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CIVIL WAR-INDIAN WARS: A CONNECTION:

THE CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR

[The Tombstone Epitaph, February, 1997]

Many of the officers and men who served during the so-called "Indian Wars" of the last half of the 19th century had earlier been combatants in the Civil War. A number of them, in fact, distinguished themselves on the southern and/or northern plains sufficiently to be remembered in contemporary accounts of that period. Alfred Terry and John Gibbon, for example, come to mind, as do Ranald MacKenzie and George Crook. There is, however, a very small group of Indian War participants who stand apart from the others for a very special reason; though today remembered primarily for their high plains service, each of them also held a "Medal of Honor" won during the War Between the States. Created in 1861 by Congress, the award was to be presented to those members of the armed forces who performed acts of exceptional bravery under the most dangerous of circumstances. In the intervening years, more than 3,400 such medals have been awarded, but we, here, are concerned with a much smaller number. Six men closely associated with the conquest of the tribes on the northern and southern plains belong to this group, plus a seventh whose connection with the frontier dated to the 1850's. In alphabetical order, the list of these officially honored for their bravery follows.

John G. Bourke, a private in Company E of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, earned his medal at Stone River, Tennessee for "Gallantry in action" on December 31, 1862 and January 1, 1863. Bourke, of course, subsequently earned considerable fame not only as a soldier, but also as an ethnologist and author whose most famous work, arguably, is On the Border with Crook.

Daniel Butterfield is the "seventh man" referred to above. His father, John Butterfield, founded the Butterfield Overland Mail Company as well as, later, American Express. Daniel, who graduated from Union College in 1849, worked for his father, first preparing the OMC time tables (to which the line adhered during its relatively short existence) and later as superintendent of the New York City of the American Express. He entered the Union Army as a Colonel, served in a number of major engagements, and was brevetted a Major General. As a Brigadier General of U.S. Volunteers at Gaines Mill, Virginia, at the end of June, 1862, he "Seized the colors of the 83d Pennsylvania Volunteers at a critical moment and, under a galling fire of the enemy, encouraged the depleted ranks to renewed exertion." For this action he was awarded the Medal of Honor in September of 1892. (Many Civil War Medals of Honor were not bestowed on their recipients until the 1880's and 1890's). Of all of those covered in this article, however, Butterfield, without question, made another contribution that is today more widely and instantly recognized than those of any of the others here described-he composed the haunting melody of arguably the most famous bugle call in American history, "Taps".

The battle of Pea Ridge (or Elkhorn Tavern), Arkansas is sometimes remembered as the only engagement of the Civil War in which Indian troops formally participated. On March 7, 1862, Colonel Eugene A. Carr of the 3d Illinois Cavalry "Directed the deployment of his command and held his ground, under a brisk fire of shot and shell in which he was several times wounded." His action that day was recognized when he was awarded by nation's highest medal for bravery.

Remaining in the army, at reduced rank, Major Carr led his 5th Cavalry (and a contingent of Pawnee Scouts under Major Frank North) against Indians at Summit Springs on July 11, 1869. At this action, Carr's command was also accompanied by a young white scout who was in the process of becoming a favorite of the 5th Cavalry; his name was William F. Cody, but he was already known to most as "Buffalo Bill".

(In 1916, the general review of all Medals of Honor deemed 900 unwarranted. Cody's Medal of Honor was one of those rescinded. In June 1989, the U.S. Army Board of Correction of Records restored the medal to "Buffalo Bill".)

On August 30, 1881, now-Colonel Carr, as commandant of Fort Apache, participated in the action on Cibicue Creek, the aftermath of which has been nicely described by Sidney Brinckerhoff, in the November, 1981 issue of Tombstone Epitaph.

Overshadowed by his more famous and perhaps flamboyant brother, Thomas W. Custer not only won the award which escaped George Custer, he did it twice! A lieutenant in Company B of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, Custer won his first Medal of Honor at Namozine Church, Virginia on May 10, 1863 for the capture of a Confederate battle flag. Two years later, on May 26, 1865, Lieutenant Custer "leaped his horse over the enemy's works" at Sailor Creek, Virginia, "and captured 2 stands of colors." He had two horses shot out from under him as well as sustaining a severe wound. Serving under his brother in the newly formed 7th Cavalry after Appomattox, Thomas Custer died on June 25, 1876 on the ridges overlooking the valley of the Little Big Horn River in Montana.

A week before the Custer defeat, another significant action took place on Rosebud Creek, not all that far from the Little Big Horn. Troops commanded by George Crook were sufficiently bloodied by warriors of the Dakota and Cheyenne to force them to retire from the field. As part of this action, Captain Guy V. Henry was most severely wounded, eventually losing the sight of one eye as a result. That he survived at all was likely due to the prompt action of Shoshoni scouts accompany the column. They defended Captain Henry's prostrate body from potential "coup-counters" until soldiers could form up and retrieve his wounded body.

Though badly wounded in Montana, Henry had been no stranger to costly combat much further to the east. As a Colonel of the 40th Massachusetts Infantry, he participated in the only military action which Ulysses S. Grant later stipulated that he regretted ordering-the charge, and charge again of Union forces at Cold Harbor, Virginia. Colonel Henry won his Medal of Honor by leading "the assaults of his brigade upon the enemy's works, where he had 2 horses shot under him." Of all of the men who are the subjects of this article, Henry alone was connected to the frontier and the west at birth; he was both in Fort Smith, Indian Territory.

Born in Leeds, Maine on November 8, 1830, Oliver O. Howard was a Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers at Fair Oaks, Virginia on June 1, 1862. During this engagement, he "Led the 61st New York Infantry in a charge in which he was twice severely wounded in the right arm, necessitating amputation." After receiving his Medal of Honor and surviving the fratricidal conflict, Howard headed the Freedman's Bureau and became the founder of Howard University before returning to a military career. In 1872, he negotiated an agreement with the Chiricahua leader, Cochise, as a result of which the latter ceased warfare on whites and Tom Jeffords became the agent of the Chiricahua's.

Howard is arguably best remembered for leading the American Army against the Nez Perce of Chief Joseph whom he and his troops pursued after the Battles of White Bird Canyon and the Clearwater (River). His message to Nelson Miles enabled the latter to trap the Nez Perce near the edge of the Bear Paw Mountains, almost within sight of their hoped-for sanctuary in Canada. The siege which followed resulted in one of the most famous surrender speeches ever recorded as Joseph ended his speech with the phrase "From where the sun now stands, I shall fight no more forever".

The just-mentioned Nelson A. Miles had a long and distinguished military career marked by acts of extreme bravery and tactical brilliance (he was a Corps Commander and Major General by the age of 25), but also by pomposity, politicking and plain arrogance. His marriage did nothing to impair his career ambitions since his wife was the niece of the powerful and influential Sherman brothers-William Tecumseh and John (Senator from Ohio).

Wounded four times during the Civil War while participating in most of the significant actions undertaken by the Army of the Potomac, Miles earned a Medal of Honor at Chancellorsville, Virginia on May 2 and 3, 1863. His citation noted "Distinguished gallantry while holding with his command an advanced position against repeated assaults by a strong force of the enemy; was severely wounded."

In his post-Civil War career, Miles earned a reputation as an "Indian fighter" in the Red River War of 1874 on the southern plains and quickly became perhaps the principal field commander on the Northern plains after the defeat at the Little Big Horn. He was, in fact, in general command in connection with the last recorded military action of the "Indian Wars"-the tragedy of Wounded Knee. He, of course, eventually succeeded W.T. Sherman as the commander of the American Army.

Although not a participant in the military actions against the Indians, one other military figure might be here mentioned because he did serve on the southwestern frontier where his son was born. General Arthur MacArthur was a First Lieutenant and Adjutant with the 24th Wisconsin Infantry on November 25, 1863, when he "Seized the colors of his regiment at a critical moment and planted them on the captured works on the crest of Missionary Ridge"; for his action, which helped capture Chattanooga, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The son to which reference was earlier made was, of course, Douglas MacArthur who subsequently commanded the famed "Rainbow" Division in World War I and all Allied Forces in the Pacific in World War II.

 

 

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