My new frontier historical novel, Bozeman Paymaster: A Tale of the Fetterman Massacre, will be issued by Five Star Publishing in June 2022. I will post a prelude each month before that date to provide historical facts that occur before the story in the book begins. This is the third prelude.
Colonel Henry B. Carrington received orders on March 10, 1866, to move west with the Eighteenth U.S. Infantry from Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory, and fortify the Bozeman Trail with the regiment’s second battalion. Carrington’s orders came from his immediate superior, Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke, commander of the U.S. Army’s Department of the Platte. This new department had been created on March 5, 1866, with headquarters in Omaha. The department covered the States of Minnesota and Iowa, the Territories of Nebraska and Montana, and portions of Dakota Territory. Later, Dakota Territory became North and South Dakota and Wyoming.
The Department of the Platte was one of three departments in the Division of the Missouri, under the command of Lieutenant General William Tecumseh Sherman, headquartered in St. Louis. Sherman reported directly to General Ulysses S. Grant, commander in chief of the U.S. Army with his headquarters in Washington, District of Columbia. The chain of command above Carrington was short.
Cooke graduated from West Point in 1827 and served with distinction in numerous capacities during the early years of his career, principally in the West. As a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel in 1846, he commanded the Mormon Battalion, part of General Stephen Watts Kearny’s Army of the West which was on a mission to take New Mexico and California away from Mexico. The Mormon Battalion consisted of “soldiers” contracted from Brigham Young who needed cash to finance the movement of the Mormons from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake. The soldiers donated most of their pay and allowances to a church charity. Cooke’s Mormon Battalion surveyed a wagon road from Santa Fe south into Mexico and west to the Pacific coast. It was the longest infantry march in U.S. Army history. The route Cooke pioneered resulted in the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. James Gadsden, U. S. Ambassador to Mexico, bought this strip of land between the Gila River (the U.S. southern border at the time) and Mexico for $10 million (equivalent to $230 million today). This land strip would be needed later by the Southern Pacific to build its railroad.
During the Civil War, Brigadier General Cooke served as cavalry division commander for Major General George B. McClellan. During the Seven Days Campaign in Virginia in 1862, Cooke’s son-in-law, Confederate Brigadier General J.E.B Stuart, rode completely around the Army of the Potomac, evading Cooke’s pursuit. This embarrassment ended Cooke’s field command responsibilities, and he served the remainder of the war on court-martial and recruiting duties.
Like Carrington’s assignment to command the Eighteenth US Infantry without having any combat experience, Cooke’s assignment as a department commander, without combat action in the latter part of the war, is somewhat of a mystery.