ourselves from starving. When men are hungry they help themselves.” Perceiving this as a threat, a trader named Andrew J. Myrick replied, “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass.”

Two days later, four Wahpeton Sioux young men robbed eggs from a farm in Acton, then began shooting residents on a dare. They killed five white townspeople, including two women, before stealing some horses and riding off. Word quickly spread among the Indian villages, as the leaders debated what should be done with the youths.

Some urged turning them over to the U.S. government, but Little Crow said that “the whites would take a dreadful vengeance because women had been killed.” They finally concluded that the Federals would exact revenge whether the youths were turned over or not, and therefore they should preemptively attack.

Some elder Dakota had long sought a war of extermination against the growing number of white settlers in the area. Little Crow saw the futility of opposing the Federal government, but he agreed to join nonetheless. As Sioux Chief Big Eagle explained, “We understood that the South was getting the best of the fight, and it was said that the North would be whipped. It began to be whispered about that now would be a good time to go to war with the whites and get back the lands.”

The Sioux uprising began in earnest on the 18th when four tribes of the Eastern Santee Sioux (Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton, and Wahpeton) attacked the Upper and Lower agencies. Myrick was slaughtered with arrows and axes, and his mouth was stuffed with the grass he had told the Indians to eat.

The Sioux then ambushed a Federal recruiting party led by Henry Behnke, sending them fleeing back to New Ulm with horrifying tales of torture, rape, and murder. The Indians allegedly nailed young boys to doors and raped girls before dismembering them. As the Indians rampaged against white settlements in the area, the residents of New Ulm fled 100 miles northeast to St. Paul and Fort Snelling.

Meanwhile, Captain John S. Marsh led 46 soldiers of the 5th Minnesota and an interpreter from Fort Ridgely to try brokering a peace with the Sioux raiding the Lower Agency. The Indians ambushed the Federals at Redwood Ferry, about a mile below the agency.

The troops took cover and exchanged fire until the numbers overwhelmed them. Marsh ordered his men to swim across the Minnesota River to save themselves; he drowned in the effort. The Indians killed 24 of his men and wounded five others. Survivors fled back to Fort Ridgely, where the commander, along with Behnke, called on Governor Alexander Ramsey for reinforcements.

The Indians approached Fort Ridgely on the morning of the 19th, where Little Crow, Mankato, Big Eagle, and about 300 warriors held a council of war. The chiefs urged a halt to slaughtering civilians and to focus instead on attacking the Federal army at the fort. But the warriors argued that they could not counter the Federal artillery and wanted to attack the people of New Ulm, a German settlement 16 miles away. Little Crow and about 100 warriors refused, but the rest attacked without them.

The panicked residents at New Ulm worked with militia to repel several Indian charges. Some buildings were burned in the two-hour fight, but the militia kept the Indians out of town. An evening thunderstorm and the arrival of Federal reinforcements ended the fight. Over the past two days, the Sioux had killed over 350 settlers in the largest massacre of whites in U.S. history. The Indians remained outside the town, intending to put it under siege.

The next day, Little Crow assembled about 400 warriors and attacked Fort Ridgely, which was garrisoned by about 175 Federal troops under Lieutenant Timothy Sheehan and had become a sanctuary for hundreds of settlers fleeing the Indians’ wrath. The warriors surrounded the fort and charged, seizing some buildings and gaining a foothold in the northeast corner. But the Federal howitzers ultimately overwhelmed the Indians and drove them off. A few more charges were repulsed as well. Little Crow called a halt, but during another evening thunderstorm, 400 more Sissetons and Wahpetons from the Upper Agency arrived to reinforce him.

The assault resumed the next day, but the Indians could not withstand the Federal artillery, and their charges were knocked back again. Little Crow, dazed by an artillery shell, decided to break off the fight and instead help in the ongoing siege of New Ulm, a few miles down the Minnesota River Valley.

On the 23rd, the reinforced warriors around New Ulm advanced and captured parts of the town, but Federal troops arrived and drove them out. The destruction of nearly 200 buildings left New Ulm in ruins. Aided by Federals, about 2,000 settlers fled 30 miles down the Minnesota River to Mankato. The Sioux gave up attacking the town on the 25th, but the remaining residents feared more attacks and evacuated.

Meanwhile, reports of the Indian attacks began appearing in eastern newspapers, with many editors (including Horace Greeley of the influential New York Tribune) incorrectly blaming the uprising on a Confederate conspiracy. Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley took command of four new companies of the 6th Minnesota Infantry at Fort Snelling and began moving them toward Ridgely.

Sibley’s forces reached Fort Ridgely and relieved the garrison two days after the Indians stopped attacking. Newspaper editors accused Sibley of moving too slow from Fort Snelling, calling him a coward and “the state undertaker with his company of gravediggers.” Sibley searched in vain for the Sioux, then dispatched troops to bury the dead and investigate the Lower Agency. The pursuit of the retreating Sioux continued into September.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cullen, Joseph P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 690-91; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8301-11; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 189, 193-98; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 72-85, 88; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 252-53, 255-57

The Battle of Pea Ridge: Day Two

March 8, 1862 – Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis regrouped his Federal Army of the Southwest and prepared to counterattack Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates at Pea Ridge and Elkhorn Tavern.

Brig Gen S.R. Curtis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brig Gen S.R. Curtis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As Curtis concentrated his Federal line on the Telegraph road facing Elkhorn Tavern, Van Dorn intended to renew his assault from the previous day. A chance to capture the Federals’ supplies motivated the starving Confederates. Van Dorn began with a minor artillery bombardment, opting to use just three of his 15 guns.

When the firing stopped, Curtis correctly guessed that the Confederates were low on ammunition and ordered a general advance to start at 10 a.m. Curtis preceded the advance with an artillery barrage of his own, using all six of his guns to silence the Confederates’ cannon. The Federal artillery then turned on the enemy infantry, firing a shot every other second for two hours and inflicting many casualties.

Following the barrage, about 7,000 Federal infantrymen surged forward, led by Brigadier General Franz Sigel’s German immigrants from Missouri and Illinois. Sigel announced to his men before advancing that their only two options were to destroy the Confederates or surrender.

The charging Federals drove Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards away from Elkhorn Tavern to the east, while two divisions led by Sigel and Colonel Eugene A. Carr drove the Confederates off to the west. The demoralized Confederates quickly wavered all along the line, and Van Dorn ordered a retreat.

Day 2 fighting | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Day 2 fighting | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Van Dorn could not retreat in the same direction from which he came (the west) because Curtis could cut him off and destroy his army. Van Dorn therefore directed a withdrawal to the east, and then south, to his original encampment near Fayetteville in the Boston Mountains. To Van Dorn’s benefit, the bulk of the Federal attack came against the western portion of his line, enabling the eastern portion to slip away and pushing the rest in the direction that Van Dorn needed to go.

However, what Van Dorn hoped would be a fighting retreat soon became a confused rout, as the Confederates fell back in multiple directions. This resembled the panicked retreat at Bull Run, except this time it was the Confederates who fled.

The bulk of Van Dorn’s army rejoined the supply train around 2 p.m., and by nightfall, most of the Confederates had reached Van Winkle’s Mill, some 20 miles from the battlefield. Sigel’s Federals conducted a half hearted pursuit and camped about 10 miles north, while the rest of Curtis’s army remained at Pea Ridge.

As a consequence of this battle, Missouri remained firmly in Federal hands. Curtis sustained 1,384 casualties (203 killed, 980 wounded, and 201 missing or captured). Colonel Carr later received the Medal of Honor for his performance in the first day of fighting. Curtis wrote his brother after the battle:

“The enemy is again far away in the Boston Mountains. The scene is silent and sad–the vulture and the wolf now have the dominion and the dead friends and foes sleep in the same lonely graves.”

The Confederates had fought well considering their exhaustion and hunger; many had gone into the fight with shotguns or obsolete flintlock muskets to take on state-of-the-art Federal weaponry. Van Dorn suffered about 1,300 casualties (1,000 killed or wounded and 300 missing or captured). His worn out men straggled back toward the Arkansas River and ultimately Van Buren, but it took them two weeks to fully regroup.

Despite being driven off in confusion, Van Dorn reported: “I was not defeated, but only foiled in my intentions.” He acknowledged that no victory could have replaced the cost, which included the loss of Generals Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh on the battle’s first day. However, Van Dorn had high praise for Price’s Missourians:

“During the whole of this engagement, I was with the Missourians under Price, and I have never seen better fighters than these Missouri troops, or more gallant leaders than Gen Price and his officers… Gen Price received a severe wound in the action, but would neither retire from the field nor cease to expose his life to danger.”

The Confederates did not accomplish their goals of regaining Missouri or diverting Federal attention from the Confederate military buildup in northern Mississippi. However, they inflicted enough damage on Curtis to compel him to end his Arkansas invasion and return to Missouri.

Van Dorn ultimately led his Army of the West across the Mississippi River to join Confederates confronting Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army in Tennessee. This caused great resentment among Brigadier General Albert Pike and his Native American Confederates, who had participated in the first day’s fighting at Pea Ridge, because it broke a Confederate pledge to protect the Indian Territory from Federal invasion.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 120; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (8 Mar 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 138; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 282-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 119; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 688; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 180-81; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 404-05; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 283-85; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 566-67, 707

The Battle of Pea Ridge: Day One

March 7, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates attacked Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis’s Federals in northwestern Arkansas, as part of Van Dorn’s mission to reclaim Missouri.

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By March 6, Van Dorn’s men had marched through snow and sleet to get within striking distance of Curtis’s Army of the Southwest entrenched on Pea Ridge, near Fayetteville. During the night, the Confederates left their campfires burning while they moved around the Federals’ right and into their rear. Van Dorn had the numerical advantage (16,000 to 10,500), but his men were exhausted and hungry, having marched 55 miles in three days.

Van Dorn, directing operations from an ambulance due to illness, further compromised his superior manpower by dividing the army in the hopes of executing a “double envelopment”: Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards marched down the Telegraph road to confront the Federals’ eastern (left) sector near Elkhorn Tavern, while Brigadier General Ben McCulloch’s force attacked the Federals’ western (right) sector near Leetown. Van Dorn expected the two wings to reunite as they pushed the Federals back.

Curtis had anticipated an attack on his right flank, but not such an aggressive drive so deep behind his lines. Near dawn on the cold, dreary morning of the 7th, Curtis realized the extent of the Confederate maneuver and hurriedly ordered an “about face” to meet the threats to his flank and rear.

Skirmishing opened between 6 and 7 a.m. Delays in positioning the Confederate troops gave Curtis more time to brace his army for the impending attack. Price’s surprise attack on Curtis’s left was also slow to generate, and it was not until 10:30 that the first sortie began.

Battle of Pea Ridge | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Battle of Pea Ridge | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fighting surged back and forth all day. Three Federal divisions held off attacks from McCulloch, Brigadier General Albert Pike, and a portion of Price’s Missourians in the western sector, which became the Federal left after the troops about-faced. Meanwhile, Colonel Eugene A. Carr’s Federal division, supported by artillery, repelled Price’s main force near the important intersection at Elkhorn Tavern.

In the western sector, Pike’s Cherokee regiments, led by Colonel Stand Watie, withstood an artillery barrage from Colonel Peter J. Osterhaus’s Federal division. The Natives then charged the battery in full warrior dress, armed with rifles, bows and arrows, and tomahawks. They sent the Federals running, with many later accusing the Natives of scalping their victims.

The Cherokees became disorganized when they stopped to celebrate their victory. This gave another Federal division time to step up and counterattack. Pike could not regroup his command, and the Federals sent the Natives in retreat. Many of them left Van Dorn’s army completely, heading back to the Indian Territory by nightfall. This was the first and last major battle of the war that featured Native American combatants.

McCulloch, on Pike’s left, had hoped to capitalize on Pike’s initial success with gains of his own. However, the disorganized retreat left his men unsupported in the western sector. Consequently, the exhausted Confederates could not close the gap between themselves and Price as Van Dorn had hoped. As they slowly advanced, McCulloch rode out front to reconnoiter the Federal lines around 10:30 a.m. Wearing a black velvet uniform, he was easily visible among his butternut-clad men, and a Federal sharpshooter shot him dead.

McCulloch had been the second-ranking Confederate brigadier general, and his death demoralized the troops. Brigadier General James McIntosh, McCulloch’s cavalry commander, replaced him but was killed just minutes later while leading a charge against the divisions of Osterhaus and Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president). This, along with the capture of the Confederates’ third-ranking officer, further damaged troop morale.

Meanwhile, brutal fighting occurred in the eastern sector. Carr’s Federals repelled two charges by Price’s Missourians, despite being outnumbered two-to-one. A furious third charge knocked the Federals back beyond Elkhorn Tavern, but they counterattacked and regained the lost ground as Carr repeatedly called for reinforcements. A fourth assault just before nightfall drove the Federals about 800 yards west, as more Federals finally arrived to stabilize Carr’s lines.

Fighting ended by nightfall. The Confederates had gained some ground and inflicted substantial damage on Curtis’s army. However, the two wings could not coordinate their efforts to destroy the Federals as Van Dorn had hoped. And the failure to regroup the Cherokees, along with the deaths of McCulloch and McIntosh, caused considerable disarray among the Confederate ranks.

Van Dorn reported that McIntosh had been alert, daring, and devoted to duty, and his death was significant due to his popularity among his troops. Both McIntosh and McCulloch became the two greatest heroes of this battle. Van Dorn, apparently resentful of Pike’s inability to regroup his Natives, omitted their contribution in his official report. As both sides settled down for the night, the Confederates found themselves separated from their supply train. Van Dorn had not directed it to follow his army, thus depriving the troops of food and ammunition.

At Federal headquarters, Curtis held a council of war. Federal prospects seemed bleak considering that the Confederates had taken Pea Ridge and Elkhorn Tavern, and they cut his supply line to the north. However, Curtis knew that McCulloch had been killed, and that other top officers had also been killed or captured. He also knew that the Natives had left the fight. Guessing that Confederate morale was low, Curtis resolved to concentrate his forces and fight his way through to the north the next morning.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 120; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (7 Mar 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12910; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 138; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9562; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 381, 461-62; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 282-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 118-19; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 143; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179-80; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 404; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 458, 585; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 566-67

Battle Looms in Northwestern Arkansas

March 2, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn led a unified Confederate army northward to confront Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis’s outnumbered Federals in northwestern Arkansas.

Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi District, arrived at the Boston Mountains in Arkansas to create the new 16,000-man Army of the West from:

  • Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards
  • Brigadier General Ben McCulloch’s Texans, Louisianans, Arkansans, and Missourians
  • Brigadier General Albert Pike’s 800 Native Americans
General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Van Dorn’s objective was to reverse the recent Confederate withdrawal by reentering Missouri, capturing St. Louis, and possibly even invading Illinois. In so doing, Van Dorn would divert Federal attention and resources from General Albert Sidney Johnston’s efforts to unite Confederate forces scattered among various points in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Curtis opposed Van Dorn by leading the 10,500-man Federal Army of the Southwest into northwestern Arkansas. Van Dorn knew that Curtis had committed a classic military error by dividing his force in the face of a larger enemy–one wing was along the Telegraph road, and another was farther west at Bentonville. Van Dorn planned to move his Confederates between the Federal wings and defeat them both in detail. However, there was intense animosity between Price and McCulloch, as well as their troops, dating back to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek the previous August. This threatened to undermine the cooperation that Van Dorn needed to execute his plan.

Before moving out, Van Dorn issued orders for the men to bring just three days’ rations, one blanket, and 40 rounds of ammunition. No tents, cooking equipment, or extra clothing was allowed. This put the troops at risk of freezing on the Ozark Plateau, starving if they could not defeat the Federals and take their supplies, or both. The Confederates began moving out on the 4th.

The next day, Curtis received word that the enemy was approaching. Having just four infantry divisions along with some cavalry and artillery, Curtis awaited reinforcements as he began pulling back to stronger defensive positions. He also ordered Brigadier General Franz Sigel, commanding two of Curtis’s four divisions at Bentonville, to fall back and join the rest of the army about 10 miles northeast.

By March 6, Curtis’s Federals had begun setting up defenses along Pea Ridge, a high eminence along the northern bank of Little Sugar Creek that got its name from peas growing on vines. They also entrenched themselves near Elkhorn Tavern, north of Fayetteville. Facing south from these positions, the Federals could watch the important Telegraph road running from Fayetteville to Springfield, Missouri. West of the Telegraph road, Sigel’s Federals, mostly German immigrants from St. Louis, could watch the Elm Springs road for a potential Confederate advance.

Meanwhile, Van Dorn’s army continued marching northward from Fayetteville and Elm Springs, with Pike’s command, consisting mainly of three Cherokee regiments, leading the way. The Confederates advanced with hardly any protection from the heavy sleet and snow.

By the afternoon of the 6th, Price’s Missourians had reached the southern end of Pea Ridge. To the west, Brigadier General James McIntosh, McCulloch’s cavalry commander, attacked Sigel’s Federals near Bentonville and tried surrounding them. However, the Federals narrowly escaped and fended McIntosh off with artillery before joining Curtis’s men at Pea Ridge. Curtis prepared to defend against a frontal assault.

The Confederates camped along the Telegraph road that night as Van Dorn met with Price, McCulloch, and McIntosh. Van Dorn’s original plan to divide and conquer Curtis’s two wings was no longer tenable, and the commanders agreed that Curtis’s new positions were too strong to attack frontally. Therefore, a new strategy was needed.

McCulloch proposed taking the Bentonville Detour road at dawn and moving around the Federal right flank, which would threaten Curtis’s supply line and force him to fall back into Missouri. Van Dorn took this idea further–the Confederates would move that night around the Federal right and continue until they reached the Telegraph road behind the Federals, which would cut Curtis’s supply line and force him to surrender. Price’s Missourians would create a diversion by attacking the Federal left near Elkhorn Tavern.

Curtis anticipated some sort of flanking maneuver, but he did not expect Van Dorn to thrust so far into the interior of his lines. Such a move could have easily destroyed the Federal army had the Confederates not been so exhausted, cold, and hungry. Further hampering the plan was Van Dorn himself, who was so ill that he had to direct operations from an ambulance. This kept him from ensuring that Price and McCulloch worked in full cooperation.

The Confederates moved out that evening, leaving their campfires burning to hide their intentions. However, Federal scouts, including “Wild Bill” Hickok, kept a close eye on their movements.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12891-910; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 137; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-18; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 404; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 281-82; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 566-67

The Battle of Chustenahlah

December 26, 1861 – Confederate Texans and Native Americans defeated Unionists a second time this month in the Indian Territory.

Colonel Douglas Cooper | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Colonel Douglas Cooper | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Since the skirmish at Round Mountain in November, Unionist Creeks led by Chief Opothleyahola had withdrawn northeast into the Cherokee Nation to Chusto-Talasah (Bird Creek or Caving Banks), near Tulsey Town (present-day Tulsa, Oklahoma). Following them was a pro-Confederate force of about 1,100 Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and the 9th Texas led by Colonel Douglas Cooper.

As Cooper prepared to confront the Unionists, Colonel John Drew, commander of the 1st Cherokee Mounted (Confederate) Rifles and a nephew of Cherokee Chief John Ross, met with Opothleyahola to try brokering a peace agreement. The Chief agreed to send a messenger to Cooper seeking peace coexistence. Cooper replied that “we did not desire the shedding of blood among the Indians,” and proposed a conference to work out peace terms. However, by that time many Unionist Creeks had resolved to stop fleeing and fight, and they prevented Cooper’s envoy from meeting with Opothleyahola.

Meanwhile, Drew reported to Cooper that 500 of his Cherokees had deserted the ranks due to a “misconception of the character of the conflict between the Creeks, and from an indisposition to engage in strife with their immediate neighbors.” Some Cherokees went home, while others joined the Unionists. Drew and his remaining 28 men stayed with Cooper, who prepared to defend against an attack he thought would take place on the night of December 8. The Unionists did not attack, so Cooper deployed skirmishers to find their positions the next morning.

The Unionists drove the skirmishers back and advanced at a place the Cherokees called Chusto-Talasah. Cooper formed a line of battle to meet them, with the Choctaws and Chickasaws on the right, the Cherokees and Texans in the center, and the Creeks on the left. The line advanced as one; the Creeks engaged in vicious combat with their fellow Creeks, driving back the Unionists on that flank while the Choctaws and Chickasaws pushed back the opposite flank.

Pinned down near a house at a bend in Bird Creek, the Unionists knocked the attackers back with deadly fire. This gave the Unionists the chance to escape annihilation. The Confederates tried pursuing, but their movements were limited due to supply shortages. Nightfall ended the four-hour contest, with Cooper estimating that he inflicted 500 casualties while losing just 52 (15 killed and 37 wounded). The Unionists continued their withdrawal toward Kansas.

Col James McIntosh | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Col James McIntosh | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The lack of supplies and the fear of more Cherokee desertions prompted Cooper to plead with Colonel James McIntosh for reinforcements. McIntosh responded by leading a separate force in search of Opothleyahola’s Creeks on their way to linking with Cooper. On Christmas Day, McIntosh learned that Opothleyahola’s camp was at Chustenahlah, near the Kansas border. He planned to attack the next day without informing Cooper, whose forces remained near Chusto-Talasah.

McIntosh’s Confederates, though outnumbered 1,700 to 1,300, were better equipped and trained. The Unionist Creeks were camped along Shoal Creek, a tributary of the Verdigris River, when the enemy forces came upon them around noon. The Confederates launched three assaults on the Creeks’ right, center, and left. The Unionists gradually fell back to their camp, then broke and fled in the face of repeated charges. Some Confederates pursued the Unionists while others plundered their camp. McIntosh reported:

“We captured 160 women and children, 20 negroes, 30 wagons, 70 yoke of oxen, about 500 Indian horses, several hundred head of cattle, 100 sheep, and a great quantity of property of much value to the enemy. The stronghold of Opoth-lay-oho-la was completely broken up and his force scattered in every direction destitute of the simplest elements of subsistence.”

McIntosh stated that he lost just 40 men (eight killed and 32 wounded). Opothleyahola’s Creeks, who had been reluctant to leave their homes in the Indian Territory, now raced for sanctuary in Kansas, suffering severe hardships in the process.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 60; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 147-48, 151-52; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 266