Every square box or block house in these regions is a fort; no misnomer, however, can be more complete than the word applied to the military cantonments on the frontier. In former times the traders to whom these places mostly belonged erected quadrangles of sun dried brick with towers at the angles; their forts still appear in old books of travels: the War Department, however, has been sensible enough to remove them. The position chosen is a river bottom, where fuel, grass, and water are procurable. The quarters are of various styles; some, with low verandas, resemble Anglo-Indian bungalows or comfortable farm houses, others are the storied houses with the "stoop" or porch of the Eastern States in front, and low, long, peat-roofed tenements are used for magazines and out houses. The best material is brown adobe or unburnt brick; others are of timber, whitewashed and clean looking, with shingle roofs, glass windows, and gay green frames, -- that contrast of colors which New Englander loves. The habitations surround a cleared central space for parade and drill; the ground is denoted by the tall flag staff, which does not, as in English camps, distinguish quarters of the commanding officer. One side is occupied by officers' bungalows, the other, generally that opposite, by the adjutant's and quartermaster's offices, and the square is completed by low ranges of barrack and commissariat stores, whilst various little shops, stables, corrals for cattle, a chapel, perhaps an artillery park, and surely an ice-house -- in this point India is far behind the wilds of America -- complete the settlement. Had these cantonments a few more trees and a far more brilliant verdure, they would suggest the idea of an out station in Guzerat, the Deccan, or some similar Botany Bay for decayed gentlemen transport themselves.
Whilst at Washington I had resolved -- as has already been intimated -- when the reports of war in the West were waxing loud, to enjoy a little Indian fighting. The meritorious intention -- for which the severest "wig," concluding with something personally offensive about volunteering in general, would have been its sole result in the "fast-anchored isle" -- was most courteously received by the Hon. John B. Floyd, Secretary of War, who provided me with introductory letters addressed to the officers commanding various "departments" -- divisions as they would be called by Englishmen -- in the West. The first tidings that saluted my ears on arrival at Fort Kearney acted as a quietus: an Indian action had been fought, which signified that there would be no more fighting for some time. Captain Sturgis, of the 1st Cavalry, US, had just attacked, near the Republican Fork of Kansas River, a little south of the fort, with six companies (about 350 men) and a few Delawares, a considerable body of the enemy, Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes, who apparently had forgotten the severe lesson administered to them by Colonel -- now Brigadier-General -- Edwin V Sumner, 1st Cavalry, in 1857, and killed twenty-five with only two or three of his own men wounded. According to details gathered at Fort Kearney, the Indians had advanced under a black flag, lost courage as wild men mostly will, when they heard the pas de charge, and, after making a running fight, being well mounted as well as armed, had carried off their "cripples" lashed to their horses. I had no time to call upon Captain Sully, who remained in command at Kearney with two troops (here called companies) of dragoons, or heavy cavalry, and one of infantry; the mail wagon would halt there but a few minutes. I therefore hurriedly chose the alternative of advancing, with the hope of seeing "independent service" on the road. Intelligence of the fight had made even the conductor look grave; fifty or sixty miles is a flea bite to a mounted war party, and disappointed Indians upon the war path are especially dangerous -- even the most friendly can not be trusted when they have lost, or have not succeeded in taking, a few scalps We subsequently heard that they had crossed our path, but whether the tale was true or not is an essentially doubtful matter. If this chance failed, remained the excitement of the buffalo and the Mormon, both were likely to show better sport than could be found in riding wildly about the country after runaway braves.
We all prepared for the "gravity of the situation" by discharging and reloading our weapons, and bade adieu, about 9 30 AM, to Fort Kearney. Before dismissing the subject of forts, I am disposed to make some invidious remarks upon the army system of outposts in America .
The War Department of the United States has maintained the same system which the British, much to their loss, -- I need scarcely trouble the reader with a list of evils done to the soldier by outpost duty, -- adopted and pertinaciously kept up for so long a time in India; nay, even maintain to the present day, despite the imminent danger of mutiny. With the Anglo-Scandinavian race, the hate of centralization in civil policy extends to military organization, of which it should be the vital principle. The French, gifted with instinct for war, and being troubled with scant prejudice against concentration, civil as well as military, soon abandoned, when they found its futility, the idea of defending their Algerian frontier by extended lines, block houses, and feeble entrenched posts. They wisely established, at the centres of action, depôts, magazines, and all the requisites for supporting large bodies of men, making them pivots for expeditionary columns, which by good military roads could be thrown in overwhelming numbers, in the best health and in the highest discipline, wherever an attack or an insurrectionary movement required crushing.
The necessity of so doing has long occurred to the American government, in whose service at present "a regiment is stationed to day on the borders of tropical Mexico; to-morrow the war whoop, borne on a gale from the northwest, compels its presence to the frozen latitudes of Puget's Sound." The objections to altering their present highly objectionable system are two; the first is a civil consideration, the second a military one.
As I have remarked about the centralization of troops, so it is with their relation to civilians; the Anglo-Scandinavian blood shows similar manifestations in the Old and in the New Country. The French, a purely military nation, pet their army, raise it to the highest pitch, send it in for glory, and when it fails are to its faults a little blind .The English and Anglo-Americans, essentially a commercial and naval people, dislike the red coat; they look upon; and from the first they looked upon, a standing army as a necessary nuisance; they ever listen open-eared to projects for cutting and curtailing army expenditure; and when they have weakened their forces by a manner of atrophy, they expect them to do more than their duty, and if they can not command success, abuse them. With a commissariat, transport and hospitals -- delicate pieces of machinery, which can not run smoothly when roughly and hurriedly put together -- unaccustomed to and unprepared for service, they land an army 3000 miles from home, and then make the world ring with their disappointment, and their complainings anent fearful losses in men and money. The fact is that, though no soldiers in the world fight with more bravery and determination, the Anglo-Scandinavian race, with their present institutions, are inferior to their inferiors in other points, as regards the art of military organization. Their fatal wants are order and economy, combined with the will and the means of selecting the best men -- these belong to the emperor, not to the constitutional king or the president -- and most of all, the habit of implicit subjection to the commands of an absolute dictator. The end of this long preamble is that the American government apparently thinks less of the efficiency of its troops than of using them as escorts to squatters, as police of the highway. Withal they fail, emigrants will not be escorted, women and children will struggle when they please, even in an Indian country, and every season has its dreadful tales of violence and starvation, massacre and cannibalism. In France the emigrants would be ordered to collect in bodies at certain seasons to report their readiness for the road to the officers commanding stations, to receive an escort, as he should deem proper and to disobey at their peril.
The other motive of the American outpost system is military, but also of civilian origin. Concentration would necessarily be unpalatable to a number of senior officers, who now draw what in England would be called command allowances, at the several stations. One of the principles of a republic is to pay a man only whilst he works; pensions, like sinecures, are left to governments less disinterested. The American army -- it would hardly be believed -- has no pensions, sale of commissions, off-reckonings, nor retiring-list. A man hopelessly invalided, or in his second childhood, must hang on by means of furloughs and medical certificates to the end. The colonels are mostly upon the sick-list, -- one died lately aged ninety-three, and dating from the days of Louis XVI, -- and I heard of an officer who, though practicing medicine for years, was still retained upon the cadre of his regiment. Of course, the necessity of changing such an anomaly has frequently been mooted by the Legislature; the scandalous failure, however, of an attempt at introducing a pension list into the United States Navy so shocked the public that no one will hear of the experiment being renewed, even in corpore vili, the army.
To conclude the subject of outpost system. If the change be advisable in the United States, it is positively necessary to the British in India. The peninsula presents three main points, not to mention the detached heights that are found in every province, as the great pivots of action, the Himalayas, the Deccan, and the Nilgherry Hills, where until wanted, the Sepoy and his officer, as well as the white soldier -- the latter worth 100 l a head -- can be kept in health, drilled, disciplined, and taught the hundred arts which render an "old salt" the most handy of men. A few years ago the English soldier was fond of Indian service; hardly a regiment returned home without leaving hundreds behind it. Now, long, fatiguing marches, scant fare, the worst accommodation, and the various results of similar hardships, make him look upon the land as a Golgotha; it is with difficulty that he can be prevented from showing his disgust. Both in India and America, this will be the great benefit of extensive railroads: they will do away with single stations, and enable the authorities to carry out a system of concentration most beneficial to the country and to the service which after many years of sore drudgery may at last discern the good time coming.
In the United States, two other measures appear called for by circumstances. The Indian race is becoming desperate, wild-beast like, hemmed in by its enemies that have flanked it on the east and west, and are gradually closing in upon it. The tribes can no longer shift ground without inroads into territories already occupied by neighbors, who are of course hostile; they are, therefore, being brought to final bay.
The first is a camel corps. At present, when disturbances on a large scale occur in the Far West -- the spring of 1862 will probably see them -- a force of cavalry must be sent from the East, perhaps also infantry. "The horses, after a march of 500 or 600 miles, are expected to act with success" -- I quote the sensible remarks of a "late captain of infantry" (Captain Patterson, US Army) against scattered bands of mounted hunters, with the speed of a horse and the watchfulness of a wolf or antelope, whose faculties are sharpened by their necessities; who, when they get short of provisions, separate and look for something to eat, and find it in the water, in the ground, or on the surface; whose bill of fare ranges from grass seed, nuts, roots, grasshoppers, lizards, and rattlesnakes, up to the antelope, deer, elk, bear, and buffalo, and who having a continent to roam over, will neither be surprised, caught, conquered, overawed ,or reduced to famine by a rumbling, bugle blowing, drum beating town passing through their country on wheels, at the speed of a loaded wagon." But the camel would in these latitudes easily march sixty miles per diem for a week or ten days, amply sufficient to tire out the sturdiest Indian pony; it requires water only after every fifty hours, and the worst soil would supply it with ample forage in the shape of wild sage, rabbit bush, and thorns. Each animal would carry two men, with their arms and ammunition, rations for the time required, bedding and regimental necessaries, with material to make up a tente d'abri if judged necessary. The organization should be that of the Sindh Camel Corps, which under Sir Charles Napier was found so efficient against the frontier Beloch. The best men for this kind of fighting would be the Mountaineers, or Western Men of the caste called "Pikes;" properly speaking, Missourians, but popularly any "rough" between St Louis and California. After a sound flogging, for the purpose of preparing their minds to admit the fact that all men are not equal, they might be used by sea or land, whenever hard, downright fighting is required. It is understood that hitherto the camel, despite the careful selection by Mr. De Leon, the excellent Consul-General of the United States in Egypt, and the valuable instructions of Hekekyan Bey, has proved a failure in the Western world. If so, want of patience has been the sole cause; the animal must be acclimatized, by slow degrees, before heavy loading to test its powers of strength and speed. Some may deem this amount of delay impossible. I confess my belief that the Anglo-Americans can, within any but the extremest limits, accomplish any thing they please -- except unity.
The other necessity will be the raising of native regiments. The French in Africa have their Spahis, the Russians their Cossacks, and the English their Sepoys. The American government has often been compelled, as in the case of the Creek battalion, which did good service during the Seminole campaign, indirectly to use their wild aborigines; but the public sentiment, or rather prejudice, which fathers upon the modern Pawnee the burning and torturing tastes of the ancient Mohawk, is strongly opposed to pitting Indian against Indian in battle. Surely this is a false as well as a mistaken philanthropy. If war must be, it is better that Indian instead of white blood should be shed. And invariably the effect of enlisting savages and barbarians, subjecting them to discipline, and placing them directly under the eye of the civilized man, has been found to diminish their ferocity. The Bashi Buzuk, left to himself roasted the unhappy Russian; in the British service he brought his prisoner alive into camp with a view to a present or promotion. When talking over the subject with the officers of the United States regular army, they have invariably concurred with me in the possibility of the scheme, provided that the public animus could be turned pro instead of con; and I have no doubt but that they will prove as leaders of Irregulars, -- it would be invidious to quote names, -- equal to the best of the Anglo-Indians, Skinner, Beatson, and Jacob. The men would receive about ten dollars per man, and each corps number 300. They would be better mounted and better armed than their wild brethren, and they might be kept, when not required for active service, in a buffalo country, their favorite quarters, and their finest field for soldierlike exercises. The main point to be avoided is the mistake committed by the British in India, that of appointing too many officers to their Sepoy corps.