Currently, I am editing the diary and papers of Albert C. Ellithorpe, an officer in the First Indian Home Guards. An intelligent and perceptive observer, it is apparent from his writings that he interacted often with Major General James G. Blunt.
Seven years after Blunt’s death, Ellithorpe learned that attempts were being made to secure a pension for Blunt’s widow, Nancy. On April 18, 1888, Ellithorpe wrote James H. Gillpatrick (or Gilpatrick), Blunt’s son-in-law and a former comrade of Ellithorpe’s, and offered to write a letter in support of Mrs. Blunt’s application. Ellithorpe’s poignant letter offers interesting insights into Blunt’s behavior and provides another explanation for Blunt’s mental breakdown. The following is the pertinent part of the letter from the Ellithorpe Family Papers at the Kansas Historical Society:
“I never imagined that a man of so strong and positive a brain could ever have it turned or dethroned by any military adversity; but it seems that I, in my judgment, was mistaken, for while in the very heighth [sic] of his success, and while all his previous efforts in the field had been crowned with victory, I find after a certain event to be a changed man. From his buoyant and jovial disposition he became taciturn, and despondent at times, while many of his hours appeared to be spent in a moody, absent minded reflection. I often asked myself, what can be the cause of this great change in the generals appearance, his habits, social, and military, all changed. I soon however, discovered what seemed to me to be the cause.
While on his march from Leavenworth to take command of the army assigned to him in Southern Missouri and the Indian Territory, his little escort was attacked at Baxter Springs and you know the result of that massacre, for it was nothing else but a cold-blooded and wanton sacrifice of life by the Quantrell and Livingston Bands of marauders while he with only a few of his guard escaped. The records and history in the War Department have full particulars of this event. From this hour forward I found the General a changed man; moody, very reflective, while all of that former buoyance of spirit, and dash appeared to have left him. I frequently asked what trouble, or what anxieties depressed him; his answer invariably was ‘The Baxter Spring Massacre; I cannot throw it from my mind,’ said he; ‘It haunts me night and day, however much I try to throw it off, I can not, and I sometimes feel that I was to blame, and that the Government will blame me’. Said he; ‘I sometimes think that it was one of those events liable to occur in the fortunes of war, & that all the, care or caution of any man, could not prevent; then again, I feel, that, perhaps I did not exercise the care or caution which I ought to have exercised.’ This tradgedy [sic] or massacre, was the one great thing in my opinion, that commenced to affect, and finally resulted in [the] dethroning of the brain of our much loved General. From that time he appeared changed[.] His despondent hours grew upon him, and became more frequent; and from the close of the war to his death this, with other things, such as feeling that the Government Officials were against him, and that he was not properly appreciated for his acts and his services all contributed to worry, depress, and unnerve the man.”
Historians Kip Lindberg and Matt Matthews used Ellithorpe’s letter (and, like me, used it for a title) in their excellent article, “It Haunts Me Night and Day: The Baxter Springs Massacre” that was published in North & South, Vol. 4, Number 5, pages 42-53.
Next time: yet another explanation for Blunt’s decline.