Friday, May 18, 2012

R.M. Peck Part 3


Killing a Mayfield
by R.M. Peck
National Tribune, 04 August, 1904
pg. 8, cols. 1-4


To return to my story. After staying at home awhile I went to Fort Scott and struck Hugh Kirkendall for a job. I took a job driving a post team for him, until something better would open up; and as the transportation business remained very dull I continued driving a post team through the winter of 1862-63.

As I forgot to state it previously I will mention here that a Wagon Boss’s pay was $65 a month, an Assistant Wagon Boss’s $45, and a teamster’s $25, rations included.

At this time Fort Scott was garrisoned by the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry, which regiment, in addition to the garrison and provost-guard duties, also did escorting of forage trains along the Missouri border, and trains that were engaged in hauling supplies to Forts Gibson and Smith in the Indian Nation. Major B.S. Henning was in command of the regiment and post of Fort Scott.

During the early part of the war the rebels, who had not yet got well acquainted with the Northern soldiers, used to boastfully declare that the Union army was made up of “cowardly Abolitionist Yankees and lop-eared Dutch,” and that “one Southern man could whip six of them,” and all such stuff. By the close of the war the same fire-eating Southerners had very materially changed their opinions of the fighting qualities of the Northern soldiers, and had whipped into them a wholesome respect for the “D----d Yankees and lop-eared Dutch.”

During the winter of 1862-63 there was brought into Fort Scott as a prisoner, by some of the soldiers of the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry a rebel bushwhacker, who had been captured by them while out on a foraging trip over in Missouri. He called himself “Captain” Price, and his gang had consisted of about a dozen of those murderous miscreants in the production of which Missouri seemed to excel.

I think this Price was one of the most venomous rebels that I met during the war. While a prisoner he could not refrain from abusing and insulting every Union man- officer, soldier, or citizen- with whom he came into contact. And this he had been allowed to do with impunity so long- because he was a helpless prisoner- that he seemed to think that the “D----d nigger-loving Yankees”- as he delighted to call his enemies- were too cowardly to resent his insults. Finally he got so abusive to his guards that the officers of the guard found it necessary to gag him and swing him up by his thumbs. Or give him a ducking, occasionally, to cool him down.

He tauntingly boasted of the number of “D----d cowardly Yankees” he had killed, and that any good Southern man was a match for six of the “D----d Yankee Abolitionists,” and how he had delighted to charge in among a lot of “infernal Lincoln hirelings” and shoot them down like dogs, while they fell on their knees and begged for mercy, and so forth, and so on, ad nauseum. All his talk was upon this style. He seemed to imagine himself a hero, while everyone else appeared to think he was either a fool or a lunatic.

He was a young man of about 25, and shortly after he was brought in a prisoner, his wife, a giddy, romantic young woman- a fairly good mate for such a brainless braggart- came to Fort Scott in order to be near him. She was not a prisoner or put under any restraint of her freedom, but her movements were closely watched lest she should be sending information to the enemy.

It would have been strange, indeed, if the constant stream of vituperation pouring from the fellow upon his guards, and all others who in any way sympathized with the Northern cause, had not provoked a feeling of retaliation.

One evening, after dusk, as I was passing the guardhouse, I noticed that in addition to the regular sentry, “No. 1,” who was walking his post as usual in front of the guard station, two extra guards were crouching in the dark shadows at either rear corner of the prison, and the officer of the guard also stood conveniently near one of them, with his revolver in his hand. All except “No. 1” were still and motionless as statues- evidently waiting and intently listening and watching for something to happen. It was easy to conjecture what that something was. Some prisoner was expected to make a break and these men were ready to drop him.

Without seeming to notice what was going on I walked on past, into the shadows of the next building- the hospital- and there concealed myself to await results. I was disappointed, however. After a time, as the expected did not seem to occur, the officer and two extra guards withdrew, and re-entered the guardhouse.

I learned subsequently that the guards had discovered that “Captain” Price had dug a hole through the wall of the prison room, and they had set a watch for him, and tried to arrange things encouraging and favorable, hoping that he would make an attempt to escape. But he “smelt a rat,” and failed to come out of the hole he had dug.

Next day, while at the blacksmith shop getting some mules shod, an officer and file of guards brought Price to the shop and had fetters riveted on his ankles, with a short piece of chain between. All the time that this was being done he was putting in the time in his usual way, abusing the “D----d Yankees.” I could see from the looks of the lieutenant and his guards that they would be delighted to get a pretext to kill him, but did not find any justifiable opportunity yet.

The soldiers of the garrison had all become familiar with this blowhard bushwhacker, and I think they had all mentally passed sentence of death upon him, and were anxiously waiting for some reasonable excuse to put it into execution. The commanding officer had ordered the fetters put on him, but the officer of the guard told me that the would have preferred to let him remain footloose, so that he would be encouraged to make a break for freedom, as then the guard would be justified in killing him.

While the blacksmith was riveting the jewelry on him he was getting off his stereotyped boast of the “D----d Abolitionists” he had killed; telling how he and his gang would ride around through the neighborhood where they ranged, hunting down Union men; how they would ride up to the houses of such men as they suspected of sympathizing with the Union cause- always after dark, call them to their door and shoot them down; and what sweet music it was to his ears, he declared, to hear the screams of the women and children on such occasions.

I did not blame the soldiers for wanting to kill him. I felt as though I would like to do that job myself. It was a safe prophecy that his time in this world was limited, and that the soldiers would soon find some way to “fix” him.

It was probable that he greatly exaggerated the number of Union men he had killed, and the number of women and children he had made widows and orphans; and if he and his gang had killed any it was probably done in the usual cowardly bushwhacker style- first persuading their victims to surrender their arms under promise that they “should be respected as prisoners of war,” and then brutally murdering them as soon as they were disarmed and helpless.

Shortly after this it was reported that Price had taken the smallpox and he was accordingly relieved of his fetters, and removed to the “pest-house”- a tent located about a half-mile southwest of town, where he was placed among other smallpox cases, the tent being guarded. But it proved to be no smallpox at all, and even with the fine opportunity given him by placing him between two cases of the disease he failed to take it.

He seemed to conclude, however, that this was a good opportunity to get away and go back to resume his former cheerful occupation, and accordingly one night, when he thought the “sign was right,” he cut a slit in the back of the tent, crawled out and started. He didn’t get far. The sentry who happened to be on post had the enviable satisfaction of sending him where all bushwhackers go. And “Captain” Price never more gloated over the death of a helpless, unarmed Union man begging for mercy, or listened with delight to that “sweet music” he was so fond of- the screams of the women and children whom he had rendered widows and orphans.

One day a company of the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry, on returning from a foraging trip down in Missouri, came into Fort Scott accompanied by Bill Tuft, General Blunt’s Chief of Scouts, who was riding a fine blooded, flea-bitten gray mare that had formerly been owned and ridden by Brice Mayfield, a notorious rebel bushwhacker, who had been killed on this trip in a desperate, rough-and-tumble fight by a German soldier of the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry. Tuft had bought the mare for a trifle from the soldier, who did not realized her value; and with that immaculate gall for which he was famous, Tuft took great pride in riding her about the streets of Fort Scott, giving out- and even having an item published in the Fort Scott Monitor that he had acquired the fine mare by killing Brice Mayfield.

The facts concerning the killing of Mayfield, which I heard from one of the soldiers, as near as I can remember them, are about as follows:

The company of the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry, while on a foraging expedition, had camped near Neosho, Missouri, and a German trooper, accompanied by a comrade, started out to do a little scouting of their own account. They had ridden up to a farmhouse, hitched their horses to the fence, and gone inside to try to buy some butter. The women of the house, being rebels, had detained and delayed the soldiers by pretending to send a little girl after the desired butter to a neighbor’s house nearby, where they knew that Mayfield and another rebel were in hiding; but in reality the errand of the girl was to inform the bushwhackers of the presence at the other house of the two soldiers.

While our two troopers were sitting in the house waiting for the girl to return, and the women by pleasant conversation were trying to make their visit agreeable, the German chanced to step to the window in front of the house and was astonished to see two more horses hitched to the fence, near his and his comrade’s, and at the same moment he saw two men in butternut clothes (a sure sign of a rebel) approaching the door.

Instantly comprehending the situation the German soldier, who was a powerful big fellow, informed his comrade, and drawing their revolvers they both sprang to the door, opened it quickly and fired, at the same instant receiving the fire of the rebels. At the first shots the German’s comrade fell dead, and Mayfield’s companion was also killed.

As Mayfield made a rush to come in the German quickly stepped behind the door, both firing at the same time, the soldier hitting the rebel, but not wounding him seriously, while Mayfield’s ball struck the door and glanced off. The bushwhacker was also a strong, active man, and as he sprang into the house they grappled, each trying to wrench the other’s pistol from him, and in the struggle they fell to the floor, where, after several moments of desperate strife, the Dutchman succeeded in disengaging his pistol, placed the muzzle to the rebel’s head and fired, killing him.

The women and children had fled out of the back door at the first shot, and on disengaging himself from the dead rebel and rising, the plucky Dutchman found he was the sole surviving tenant of the house.

Fearing that the women had gone to bring other rebels to take him in he hastily examined his late comrade, and finding him dead, and then making sure that the two rebels were safely “converted,” he stripped each of his belt and pistol, hung them on their respective saddles, and rode off to camp, leading the three riderless horses.

A detachment of soldiers was immediately sent out from our men’s camp to bring in and bury the body of the brave German’s comrade, and while they were at the house- the women and children being still absent- a spark of fire somehow got started in some combustible material and the house and outbuildings, with their contents, were soon a heap of ashes.

Tuft was in the soldier’s camp when the German returned with his captured stock, and being a good judge of a horse he saw that the flea-bitten gray mare was an extraordinarily fine animal, and succeeded in buying her from the soldier before the man had found out her good points.

And that is how Bill Tuft killed Brice Mayfield and captured his fine thoroughbred.

I afterwards passed by the ruins of the house where Mayfield was killed, which was near the bank of Shoal Creek, a little way north of the town of Neosho, Missouri.

Post teams were comprised of the finest and largest mules that could be selected from all among the vast numbers of such animals passing through the hands of the Post Quartermaster, and were therefore always splendid teams.

A man who aspired to the position of a post teamster must be an ex-Wagon Master, or known to be a first-class teamster, to entitle his application for the job to the consideration of the Post Wagon Boss. Our crew of post teamsters during this winter at Fort Scott was largely composed of ex-Wagon Masters in waiting for trains. As a natural consequence, post-teamsters hold themselves as ranking several notches above the common “mule skinners” of the road.

Post mules are always well and regularly fed, well groomed and well stabled, and consequently look sleek and fat.  Their harness is made especially for them, as the contract harness used in the ordinary trains is neither large enough or strong enough. A post teamster would never think of driving his teams faster than a slow walk, and considers it beneath his dignity to load or unload his wagon- he simply drives the team and takes care of it. For the loading and unloading a detail of soldiers, or prisoners out of the guardhouse, under guard, is furnished.

Early in the spring of 1863 my old friend, Captain “Shorty,” came to Fort Scott, en route to Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation, and was surprised to find me driving a team. After I had informed him that I had been driving a post team at Fort Scott all winter, waiting on the prospect of getting a train of which there didn’t yet seem to be much hope, he said:

“Well, Peck, if this here is the best these folks can do for you here, you go and settle up with the Quartermaster, quit him, and come go ‘long down to Gibson with me. Of course, I don’t know how they are fixed there for Wagon Masters, but I’ll help you to get a place somehow. I think we can surely find something for you down there better than driving a team. I have just been appointed  Lieutenant Colonel to Gibson  of the 2d Indian Regiment, and am ordered to Gibson to take command of it, Colonel Richie being on detached service in Kansas. There will be a large brigade train going down under command of Brigade Wagon Master George Magee. You see him and arrange to drive a team down there, or to work your way through in some capacity, and we’ll see what we can do for you after we get there.”

Taking Colonel “Shorty’s” advice I immediately notified Billy Armstrong, our Post Wagon Boss, to get another man in my place, got my “time” from him, went to the officer and drew my pay, sent the money to my wife in Leavenworth, and hunted up George Magee, the Brigade Wagon Master. He sent me to Wagon Master Jeff Anthony, who wanted some teamsters to take a lot of light battery teams and caissons to Fort Gibson with the big train, which battery outfit was being sent there to complete the fitting our of a field battery, the guns and limbers of which had been captured from the rebels by Captain Henry Hopkins’ company of the 2d Kansas Cavalry, which company was now to be turned into a light battery.

Taking my role of blankets and “Saratoga” (a mule skinner’s trunk  is generally a gunnysack locked up with a hame string), I joined Jeff Anthony’s camp to play artilleryman for a short time. We had six caissons and one “battery wagon,” carrying  forage, tools, etc. Each caisson and the tool wagon is drawn by six horses. To each span of horses there is a driver who rides his near horse, designated as wheel, swing and lead drivers. I was assigned as a lead driver.

A battery team is hitched together very differently from a six-mule team. instead of using “fifth chain” and “spreaders,” the traces of the swing horses are hooked into the harness of the wheelers, and the traces of the leaders to harness of the swings. All the wheels of batteries (fore and hind) are the same size and interchangeable, and each caisson  carries an extra wheel, on a fixed spindle, elevated a little in rear of the hinder box and wheels, to be used to replace any wheel that gets broken in action.

We had two six-mule teams; one for the mess wagon, to carry our tents, blankets, rations, mess kits, etc., and one empty wagon and team for foraging. We started out of Fort Scott in a wet, muddy time, and had heavy roads nearly all the way. Magee’s brigade train consisted of five trains of 25 teams each, besides our battery outfit; and in addition to these we were accompanied by a large number of two and four-horse teams hauling goods for sutlers. When this long train was strung out on a muddy road it took up several miles. We were escorted by several companies of the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry and about 500 Indians (some mounted, some afoot) from Fort Gibson. Besides our advance and rear-guard of a company each, the rest of the escort is marched along on the flanks (always giving up the road to the teams), and strung out so as best to guard the trains from attacks.

Each team, besides its load of Commissary or Quartermaster’s stores, carries its grain for the trip- sacked corn and oats, from which we draw our rations of grain each day, or as needed, for the battery horses; but for “roughness” (hay, corn-fodder, or straw) we have to depend on foraging along the line of travel, and for that reason Magee chose to travel down the old “line road,” as it was called, running near the boundary line that separates the State (Missouri) and Nation, passing through the towns of Lamar, Carthage, Neosho, and Pineville, Missouri, and Maysville, Arkansas, we turned westward through the Nation, by way of Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, to Fort Gibson. This route is no longer and also more dangerous on account of the country being timbered and infested by bushwhackers, but as there is generally considerable forage to be picked up along it, the trains often take it in preference to the old “military road- the one I traveled to Flat Rock and back last summer.

Foraging along the route is done in this way: At starting from camp each morning an empty wagon or two from each train, escorted by a squad of soldiers is sent out to pick up a load of hay, fodder, straw or other “roughness,” or a load of grain either, if they chance to find it, among the farms on either flank, within two or three miles of the road, as we travel along.

The owners of the stuff found are not asked whether they wish to sell, or what price they ask for it. When anything is found the commander of the foraging party has it loaded into the wagon without ceremony. he then writes out a receipt and hands it to the owner, giving the amount (guessed at) of stuff he has taken,. The owner can present this receipt at the Quartermaster’s office in Fort Scott, and if he can prove, by responsible loyal citizens, that he is, and has been, a loyal citizen of the United States, he gets pay at a fair (generally liberal) price. If he can’t establish his loyalty he gets nothing.

As soon as the forage wagons succeed in getting loads they make for the train, which is traveling slowly along the road, unload into the other wagons, and strike out for more. These foragers do an excellent service also as scouts and flankers. If there are any rebels , or signs of them, in their range they will find it out, though the getting of this information frequently costs the lives of a few soldiers or teamsters; still, the risk is seldom seriously considered- it’s in their line. The foragers are frequently attacked by bushwhackers, but if they succeed in killing as many of the rebels as they lose of their men, and still get away with the forage, they consider themselves that much ahead of the game.

Sometimes when such attacks are made at or near a house, a detail from the train’s escort goes back and utterly destroys the place, burning buildings and everything, on the justification that the people of such house are harboring bushwhackers. In this way families are often bereft of home and everything they have in a very short time, but they are usually the families or friends and aiders of our worst enemies, the bushwhackers, and although to one who is unaccustomed to the hardships of war this would seem barbarous cruelty inflicted on possibly innocent parties the usages of war justifies it.

This kind of retaliation on the guerrillas has a tendency to keep them from taking advantage of the farm buildings to ambush our men.

A soldier of one of our foraging parties was badly wounded in a skirmish with bushwhackers near a farm house. He was left at the house while the party came back to the train to get medical aid for him and an ambulance to haul him to our camp. When they went back after him they found that he had again been shot and stabbed in a most cowardly and inhuman manner by some of the bushwhackers, who had returned to the house while he was lying there wounded and helpless; and they had then thrown him out in a hog lot for the hogs to devour.

He was not yet dead, however, when the relief party reached him, and fortunately the hogs had not yet found him, and he lived long enough to tell his comrades how the women of the house had continually reviled and cursed him after his party had left, and how they had sent for the guerrillas and urged them to finish him and throw his body to the hogs.

Those she-rebels were the most venomous kind. It was with difficulty that the officer in charge of the relief party restrained his men from doing these women bodily harm: for many of them wanted to tie the she-devils to a tree and give them a severe horse-whipping. When prevailed on to forego this satisfaction they compromised by striking a match to the house, and sticking it “where it would do the most good,” as one of them said, and in a few minutes the house, outbuildings, and contents were in flames. The soldiers refused to let the women and children remove a thing from the house; they had to stand and see all they had consumed. Can anyone say they did not deserve all this punishment, and more, too?

The cowardly bushwhackers had skipped out on the reappearance of our men, and did not again dare show themselves, for fear our soldiers would vent their fury on them.

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