I’ve been giving Henry presentations to appreciative audiences since 2011. My belief is that readers of history are not treated to “the attitude of history,” which is what Henry’s book is all about. And the reason I look for attitude is the quote he left behind, as part of his legacy: “We didn’t try hard to catch the Indians – we could see they were good people.”
So for my master’s I explored that quote. Henry Bertrand was an infantry soldier, and they didn’t chase Indians—although there was that one comedic instance of mounting infantry soldiers on unridden mules under Crook. But typically they guarded the wagons and forts and took position on the ground from which to fire at any attack. But most soldiers in the Indian wars never fired their gun, except in target practice. They also weren’t the ones who took down the buffalo; civilians were hired for this.
Why? Good question. “Why” is the attitude of history. You’ll find out more when my book is published, but understand how important it is to know why things happened as they did. This is often referred to as the “controversy” of history, and “conspiracy theory” tends to revolve around the “why” question, which is perhaps one reason why the why of history has been maligned. “No, no, just stick to the facts.”
Facts are so unsatisfying, and lead to a lot of ignorance about history. For instance, on April 3, 1862 Lincoln closed the volunteer recruiting offices and removed men from General George McClellan’s command. Why? This event is glossed over in all the sources I’ve found, but this was in fact a very important Civil War event, one that extended the war’s duration and led to the first federal draft. We might not find the definitive reason why, which is why sources gloss over it, and prefer to blame McClellan instead for his cowardice in movement. His cowardice, however, can be blamed on feeling undermanned.
And there are other hunches we can make. One, McClellan was right in wanting control of the recruits, rather than allowing states to form new companies. State volunteer companies were ineffective, especially in 1862, when generals needed recruits to fill the dead spaces in the current companies. The closure of the volunteer recruiting offices had some agreed upon reasons; force the states to submit their records, encourage more recruiting into regular army, and Lincoln actually had more men than he had budgeted for.
Even before Robert E. Lee took the field from injured Joe Johnston, Lincoln realized his mistake. But when he opened the offices again, he couldn’t get men to enlist. This led to the militia draft, which was thought of at the time as practice for the federal draft—and indeed it was; there were riots in both processes. But the end result of the federal draft was to get control of those troops and stop the formation of new state companies.
This is the proper application of attitude, combining all these elements helps us to find attitude. The first year of the war they felt the south would easily break. When that didn’t happen the North had to get serious. 1862 was also the year that Lincoln lost a son and had to deal with his wife’s mania. With attitude applied, we can see that Lincoln felt he had the war won, that he learned he was wrong, that Mac was right but Lincoln wouldn’t admit it—all kinds of attitude emerges with the closure of the recruiting office.
You can read beautifully written prose about war, but if they don’t get at what really happened and why, it still leaves us so puzzled about our country’s history.
We also have to look at attitude to understand Custer’s death. I have been trying to get my article published about why the real reason he died, but the “proper” historical journals don’t want it (It’s been published, and ignored, by Socrates, a journal in India.) They prefer that Custer’s death remain a controversy. Saying that the government deliberately set out to lose this battle smacks of conspiracy. But what else would you call a secret meeting that Grant held with his generals on November 3, 1875? Add to that the fact that Henry’s troops moved away from Fort Laramie that same day, and you have taken a step closer to the truth of why Custer died. They thought the three-column march to the Little Bighorn would work. My book demonstrates how the Civil War experiences were applied to the western territorial experiences against the Indians. They knew that the Indians didn’t fight traditional war, but were more like what Grant faced in the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. They knew they couldn’t take three columns of soldiers with lumbering wagons and sneak up on Indians. They also knew there were a lot of Sioux and Cheyenne who were opposed to selling the Black Hills and they also knew that the agency Indians had the right, by treaty, to hunt in the Black Hills.
So by forming these three columns and marching against them, they expected the Indians to attack, and if they attacked, the government could say they broke treaty. This is simply application of attitude with facts.
Why is that hard to accept? Probably because this country does not want to acknowledge what it did wrong, and does not want to give the Black Hills back. I’ve heard some international noise about holding a council on this issue, but of course nothing has been done. Court after court here in the U.S. has determined that nothing wrong had been done by our government. What else can they say?
So I accept the fact that my book is a hard sell, because of attitude. At the same time, this is filled with what all Americans need to understand. We also need to understand, as my book shows, that the settling of this country could not have gone any differently. As Henry’s quote demonstrates, a lot of the army knew what it was doing to the Indians was wrong, but they had to follow orders. They had to have the railroad and they had to have the land to sell to settlers, because the country was broke after the Civil War. Yet they didn’t want to totally destroy the Indians because they could see they were good people.
There were times throughout history that total populations have been wiped out. Think about the colonization of Africa. The countries who colonized there were after resources, rather than wanting to settle the land. They also tried to make the blacks slaves in their own land, but that’s a much more difficult thing to do. In the U.S., they wanted the land and the Indians felt they were allowed to keep the resources after signing the land away. When you have people who continue to live in the area around the land they treated for, you have people who are still living where they were used to doing things a certain way. Living in their own land makes them more resistant to change.
Compare that to the Africans, who also responded to colonists in Africa the way the Indians did here. But when you took the Africans out of their country and brought them to the U.S., you’ve taken them away from all they knew and they become completely dependent on you. My book also demonstrates how different the experiences of the freed slaves were compared to the agency Indians. The freed slaves actually became a resource for the North (one reason for the draft riots in New York City), while the agency Indian became a drain on U.S. finances because they had to provide food for them.
And then there’s understanding the Civil War effect on the Indians—why all the buffalo had to be destroyed? Because the generals knew that they didn’t beat the South as much as lack of food did.
There has never been a book quite like “Civil War & Bloody Peace,” and though I have had contract offers, the publisher needed for a book like this has shied away. The last presentation I gave is an indication why. Truth about our country can be painful. But I believe we can accept the fact that the settlement of this country couldn’t have happened any other way and if we accept what happened here, we might be more willing to say, no, it doesn’t have to be this way anywhere else. Let’s learn from the wrong things that were done here, and not perpetuate the examples elsewhere.
I guess that’s why I like Obama. He seems to understand and tries hard not to use U.S. influence or attitude against other countries. They have to work out their own problems. But when their problems spill out into other countries or cause a lot of innocent lives to be put in jeopardy, doesn’t the U.S. have the obligation to act?
Only with the right attitude. It was the wrong attitude, the Bush attitude to attack Iraq when they’d had nothing to do with 9/11, that is responsible for the current unrest. Until we understand and admit that, the U.S. can never be of any help at all.