Many soldiers campaigning in the trans-Mississippi eventually commented on the refugee problem. It seems to me that the campaigns particularly displaced civilians in the Indian Territory, northwestern Arkansas, as well as various locales in Missouri and Louisiana. The result was that some areas became eerily depopulated as refugees sought safe havens. Army camps were sometimes inundated with refugees desperately seeking food.
Writing from his camp in northwestern Arkansas, Federal officer Albert C. Ellithorpe of the First Indian Home Guards informed Chicago readers in February 1863 that “’Bread!’ is now the cry from all quarters, and hundreds are applying to our lines for something to eat. You will remember that in a former letter I predicted the approach of the ‘evil genius of war.’ He is here—famine is sitting upon the thresholds of almost every cabin in the country. All must flee before him, and where can they go but to our lines?” In the same time period Lieutenant Benjamin F. McIntyre stationed at Forsyth, Missouri, reported that “A large number of Arkansas families have sought protection in our lines and as their condition is a destitute one Uncle Sam from his abundance must care for them” (p. 114).
The Federals were not the only ones to grapple with the issue. Traveling near Shreveport, Louisiana, Private William Henry King of the 28th Louisiana Infantry wrote on October 9, 1863, “On arriving at the ferry, a little after 1 o’clock, we find a crowd of refugees. They continue to cross until late in the evening, & crowds are still waiting to cross. Such heavy immigration will certainly cause great scarcity of bread stuffs in Texas. Indeed, I fear it will cause intestive war. Many of the citizens of Texas are opposed to refugees upon the ground that bread stuffs will be too scarce if so many go there” (p. 118).
Unlike the soldiers who viewed the refugees en masse, Mrs. Harriet Perry, residing near Marshall, Texas, informed her husband in early 1864 that “Dr. Haywood is boarding a family of refugees from Miss. a widow a Mrs Chevis, she has a grown daughter and a son, the young man has been discharged from the army on account of a wound received in the right arm which has rendered it useless—they have a man & maid servant, four mules & two horses, carriage & wagon” (p. 203). Several weeks later, Harriet described Mrs. Eliza Foote Chevis , the authoress and poetress…as the most incessant talker I ever heard” (p. 209).
Not many studies of refugees in the trans-Mississippi exist, but an in-depth one would probably be fascinating.
Albert C. Ellithorpe quote: Chicago Evening Journal, 11 February 1863.
Benjamin F. McIntyre quote: Tilley, Nannie M., ed. Federals On The Frontier:: The Diary of Benjamin F. McIntyre, 1862-1864. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963.
William Henry King quote: Joiner, Gary D, Marilyn S. Joiner, and Clifton D. Cardin, eds. No Pardons to Ask, nor Apologies to Make: The Journal of William Henry King, Gray’s 28th Louisiana Infantry Regiment. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006.
Harriet Perry quote: Johansson, M. Jane, ed. Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Letters of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862-1864. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.