1865 September 9: The Powder River Expedition; the “Murders” of the Wrights in Missouri; Paymaster Fraud in Virginia
The following summary of the news comes from the September 9, 1865, issue of The Prescott Journal. Due to the length of the article it was split into two parts, this being the first part and the second part will be published tomorrow.
News from General Connor’s¹ Indian expedition is to the 21st instant. It had obtained several small successes over the savages, who were all in rapid motion northward, with the whites in pursuit.
It is stated that among those who will take advantage of the order authorizing the granting of passports to paroled rebel prisoners, are Generals Lee, Longstreet, Ewell, Beauregard, D. H. Hill, Wheeler, Malone [sic], Buckner and Gardner. Lee proposes going to London, where he will finish the history of his military campaigns.
The Catholic Archbishop who has jurisdiction of Missouri, has issued a circular asserting that priests cannot take the oath of loyalty required by the new constitution “without a sacrifice of ecclesiastical liberty.”
A Catholic Priest at Jefferson City, Mo., announced in his church, on Sunday last, that he had not determined to take the oath of loyalty required of preachers by the new State constitution, and that, in case of interference with him by the authorities, he should expect to receive the assistance of the congregation.
About 5,000 Indians have already arrived at Fort Smith, to attend the council there on the 1st proximo,² and 10,000 more are expected.
General Wright, who is supposed to have lost his life by the wreck of the steamer Brother Jonathan, on the Pacific coast, is not the major general of that name formerly in command at Cincinnati [Horatio G. Wright], but Brevet Brigadier General Wright, ranking colonel of infantry of the regular army, in which he has served for nearly forty years.
General Ruger [Thomas H. Ruger], commanding at Raleigh, North Carolina, has declined to comply with a request of Gov. Holden [W. W. Holden], for the surrendering to the civil authorities of those citizens arrested by the military for an assault upon freedmen.
The report that the sales of government horses and mules had been stopped is pronounced to be without foundation. It was set afloat by speculators. Some $4,000,000 has already been realized from these sales.
Clement C. Clay, who is in confinement at Fortress Monroe, is reported to be quite unwell.
The investigation at Rolla, Missouri, into the matter of the killing of Judge Wright and his sons, has resulted in the exonoration [sic] of Col. Babcock and his command from all blame.³
Our generals on the Rio Grande are reported to be hobnobbing with the Maxirailjanists, and expressing friendship for the empire.
Carl Schurz, who is on a government mission to the South, has arrived at Vicksburg.
President Johnson [Andrew Johnson] has decided against the establishment of a bureau of pardons.
No decision has as yet been come to in the case of Alexander H. Stephens and R. M. T. Hunter, though the wife of the latter has left Washington with the conviction that her husband will soon be released on parole.
Some paymasters in Virginia, in connection with the National banks at Norfolk and Richmond, have swindled soldiers out of large amounts of money—the men being paid in 7.80’s (instead of legal tender) upon which they had to submit to a heavy shave. The perpetrators are under arrest.
Secretary Stanton [Edwin M. Stanton] has ordered the discharge of the 81st, 97th, 106th, 95th, 130th, and 72d Illinois infantry ; Co. G, 8th Illinois cavalry, and the Elgen (Illinois) battery.
1. Patrick Edward Connor (1820-1891), an Irish immigrant, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1839 and was honorably discharged in 1844. In 1845 he became a naturalized citizen and in 1846 joined the Texas Volunteers, which were mustered into federal service for the Mexican War. In 1850 he headed west to the California gold rush. Connor was in command of a California Militia unit when the Civil War started. He recruited enough men to turn it into the 3rd California Infantry with Connor as colonel. His regiment was ordered to Utah Territory to protect the overland routes from Indians and quash any Mormon uprising that might occur. As senior officer Connor became commander of the District of Utah and established Fort Douglas in a commanding position over Salt Lake City. In March of 1865 a new District of the Plains was created with Connor as commander.
Connor made his reputation for his campaigns against Native Americans, starting with the Bear River Massacre on January 29, 1863, in which his command killed between 200 and 400 Shoshone Indians, including women and children. After the Bear River Battle (or massacre), Connor was appointed brigadier general in the Volunteer Army. From July to September 1865, he led the Powder River Expedition against the Dakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians, who were attacking travelers along the Bozeman Trail and overland mail routes. This Expedition is what is being referenced in the news item here. On the whole, the Expedition was “a dismal failure.” Still, Connor was brevetted a major general of Volunteers before being mustered out of service in 1866.
2. Latin, meaning occurring in the next month after the present.
3. Judge Lewis F. Wright (1815-1865), and four of his sons—Tarlton, 28; Elias Davidson, 21; Lewis F. Jr., 20; and Benjamin Gilbert, 17—were “cruelly and inhumanly murdered on the road side on the route from Rolla to Houston, some five miles southwest of the former place. The murders, as we are informed, were committed by a squad of Miller County militia, some nine in number, under command of Col. Babcoke,” according to the St. Louis Republican of August 21, 1865. The Wrights were charged with being connected with bushwhackers and with helping another son, Anthony, in the killing the year before of a Union militia captain. The Holt County Sentinel of September 8, 1865, contains Colonel Thomas J. Babcoke’s version of the story. There was a huge outcry against the killings in newspapers throughout Missouri and neighboring states, the judge being a popular community leader. A state legislative investigation exonerated Babcoke/Babcock and his militia, who had an order from Missouri’s governor authorizing him to form a special posse to arrest the Wrights. Babcoke/Babcock claimed the five men were attempting to flee when they were killed. Thomas Jefferson Babcock/Babcoke, Jr. (1824-1916), was born and grew up in Ohio; lived in Miller County, Missouri, during the late 1850s, 1860s, and 1879s; and lived in Cherokee County, Kansas from at least 1900 to his death in 1916.