“Achievements that should not be omitted”: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection
The May release of the American Antiquarian Society’s American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922, includes:
• an unusual account of the role that American Indians played in assisting the Union Army in the Trans-Mississippi Theater
• the diary of a young gentleman from Massachusetts recounting his nine months of service in the Union Army’s campaign in North Carolina
• and a program detailing the 1904 National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in the city of Boston.
The Union Indian Brigade in the Civil War (1922)
By Wiley Britton
The American Civil War Collection includes various accounts of the role that African Americans, both free and enslaved, played in the war on both sides. It is unusual to read an account of the participation of American Indians in the conflict. Wiley Britton provides a detailed and laudatory history of
the operations of the Civilized Indian Tribes of our borders in the great struggle for the preservation of the Union [and] should be left as a monument of their heroism and devotion by some one [sic] who participated with them in that struggle and saw their sufferings and trials for the cause they espoused.
On the title page Mr. Britton describes himself as a “Life Member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Thirty Years Special Service War and Interior Departments, Washington.” He was a young soldier fighting for the Union in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, and throughout his service kept a diary of his experiences and observations which he used as the basis for his book “Memoirs of the Rebellion on the Border 1863” published in 1882. Toward the end of his life he published this account of several Indian tribes fighting for the Union.
In his preface, Britton makes clear his admiration for these warriors as quoted above. Further, he praises their decency and honor.
The fact is noted that when the Indian soldiers were taken out of their country and co-operating with the white troops in operations in Missouri and Arkansas, that they abstained more scrupulously from depredations upon private property than the white soldiers with whom they were associated.
And he refers to the venality of some white officials who cheated and stole from the Indians while lauding the white commander who led the Indian Brigade.
While there was talk at the time of the shameful manner in which Federal officers and Indian Agents abused their authority in giving permits to dishonest persons to drive stock, cattle and horses, out of the Indian country, and sell it and appropriate the proceeds to private use, it is worth while [sic] to mention that there was a conspicuous exception in Colonel Phillips, the commander of the Union Indian Brigade for nearly two years, and who was a consistent friend of the Indians and did all in his power to break up the illegal operations of white men coming into the Indian country and driving off the cattle and horses of the Indians, their most valuable property.
Britton’s account of the brigade runs to 500 pages and is detailed in the substantial table of contents. It is helpful to appreciate his point of view by further quoting, at some length, the preface.
The Indian Territory occupied an extremely important position in the great war; it was the extreme right flank of the Federal operations from the Potomac to the western boundary of the Indian country, and the turning of that flank by the Confederates would have been a severe blow to Southern Kansas; the Union Indian Brigade was an important factor in holding it intact.
These Indian allies of the Government were as humane to prisoners taken in action as the white troops with whom they were associated, and they were as gallant in action and as patient in enduring perils and hardships as their white comrades.
This work is only a small chapter of the history of the Great War; but it is an honorable chapter full of interesting achievements that should not be omitted from our general history. The honorable part these Indians took in the war certainly has had the effect of making those associated with them respect and appreciate the splendid bearing they exhibited in all the struggles and trials that fell to their lot during that tempestuous period.
These loyal Indians formed the nucleus, around which were rallied a sufficient number of loyal Cherokees and Creeks to make the three Indian Regiments of the Union Indian Brigade, and when the Indian Expedition entered and occupied the Indian country north of the Arkansas River in the summer of 1862, for a short time, and then retired, they were the only troops left to hold it. With Western Arkansas firmly held by the Federal forces, and the Arkansas River open to navigation to Fort Smith, the Union Indian Brigade under its efficient commander, Colonel Phillips, when properly mounted and supplied, was able to hold the Indian country north of the Arkansas, and give protection to the loyal Indians without assistance of white troops.
Leaves from a Diary Written While Serving in Co. E, 44 Mass., Dep't of No. Carolina from September, 1862, to June, 1863 (1878)
John Jasper Wyeth was approximately 20 years of age when he enlisted in a Massachusetts regiment “in those ‘Dark days of ’62,’ at the call of President Lincoln, for nine month’s troops.” This work is his diary which he faithfully and articulately maintained throughout his service. The following excerpts encompass the time from his enlistment to his regiment’s departure for the war. The diary continues throughout their nine months of service. One of the earliest entries is dated August 29th under the title “At Readville.”
A busy day for Co. E; we have been ordered to camp. Each man was told to carry rations enough for two meals. We formed company for the first time, out of doors, on the Boylston Street Mall; marched to Boston and Providence Depot, and after hand-shaking with our friends, went aboard the cars, arriving at Readville, ten miles out, at four o’clock; and here the troubles and tribulations of many a fine young man began. We found that either the regiment had come too soon or the carpenters had been last, for only three of the ten barracks were roofed, and some were not even boarded in, so while the carpenters went at work outside, we went at it inside, putting up and fixing the bunks.
Wyeth records some of the youthful sense of adventure expressed by many of these recruits. On the first night some of the men resolved to get a good rest in preparation for the ardors to come while “There were some however, who thought noise and confusion the first law of a soldier.”
August 30.—Our first morning in camp. We were rudely awakened and dragged from our bunks at six o’clock, very few being used to such early hours, except perhaps on the 4th of July, and were expected to be on the parade ground before our eyes were fairly open…
Meanwhile, the company, left standing in the street, with their towels, combs, &c., proceeded to the water, where the pride of many a family got down on his knees, and went through the farce of a toilet, and then back to breakfast.
To-day we have been busy cleaning up and getting ready for our friends from home. It has been as novel a day as last night was new, it is a great change, but we will conquer this, and probably worse.
We can perceive that Wyeth and his fellows were privileged sons of prosperous families who may have enlisted as much for their idea of fun as for their loyalty to the cause. Finding themselves “in the army now,” they began to experience the harder realities of their decision to sign up. Wyeth’s wry sense of humor, which is present throughout the diary, is evident as he describes the visits of their friends from Boston that first day. Many stayed to picnic with them.
The coffee was good, but so hot, and having no saucer with which to cool the beverage, we had to leave it till the last course. Our plates were plated with tin, but very shallow, and as bean soup was our principal course we had some little trouble in engineering it from the cook’s quarters to our tables. We must not forget the bread, it was made by the State, and by the looks, had been owned by the state since the Mexican war.
There was worse deprivation to come.
We were soon astonished to find that we had a surgeon, a man who meant business. Among other things, he thought government clothes were all that we needed, so spring and fall overcoats and fancy dry goods had to be bundled up and sent home. All our good things were cleaned out, everything was contraband excepting what the government allowed. We had always thought it a free country, but this broke our ideas of personal freedom, and we began to think we were fast losing all trace of civil rights, and becoming soldiers pure and simple. Nothing could be brought into our camp by our friends unless we could eat it before the next morning: but goodies would come, and as we had to eat them, of course we were sick.
On September 12, 1862, what was likely the last visit of young ladies occurred. The men arranged a dance but leaving time came too soon. Only one man was allowed to escort the visitors to the train. But first
We demanded and received our last good-bye kisses, but when they saw the same boys falling in the second time, and some of them strangers, they scattered like a drove of sheep over the fences and far away to the station. I think that was the last effort the company made (as an organization) to kiss them all a good-bye.
Two weeks later the men returned from drill to discover “what looked to us like rubbish in front and rear of the barracks [which] proved to be our all.” Everything but their government-issued clothes and blankets had been disposed of. “It was called a sanitary improvement to rob us of these things. The boys did not cater for such improvements at all.”
Soon the day arrived for these slightly less raw recruits to depart for the south.
October 20.—We had orders to start Wednesday morning for Boston, to embark on a transport for New Berne, North Carolina.
October 22.—We broke camp bright and early. About six o’clock, had our last bath at the pond, and breakfast at the old barracks, which had been our home so long, and then commenced the packing of our knapsacks and haversacks, till about eight o’clock, when we fell in with the rest of the regiment, and about nine o’clock marched to the station.
Finally, they boarded the steamer Merrimac and left the wharf about six o’clock, “the cheers of our friends following us far out into the stream.”
Directory and Programme for the National Encampment G.A.R. Boston, August, 1904 (1904)
This work can stand as an example of the many reports of Grand Army of the Republic’s national encampments which occurred annually for many years subsequent to the conclusion of the war. One feature of these reports is the extensive listing of the names of the attendees which will be of interest to readers who are curious about ancestors who fought in, and survived, the war.
The table of contents conveys the breadth of the participant groups listed under the heading Miscellaneous Headquarters:
Daughters of Veterans
Sons of Veterans
Ladies’ aid Society, S. of V.
Ladies of the G.A.R.
National Assn. Union Ex-Prisoners of War
U.S. Maimed Soldiers’ League
Civil War Musicians
Press Committee, G.A.R.
Press Committee, W.R.C.
Several pages lay out the events of the week, including numerous grand parades, grand receptions, open houses, grand campfires, meetings, conventions, carnivals, automobile and steamboat excursions, and dinners. Also listed were these “Provisions for Comfort and Medical Attendance”:
Free ice water will be found on all the grand stands, and also along the route of the parade for marching comrades.
The W.C.T.U. will also serve free lemonade on the route, from stands provided, to all comrades on the line of march.
On the day of the parade, Tuesday, two temporary hospital tents will be placed on Commonwealth Avenue, with surgeons and nurses in attendance, to answer any emergency that may arise during the massing of the veterans waiting for a signal to march.
Sanitaries will be placed midway on the side streets where the troops are to be massed, viz., in the vicinity of Newbury and intersecting streets.
This folding map of Boston "giving all points of interest" is also included:
These G.A.R. national encampments were vitally important events, perhaps increasingly so as the veterans grew older. The extent of the program and myriad participants mark the deeply emotional resonance for all who served and all their auxiliary supporters.