Kansas’ forgotten warriors

In January of 1863, before being deployed into the northeast Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), the “Union” Indian Brigade” from Kansas comprised of the first, second and third regiments of Indian Home Guards was stationed at Camp Curtis in northeast Arkansas near the town of Maysville. As the result of a change in command, Col. William A. Phillips, the commander of the Indian Brigade, submitted the following status report of his brigade to his new commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Samuel Ryan Curtis. This report is located on Pages 56 -58 in Series I, Vol. 22, Part II Correspondence in the official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

Headquarters, 3rd Brigade, 1st Div.,
Army of the Frontier, Camp Curtis, Jan. 19, 1863.
Maj. Gen. Curtis, Commanding

Sir: I desire to report the peculiar features, character and present condition of the three Indian regiments. My close connection with them in active service during the past nine months has given me opportunities to judge and I submit a report as brief as it can be made, believing it is necessary to give the government a clear idea of the nature and wants of this branch of the service.

First: The first Indian Regiment is of Creeks, mustered at Leroy, (Kan). The only white officers at first were field officers. The regiment did some service in June and July (1862); it became badly demoralized for want of sufficient and competent officers; partially broke up in August; was collected in October and had white First Lieutenants mustered, under Gen. Blunt’s order. Some 300 or 400 of the regiment, who had gone to Leroy in August and who had refused to leave it, got down with the train just at the same time the Army of the Frontier was re-brigaded. The regiment has drilled very little; are indifferently informed as to their duties.

These Creeks are about equal in scale of intelligence to the Delawares of Kansas; they are inferior to the Cherokees. They are now in bad shape, get out their details slowly, sometimes desert a post or a party when sent on duty; yet I would be lacking in my duty to them or the government if I failed to say that, with one or two good field officers, military men, and two or even three, company officers, they could be made very effective. No party of them should be sent without a competent officer. Their own officers are, with few exceptions useless, but there are one or two men of influence amongst the captains, brave fighters in the field and of influence not to be overlooked. This Creek regiment gives me much more concern than either of the others

Second: The Second Regiment originally consisted of Osages, Quapaws, etc., and when it got into the Cherokee Nation, finally of Cherokees. The Osages, who were neither more or less than savages and thieves, who brought the whole Indian command into disgrace, were finally mustered out (discharged) during one of their periodic desertions, which fortunately happened at pay time. So, too, of Quapaws and other broken fragments of tribes that were little better. Under Gen. Blunt’s orders, I recruited for the 2nd Indian Regiment and its numbers have been brought up to its present status from Cherokee, half-breeds and whites. Last summer the regiment drilled but little; lately it has improved in that respect. It still lacks necessary officers, but is in a fair way to make a useful force.

Third: The Third Indian Regiment, which was my own, rejoined after its organization, was literally taken from the enemy and was the heaviest blow dealt in the Southwest last summer. Profiting by the experience of the first two regiments, it was organized by General Blunt’s orders, at my suggestion, with first lieutenants and orderly sergeants picked out of the white regiments in the field. I endeavored to secure active, intelligent men, conversant with their duties as soldiers or non-commissioned officers and just so far as I succeeded in this the result has been favorable. Unless when on the actual march, the regiment had dress parade every evening and drill and officers’ school every day. The result is that it is as well drilled as many white regiments that have a longer time in the service.

The regiment has done a great deal of active service, besides innumerable scouts and skirmishes. They were for two hours and 40 minutes under hot musketry and finally artillery fire at Newtonia. They participated at Fort Wayne, Cane Hill, Dutch Mills, Prairie Grove and other engagements. This is the only Indian regiment that really is a success so far, although the Second will undoubtedly will be, but there are several errors in its organization and some few of the command and also the Third absent themselves without leave, which is a chronic Indian weakness.

The error in all of the Indian regiments has been in not mustering the captains or white officers to be fully responsible for property and to see that orders are carried out. I take the liberty of suggesting that the necessary officers for an Indian company are, the Captain (first lieutenant might be an Indian) and second lieutenant white man or better yet, the captain a white man, first lieutenant a white man, second lieutenant an Indian and orderly sergeant a white man. The white men to be selected from the volunteer army or from men who thoroughly understand military duties and who will work hard. It is a blunder to put men of poor ability in an Indian regiment. It requires character so that the Indians will respect him and a thorough knowledge of military duties. In a white company, if a captain and lieutenants are ignorant, perhaps some privates in the company can run it, but an Indian company improperly officered is a frightful mess.

The officers in an Indian regiment have to work very hard to get things in shape. The besetting sin of Indians is laziness.

They are brave as death, active to fight, but lazy. They ought invariably to be mounted; they make poor infantry, but first class mounted rifleman.

The third Regiment, most of the Second and half of the First entered the service with their own horses, were paid as infantry, but foraged and shod by department order of Gen. Blunt.

Their horses have nearly all been used up in the service. At this time the stock is very poor.

The Third Indian Regiment is of 12 companies of mounted riflemen and has two howitzers attached. They are only paid as infantry, but used as mounted men.

About 100 of them are on foot, as their horses have died in service. To be efficient, they ought to be mounted on Government horses in the spring. The third is armed with Mississippi and Prussian rifles. The Second, Prussian rifles and muskets and the First with hunting rifles and they have to mold their bullets.

Nothing but active steps to supply necessary orders can save the First Indian Regiment from utter demoralization. My orders to drill are disregarded. As I compel the regiments to draw on consolidated provision returns, I have difficulty in getting reports from them. I am much embarrassed. As arresting all the officers of a regiment is not to be thought of and permitting it to run loose has a bad effect on the rest. I earnestly desire instructions and the necessary authority to myself or some others. In the meantime, I shall do the best I can.

With Great Respect,

Wm. A. Phillips

Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade.

Now then, Col. Phillips’ report was brutally honest and eventually he received the “instructions and necessary authority” to correct all of the identified deficiencies. As a result of this, all three regiments of Indian Home Guards compiled an excellent service record for the balance of the war, and of course, the war went on!

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