February 27, 1864, Fort
Major General S. R. Curtis to Secretary of War E. M. Stanton
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF KANSAS,
Fort Leavenworth, February 27, 1864.
Hon. E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
SIR: I have returned from a reconnaissance of the country down the Missouri border to Van Buren and Fort Smith, and west as far up the Arkansas as Fort Gibson, returning by Humboldt. Topeka, and Lawrence. The outrages which have been committed against the towns and people of Kansas by our common foes exceed any atrocities committed by Sepoy or savage warfare. Towns, houses, and settlements sacked repeatedly. One hundred and fifty murdered at Lawrence and 96 at Baxter Springs at the last Quantrill raid.
The people are everywhere in great state of anxious fear of the same sort of secret foes that real and apprehended danger connects with the eastern and southern lines of my command. True, there is no organized forces that can be found on the borders, but such has always been the character of the foes that have, devastated Kansas. They are disguised as citizens, and recent discoveries of small bands on the border in Cass and Bates Counties, Mo., and in the border counties of Arkansas, I confess the public apprehension of danger is well founded. Besides, only a few days since, Captain Coleman, of the Ninth Kansas, fought about 100 of these bushwhackers in the Sni Hills, where Quantrill rallied the forces which made the last raid.
I have passed over ruined towns, and the ravaged and ruined country, heard the story of Kansas suffering, and witnessed the sighs and tears of the people. I have seen much of the havoc of war, but nothing so cruel and horrible as the devastations here. See the printed presentation of one neighborhood, which is no doubt true: First: Gardner sacked by guerrillas and about $10,000 worth of property taken away. Second: Olathe taken by Quantrill with about 200 men; property to the amount of $25,000 taken away or destroyed and 16 of her best citizens cruelly murdered. Third: Shawnee sacked; sixteen business houses burned, and 6 men killed. Fourth: Springfield sacked; amount of damages unknown. Fifth: Shawnee retaken; eleven houses burned, property to a large amount carried away, and 2 men killed.
It is sickening and painful. The people are devoted, innocent, patient lovers of our institutions, and they have turned out and fought bravely, as I can attest, on many battle-fields. But they have been denounced, distrusted, and, I say it with sorrow and shame, they have been cruelly neglected. The atrocities which have been committed have not been so avenged as to discourage a repetition, but the villains who have perpetrated the horrid crimes against all civilized and savage warfare have escaped with such success as to invite repetition. I know irregularities have occurred among Kansas troops and Kansas organizations, and I suppose these things have caused indifference or even hostility where earnest sympathy should never weary, but I hope and pray, Mr. Secretary, that your active sympathies for this people may secure them against further disasters. I make this appeal in the face of two orders which I here present:
FORT SMITH, February 23, 1864.
I have received the following orders from Major-General Steele:
"LITTLE ROCK, ARK., February 22, 1864.
"Commanding District of the Frontier:
"By authority from the War Department the town of Fort Smith is included in the Department of Arkansas. You will designate your command the District of the Frontier. You can take your choice between the towns of Fort Smith and Van Buren for your headquarters.
"By order of Maj. Gen. F. Steele:
"GEO. O. SOKALSKI,
"Acting Assistant Adjutant-General."
J. M. THAYER,
SPECIAL ORDERS No. 81.
HDQRS. OF THE ARMY,
Washington, February 18, 1864.
* * * * * * * * * *
I. The Ninth Kansas Cavalry will be placed en route to join the Department of Arkansas, Major-General Steele, U.S. Volunteers, commanding. The quartermaster's department will furnish the necessary transportation.
* * * * * * * * * *
By command of Major-General Halleck:
E. D. TOWNSEND,
The first, which is from General Steele, takes all or nearly all the troops about Fort Smith, which have been under Blunt and McNiel, holding a check against raids on Kansas and the Indian country, but at present for convenience of forage and outposts stationed outside of Fort Smith. There are no soldiers in the "200 feet square" stone-wall inclosure at Fort Smith, as it is no fort and no place for troops.
If, as stated, you have so decided that the town of Fort Smith is in the Department of Arkansas and turned all the troops over, surely this department should be relieved of the responsibility of the little inclosure, which, when I was there, only contained the officers' quarters and some 6-pounders. The second order removing the Ninth Kansas takes away the companies distributed along the Missouri border, including Captain Coleman, who is the best posted and best fighter of bushwhackers in that vicinity. I do not see how I can supply their places. I am thus stripped of all possible means of resisting raids and preventing new robber organizations such as threaten and frighten the people of Kansas.
There remains under my command only the Indian Home Guards below Fort Scott. The little force distributed in the interior seems no more than absolutely necessary to guard stores and towns that tremble with apprehension of immediate danger. I am sure you do not desire this. Your kind dispatch of the 15th instant in reply to mine from Fort Smith assures me that you desire to sustain my efforts, and I therefore present matters which seem to me of vital importance to my command. Not only Fort Smith, but all my department south of the 38th degree of latitude, is by these orders supported only by these dismounted, decimated, half-starved, and undisciplined Indians that tremble with terrified women and children within a few miles of Fort Gibson.
You will see, therefore, the necessity of giving me the command of the troops that took the country at Fort Smith and now hold the enemy in check below, or immediately send other troops to supply the place of these, which by construction and accident seem to be diverted beyond my command. The refugee Indians now in Kansas and those that have gathered around Fort Gibson should be defended in their own territories, and the rebels that now occupy the country and are in force on Red River should receive a blow that will drive them through Texas.
The prairie country west of Arkansas is favorable to military movement, and with a small army corps I could throw forward your extreme right so as to secure the Indian country and flank the rebels in Texas. The facilities and economy of a movement on the prairies west of the Ozark and Boston Mountains, where cattle and grass supply food for men and horses, were illustrated by me personally in my recent reconnaissance, when in midwinter I traveled from 35 to 65 miles a day, through country mostly uninhabited, and after 600 miles marching my troops and horses were in good health and condition.
If, therefore, I am given a proper force, I feel confident I can use it to much greater advantage west of Missouri and Arkansas than I did a similar force in the mountains and timbered country of those States in 1861-'62. The interior route to the Rio Grande is on the prairies west of Missouri and Arkansas, where your right flank rests on uninhabited prairies, and no mountains or timber encumber your way, and the rebels congregated in Texas are harassed and turned on their left flank. Having visited the southern portion of my department, and after 800 miles of travel returned to my headquarters, I thus briefly present my views of matters essentially important to a complete organization and support of my command.
I have the honor to be, Mr. Secretary, your very obedient servant,
S. R. CURTIS,
visits since 02/04/2004
page revised 05/25/2006