Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jumping the Cow: An Occurrence in Little Rock Occupied

One September 10, 1863, a 15,000 man Union force under the command of Major General Frederick Steele captured the strategic town of Little Rock, Confederate capital of Arkansas that had a population of a few thousand at the beginning of the American Civil War, soon to be swelled by soldiers and refugees. Just days before the troops in blue arrived, two Confederate generals had fought a duel outside of town -- resulting in one death (that of President James K. Polk's nephew, Brigadier General Lucius "Marsh" Walker).

Marching into Little Rock with the rest of the army came my great-great grand uncle Jeremiah C. France (1840-1865), 43rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and the direct descendent of one of my 21st century buddies, with the 27th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Confederates never retook Little Rock during the war.

In June 1864, after the bloody spring campaign that culimated in Jenkins Ferry (covered in yesterday's post), the Little Rock occupation force was roiled by an odd occurrence. Here's 43rd Indiana commanding officer William E. McLean's version, with context, from The Forty-third Regiment of Indiana Volunters. An Historic Sketch of Its Career and Services (Terre Haute: C.W. Brown, Printer and Binder, 1903), pages 28-29:

[Union commander in Little Rock, Major General Frederick] Steele was a West Point graduate and an officer of the regular army when the war broke out, devoted to his profession, of engaging personality, an officer whose courage was never questioned, but whose judgement in regard to me was very faulty. His chief of staff, Colonel F. H. Manter of Missouri whose tragic fate, subsequently after the return of the army from Camden [Arkansas], produced a very unpleasant impression, both among the soldiery of Steele's army and the citizenship of Little Rock.

General Steele had given a dinner at his headquarters in Little Rock, in honor of General Dan Sickles, who had been sent by the war department to investigate the condition of affairs of the army of the Trans-Mississippi department. It is said that champagne and other liquids flowed freely upon that festive occasion regardless of the fact that it was the Sabbath.

In the afternoon, probably a half or three quarters of an hour after dinner, Colonel Manter ordered his horse and orderly, proposing a ride to the home of a prominent citizen of Little Rock. He prided himself upon being the finest horseman in Steele's army; six feet high in his stockings, with an Apollo figure, which he was very fond of displaying; the day being beautiful and the streets crowded, a fine opportunity for display was presented.

It so happened that a cow was lying on the street, ther being no city ordinance prohibiting either cow or hogs from running at large in that city.

In a moment of unaccountable folly, Colonel Manter attempted the foolish feat of making his splendid charger jump the cow.

Putting his spurs into the horse the animal started to leap at once but the cow sprang up so suddenly that Colonel Manter was thrown violently upon the ground, falling upon his head, and breaking his neck. . . Thus died, from an act of folly, the man whom rumor said, was the controlling spirit of the commanding general, his mouth-piece and most confidential adviser. Had he died upon the bloody field of Jenkins Ferry, with his face to the foe, his fate would have been a brighter
one. . .

On a related note, the cow-jumping colonel Manter is also mentioned in the Report of the Joint Committee of the Conduct of the War at the Second Session Thirty-eighth Congress ("Administration of the Department of Arkansas," page 81. Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1865) in another unflattering way:

General Steele retained upon his staff certain officers in high positions who were obnoxious to the thinking portion of his general officers, and, with few exceptions, to his colonels, for their profligacy, drunkenness, imbecility, disgraceful behavior, and neglect of duty. These officers were, his chief of staff, Colonel F. H. Manter, 32d Missouri infantry, who did not belong to any regiment of General Steele's command, and his adjutant general, Lieutenant George O. Sokalski, 2d United States cavalry, and his provost marshal general, Lieuteant Colonel J. L. Chandler, 7th Missouri cavalry. General Steele has been repeatedly advised of the injury these men were doing to him, the army, and the country."

Human nature -- the tragedy and the comedy.

Today's Rune: Harvest.


1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

The kind of thing that in fiction would not be believed!