The Story of Cole Younger – 15 Chasing Cotton Thieves

picture of a hat and bootIn the fall of 1863, in the absence of Capt. Jarrette, who had rejoined Shelby’s command, I became, at 19, captain of the company. Joe Lea was first lieutenant and Lon Railey second lieutenant.

When Capt. Jarrette came north again, I again became lieutenant, but when Capts. Jarrette and Poole reported to Gen. Shelby on the Red river, they were sent into Louisiana, and I again became captain of the company, so reporting to Gen. Henry E. McCulloch in command of Northern Texas at Bonham. All my orders on the commissary and quartermaster’s departments were signed by me as Capt. C.S.A. and duly honored.

Around Bonham I did scout service for Gen. McCulloch, and in November he sent me with a very flattering letter to report to Gen. E. Kirby Smith, at Shreveport, Louisiana, the headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi department. Capts. Jarrette and Poole were at Shreveport and Gen. Smith gave us minute orders for a campaign against the cotton thieves and speculators who infested the Mississippi river bottom. An expedition to get rid of these was planned by Gen. Smith with Capt. Poole commanding one company, myself the other, and Capt. Jarrette over us both.

Five miles from Tester’s ferry on Bayou Macon we met a cotton train convoyed by 50 cavalry. We charged them on sight. The convoy got away with ten survivors, but every driver was shot, and four cotton buyers who were close behind in an ambulance were hung in a cotton gin near at hand. They had $180,000 on them, which, with the cotton and wagons, was sent back to Bastrop in charge of Lieut. Greenwood.

A more exciting experience was mine at Bayou Monticello, a stream that was deeper than it looked. Observing a cotton train on a plantation across the bayou, I called to my men to follow me and plunged in.

Seeing me floundering in the deep water, however, they went higher up to a bridge, and when I landed I found myself alone. I was hard pressed for a time, till they came up and relieved me. There were 52 soldiers killed here. Other charges near Goodrich’s Landing and at Omega put an end to the cotton speculation in that locality.

The Confederate army in that section was not well armed, and our company, each man with a pair of dragoon pistols and a Sharpe’s rifle, was the envy of the Southern army. Gen. Kirby Smith told me he had not seen during the war a band so well armed. Consequently when, in February, 1864, Gen. Marmaduke sent to Gen. Shelby for an officer and 40 of the best mounted and best armed men he had, it was but natural that Shelby’s adjutant-general, John N. Edwards, should recommend a part of the Missouri boys, and told me to select my men and report to Gen. Shelby, who in turn ordered me to report for special service to Gen. Marmaduke at Warren, Ark.

Only twenty, and a beardless boy, Gen. Marmaduke looked me over rather dubiously, as I thought, but finally told me what he wanted—to find out whether or not it was true that Gen. Steele, at Little Rock, was preparing to move against Price at Camden, and to make the grand round of the picket posts from Warren to the Mississippi river, up the Arkansas to Pine Bluff and Little Rock, and returning by way of the western outpost at Hot Springs.

We were to intercept all messages between Price and Marmaduke, and govern our movements by their contents.

About half way between Pine Bluff and Little Rock we came up with a train of wagons, followed by an ambulance carrying several women and accompanied by mounted Federal soldiers. The soldiers got away into Pine Bluff, but we captured the wagons and ambulance, but finding nothing of importance let them proceed.

We made a thorough examination of the interior of Little Rock, and satisfied ourselves that no movement on Price was imminent, and were on our way out before we became involved in a little shooting match with the patrol, from which no harm resulted to our side, however, except a shot in my leg.

Years afterward, in prison, I learned from Senator Cushman Kellogg Davis, of Minnesota, that he was one of the officers who galloped into Pine Bluff ahead of us that day. He was at that time on the staff of the judge advocate general, and they were on their way into Pine Bluff to hold a court-martial. The women were, as they had said, the wives of some of the officers.

Senator Davis was among the prominent Minnesotans who worked for our parole, although he did not live to see it accomplished.

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