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Civil War & Bloody Peace: Following Orders

Introduction:

 

Henry Bertrand enlisted into regular army shortly after coming to this country in 1862. Chances are good he'd been a soldier in Germany, because service was considered mandatory in Europe at the time. He was 24. He re-enlisted four times. He took one year off to explore his options in 1868 and re-enlisted again, and again, finally earning a medical discharge in 1884 for an injury that prevented him from having children.

 

This is not Henry's story. But his orders form the outline for exploring, in narrative fashion, why those orders were given. This is important to understand. He will appear on occasion just to keep us focused on one soldier's experiences in relation to the orders and those around him who issued those orders.

 

Henry kept a journal of his experiences, but that journal has been lost. Who he was is not important. What you'll find by following his orders is the attitude behind why those orders were given. This is an unusual way to tell history, but you should find, at the end, a satisfying way.

 

Don't believe me, of course. Haven't you always felt slighted by trying to learn history and wondered what they weren't telling you? I hated history in high school. This is not a book of dates and names and places. This is a narrative history of people—with attitude. His longevity is important because this allows us to follow his orders for over 20 years of a confusing and bloody time in our nation's history, to find out why those orders were given.

 

Finding the "why events happened" is the only way to understand why the U.S. is still so divided today. No other non-commissioned soldier has been found who served as long or followed as many orders. For instance, Lytton Musselman served for the entire Civil War, and then didn't re-enlist until "after resting for a while I joined General Nelson Miles outfit as an Indian scout," in 1882.

 

Henry was in regular army, in all the major Army of the Potomac campaigns, from Antietam through Petersburgh. He served under Hancock in Kansas against the Indians, to the Little Bighorn campaign under Crook, and beyond. Between 1882 and 1884, he took one year off. But, as a provost guard and later infantry soldier, this story is more than the battles—his orders reflect the dirty backside of the military during his service.

 

Never has a book been published from regular army perspective about the darker aspects of following orders. There was true heroism, but there was also true cowardice. And orders were given often for dubious reasons. Henry most often guarded prisoners, generals, and headquarters, and because of that, this book focuses on what those orders reveal; attitude and ineptitude of military leaders, most often those of Grant, and other generals and soldiers as well. Because of Custer's role in the Indian wars, we'll get an early look at him in the Civil War.

 

You'll see generals emerge in the Civil War who also played a role in the Indian wars. Ulysses S. Grant started as a simple storekeeper who lived in Galena, Illinois, a little mining town, not far from where Henry's brother settled in Janesville, Wisconsin; this coincidence is symbolic of their coordinated movements of uniting north and south, and later connecting east and west with the railroad. Grant started in the western theater in the Civil War, while Henry was with the Army of the Potomac; Henry's first orders were to accompany Grant's prisoners to Fort Columbus in New York harbor. Grant as commanding general of all the armies joined the Army of the Potomac in 1864.

 

The book also looks a Grant's western theater engagements, where Henry is destined to play a role.

 

Much of Grant's character as a president can be seen in his generalship. Grant wrote about his Civil War years with pride. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer and we could say he didn't have time to write about his presidency. But would he have? Many historians use Grant's own words to talk about who he was but how honest is an autobiography?

 

Instead, by following orders, the reality behind the orders will emerge. You'll understand why those orders were given. Henry was my grandfather's great uncle, and he left behind a statement as his legacy that I used as my master's thesis. He said: "We didn't try hard to catch the Indians. We could see they were good people." An army infantry soldier who claimed they didn't try hard to catch the Indians? Only the cavalry chased Indians. Infantry guarded the supply wagons. Infantry would drop to the ground and shoot. Infantry were tireless on their feet; the Indians were afraid of "Walks-A-Heaps."

 

My goal was to walk the trail between the two opposing sides in the Civil and Indian wars to find the truth about these famous events in history.

 

This is not a disjointed look at separate periods of time, but instead you'll see the impact that the Civil War had on Reconstruction, and on the Indian wars. You'll witness the development of the Wild West, right through to its closure.

 

II

 

Henry joined the army in 1862 in time to guard prisoners from Grant's first campaign, the Union's first real success a year into the war. This campaign made "Unconditional Surrender Grant" a name Lincoln would remember. Most historians use Grant's own words to portray his character; they then give Grant a pass as president, someone who was easily pushed around. And it is possible he suffered from a form of PTSD following his regrettable experience at Cold Harbor in May 1864.

 

But as we'll see, Grant's true character as president wasn't much different than as general.

 

Henry Bertrand immigrated from Württemberg in 1862 and first went to see his brother in Janesville. A month later a recruiter came through. Because of the cessation of volunteer recruiting, Henry had no choice but to register in regular army. This cessation led directly into the first federal draft due to dwindling volunteerism. That event receives the emphasis it deserves here.

 

Much of Henry's experience was related to the draft, after all; after Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, the Eighth U.S. was called to help quell the draft riots at New York City in 1863. We'll follow this first draft from the difficulties with the volunteer recruiting after the office opened and through the riots to see why so many opposed. Henry remained at New York harbor until Grant called Burnside up for his march against Richmond in 1864.

 

The Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Cold Harbor—Henry was there for all of Grant's "Bloody May" in 1864, during which time Grant was given the nickname "the Butcher" by the southern presses and by his own soldiers. During the siege of Petersburg Henry served under Burnside during the crater explosion fiasco that remains controversial today, until you read about attitude here.

 

Henry's enlistment was up shortly after the war ended. A month later he re-enlisted. He went west and served under General W.S. Hancock in the first major post-Civil War Indian campaign in Kansas in 1867, while Grant worked with Johnson on Reconstruction. Like John Dunbar in Dances with Wolves, Henry wanted to see the West. He was German, and they were enamored of the Indian culture, but not because of German author, Karl May. May was instead influenced by Germans who'd had these experiences. You might see the potential of German influence that kept the Indians from being exterminated, as some in the military wanted.

 

Germans were not held in much esteem during the Civil War, however, referred to as cowards and stupid, ignorant of the language. "They have no native courage to compare with Americans," said Col. Theodore Lyman during the Petersburg campaign. This disparagement of Germans will be seen a few times here.

 

But for Grant, the blacks were the ones in need, and the Indians were in the way of the railroad. After Hancock stirred trouble with Sioux and Cheyenne, the Laramie Peace Commission got the signatures needed for the Treaty of Fort Laramie to open land for the railroad. Grant used this treaty for peace on the plains, but later spent a lot of effort trying to water it down or get it negated; this finally succeeded after the Little Bighorn.

 

This is the Grant you will understand as the man who could win the Civil War; not a weak or patsy president, he will become real to you on this objective path of military orders. I don't turn him into a villain, however; just by following the events as they happened, the real Grant emerges and the reasons for what happens becomes clear. The same process of attitude makes Lincoln into a real human being.

 

III

 

Grant's activities after the Civil War were political, veering him toward the presidency early on. He became embroiled in Johnson's impeachment and was appointed Secretary of War after Johnson had Stanton removed. Henry and the 37th Infantry were sent to New Mexico in 1867 from Kansas to guard the Navajos at Bosque Redondo. All during this time Grant tried to get the Indian Bureau under control of the War Department, but the Department of the Interior secretaries asserted that the military was a negative influence on the tribes.

 

No historian found in this research has given Grant any blame for the scandals in his presidential cabinet, but how can the "Butcher" be innocent? Here was a man used to being a hero, and who was known for butting his head into the wall until that wall crumbled. He learned that this stubbornness would get him the Black Hills, too. He wasn't about to take no for an answer. We'll see why Henry called Indians "good people."

 

After witnessing the Navajos release from the Bosque Redondo in 1868, Henry took a year off before enlisting again. He had trade experience as a blacksmith but, probably because he could find no work and no spouse, re-enlisted in July 1869. Before he does, we'll look at Grant's election as president and how the army had re-organized. The railroad joined at Promontory Point, and peace had supposedly descended on the plains.

 

Between 1869 and 1874, Henry served with the Fourth Infantry in Wyoming, Kentucky, and back to Wyoming again, with some time at Little Rock Arsenal, while Grant silently approved mining expeditions into Indian lands. In Kentucky for Reconstruction duty Henry protected the first successful black vote for Grant's re-election, but not without some difficulties as they faced men in disguise to stop the blacks from gaining any rights.

 

In Wyoming Henry got involved in annuity problems with various tribes and helped supply "secret" expeditions into the Black Hills, as Grant responded to the country's needs after the 1873 financial panic. When his five-year enlistment ended in 1874, Henry re-enlisted again; this time he got involved with Crook at the Rosebud, one of the three campaigns headed to the Little Big Horn in 1876. In this exploration of Custer's defeat, questions are answered; readers are given never-before-known information as events are followed in a step-by-step approach to the Little Bighorn defeat. Grant implemented these events, and Phil Sheridan was his willing accomplice to assure their military than only one of the three columns could handle a few hundred hostiles.

 

IV

 

You'll see, using a blended approach in these twenty years of Henry's orders, how Civil War tactics were used as the Indians, as the military attacked their society and food supplies, rather than just the warriors. You'll see many famous names appear in Henry's story, men he served under or with, such as George Crook, George McClellan, George Custer, William Sherman, and Phil Sheridan, in their dealings with first General and then President Grant. Their attitudes become clear following Henry's orders.

 

This military story spans twenty-two years using infantry records, post journals and family history, blended with primary documents and secondary historiography. In recreating where Henry went and why, we make him a figure in his story; not necessarily following his every step, but also looking at what went on around him that impacted his orders.

 

Grant eyed the presidency again in 1880, and what happened to him in his remaining years influenced Henry's orders on the Mexican border. On January 24th, 1883, while on guard duty at Fort Hays, Kansas, Henry suffered an injury that finally earned him an honorable discharge in 1884, a "used up soldier." Grant died in 1885 of throat cancer, marking two very different ends to this army spectrum.

 

The explorations of politics intersecting with black and Indian issues continues to the end of Henry's life by suicide in 1916. You'll witness how the military and politics continued to impact Indian affairs and black freedom, and note racism in people like Theodore Roosevelt.

 

Because Henry said, "we thought the Indians were good people," I found the records peppered with examples. Sergeant William Baldy, 1st Cavalry, noted: "We thought they (Indians) were not getting an even break—and they weren't." An equal number may have felt like Cavalry Private William White, marching under Gibbon in 1876: "We United States soldiers were going to wipe up the earth with those impudent Indians." Homer Coon, 7th Infantry private, noted that the Nez Perce "were good Indians but our orders were to go after them." 1st Sergeant George Neihaus wrote about the Apaches that, "I could always make friends with them, when they were treated right."

 

George Crook may have been Henry's source of his attitude about Indians. Crook noted this in a talk in his later years: "Our Indians act under precisely the same impulses, and are guided by identically the same train of reasoning, as would white men under like circumstances … I will say without hesitation that our Indians have adhered more closely to the spirit of treaty stipulations than the white men or the white man's government has ever done."

 

These varying attitudes, while not fitting into the text itself, demonstrate that no story should ever be told from just one viewpoint. This is why you'll find this book an effort at objectivity—a walk between the two sides to try and see what really happened to our country. 

 

It is easy to feel shame for how this country treated the American Indian cultures. Here we will see how the army exhibited a cautious attitude toward the native cultures. It's easy to vilify the South for its attempts at secession; here you'll understand why a little better and maybe even see their attempt to hang on to their history as understandable.

 

The Civil War was a complicated time in our country's history. The Indian war period following is often shown as something that happened separately, or apart, from that period. But the Indian wars were affected by Reconstruction, and by the Civil War, leading to the period we call the "Wild West;" Grant was the dominating connection between all three of these major periods in American history, and Henry had a military service like no other non-com of his day.

 

These orders of a soldier really demonstrate the story of a country, and I believe we can still love our country, once we know the truth. Attitude creates history.

Find the truth of our nation's history by following the orders of a soldier to find out why those orders were given.