Though there remains a great deal to post about from August, I wanted flash both forward and backward with my activities from this weekend. The flash forward is the feature of LHS’s activities at Le Duc Civil War Days yesterday; the flash back is the research I conducted on my great great grandparents, Rebecca and Harmon Olmstead (GG Irene’s parents). These two topics pair nicely, with many photos.
For our honeymoon, my husband and I went to GG Irene’s house in the Black Hills. Inside her desk were piles of pictures, letters, and other primary documents. It was a veritable treasure trove of family history! I of course used all my camera’s memory taking pictures of everything. Then, last weekend, I spend about five hours uploading a bunch of the documents to Ancestry.com. After a few hours, I found myself engrossed in researching my great great grandfather Harmon Olmstead’s military career during the Civil War. This was pressing, because he was enlisted in the Colorado cavalry and one regiment of the Colorado cavalry were the perpetrators of the Sand Creek Massacre, one of the most heinous attacks on native people in our country’s history (right up there with Wounded Knee). It was so bad the men involved were under Congressional investigation and newspapers nationwide reported on the violence. “Washington, December 20, 1864
“The affair at Fort Lyon, Colorado, in which Colonel Chivington destroyed a large Indian village, and all its inhabitants, is to be made the subject of congressional investigation. Letters received from high officals in Colorado say that the Indians were killed after surrendering, and that a large proportion of them were women and children.”
The distinction between regiments was very important and through my research, I discovered that it was the THIRD Colorado Cavalry, not the Second, that perpetrated Sand Creek. So I can speak with some confidence and a cascade of relief that my relative was not in fact there.
Not to say that Harmon did not fight Indians. Toward the end of his service, he was stationed in Kansas at Fort Ellsworth, where he was charged with protecting frontier roads from Native American raiders and going on campaigns to … well, eliminate those raiding groups. The language used to describe these campaigns in the secondary sources I found are very distant and clinical but the purpose of the campaigns are clear. Pursue raiders and attack them, prevent them from raiding again. If Sand Creek hadn’t been such a clearly Not-Raider camp, that event may have been treated just like any other raider campaign. I have no doubt in my mind that even though Harmon was not involved in Sand Creek Massacre, he certainly did kill Indian people. And the way that native people were treated at that time, all lumped together as though there were no difference, it is certainly possible that those he attacked were not the raiders being targeted. Colonel Chivington, commanding officer at the attack on Sand Creek, said, “When a tribe of Indians is at war with the whites it is impossible to determine what party or band of the tribe … are guilty of the acts of hostility. The most that can be ascertained is that Indians of the tribe have performed the acts”
However, the large majority of Harmon’s time as a soldier in the Civil War was fighting invading Confederate troops in Missouri. He was a cavalry man in the Battle of Westport, a decisive battle preventing Confederate troops from taking control in Missouri and sending them in retreat back to Texas.
While at Civil War Days at the Le Duc house, reenactors from the First, Second, and Third Minnesota groups demonstrated what life for soldiers like Harmon might have been like.
Harmon was an infantry private for about a year in 1863. After that, his company was transferred into the 2nd Colorado Cavalry. Through 1864 and 1865, he served as in the cavalry until mustered out in September of 1865. The most important battle he was involved in was the Battle of Westport in October 1864, under the command of Major General Blunt. His unit was on the front lines resisting the Confederate attack and working to break their line. After the Confederates were defeated, his regiment chased them back to Texas.
The following video shows a reenactment of a firing line, starting with a reload and concluding with the discharge of the weapons. I’m sure that at some point in Harmon’s career, he learned and performed this procedure, at least as an infantryman.
The group that I’m a member of, Living History Society of Minnesota, reenacts civilian life during the Civil War. My activities at Civil War Days would more closely reflect those of Rebecca Lee, Harmon’s future wife, rather than Harmon himself. One of my discoveries at GG Irene’s house was a letter sent to Rebecca from her uncle, A.R. Hayden. It gives a lot of great clues into the experience for people on the home-front.
LHS reenacts more of the upper echelon of society, typically, so our activities may not have been consistent with Rebecca’s experience. We had a luncheon on the patio, did tableaus in the parlor of the Le Duc house, and danced to the brass band.
Rebecca would have been more of a homesteader. Her family moved around a lot throughout her life. Her mother died the same year she was born (presumably in child-birth) and her father died when she was 19. She married Harmon a year later and proceeded to have a whole bunch of children (Ancestry.com has a lot of variations on the names of these children, so it’s hard to tell exactly how many children she had or how long they lived). My grandfather wrote in his memories about her loom.
“I do remember the loom, too. Only I think that memory was in 1925 after Grandma died. Mom and Elaine and I were staying with Aunt Gertie and all the Rose children. Aunt Gertie made rag rugs with the loom and we kids loved to work the loom. Of course, we got carried away in our playing with the loom and Mom put it out of bounds for me.”
Getting a loom may need to be a long-term goal for this project…