Journal of the Military Service Institutions of the United States
July, 1905
Vol. XXXVII, p. 519




TYPES AND TRADITIONS OF THE OLD ARMY
WITH THE THIRTEENTH INFANTRY IN DAKOTA

BY BRIGADIER-GENERAL WILLIAM M. WHERRY, U. S. ARMY.

THE Thirteenth United States Infantry was rendezvoused at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., in the winter of 1865-6, reorganizing for service on the plains against the Indians. At that time it comprised three battalions of eight companies each, on paper, only one of which, the First, had been organized and manned during the war, and it was serving at posts in Kansas at the time of which we are writing. I joined the regiment Feb. 28th, from Europe, whither I had accompanied General Schofield on his mission to secure the withdrawal of the French Army from Mexico, where it was supporting Maximilian's government, established there during our Civil War in opposition to the wishes of the patriotic Mexicans and a menace to republican institutions in America. I was assigned to command Company A Second Battalion, to which I belonged as first lieutenant, in the absence of its captain, and entered upon the usual duties at such a post.

It is hardly worth while here to describe Jefferson Barracks at that date; suffice it to say it had been constructed in the early fifties and its buildings of stone were substantial and commodious, but altogether lacking in so many of the conveniences now looked upon as necessities. Of plumbing and baths there were none, and most of the kitchens were in the basements. The location was on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, with fine forest trees and for that day an ample parade. The post was crowded to its limits, for there were assembled there the 3d, 10th, 13th and 18th Infantry regiments, two batteries Third Artillery and a battalion of engineers. Col. B. L. E. Bonneville, the explorer, made famous by Washington Irving, although a superannuated retired officer, was in command and expended his strength and energies in keeping the post and immediate surroundings policed. The officers were all veterans of the Civil War, except a few lieutenants of the class that graduated at West Point in 1865, and most of the enlisted men and recruits arriving were veterans from the disbanded Union and Confederate Armies.

Many of them "were on their uppers," as the phrase goes, having spent their substance in riotous living since discharge, and unused to the steady demands of earning a living in civil pursuits, they sought refuge in the military service. As may be readily conjectured the [sic] many were the froth and foam of both armies, and were undesirable anywhere. Some would cut a throat for a quarter of a dollar. The real "snow-birds" deserted as the spring opened, but many of the most intractable held on to get transportation to the new country west and near the mining regions, when they too deserted in shoals.

Early in March one hundred newly arrived recruits were set aside to form Company G of the Third Battalion, and I was, in addition to the command of Company A, Second Battalion, given charge of these recruits, in the absence of Capt. Frank Muhlenberg who was carried on the returns as captain of Company G, Third Battalion. In a few weeks Muhlenberg arrived and announced his intention to resign from the army in about three months, when without my knowledge it was suggested to him to do so at once, so that I, who was the senior first lieutenant of the regiment, and would succeed him as captain, could, from the recruits I already was in charge of, organize my own company to my liking. This Captain Muhlenberg generously did, and my captaincy dated from April 6, 1866. He had already left the post before I knew of his action, and it was not till the fall of 1895 that I had an opportunity to thank him in person for his magnanimity.

By the middle of May the regiment was filled up and equipped and the headquarters and two battalions were embarked for the Upper Missouri, to be joined by the First Battalion assembling at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. The Second Battalion preceded us and was destined for Forts Randall, Thompson and Sully. We of the Third Battalion sailed May 21st for Forts Rice, Berthold, and Buford. There was a good depth of water in that uncertain stream, the Missouri, and we got along fairly well to above Omaha. We touched at Fort Leavenworth and had a brief reunion with the First Battalion, and a short stop at Omaha failed to impress us with a full realization of the future of that promising place. The Union Pacific Ry. Was building then and had about sixty miles of track laid in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, and Council Bluffs, just opposite in Iowa, was the goal which three now great railroad systems were striving to reach. We were offered town lots in Omaha, then a squalid, struggling, scattered town, little more than a hamlet, at prices that seemed high, but which would have made us rich in time if we had made judicious selections, but we had more caution than money and wended our way without investing.

As we approached Sioux City it was evident the fast flowing Missouri was rapidly lowering in volume of water, and its sinuous course and frequent sand-bars and shoal places were to give us untold labor and to delay our monotonous progress. The steamers we were embarked upon were taken from the lower river trade, and were too large in every way, besides drawing too much for navigation of the Upper Missouri after the first flood from the melting snows had passed along. And in addition to the men and their immediate belongings we were laden down with supplies that were to sustain us during the coming winter. From now on it was working our passage. Here the boat would be walked over a bar by long spars lashed to her like the legs of a spider and she was raised up and on by the donkey engine, and again one moiety of the cargo was landed and the boat thus lightened was taken over the shoal to deeper water where the other half of the cargo was deposited on the bank and then the boat went below for the first deposit and took on the second upon its return up. The soldiers shared with the crews in this labor as well as in taking on the wood for steam at the infrequent wood landings, which gave rise to much discontent and no little grumbling. After a tedious voyage of forty-two days we landed at old Ft. Rice, D. T. about eight miles above the mouth of the Cannon Ball River and some forty below where the Northern Pacific railroad now crosses the Missouri at Bismarck.

It was in an absolute wilderness. No settlement worthy of the name on the river above Yankton, nothing at all north except the fur-trading post at Fort Benton, and hardly anything east till one reached St. Paul. Fort Berthold up river was about 185 miles away by land; Fort Sully about the same distance by land down stream and both from 450 to 500 miles by the sinuosities of the river, and Port Abercrombie on the trail to St. Paul was 185 miles away to the eastward.

Fort Rice had been established in the Sully campaign of 1863, and was constructed by a volunteer regiment. It was on a high bank of the river and had no trees near it. The reservation embraced a woods and open grass-filled meadow in the bottom lands of the Missouri, near a mile above, and there was a wood reservation on the Cannon Ball, eight miles below, relied upon for our fuel.

The post was constructed in the form of a rectangle, the storehouses, barracks and officers' quarters forming the sides, but only those unoccupied being on the outside, and these were connected by a stout palisade which extended around to embrace the other buildings, and blockhouses surmounted by sentry boxes were at the diagonally opposite corners. A sally-port, with heavy and strong doors at the entrance, in the center of the east face, had the guardhouse at one side of it.

About 150 yards below on the same bluff was the corral with granaries and stacks and stablings, all enclosed by palisading, and requiring a detached guard, as did also the saw mill, a little in rear and still farther down river.

The buildings were mostly composed of logs sawn in the mill to about six or eight inches in thickness and near twelve inches in width, put up in rectangular pens long enough to form four large rooms, a cross partition of logs in the center and the two other partitions of cottonwood boards sawn in the mill. Another partition ran lengthwise of the whole building, thus subdividing the rooms into two, which formed one officers' set of quarters. The building was only one story high, the roof made of slabs from the mill with a slope from wall to wall sufficient to turn water, and covered by a sod of a foot or more in thickness, which served as a refuge and home for thousands of the myriads of rats that infested the place. One building alone was two stories high. It was built of logs, weather-boarded and shingle roofed, and contained three sets of quarters occupied by the colonel, who commanded the district, the major commanding the post, and his family, a wife and three children, and the one captain who had his wife, a bride, present. The floors of the other officers' quarters were of narrow cottonwood planks, cut like all the timber used from the river bottom, and sawed and used green, and it shrank and warped as it dried, as did the walls and partitions of the rooms, so that the floor was too uneven to carpet, the interstices were filled with earth and were dusty, and the walls warped and so twisted the door and windows as to let in the dust in summer and in winter the snow, which in that dry climate was an impalpable powder. In the mornings, after the fires had gone out in the stoves for hours, a bank of snow from two inches deep to a mere powder, would extend into the room from each window and door, for about three or four feet.

The men's barracks or quarters were of uncut logs one story high, built the same way, with the same sort of irregular floors and the roofs only differing in that instead of slabs they had brush, like hazel twigs, to support the sod, which was better for the rats and more inflammable and liable to fire.

The officers had only a meager furnishing for such quarters as they had, and very few superfluities. It may not be supposed they led a very luxurious life; but as for the men—they had bunks made of lumber, two deckers, each to contain two men, the bottoms of boards, no other springs, no mattresses, no sheets, no pillows, but instead a bedtick filled with loose straw, issued weekly, each tick to two men, and their allowance of blankets for covering, while they used great coats for pillows. Chairs were unknown, rude tables and rude benches the only furniture, and for tableware, mostly tin cups, tin plates, iron three-pronged forks and bone-handled iron knives to match filled the bill. Here and there a company, with age and thrift to have a company fund, had block tinware, and once in a while one was rich enough to afford ironware china, with even a monogram on it. The government furnished nothing; there was no canteen, and a company fund was to be accumulated only in time, by management, economy and some self-denial, out of the daily issue of rations.

Life at that frontier post was not unlike life at many other such. It surely was not one round of pleasure, ease and gaiety. It was in a hostile Indian country, and although the tribes immediately about us were friendly, the malcontents under Sitting Bull were in the vicinity of the Bear Paw, and their little war parties were continually coming about for plunder or bravado, and it was not safe to go any distance from the stockade alone or unarmed. Guard duty was very heavy, two nights in bed were a boon. During the summer and autumn there were daily drills, but very little target-practice, and much cutting of wood for the winter fuel and hay for the animals, which were increased greatly by the arrival of 350 head of cattle belonging to the Subsistence Department, and which was to furnish our fresh beef during the winter. Before the winter was over they became so poor in flesh, the soldiers spoke of them as "dried beef on the hoof." This herd added to the guard duty too, for it had to be driven daily to the prairie in the bottom-lands above to graze, and required a guard of at least twenty or thirty to conduct it back and forth and protect it while there, a specially burdensome duty during, the bitter cold winter weather. And notwithstanding which a war party of Unca-papas swooped down on it one morning just as it reached the grazing ground and while the sergeant was posting his vedettes, attacked and dispersed the main guard, killing two men and wounding two, and was driving the whole herd to the hills. Fortunately the alarm reached the post in time for the garrison to turn out and overtake the savages, and all the cattle were recovered, except about five head. which the Indians segregated and got off with. After that a commissioned officer had to go on herd guard daily.

Among the daily fatigue duties was the hauling water in barrels from the river, for it is to be stated in contrast with prevailing conditions of the present time, where, at many posts in the United States, modem plumbing, porcelain bathtubs and stationary wash-basins, with running water, prevail, all the water used at Fort Rice was hauled in barrels, and dipped from the barrels that stood in every set of quarters. Bathtubs were unknown, and in winter, when the thermometer went below zero and stayed there, the water problem was serious. The ice in the Missouri was three feet thick, and in shallow water went to the sand at the bottom.

When we arrived at Fort Rice, July 2, 1866, the commissioned personnel consisted of Major J. N. G. Whistler, Commander of Bat. and Post ; First Lieut. Wm. D. OToole, Adjutant ; First Lieut. J. M. Marshall, Quartermaster; Capt. A. M. Powell, Capt. Chas. J. Dickey, Capt. Wm. M. Wherry, Capt. J. B. Irvine, commanding companies.

Lieutenant Marshall, in addition to his duties as quartermaster, commanded a company which was without officers, and also commanded a detachment of about forty men, taken from the five companies and mounted for escort and messenger service, which gave him a decided preponderance in the affairs of the post.

During the summer Lieuts. Phil. H. Ellis and Geo. M. Mitchell, and the Post-Surgeon, Dr. Bolliver Knickerbocker, joined. Later the roster was increased by the arrival of First Lieuts. Thos. Little and— .—Parsons [Foster E. Parsons] and Second Lieut. James S. King. In the autumn Col. Isaac V. D. Reeve, accompanied by his staff; First Lieut. Thos. J. Lloyd, Adjutant, and First Lieut. R. A. Torrey, Quartermaster, came and established headquarters of the district he commanded at the post, being subsequently joined by First Lieut. H. C. Pratt, 13th Infantry, who was, I believe, regimental adjutant.

Captain Dickey went on recruiting duty early in the autumn, and late in the fall Captain —— Duffy [John Michael Duffy] came for G. C. M. duty and was caught by the winter, having to wait over for spring.

The sutlers were E. H. Gregory and brother, and the American Fur Co. had a representative whose name has escaped me, while Chas. H. Galpin, a noted plainsman, was agent of the Northwestern Fur Co.; Louis Le Frombois, a half-breed, was the interpreter.

In the reorganization of the army, which took place that summer, the Third Battalion, Thirteenth Infantry became, by the addition of two companies, the Thirty-first Infantry and I found myself transferred from the regiment I entered, and which had had Sherman for colonel, Augur and Crawford for majors and P. H. Sheridan as a captain on its rolls, to a new organization, to date Sept. 21. 1866.

In that same month I had my first and only experience in independent command of a body of troops in the Indian country. "Two Bears," Chief of the Yanktonnais, a friendly tribe of Sioux, on the East of the Missouri, sent in a runner to say the half-breeds from the Red River of the North, a British tribe, had crossed the border with contraband goods, got his "young men " drunk, and had accumulated about all the Yanktonnais winter meat and furs, and his tribe was in such a demoralized condition he wanted help to extricate the tribe from the clutches of the Red River men. I was sent out with four companies of infantry and the mounted detachment to drive away the half-breeds and bring in our Indians. After a march of four days, in which I could get no nearer the half-breeds than a day's march until they crossed the border, where I was forbidden to follow, I gathered up our Sioux and conducted them back to the vicinity of Fort Rice. They were in a pitiable condition and were so nearly stripped of their possessions they had to be fed all winter and many died for want of food and shelter.

Not long after my return from this expedition General Alfred H. Terry visited the post on his annual inspection trip, from his Department Headquarters at St. Paul. I had served with General Terry during the closing operations of the Civil War, and had found a friend in him. When he was leaving Fort Rice he asked if I would like to come to St. Paul for service on his staff. Of course I said I should be delighted to do so, and he said he would send me an order when he returned to his headquarters.

The autumn passed away without interesting incident. Drill, herding cattle, stacking hay, gathering in wood, the customary fatigues and police duties and the extraordinary guard duty filled the time. Twice I got away to hunt, for a week each time. The last steamer for this year came and went about the 20th of November, and on the 22d the snow began to fall and the winter set in in earnest and to stay.

If it was dreary and monotonous before, who could measure a winter in such surroundings? The few books were soon read and reread and exhausted. There was no club, no place for social intercourse, except a billiard table or two at the sutler's, and it was so cold and inclement, walking or riding were out of the question. Time wore heavily.

One other disadvantage must not be omitted, due to the isolation and want of means of communication. The Summary Court was not of that date, and the Field-Officers' Court could not apply. Yet for most offenses the Garrison Court sufficed, but was cumbersome, and for cases beyond its jurisdiction the conditions were deplorable. When all lines of communication were open, it took nearly or quite a month with bi-monthly mails only to get the charges to headquarters, a week to get action, then another month to assemble a court, if the officers were taken from other posts, two weeks to try the case, a month to get it to the department commander and fully another month to receive his action back at the post; and all this while the victim, it may be of folly, or carelessness, or neglect only, was languishing under guard in a crowded, squalid guard-house, compelled to labor and to consort with a lot of vile criminals and cutthroats.

The winter like all other things came to an end, but it was not until the 11th of April. In March Lieutenant O'Toole received by the mail that came via the posts on the river an order placing him on duty at Department Headquarters, St. Paul. He left the post March 20th, with the mail party for Sully. Next day two Indians came in on snow-shoes from Fort Abercrombie with an order for me to report to General Terry, to be Inspector General, Department of Dakota. It bore date in November and had been held at Abercrombie all winter. I waited to see whether OToole got through, and in about a week he returned with a used up party, nearly all blinded by the glare from the snow, and disabled by the hardships of travel.

April 20, 1867, a flat boat arrived from Fort Buford, going down the river on the flood behind the out-going ice. It was owned by Farwell, trader at Buford, and Chas. Hoffman, sutler at that post, and both were on board with a crew of eleven men, discharged soldiers, quartermaster employees and miners. Two got off to stay at Rice, and O'Toole and I took their places for passage down the river. So I bade adieu to Dakota and the Sioux. We were fifteen days floating down to Sioux City, touched at Fort Sully where Gen. D. S. Stanley. Colonel Twenty-second Infantry, was in command; at Fort Randall, where Gen. Elwell S. Otis, Lieutenant-Colonel Twenty-second Infantry commanded, and at Yankton. We spent thirty-six hours at Sioux City, took a steamer thence to Cincinnati Landing. A farm wagon from there to Missouri City, the present junction of the Sioux City branch of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad with its Omaha branch, by rail to Clinton, Iowa, and steamer on the Mississippi from there to St. Paul.

When I reported to General Terry I found I had been under orders since some time in December of the previous year to report to General Schofield, at Richmond, Va., for duty on his staff. I got a copy of my orders and left next day for Richmond, via St. Louis, Mo., the home of my family.


March 9, 1905.


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