Union Relics from the Red River Campaign

The Red River in Louisiana experienced quite a bit of troubles in 1864.

Alexandria porters fleet 1864 Louisiana History Museum Jose Dellmon collectionThis photo of Porter’s Fleet at Alexandria dates from 1864. Louisiana History Museum, Jose Delman Collection.

Nathan Banks, Union general, commandeered several gunboats to venture up the Red River in the hopes of reaching Shreveport. From there, his troops, the Union army in southwestern Arkansas, and troops in southern Indian Territory were supposed to lead an invasion into Texas in 1864, Union losses culminating in the Battle of Mansfield forced Banks to retreat, but the river had become too shallow. Under the guidance of Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, the men built a dam at the rapids at Alexandria to accumulate enough water to help float the boats down river and back to Baton Rouge.

In the late 1980s, the Army Corps of Engineers built a lock at the site of Bailey’s dam and led an archeological excavation to catalog the site. Today, because of the consistent depth of the Red River at this point, the structure is no longer visible, even at low water.

Baileys dam

An unidentified young man points to the remains of Bailey’s Dam on the Red River at Alexandria, Rapides Parish, Louisiana. This photo is part of a series relating to the documentation of the site led by the Historic American Engineering Record.

In 1864, the USS Covington sunk to the bottom of the Red River at Dunn’s Bayou, Louisiana, after its commander, George P. Lord, ordered her burned. He preferred destruction rather than have her captured by Confederates who had been continuously firing at the Covington (and two other ships, the Signal and the Warner) throughout the preceding two days.

vessle

The photograph of the USS Covington (unknown date) is from the U.S. Navy History and Heritage Center. I found Lt. Lord’s report on www.irononthered.com, a website that documents the civil war activities on the Red River in Louisiana.

The USS Covington was a tin-clad vessel rather than an iron-clad. Prior to its service in the Civil War, it was a ferry on the Ohio River.

Following is Lt. Lord’s letter to Admiral Porter regarding his decision to destroy the Covington:

U.S. S. CHILLICOTHE,
Above Alexandria Falls, May 8, 1864.

SIR: It is with feelings of regret that I report the loss of the U.S S. Covington, and most respectfully submit the following report:

I left Alexandria convoying the steamer Warner at 8 o’clock on the morning of May 4, 1864. While passing Wilson’s plantation the Warner was fired into by about 100 infantry, losing one man. I fired my stern guns at them for some time and passed on. After proceeding about 1½ miles farther Mr. McCloskey, a pilot belonging to the General Price, struck the stern of the vessel against a bar, thereby breaking the port rudder badly and shivering the tiller. I told him that hereafter Mr. Emerson, my other pilot, would handle her.

I tied up all night about a mile from the Red House and commenced repairing my rudder and tiller. At about 5 o’clock I was joined by the U.S.S. Signal. Both of us kept up through the night an irregular fire on the right-hand shore going down, as they had fired upon us with infantry while we were repairing.At 4.30 o’clock in the morning we all got underway, the Warner in the lead, the Covington next, and the Signal last.

At Dunn’s Bayou (on the right going down) we were fired upon by two pieces of artillery and infantry. The Covington was hit by this battery only three times, and the Warners’ rudders were disabled, but she still continued downstream until she came to a short point in the river, when she went into the bank. She had no sooner struck the bank when a rebel battery on the right shore going down, and from 4,000 to 5,000 infantry, opened upon her and my vessel.

The Covington and Signal immediately commenced firing. Almost every shot either struck the boilers, steam pipe, or machinery of the Warner, as she was only about 100 yards from the battery. After we had engaged the battery about three hours, the Warner hoisted a white flag. We still kept up our fire, and I sent a party from my vessel under a severe fire to burn her, but the colonel in charge sent me word that there were nearly 125 killed and wounded, and requested that I would not burn her, which was granted. A short time after this I was informed that the Signal was disabled. I immediately rounded to and went alongside of her, took her in tow, and started upstream, but my rudder became disabled, and the Signal got adrift. It was impossible to pass the Warner, so Mr. Emerson, my pilot, informed me. Knowing that the Signal would drift down on the Warner and the rebels would immediately board her, I ordered the commanding officer to anchor her, which was done.

Finding it impossible to handle my vessel and fearing I should get on the side where artillery and infantry were, I went over on the other bank and made fast, head upstream. I used my stern guns on the lower battery and my broadside on the infantry abreast of us and my bow guns on the battery that was ahead of us, which had been brought down from Dunn’s Bayou. My escape pipe was cut while alongside of the Signal, causing a great deal of steam to escape and making the impression that the boilers had been struck; the men, however, soon rallied and kept up a brisk fire on the enemy. Most of the soldiers and officers, amongst whom were Colonel Sharpe, of One Hundred and Fifty-Sixth New York Volunteers; Colonel Raynor, One Hundred and Twenty-Ninth Illinois [Fifty-Sixth Ohio] (wounded in both legs); Lieutenant Simpson, aid-de-camp to General Banks; and Acting Assistant Paymaster Chester, went over on the Signal. The Signal getting adrift from’ us, they were not able to return to my vessel. After I had been tied to the bank an hour or so, my steam drum was cut and a shell struck under the boilers, letting out all the water.

My ammunition gave out, my howitzers were all disabled by the bracket bolts drawing out, and every shot coming through us. With one officer and a good many of my men already killed, I determined to burn my vessel. I spiked the guns, had coals of fire strewn on the deck, and myself and executive officer set fire to the cotton, which was on the guards alongside of the engine. I saw it burning finely before I left, and feel sure she was destroyed.While leaving the vessel to get up on the bank, a terrible fire of infantry was opened on us and some were killed in going up.

I collected my officers and men all together and found I had with me 9 officers and 23 men. My crew was composed of 14 officers and 62 men, and started through the woods for Alexandria. At 20 minutes of 11 o’clock, when within 10 miles of Alexandria, we were fired upon by rebel cavalry, thereby scattering us. I am glad to say that they have nearly all arrived here safely, with the exception of Acting Third Assistant Engineer Lyon, who was wounded in the head while fighting a few guerrillas who had fired into a party of my men while close to Alexandria. He has since arrived safe.

The whole action lasted about five hours, and the Covington was badly riddled from stem to stern, there being no less than five shots in the hull, some forty or fifty in her upper works. The officers and men behaved with great gallantry, and, with exception of a few, this was their first action. Acting Master’s Mate C. W. Gross was killed by a shot that came through the shell room. The officers and men lost all of their personal effects, the only things that were saved being the signal book and

the dispatches in-trusted to my care, which were returned to you. The arms that were brought with us I turned over to Acting Master H. H. Gorringe, of the Cricket, taking a receipt for the same.

In conclusion, I most respectfully beg that a court of enquiry may be called to determine whether the honor of our flag suffered in my hands. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEORGE P. LORD, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, U. S. Navy.

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Published in: on March 25, 2018 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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End of War

This photograph is possibly the last image of Comanche women in a traditional camp on the open prairie.

Comanche women and child at Mow-Wi camp at Palo Duro Canyon, possibly 1874. University of Texas at Arlington, Special Collections.

Palo Duro

Comanche women and child at Mow-Wi camp at Palo Duro Canyon, possibly 1874. University of Texas at Arlington, Special Collections.

It is noted by archivists that it was most likely taken in 1874 after the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon (Randall County vicinity, Texas). This battle was the final act of the Red River Wars. It pitted U.S. troops, led by Ranald S. McKenzie, against the Southern Plains Indian tribes led by Red Warbonnet (Comanche) and Lone Wolf (Kiowa), among others. The purpose of the Red River Wars was to force the tribes to remain on the reservation at Fort Sill, Indian Territory.

The camp was called Mow-Wi and was located within Palo Duro Canyon. Note the drying hides and the bison fur and deer hide spilling out of the tepee. I believe the women fashioned their tepee out of hides, a traditional practice that had become exceedingly rare at this point as the Indians adopted more modern means of manufacture, such as using canvas to construct their lodges.

A reader for Red River Historian stated that no photographers joined the army on its mission at Palo Duro Canyon. I can’t argue this, but I do argue that it took months for the native bands to break camp and trek to Fort Sill. After their horses were killed by McKenzie, they had to contemplate their place in this new world, and then walk to the fort – like refugees who had been forced out of their homelands.

migration-1876

Handwritten draft of Texas law from 1875, passed in 1876, that barred “Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Kickapoos, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Wichitas, and bands affiliated with them from crossing the Red River from Fort Sill reservation into Texas.” (Texas State Library)

Throughout most of its history, today’s Texas was the domain of the Comanche. Their empire, the Comanceria, proved a formidable enemy of the Spanish, Mexican, and American governments.

The Comanches were defeated in the Red River Wars of 1874-1875. The Red River Wars were fought by the U.S. army against the southern Plains Indian tribes, which included the Wichitas, Kiowas, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Arapahos.

The defeat meant that the Comanches had to remain on their reservation lands surrounding Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and accept “Americanization.” The reservation had been established via the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty of 1867.

In 1876, the state of Texas passed a law that prohibited any of the Red River peoples from moving to Texas. I’m not sure if this law expired, but when Indians gained citizenship – through a federal act in 1924 – the law may have been nullified/voided.

 

Published in: on February 19, 2018 at 11:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tombstone History

Tombstones, especially military ones, are great ways to trace histrory. And the history from the tombstone needn’t be a family member, either – sometimes, getting to know strangers from their past life is just as interesting. Plus, the dead don’t engage in awkward small talk, so there’s that.

Bonham

This tombstone for Alvin Reeves is located in the African American portion of a cemetery in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas. Alvin Reeves served as the bugler for the 815th pioneer infantry. This unit was trained in Kansas and was sent to France in 1918. He may have stayed until 1919, which is when most troops turned home.

The United States entered World War I in 1917 because the British intercepted a coded telegram from Germany containing the message that if Mexico kept the US occupied in a war with German help, Mexico would retrieve the lands they lost in the Mexican cession (1848)… plus Texas.

WWI was called “The Great War” before anyone knew there’d be a WWII. It was the first war to institute a nation-wide draft. The U.S. introduced the selective service system to make the draft fairer than previous ones, when a draftee could pay his way out of service if he was rich enough.

African American soldiers were also drafted, of course. They served in segregated regiments. Initially engaged as support personnel, their tasks including building camps and posts for the U.S. army as it began to enter France. Some soldiers stayed in France rather than returning home to the U.S., especially if they were from the South. Knowledge and fear of several horrific lynching and other violent events – like the 1916 “Waco Horror” and the 1919 mass murder of sharecroppers in Elaine, Arkansas – made the transition quite easy. The majority of French had no segregation laws and did not treat African Americans as racially inferior… they simply saw the men as “les Americains” and demonstrated their gratitude towards the soldiers.

I read that the American infantry units introduced many a Frenchman to baseball and jazz music. I also read that American soldiers did not care much for French food. The French and English soldiers were amazed that American soldiers tended to be less precise in their dress code, but very respectful of private property. According to local accounts, the American were in constant search to buy “souvenirs and other trinkets to bring home.”

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Depredations

Montague County

In the 1890s, these unnamed men from Montague County, Texas posed for a photograph after filing claims against the U.S. government for suffering Indian depredations. (University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections).

Since the southern Plains Indians were supposed to be under government supervision inside the post-Civil War reservations, any Indian activity (war, ambush, horse taking, hunting) was viewed as criminal, even if an ambush or attack was instigated by the settlers. American settlers thus could file claims against the reservations via the Bureau of Indian Affairs to recoup their losses. The monies were deducted from tribal annuities.

Check out the man in the middle (I don’t know his name). He must have suffered incredibly… though I’m not sure if the injury was from a depredation or from an attack or even from an unrelated calamity (Civil War, maybe).

In doing my master’s thesis research, I encountered Charles Goodnight’s depredations claims. His Palo Duro Canyon ranch was part of the Kiowa and Comanche lands that he received from Texas after his Ranger activity along the Texas/ Comancheria frontier during the Civil War. He used the money from the claims against the tribes to build up his livestock, which he then sold to the Fort Sill (Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache) and Fort Supply (Cheyenne) reservations.

As I tell my students, form your own conclusions about this.

Cattle Barons

Charles Goodnight (center, seated) with others at the JA Ranch, Palo Duro, TX, 11/29/1921; standing, from left, M.K. Brown (Pampa), Whitfield Carhart (Palo Duro), T.D. Hobart (Pampa), H.W. Taylor (Clarendon), J.W. Kent (Palo Duro), H.W. Patrick (Clarendon), S.W. Dunn (Mobeetie); seated, from left, Vass Stickley (Canadian), T.S. Bugbee (Clarendon), Goodnight, G.W. Arrington (Canadian), Judge O.H. Nelson (Amarillo). (UT Arlington Special Collections)

Montague, Parker, Clay, Palo Pinto, Jack, and Young counties reveal incredible amounts of history about the clash between Texas and the Comancheria. It’s only been pretty recent that historians have taken a serious look at this very important part of history. It’s one of the reasons the U.S. won against Mexico in 1846, and one of the reasons Texas seceded from the United States in 1861.

The white men fighting along the frontier before the Civil War were cattlemen. Their wealth was on the hoof, and they used slave labor, along with paid hands, to work their capital. The Indians’s use of the land was always suspect to them – by 1859, the tribes in the Brazos Indian Reservation in Young County had been forced out of Texas. By 1876, a mere year after the end of the Red River Wars, the state of Texas refused to allow Indians to enter into Texas at all, and Indians who still lived in Texas were forbidden from owning guns.

There’s a lot of history to be uncovered in group portraits.

Published in: on February 4, 2018 at 4:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Who’s the Enemy?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Southern Moon, a bestseller that traces the history of the Comanches, particularly Quanah Parker. It’s a great read, with lots of detailed information and well-rounded research (well, except for some glaring geographical mistakes).

Empire of the Summer Moon describes the Comencheria, which consisted of most of northwest and western Texas.

What I admire about Gwynne is that he doesn’t pull any punches. In academia, not many historians are willing to admit to the atrocities and terror perpetrated by the Comanches against white, black, and Mexican settlers; academics tend to portray the attacks as stemming from an aggressor/defender kind of relationship, with the Old World invading the New World. And of course, when one gets down to brass tacks, that’s exactly from where the animosity generated. Still, Gwynne does not shy away from noting the unprovoked brutality of the Comanches (and other Southern Plains tribes), and provides gruesome details of what happened to people taken captive as well as the fates of the hapless soldiers and warriors on the losing side.

Harper’s Weekly examines Geronimo and the Apaches in 1886. Harpers’ editors tended to view Indians as “noble savages” who only needed understanding and helpful guidance to adopt the ways of the whites.

This is where I find the history of Native Americans in the Red River Valley very sketchy. Tribes like the Caddos, Tonkawas, Wichitas, Kiowas, and Comanches all engaged in a very brutal warrior culture that included some severe tortures. European accounts explain how tribes roasted and/ or buried their enemy warriors alive, raped and mutilated women, and, in some instances, cannibalized their conquests. Of course, the Europeans could be just as horrendous – one just has to cite the inquisition and the entire institution of slavery for evidence, and that doesn’t even begin to recount the European inclination for gruesome public executions. Throughout the years, though, historians have tried to minimize the more “uncomfortable” aspects of Native American cultures. Many historians have painted them as “noble” or “innocent,” negating very integral parts of their society. This, of course, does Native American groups a grave disservice, as it treats them as pure victims. Instead, Indians were formidable adversaries of the whites, blacks, and Mexican settlers: pretty much every major American conflict until the Spanish-American War at least partially focused on the hostile interactions between non-Indians and Indians.

That’s what I really like about Empire of the Summer Moon: Gwynne treats the Southern Plains tribes as real adversaries, not simple roadblocks to progress. His ability to be frank and non-flinching is a refreshing way to view the American West.

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 3:46 am  Comments (1)  
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