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Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

Troublesome Bushwhackers

Saturday, May 9, 2009

To say that the Confederate guerrillas/ bushwhackers who operated in Missouri and eastern Kansas during the Civil War were "troublesome is a bit of an understatement. They were more than "troublesome." They were a deadly enemy who would strike swiftly, kill, destroy and disappear, if they survived, to attack again until they met the "Grim Reaper" of Death, as many of them eventually did. If they were troublesome, it was in the winter when their attacks were reduced, but not stopped, as were most military operations in the 19th century.

With the coming of spring, "Union" officers commanding camps, posts, forts or units in the field; such as major Charles W. Blair at Fort Scott, became worried and aware that their "troublesome" foe was once again on the attack. The following letter expresses Major Blair's concern and is located on Page 274, Series I, Vol. 22 in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

Headquarters. Fort Scott, Kan., May 7, 1863

Major General Blunt, Commanding, District of Kansas: Sir: I regret to inform you that bushwhackers are getting very troublesome and (venturesome) every day. I have every reason to believe that they had concentrated to attack the (supply) train returning from Fort Gibson, but I was informed of the time and place of the intended attack and by marching infantry and artillery 65 miles in little over a day, got to the place (Baxter Springs) simultaneously with the train. Since then they have been prowling in small parties in every direction, thieving, robbing and murdering.

Yesterday, word was brought me of four incursions on Drywood, 12 miles south of here. I started off immediately with what cavalry I could muster and 50 infantry in wagons and in an hour was at Drywood, but scoured the country in vain. They had robbed Mrs. Jewell and three or four other persons of money and valuables, taking two horses only. I rode all day and night and on my return this morning to Fort Scott was met by the news that another small party of bushwhackers had last night gone to the house of Mr. Baker, on the Marmaton, 5 miles from here and robbed the house and killed him. He was one of the most upright and respected citizens, a man highly esteemed by everybody. Our whole community is in a state of feverish excitement on the subject. I have a faint trace of the murderer and shall pursue it to the last. But my cavalry, not over 100 of which is mounted, is pretty well ridden down and must start back to Fort Gibson as soon as the train is ready and I am, therefore, much crippled. I fear for the trains. A hundred men are but a poor escort for 150 wagons and yet it is about all I can mount, leaving myself without pickets [guards] and only what scouts can be furnished from my outpost at Morris Mill (A gristmill at Drywood.)

In order to effectually check this bushwhacking and the precincts of the post, there should be two or more companies of cavalry for escort duty alone, and they, with what is here would be enough. Then there should be two more for outpost and scouting duty; one stationed partly at Redfield and partly north of there, toward the Marmaton and one on Cox Creek, up toward the head of cow Creek. These, with the present one at Morris's Mill would have nothing to do, but scour the country, could keep it entirely clear of these vermin! This is the only way life and property can be made safe here. I fear there will be no crops raised unless something of the sort is done and yet I hesitate very much to ask it, for by the return of all these troops recently hereto Springfield, Mo. I perceive that you have scarcely anything left with which to defend your district, although it has been largely increased. If it is possible to increase our cavalry here without detriment to the service elsewhere, I beg you to do it.

I rejoice very much that you have established a station (Union Camp) at Baxter Springs. On my return from there last week, I had just sat down to write a letter suggesting the matter for your consideration; when I received your order [to do so]. It will materially lessen the danger to our trains.

Is it possible for any of Captain Insley's recent purchase of horses to be issued to these cavalry companies on duty at this post? The force might be largely increased by getting horses for the dismounted.

I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully your obedient servant.

Charles W. Blair, Major, Commanding Post.

Now then, the only rapid almost instant communication during the Civil War was accomplished by the use of the telegraph. However, in May of 1863 the telegraph lines between Fort Scott and Fort Leavenworth were still under construction and the overland express or dispatch riders required three to four days to complete their journey. Therefore, it was not unusual for it to take between three to four weeks for an answer to a letter to be received and this was only after the original letter made it's way through the morass and large volume of military correspondence received in the District Headquarters at Fort Leavenworth.

The following letter is an indirect response to Col. Blair's letter of May 7 and it is located on Page 297 of the same volume in the Official Records.

Headquarters, District of Kansas, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., May 30, 1863.

Maj. C. W. Blair,

Commanding Post, Fort Scott: Major: I am just informed, by telegraph from headquarters at Saint Louis, that Coffee is moving north through the western tier of counties (in Missouri,) to re-enforce Livingston and that Colonel Cloud is looking after him. You will be required to be vigilant and watch well the country south of you. If Cloud is west of Springfield, keep open communications with him and cooperate with him with such force as you may have, if it is necessary, to repel any threatened attack. guerillas are very numerous and troublesome (There's that word again!) between Kansas City and Fort Scott. Advices from fort Learned, which I deem quite reliable, state that large forces of Texans and Indians, with artillery, are approaching from the Red river toward the Santa Fe road, which is poorly protected. I am greatly embarrassed for want of troops, yet everything must be done that is possible to maintain our present lines until troops can be procured.

If Phillips should be compelled to fall back, (from Fort Gibson), it would be fatal in the extreme to our cause in the Indian Country (northeast Oklahoma). With our present limited force, it will require great effort to keep open his line of communication for supplies. Six companies of the 2nd Colorado Infantry will be in Fort Scott in a few days. I have directed the 13th Kansas to camp coutheast of Fort Scott, on the Drywood. They will serve as an outpost.

The new companies of the 6th Kansas [Cavalry] must be armed with such arms as there are in the ordnance department and made available for duty. If they cannot get horses immediately, they must serve on foot. You are authorized to furnish arms, ammunition and rations to such of the Osage Indians as tender their services to sustain our cause, but they should be under the control of competent and trustworthy men.

Keep me promptly advised of all information you may receive of movements below (in southern Kansas and the Indian Territory).

Respectfully, Your Obedient Servant,

James G. Blunt. Major General, Comdg. District.

As indicated, Major Blair did receive some of the reinforcements that he requested. However, these reinforcements were not enough to completely eliminate the "troublesome bushwhackers" and the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches