Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Memories of a Fort Smith War Widow

Commissary Storehouse at Fort Smith
One of the saddest stories I have encountered in my research into the Civil War in Arkansas is that of Catherine C. Cox, who lived on the outskirts of Fort Smith.
She and the men of her family were Unionist in their sympathies and her husband, Christopher Cox, had died of natural causes shortly after the beginning of the war. His death, sadly, was just the beginning of tragedy in her life, as she explained in a later petition to the U.S. Government:

...My husband left three children, two sons and a daughter. The oldest son, Albert Cox, enlisted in the United States service in Genl. Steele's Arkansas Regiment and died have neither wife nor children. I think his regiment was the 1st Arkansas. - under command of a man named Stele. His second son was named Henry was taken away aged 15 years by the rebels and it is said he died of small pox. His daughter Mary Jane is about 22 years old, married as I understand since I left Arkansas. I forget the name of her husband. - Deposition of Catherine C. Cox, November 6, 1872.

Commissary Storehouse at Fort Smith
The degree to which the Union families around Fort Smith suffered because of their attachment to the Union is one of the seldom told stories of the CivilWar in Arkansas. Not only did they risk the loss of their men and boys in the service of the Union army, but many also saw their sons and husbands - like young Henry Cox - conscripted into the Confederate army by roaming cavalry companies.

In addition, they faced raids on their farms by Southern troops and guerrilla bands, but their greatest losses often came from the Union army itself. The large numbers of soldiers stationed in Fort Smith required supplies, the only source for which was the collection of farms spread out in the vallies and prairies around the post. Mrs. Cox later described how men from the Union army came and took away all that she had:

Farm Scene near Fort Smith
...While thus living and cultivating my farm, several soliders I do not know how many but some fifteen or twenty said to be a foraging party from Fort Smith came and took my corn and oats and wheat and a portion of my hogs, and in about one week or ten days afterward these men or others said to be a foraging party came and took my...cattle, the balance of my hogs, my horses, chickens...four stand of bees and honey. I was at the time at the house, and very much alarmed that these soldiers were taking all that I had.... I never saw any of it afterwards. - Deposition of Catherine C. Cox, November 6, 1872.

Such foraging raids in the area around Fort Smith were so common during the war that they were barely mentioned in even the most detailed military accounts. To the people they impacted, however, these efforts to keep the military storehouses full, left them with no food. Many suffered greatly, having been left to either starve, scrounge the woods for what they could find, or depend on the charity of neighbors, few of whom were much better off.

To learn more about Fort Smith, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ARFortSmith1.

3 comments:

The Whispering Path said...

Very interesting blog. :)

Mary Tahir said...

From days gone by, there is much to be learnt..............thx for sharing.

Dale said...

You are very welcome. I try very much to share my love of history and Arkansas here and hopefully readers enjoy it.

Dale