George H. Hoyt
Major General James G. Blunt
Major General Samuel R. Curtis
Shortly after the Red Leg raids of late March 1863, the Commander of the Department of Missouri, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, directed Major General Blunt, to take action against the depredators. Blunt had already issued a stern warning in early March. The newspaper Freedom’s Champion, in Atchison, Kansas, printed this short broadside on 7 March, 1863, which proclaimed that, Gen. Blunt has issued an order against secret organizations in the State, which under the guise of patriotism are devoted to plunder.
Blunt claimed after the war that while he had been away during the winter in Arkansas, matters left in charge of subordinates had been running rather loosely in the district. Among other things, an organization had sprung into existence known as “Red Legs,” and whatever had been the primary object and purpose of those identified with it, its operations had certainly become fraught with danger to the peace and security of society. The organization embraced many of the most desperate charters in the country, while the inducements of easy gain had allured into it many persons who, in ordinary times, would never have consented to be connected with such an enterprise. Officers, soldiers and citizens had become infected until the leaders became so bold as to defy interference with their operations. Letters intercepted, passing from one to another of principle actors in this organization, proved a most deplorable state of affairs, and showed that it extended into Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa. A reign of terror was inaugurated, and no man’s property was safe, nor was his life worth much if he opposed them in their schemes of plunder and robbery. In this condition of things I considered it my duty to interfere for the protection of honest, and peaceable citizens, and to a great extent was successful, notwithstanding I daily received anonymous letters threatening me with assassination if I did not desist arresting and punishing these offenders.
On 3 April 1863, Curtis wired Blunt, ordering him to, Put only very reliable troops on border counties. Missourians fear the "Red Legs" will have too much license under your command. That band of rascals must be checked...
On the same day, Curtis, informed Brigadier General Ben Loan, in Jefferson City, Missouri, that, Blunt avows his determination to put down the "Red Legs," and it seems to me necessary that each of the adjacent commanders should have a cordial understanding and cross lines whenever a real necessity exits.
All operations against rebels, Blunt wrote to Colonel Lynde, commanding the 9th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry on 16 April, must be directed by the legal military authorities. This injunction is to apply especially to an organization known as the "Red Legs," which is an organized band of thieves and violators of law and good order. All such persons found prowling over the country, without a legitimate purpose, must be disarmed; and if they shall be caught in the act of thieving or other lawlessness, or in the possession of stolen property, for which they cannot give a good and sufficient reason, they shall be shot upon the spot. And as there is reason to believe that officers in the military service are implicated, directly or indirectly, in the offenses committed by "Red Legs" and other lawless bands, therefore, upon the evidence that any officer has failed or neglected to carry out the foregoing instructions in reference to such offenders, they will be dishonorably dismissed [from] the service of the United States...
On the same day Blunt wrote to Colonel Lynde, the Western Journal of Commerce reported this item from Leavenworth: JEFF. DAVIS ARRESTED - "Jeff. Davis" and Dick Foster, arrested Monday on order of Gen. Blunt, were yesterday taken to the Fort under strong guard. We do not learn positively the charges against them, nor the cause of their arrest. - Times
On 25 April 1863, the Western Journal of Commerce reported the following from the Lawrence Republican: "Red Legs" Disbanded. The "Red Legs" taking warning from Gen. Blunt's recent severe speeches and orders concerning them are said to have disbanded and mostly left the state. A few only, and those persons who have been with them but little, are left. Captain Hoyt, we understand has gone, or is about [to go] East. He is a young man of talent, very highly connected, and would undoubtedly, in the regular service, rise to distinction. Bloom Swaim [sic], alias "Jeff Davis," is confined in Fort Leavenworth, where he will remain until Gen. Blunt lets him out. The "boys" maintain that they have done nothing, and intend to do nothing but fight rebels. But if that is so, let them go into the regular service. There they can find full play for all their activity and ingenuity, and not be liable to be charged with so many misdeeds as are laid at their feet.
More in Part II