Tag: William Tecumseh Sherman

Marias River Massacre 23 January 1870


At the confluence of the Two Medicine and Cut Bank Rivers is where the Marias River begins and flows east for approximately 60 miles to Lake Elwell, then on for another 80 miles where it meets the Missouri River near Loma, Montana. Somewhere along this stretch of river (possibly here), there lies an ancient American Indian site where Major Eugene Baker of the U.S. Army took his mixed detachment from the 2nd US Cavalry and the 13th Infantry to surround an encampment of Piegan Indians on 22 January 1870. What happened next is clear, but why is not so clear.

A Tragic, Familiar Story

The area had seen an altercation between two hotheads, one white, Malcolm Clarke, and one Indian, Owl Child. Clarke beat Owl Child, who he claimed had stolen his horses. Owl Child retaliated by killing Clarke. As so happened in those days, this caused cries for the army to make sure another white was not killed by another Indian, so Major Baker was sent to teach the Indians a lesson. Baker’s detachment left Fort Shaw on 15 January 1870 and rode north to find a group of Indians known as the Piegans. Baker found an encampment at a big bend on the Marias River and surrounded it in the winter’s night of 22/23 January 1870. There is some debate as to whether Baker knew it was the camp he was looking for or another one.

The Marias River Massacre

On the morning of the incident, also known as the Baker Massacre and the Piegan Massacre, Chief Heavy Runner tried to stop the attack by showing papers that he claimed gave him and his people clear passage in the area. Regardless, Baker issued the order to fire on the camp and many women, children and elderly were killed, the camp was burned and the survivors set afoot in the Montana winter without provisions.

Some said Baker knew that it as the wrong encampment. Some said he didn’t care. Some said he was a drunken commander and didn’t know what was happening. None of the PR options were good and the Army made it worse by ignoring, at the least, but probably covering up the massacre. As so often happened in these cases in the U.S. Army, a young soldier steps up where his superiors have fallen down and tells the truth. Lieutenant William Pease, acting as a Blackfoot agent, reported the massacre to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Ely Samuel Parker. Parker, a Civil War veteran, confidante to U.S. Grant and an Iroquois Indian whose Indian name was Donehogawa, demanded a investigation, but the outcome was prevarication as the U.S. Army closed ranks with General William Tecumseh Sherman saying he would prefer to believe his soldiers.

In the end, no official recognition of the Marias River Massacre was forthcoming and only time has brought a gradual acceptance of the fact of this massacre. Author Dee Brown, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, puts the casualties at 33 men, 90 women and 50 children. Stan Gibson has investigated the topic deeply. He and Jack Hayne are working on a book on the topic.

If you are teaching this topic to 7-12th grade students, there is a good looking lesson plan that uses the Montana: Stories of the Land textbook by Holmes, Krys, Susan C. Dailey, and David Walter. Helena, Mont: Montana Historical Society Press, 2008. You can find the relevant chapter 7 online.

Marias River Massacre Motorcycle Ride

This is a long ride starting and ending at Browning, Montana at the Museum of the Plains Indians. The ride passes through the origin of the Marias River and also runs about 5 miles north and parallel to the Marias for a good while on the beautiful U.S. Highway 2. This is a good description of the things to see along this route, including a Cold War missile Silo. As always, good Battlefield Biking requires the courtesy to ask for permission to travel on private roads. Be polite and ensure the rest of us can enjoy the ride too.

10 December 1864 Sherman Reaches Savannah and Begins Siege

On 10 December, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman reached Savannah after carving a 40 mile wide swath through Southeast Georgia. Sherman declared Savannah a “Christmas present” for President Lincoln.

Prelude to the March to the Sea

The decision to march through Georgia free from Union supply lines was a stroke of genius. Confederate General John Bell Hood, after the defeat at Atlanta, tried to draw Sherman back north by cutting his communications and heading for middle Tennessee. Sherman was undeterred and set his mind on the sea and “making Georgia howl.” Sherman sent Major General George H. Thomas to face Hood in Tennessee. Hood was playing his last card in hopes of drawing Sherman north and defeating him, recruiting new troops in northern Tennessee and Kentucky, and finally heading east over the mountains to help Lee in Richmond. It was not to be, as Thomas defeated Hood decisively at the Battle of Nashville.

Sherman Reaches Savannah

Meanwhile, Sherman continued to ravage Georgia. With a width of forty miles and sometimes wider, Sherman’s forces marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Sherman’s troops were so spread out at times that he instructed his far flung commanders to burn a few barns to indicate their positions. The destruction had Sherman’s desired effect of making the people of the Confederacy, especially the fatigued troops think twice about continuing the cause. Desertion rates of Confederate forces increased heavily, especially in Georgia, with the fall of Atlanta and the march to the sea. Once on the coast, Sherman took Fort McAllister then sieged Savannah. It did not take long as the Confederate forces broke the lines to escape.

By February 1865, Richmond was under siege, Sherman was heading north, and Schofield was moving in from Fort Fisher. If you are into the USA Civil War, check out Shotgun’s Civil War Home.

Sherman Reaches Savannah Motorcycle Ride

For a nice long ride that follows the general path, take the GA SR-16 East from I-75 (between Atlanta and Macon) to Eatonton. At Eatonton, go South on US-441 to Milledgeville. At Milledgeville, take GA SR-24 East through Waynesboro to US-301, turn right on US-301 and go to Sylvania. At Sylvania, take GA SR-21 in to North Savannah.

The Battle of Arkansas Post / Fort Hindman 9-11 January 1863

One of the major problems that Union forces had with capturing Vicksburg and all of the lower Mississippi was that they faced almost continual harassment of supply lines, both on land and rivers. I’ve written a little about this when referring to BG Stand Watie and his Confederate American Indian cavalry harassing supply lines on the Mississippi River. In Fort Hindman, near Arkansas Post and overlooking the Arkansas River, the Confederates had a strong position to harry any Union boats trying to make their way up to Little Rock. Additionally, it was a safe haven and replenishing point for Confederate gunboats working the Mississippi River. Before the Union forces could secure the lower Mississippi river area, they needed to secure their supply lines throughout Missouri, Arkansas and along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

The Battle of Arkansas Post

Hence, on 9 January, Union General John McClernand led a combined ground and naval force with Admiral David Porter to shut down Fort Hindman starting on 9 January 1863. Union troops, led by General William Sherman landed on the 9th and began assaulting the outlying trenches of the fort immediately, eventually over-running them and forcing the Confederates to retreat to the fort itself. On 10 January 1863, Porter laid into the fort with naval fire. By 11 January 1863, McClernand had tightened the noose with infantry preparing for a full attack on the fort and Porter’s guns both bombarding the fort and cutting off retreat lines. Eventually, Confederate commander General Thomas Churchill saw the futility of further resistance and surrendered the fort. One more secure post along the Mississippi was secured for future Union operations.

John A. McClernand and Lincoln’s famous quote on Grant’s whiskey

Check out this biography of John A. McClernand, who was a congressman before becoming a general. McClernand did well at first, but went head on with Grant, shortly after the Battle of Arkansas Post, and lost over the conduct of the Vicksburg campaign. McClernand was one of the main sources that reported back to Washington about Grant’s drinking. To which, Abraham Lincoln was to have said, “I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”

Battle of Arkansas Post Motorcycle Ride

Try this circular route from Pine Bluff to Stuttgart to Gillett to Dumas and back to Pine Bluff which passes by Arkansas Post National Memorial. It also includes the long stretch of scenic highway US 65.

Image Credit:Currier and Ives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of New Hope Church / Hell’s Hole 25 May 1864

In mid May 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman was picking his way down North Georgia. His counterpart, General Joseph E. Johnston had just reluctantly retreated from Cassville, Georgia to the Allatoona Gorge in the hopes of luring Sherman into a tight killing zone. Johnston’s only worry was that the position at Allatoona was too good. Unbeknownst to Johnston, Sherman knew the position was too strong to attack head on. Sherman had spent a lot of time in the area as a young officer and had spent much time around the Etowah Indian burial mounds nearby. Sherman decided to swing west and go directly after the strategic crossroads around Dallas, Georgia.

After a few days rest, the Union forces moved south. General Joseph Hooker was in the van of the middle column and began a pursuit of a small band of Confederate cavalry which was acting as a screen for Johnston’s forces to the south. “Fighting Joe” Hooker lived up to his name and went fast and hard at the Confederates under General John Bell Hood. Hooker had hoped to catch the Rebels off guard and press home and advantage. Hood had other ideas. Taking his cue from his cavalry screen, Hood had begun entrenchments and selecting defensive positions. The first of Hooker’s assaults led by Brigadier General John W. Geary was thrown back when it encountered an undetected enfilade Confederate position which hit them hard. Hooker persisted with two more Divisions and the battle was enjoined.

Hood’s middle was held by Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s Division and they bore the brunt of Hooker’s onslaught for several hours in the afternoon. The battle raged with such ferocity that Johnston became worried that Stewart might relinquish the position. Stewart, a Tennessean, held firm even though some of Hooker’s men got close. With a fierce thunderstorm brewing and setting in, Hooker made one last throw of the dice and pulled Geary out of reserve through dense wood to push through a perceived advantage. Stewart’s artillery which had been so effective now opened up with even more canister rounds and caused the veteran Geary to claim that it was the hottest he had experienced with his command. The Union forces were praised for the courage and coolness, but the day was no to be theirs. With the drenching from the rain and the gloom of the stormy evening setting in, the Union forces settled down in their positions and awaited daylight. The battle has been called New Hope Church, but the soldiers knew it by “Hell’s Hole.”

The next day would bring probing for weakness all along the line, two days later, the fighting would continue near Pickett’s Mill.

Ride Suggestion

Next time you are buzzing down I-75 from Chattanooga to Atlanta, jump off at Cartersville for a great little circular ride that takes in Allatoona Lake, The New Hope and Pickett’s Mill Battlefields and a couple of mountainous switchback roads near Dallas, Georgia.

Union Forces Attack Confederates at Kennesaw Mountain 27 June 1864

In one of his rare failures in the Atlanta Campaign, General William Tecumseh Sherman lost approximately 2,000 to 3,000 men to Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s forces who were in prepared defenses at Kennesaw Mountain (actually Big Kennesaw and Little Kennesaw) just north of Marietta, Georgia. Although it was a costly defeat for the Union forces, it was not long until they were on the march again and at the gates of Atlanta.

Check out the Kennesaw National Military Park. There are some good maps there by Larry Knight (RIP). There is even a trail map of the battlefield, if you are inclined to take a hike. Don’t be put off by the “Calorie Counter” title on the hiking map. Take a cheeseburger with you to give the nannies the vapors.

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