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In The Footsteps of J.E.B. Stuart by Clint Johnson

In The Footsteps of J.E.B. Stuart by Clint Johnson will be published in the fall of 2003 by John F. Blair Publisher, Inc. of Winston-Salem. It will be the third volume of the trilogy of In The Footsteps of Robert E. Lee (2001) and In The Footsteps of Stonewall Jackson (2002).

All three books show visitors how to reach sites associated with the three Southern heroes from their births to their deaths. The bulk of the sites are associated with The Civil War such as the unmarked rural Virginia site where Robert E. Lee was almost captured just before the Battle of Second Manassas.  All three books also include other sites such as the downtown Brooklyn, N.Y. church where Lt. Thomas Jackson was baptized. 

In the case of Stuart, one site that is unmarked and little known was where he was almost killed by the exuberant enthusiasm for which he was known - five years before anyone realized that the South would secede from the United States. This site is found in an otherwise featureless pasture just west of the small town of Morland, Kansas, just off U.S. 24 in northwestern Kansas.

The grassy rolling plains of northern Kansas in 1857 must have made United States Army Lt. J.E.B. Stuart homesick for the tree-covered mountains surrounding his home of Laurel Hill in southwestern Virginia. Other that going on rides with his new wife, Flora, who he met while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and who he married while at Fort Leavenworth, there was not much to do on this frontier.

That all changed in the summer of 1857 when the United States government in Washington decided to make an example of the Cheyenne Indians who had raided in the area west of the forts in the fall of 1856. A campaign was launched to find and fight the Cheyenne - the first true campaign against the Plains Indians that would start in earnest in a few years and which would last nearly 40 years.

Two widely-spaced columns under Col. Edwin Sumner, later a Civil War general  for the Union, left the forts in eastern Kansas, met near the Colorado border and then joined up and started heading back east. They saw little on the ride out, but as they were riding back directly through the known Indian hunting grounds they expected to draw the Cheyenne into a fight.

The Cheyenne were willing to give them one. Two medicine men came up with a medicine that they said would make the warriors bullet proof. All the Cheyenne warriors would have to do when the white soldiers fired would be to hold up their hands and the bullets would drop harmlessly to the ground.

On July 29, 1857, the Indians organized themselves along the banks of the South Fork of the Solomon River west of what is now Morland, a rural area of northwestern Kansas marked by hills and gullies of sometimes dry creek beds.

The Indians were unconcerned as the U.S. Army troops approached and drew their carbines. Then Sumner did something unexpected to both the Indians and his own cavalrymen. He had them holster their carbines and draw their sabers.

The Indians panicked. They had no medicine against "the long knives." They turned and ran, heading east and south. The excited cavalrymen, ignoring their officers' orders, rushed after them. The disciplined attack plan crumbled as knots of soldiers took off after knots of Indians.

Stuart and several other officers, among them future Confederate general Lunsford Lomax, cornered a Cheyenne who had an Allen "pepperbox" pistol. As the Indian threatened one lieutenant, Lt. Stuart slashed at him with a saber. The Indian pointed the pepperbox at Stuart from no more than a few feet and fired.

The small ball, apparently fired with a light or old powder charge, lodged under Stuart's left nipple, not enough to kill him, but enough to embarrass him that he had allowed an enemy to shoot him first.

Stuart spent several days in a sod fort built in the pasture west of Morland to protect the wounded. One night 30 Cheyenne attacked the fort, but were driven off.

It was from this site that Stuart led the wounded men and the infantry who had been left to care for them back to safety. His own accounts indicate how lucky the little command was as they had been left in the wilderness by Sumner who had taken the command's compass with him. Once day fog enveloped Stuart's wounded command all day so he had no way of even seeing the sun to make sure he was heading in the right direction. Almost by sheer luck his command crossed a road bed that he recognized was the road to Fort Kearny. He made it back to safety with his command nearly three weeks after being wounded.

Apparently the ball remained in Stuart's chest as he himself described it as "being so far inside that it cannot be felt." A doctor was along on the expedition, but published accounts do not mention him probing for the ball and Stuart was feeling better a few days after he was wounded.

Only two soldiers were killed in this incident and no more than eight Indians were known killed. Militarily, The Battle of South Solomon Fork was insignificant, but what happened on this featureless field is historic.

  • The battle was the first time the U.S. government targeted the Plains Indians.
  • Had Stuart been killed, his service to the Confederacy just four years later would have never happened.
  • It was here that he displayed the recklessness and joy in combat that would become his trademark.
  • Sumner's callous abandonment of his wounded in hostile territory displayed a lack of judgment that would be noticed by his commanders four years later.
  • Though he was one of the highest ranking officers in the Army in 1857, he would be bypassed by others with better skills.

Detailed directions to the field where the sod fort was built and where the Battle of Solomon Fork, Kansas first commended will be given in In The Footsteps of J.E.B. Stuart, which should be available in September. Order a signed copy through or visit the 2003 reenactment at Laurel Hill - J.E.B. Stuart's birthplace on Sunday, Oct. 5, where Clint Johnson will be signing books and telling more stories about the sites associated with Stuart's life.

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