By Carolyn Thomas Foreman.
Gustavus Loomis, born at Thetford, Orange County, Vermont, entered the United States Military Academy June 15, 1808, and was No. 10 in the class of nineteen graduated March 1, 1811. As second lieutenant he was assigned to a regiment of artillerists and served at Fort Columbus, New York, before taking part in the war with Great Britain from 1812 to 1815. When a first lieutenant he participated in the capture of Fort George, Upper Canada and was made a prisoner at the surprise of Fort Niagara, December 19, 1813.1 From Fort Niagara, May 14, 1813 Loomis wrote John Armstrong, secretary of war, accepting the position of assistant deputy quartermaster general and reporting that his bond had been sent to Vermont for sureties. On May 21, 1814, Loomis wrote from Montpelier, Vermont to Gen. George Izard, who had furloughed him, that he wished to go to Fort Niagara to look after cash vouchers which he feared had been lost at the taking of the post.2
The following month Loomis notified the war department from Thetford, Vermont that he had received no orders and he would report to Adjutant General William Cummings, Northern Army at Plattsburg, New York. The "Old Files" of the war department contain letters to the effect that charges and specifications were to be preferred against Lieutenant Loomis, but from several letters in the following months it appears that charges had not been filed and Loomis was still awaiting them in Montpelier on May 4, 1815. The next month he reported as an officer of the Peace Establishment although he was not attached to any particular company.
Loomis was on Ordnance duty from 1815 to 1817, in garrison in New York Harbor, Coast Survey and recruiting until the middle of 1820. He received his captaincy April 7, 1819, and was ordered to the South where he served at Fort Gadsden, Florida and Baton Rouge, Louisiana until 1825. When the army was reorganized in June, 1821, Loomis was transferred to the First Infantry as a captain but in spite of the increased rank he was disgruntled and wrote to John C. Calhoun, secretary of war, from Fort Gadsden on June 11, saying that the change was mortifying to him as it "has been my pride to acquire a knowledge of the duties of an artillery officer....after 8 years as a subaltern at last obtained command of a company." He boasts of his fine company and speaks of the "delicate health of Mrs. Loomis as well as my own, I shall leave this
1George W. Cullum. Biographical Register of Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy, at West Point, N. Y., vol. I, pp. 118-19.
post as soon as practicable and report at Baton Rouge if I cannot obtain leave of absence to carry Mrs. Loomis to the North."3
After serving two years in the Creek Nation in Alabama, Loomis spent 1826-27, in Florida followed by a year in New Orleans. His time was occupied with recruiting in garrison at Fort Crawford, Wisconsin until 1832. In the spring of that year Black Hawk and a band of his followers at Fort Crawford murdered a company of the Menominee Indians who had been friendly to the white settlers; General Atkinson wrote Captain Loomis in command at Prairie du Chien, to furnish the Menominees with such arms and ammunition as he could spare. After the battle of Wisconsin Heights part of Black Hawk's men descended the Wisconsin River planning to escape to the west side of the Mississippi, but they were attacked by a detachment stationed a short distance above the mouth of the Wisconsin. These soldiers had been sent there by Captain Loomis and the Indian agent, Gen. Joseph M. Street; they were commanded by Lieut. Joseph Ritner, Fourth Infantry, who fired on the "distressed and forlorn Indians," capturing thirty-two women and children, four men, and killing fifteen men.3A
A severe fight occurred August 1, 1832, at the junction of the Bad Axe River, with the Mississippi, in which a detachment of sixteen men of the Sixth Infantry were engaged. Captain Loomis had sent the steamboat Warrior up the river from Prairie du Chien and it arrived early in the morning. The real battle of Bad Axe River took place August 2, 1832, between 400 Indians and four companies of the First Infantry, one of the Fifth and eight of the Sixth Infantry aboard the Warrior. The steamboat returned to Prairie du Chien that night, probably carrying the sixteen wounded men of Dodge's troops.3B
Loomis later was on duty at Fort Snelling, Fort Crawford, and Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. From 1837 to 1842 Captain Loomis fought in the Florida war and took part in the battle of Okeecho-bee Swamp against the Seminoles on December 25, 1837.4 He had been made a brevet major April 7, 1829 for faithful service ten years in one grade and on July 7, 1838 he became a major in the Second Infantry; this was followed by a promotion to lieutenant colonel in the Sixth Infantry September 22, 1840.
Gen. Z. Taylor in command of the army in Florida reported to the adjutant general from Tampa, July 20, 1839 that:
3AReport of the Secretary of War, 1832, p. 58; Report from the Office of Indian Affairs, November 22, 1832, p. 162; Wisconsin Historical Collections, vol. II, pp. 256, 414; Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History, vol. I, p. 353.
3BIbid., Wisconsin Historical Collections, vol. VI, pp. 406-07; Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, vol. II, p. 395.
"Major G. Loomis, 2d infantry, who had been stationed with four companies of infantry and one of dragoons around Okee-fen-okee swamp, was ordered to co-operate with General Floyd, who, with a force of mounted Georgians, had been authorized by the department to proceed against the Indians in that quarter, without being placed under my orders....After the expiration of service of General Floyd's command, a battalion of mounted Georgians was called into service, under Brigadier-General Nelson, acting as major, which, together with the troops under Major Loomis, have succeeded in giving entire protection to the Georgia frontier."4A
Major Loomis served as a member of a court martial convened at Pilatka, Florida from December 20, 1839 to January 19, 1840. During the latter month he and his regiment were ordered from Picolata to Camp Fanning. Loomis was reported at St. Augustine, Florida February 8, 1840, having arrived aboard the steamer William Gaston from the southern posts; the next month he captured an Indian on the Wacassa by aid of Cuban bloodhounds, called in the news of the day "Cuban auxiliaries" and "Cuban curs." On May 12, 1840 Major Loomis arrived at Charleston, South Carolina by the steam packet William Seabrook from Savannah, Georgia.4B
Exasperated by their long effort to conquer the Seminoles, an order was issued June 1, 1841, for the utmost activity of the officers who received "the simple injunction, 'Find the enemy, capture or exterminate.' "4C
Major Childs, commanding Fort Pierce, seized Coaeooche and a party of other prominent Seminoles in May, 1841, and sent them to New Orleans, en route to Arkansas where it was proposed to settle the warring tribe. "This was without authority, but under the circumstances, was by many thought justifiable." A disbursing agent of Indian affairs was immediately sent to New Orleans with orders to intercept the prisoners and take them to Tampa Bay. The Indians were found at the U. S. Barracks and Coacooche was elated at the chance to return home. He assured the officer who arrested him that his entire band would fallow him to Arkansas. This brave fighter was humiliated and saddened by being put in handcuffs and he plead that his companions might be spared this indignity. The commanding officer, on his way to Tampa Bay to meet Coacooche, ordered expeditions in all quarters to disperse the enemy. Loomis, with two hundred of the Sixth Infantry, from Clear-Water Harbor, on June 25, scoured the country between Fort Cooper and the Gulf coast.4D
When Colonel Loomis relieved Major Thomas Turner Fauntleroy of the command of Fort Towson in 1842, he found the post
4BArmy and Navy Chronicle, January 2, 1840, p. 15; ibid., February 13, 1840, p. 112; February 27, 1840, p. 138; March 19, 1840, p. 187; May 21, 1840, p. 329.
in a wretched state. Time was required to police the reservation and white-wash the buildings.5 Only a few of the buildings could be occupied and one of the barracks, in danger of falling down, was propped on all sides. Ten thousand dollars had been appropriated for repairs at this fort and Colonel Loomis devoted his time and the services of the soldiers of the Sixth Infantry to putting the place in order. With a monthly fund of $146 raised from a tax on the sutler and profits from the bakehouse Loomis kept up a post school, bought books for a library, subscribed for newspapers for a reading room, purchased garden seeds and maintained a band while Towson was headquarters for the regiment, thus displaying his public spirit and his efforts to keep up the morale and good health of his men on the far frontier.
In the spring of 1843, the steamboat Fort Towson while ascending Red River loaded with ten thousand dollars worth of merchandise consigned to three Choctaw merchants at Doaksville was arrested by low water and the crew stored the cargo at Bryarly's Landing on the Texas side of the river. The Texas revenue collector seized the goods in the name of the state because of violation of revenue laws but a few weeks later the commander of the boat with his crew and that of the Hunter, numbering in all thirty men, returned, bound the collector with a rope, took the merchandise, and returned it to the boat. The Texan authorities made an attempt to recover the property but Colonel Loomis was called upon to protect the merchandise as part of it was consigned to the sutlers at Fort Towson and Fort Washita. In complying with this request he laid himself and the government open to criticism but after an investigation General Taylor, then stationed at Fort Smith, fully exonerated Loomis of any wrong conduct in the affairs.6
In April, 1844, Colonel Loomis was in command of Fort Gibson on the Neosho River where four companies of infantry and two of dragoons were stationed. At that period the post was surrounded by hundreds of Seminole Indians who had been brought from their old home in Florida. They were reluctant to leave the protection of the post for the lands assigned them farther west where they were in danger of marauding plains Indians. The Rev. N. Sayer Harris visited the garrison at that time and he notes in his diary conversations he had with Micanopy, principal chief of the Seminoles through Gopher John who acted as interpreter; he also records that the celebrated Wild Cat and Alligator were in the neighborhood.7
Through the efforts of missionaries, temperance meetings were being held in the Cherokee Nation and Colonel Loomis, "the Christian commander of Fort Gibson," permitted "the finest band in
the United States Army" to attend some of the meetings of the Rev. Samuel Austin Worcester. On one occasion a choir of nineteen soldiers sang temperance songs at one of the gatherings and Mrs. Hannah Worcester Hitchcock stated that she never heard more delightful singing in all her long life.8 In May, 1844, Colonel Loomis ordered teams and wagons to carry soldiers from Fort Gibson to Park Hill where the Rev. Mr. Worcester and some Cherokee Indians were conducting meetings. In June of that year he caused to be erected in the garrison a building twenty-two by forty feet to be used as a church and schoolhouse in an effort to encourage temperance among the soldiers.9
Mrs. Loomis's sister, Miss Mary Eliza Mix, was making her home with Colonel and Mrs. Loomis at Fort Gibson when she died in May, 1844. The Rev. Mr. Worcester was summoned from Park Hill to conduct the funeral services at the post. He made the trip on horseback and his children were deeply impressed on his return by the broad band of crepe on his arm and by his account of the funeral with its procession and the dirge played on muffled drums by the military band.10
Shortly after the death of her sister Mrs. Loomis went to New Orleans to the home of her brother who had died leaving a family of children. When she returned to Fort Gibson she was accompanied by her niece Catherine Mix who was to make her home with her relatives. On account of illness Colonel Loomis was unable to meet the steamboat and he requested his adjutant, Lieut. Ralph Wilson Kirkham to go in his place to receive Mrs. Loomis and her niece. This meeting was the beginning of a friendship which developed into love and finally into marriage on October 20, 1846.11
After a period spent at Fort Towson as commanding officer, Colonel Loomis was ordered back to Fort Gibson and on May 24, 1846, he wrote Adjutant General R. Jones from Fort Smith that he was on his way to Fort Gibson where the headquarters of his regiment were to be established and "hopes were being entertained that disturbances on the Arkansas and Cherokee lines will cease."12 In July, 1847, Gen. Mathew Arbuckle, commandant of Fort Gibson, was given command of the Third Military Department with headquarters at Fort Leavenworth; he was ordered to that post and Colonel Loomis was left in command at Fort Gibson.13
10The grave of Miss Mix is in the officer's circle in the National Cemetery at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.
That all the disturbances were not confined to the Arkansas line is shown by a letter to the adjutant general of the army written by Cave J. Couts, first lieutenant of the Dragoons, from Fort Gibson, June 21, 1847 in which he states: "....Mr. Welch, a Catholic priest, favored us with a visit during the past ten or twelve days, and several of the officers being desirous of hearing him, requested 'the use of the church' for this purpose.
"That courtesy usually shown a Reverend divine, was not extended to him by the Comd'g officer, hence this request which was refused.
"A polite and respectful note was addressed to Mr. McManus, the post chaplain, under the impression and belief that the Comd'g offr. had signified his willingness. To which Mr. McManus replied that 'it rested entirely with the Comd'g offr. —that for his part he had no earthly objection.' This note of his was handed to Lt. Col. Loomis and returned to me with the message that 'he had read it.'
"I have never known a case of the Government having built and consecrated a church at any of our military posts, and think it would be at variance with the spirit of our laws, — nor have I ever before known of a minister visiting one of our frontier posts, without being invited, less refused the privilege of preaching, refused too in the face of a request from a majority of the officers present.
"I say majority—there are but five officers of the line present—three of these were desirous of hearing Mr. Welch, the fourth it is presumed had no objections, though he was not consulted, and Lt. Col. Loomis, the fifth, and only one known to have had any objection.
"A minister of another denomination, or some missionary may come, and he gets a Dragoon with his horse (rations and forage money commuted) to escort him through the country—once as far as Fort Scott.14 Yet a Catholic priest comes along, and something very like fanaticism aided with power, rules him out of a little government cabin called the church! I am no Catholic—though if we had all been Catholics it would have been the same— It is the religion too of a large number of our soldiers, many of whom serve their entire enlistment without an opportunity of once seeing a priest...
"I make this communication to know whether or not the commanding officer of a post, can set aside the post chaplain, temporarily by producing a substitute; and if it depends on him alone, who shall and who shall not preach in the cabin used as a school room and Church."15
Adjutant general Jones wrote to Colonel Loomis regarding this matter on July 24 and in his reply dated at Fort Gibson, August 20, 1847, the Colonel stated that Lieutenant Couts had not retained a copy of his letter which he had sent direct to the Adjutant general. Of course that was a breach of military regulations which no doubt annoyed the commandant of Fort Gibson. Loomis wrote he did not think the request for use of the church had been made direct to
14Probably the Reverend James Otey and N. Sayer Harris, Secretary and General Agent of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 10, pp. 219-256.
him by Couts or any one else. He asked for a copy of Couts's letter in order to see the charges and justify his conduct in the affair. He added: "You assume the complaint to be true; . . . imply that I have violated" the constitution and enquired: "Is this just? Is it not rather condemning me unheard?"16
After receiving a copy of Lieutenant Couts's letter Loomis wrote to General Jones on October 15, 1847, saying he regrets the message, "I have read it," which he had sent to the request for the church. He said he had once proffered use of the building and Father Walsh had asked for another room for his service on account of the difference in the Catholic Church.
"But I have been waiting for an answer from Revd Mr. Welsh (sic) at Little Rock, the Lord, as I believe, has shown me, that, as a Christian, I was wrong in returning only such an answer to Lt Couts message, and I very much regret, I did not send for him, that he might explain his wishes; or, repeat in my message to him, the permission already given. I mourn lest I may have bro't a reproach upon religion.
"With regard to 'sending a Dragoon, rations and forage commuted"—I would observe the first time this was done, was in 1844, when one was sent with the Rev. V. S. Farvis, [N. Sayer Harris?], Secy to the Episcopal Board of Missions, who came recommended by the President, through the Genl. in Chief, to the courtesy and assistance of officers in the Indian country—the next was last fall or winter, to accompany the Rt. Rev. Bishop Freeman, who had been staying with us at this post for several days and requested a guide and a 'little protection' to Cane Hill, Ark. The last was the Hon. Walter Lowrie, Secy. of the Pres. Board of Missions, who was travelling alone—a guide was proffered to him...."17
Loomis regarded the language of Lieutenant Couts as strong and highly colored, but he did not believe he intended, or was capable, of wilfully stating anything false. Loomis felt much ill feeling would have been avoided if Couts's letter had been sent through the regular channel. He wrote that there were twenty-five Roman Catholics in the fort and he enclosed a questionnaire he had sent to officers in the post and their answers.
Couts on October 11 said he had not applied to Loomis personally for the church. In answer to the questionnaire Couts wrote that Yankee-like he wished to ask the Colonel, whether or not he would have let Mr. Welch use the church on that Sunday, during the usual church hours, if he had been asked by a respectful note, signed by three officers of the post, and sent through his adjutant. Colonel Loomis replied that he would have granted the use of the church only when not needed for the post purposes—which would have been Sunday afternoon and all the rest of the week except Thursday evening beginning at early candle lighting.
17Loomis to Jones; "Fort Gibson, May 10, 1847. William Geck Priv. of H. Co. 1st Dragoons is selected to accompany Walter Lowry (sic), Esqr. Sect. of the Ores. Board of Missions as far as Fort Scott as a guide and assistant."
Delos Bennet Sacket, second lieutenant of Dragoons, replied to Loomis that he had not asked personally for the church but he was one of the officers who wished to hear the Rev. Mr. Walsh. Lieut. Henry W. Wharton of the Sixth Infantry wrote to his commanding officer that he had been directed, as acting assistant quartermaster of the post, to "grant the Rev. Mr. Welsh a room to fit up as a church for him to hold meetings in." Capt. William Scott Ketchum of the Sixth Infantry, confirmed the statement.
Loomis, determined to vindicate himself, wrote to Father Walsh at Little Rock, October 7, 1847, enquiring if he had not told him that the quartermaster would give him a room or that he could use the church when it was not required for garrison purposes. The priest wrote from Fayetteville, Arkansas, October 28 as follows:
"Much Respected Sir Yours of the 7th inst I received this morning... Before touching the question you put to me, I must beg you to accept my sincere thanks for the kind and gentlemanly hospitality you tendered me on my visit to Fort Gibson .... You referred me to the Quarter Master and you did further state, that the church was at my service when not required for post purposes....I feel quite sorry that my visit should have been the occasion for any misunderstanding or misconception....I am Your Very Obedient Servant, P. W. Walsh."
When the author of these notes concerning Colonel Loomis unfolded this document in the War Department a little shower of blotting sand fell from it showing it had not been opened since it was placed in the "Old Files." Father Walsh expressed sorrow at having caused trouble by his visit but he little knew how much interest this little tempest probably aroused in the deadly dull army post where the occupants rarely saw a stranger and where they got on each others nerves to a lamentable degree.
Colonel Loomis had no sooner extracated himself from that affair than he was plunged into more trouble when Marcellus Duval, sub-agent to the Seminoles, wrote William Medill, commissioner of Indian affairs, October 15, 1847,18 complaining that Loomis was teaching Negroes in a slave state or territory
"to read and possibly to write; in fine he keeps a school, —A Sunday school I believe, to be sure, but the effects are the same, and felt by every man having slaves in this section of the country...
"The effect of all this schooling and petting of negroes, (or even grant they are free) is such, that every sensible man can see the evil of it."
Duval said he was sending Loomis a copy of his letter so he would have an opportunity of defending his conduct, if possible, and exculpating himself from any erroneous view of the case.
A new duty devolved upon Colonel Loomis in January, 1848 when James McKissick, Cherokee agent, died suddenly on the thirteenth of that month, in his office in the Cherokee agency seven
miles east of Fort Gibson. The army officer acted as agent for a time until Richard C. S. Brown, from near Fort Smith, was appointed to fill the position.19
Loomis served in the Mexican War and Gen. D.E. Twiggs reported his arrival at Vera Cruz March 6, 1848.20 Major General W. O. Butler, commanding, wrote to Adjutant General Jones from the Headquarters Army of Mexico, Mexico City, April 21, 1848 that Lieutenant Colonel Loomis, Sixth Infantry, had arrived the day before in charge of a large train belonging to the merchants in that city, with a command of some eleven hundred recruits, including those under Captain William H. Shover of the Third Artillery with a field battery. Recruits belonging to regiments in and near the city of Mexico immediately united with Loomis's force and arrangements were made whereby regiments at Pachuca, Toluca, and Cuernavaca would join them in a few days.21
Later in 1848 Colonel Loomis served in St. Louis and Fort Snelling and September 26, 1848 he reported to Jones from Fort Crawford of his arrival at that post "with Hd. Qrs. Non Comd Staff, Band and bays learning Music, and companies B. & F. of the 6th Regt. of Inf." comprising 140 men.22
On October 26 J. Hooker, assistant adjutant general, wrote Adjutant General Jones from Jefferson Barracks that Gen. S. W. Kearney was relinquishing command of the Sixth Department on account of ill health and that the command would devolve on Lieutenant colonel Loomis of the Sixth Infantry whose arrival from Fort Crawford was daily expected.23
Loomis was lieutenant colonel of the Sixth Infantry from September 22, 1840 to March 9, 1851, when he became colonel of the Fifth Infantry. He served on the frontier of Texas at Fort Belknap, Fort McIntosh and Ringold Barracks until 1855. He was engaged in hostilities against the Seminole Indians from 1856 to 1858 and he commanded the Department of Florida during 1857 and until July, 1858. The first leave of absence mentioned in the record of Loomis, after his very early service in the North, was from 1858 to 1861. During the Civil War Loomis was occupied in mustering in Connecticut and Rhode Island volunteers and he also was superintendent of recruiting at Fort Columbus, New York from 1861 to 1864. He was retired from active service June 1, 1863, after being borne on the Army Register more than forty-five years.24
Gustavus Loomis was made a brigadier general on March 13, 1865, for long and faithful service in the army and from 1864 to 1867 he was on court martial duty. General Loomis served in the War of 1812, two Seminole wars, the Black Hawk War, the war with Mexico, the Civil War and it seems that he should have been rewarded with a major general's commission on his retirement.
The war department was in receipt of a telegram from M. A. F. Loomis, dated Stratford, Connecticut, March 5, 1872, reporting the death of General Loomis at six o'clock that morning.25 Henry Warner Slocum, member of Congress from the State of New York, in April, 1872, introduced a bill into the House of Representatives to grant a pension to the widow of Gustavus Loomis.26
25AGO, "Old Files," 1258 A. C. P. 1872. A notation in the Loomis file in the War Department dated November 28, 1865, states that he was seventy-six years old which would make him eighty-three at his death.
26Ibid., A. C. P. 1872. Loomis was a first lieutenant when he was married to Miss Julia Ann Mix in 1817; by her he had one daughter, Eliza, born in 1818. On February 24, 1851, Colonel Loomis married Mrs. A. T. Panton (Descendants of Joseph Loomis in America, p. 320 Drake's Dictionary of American Biography, p. 562). For information furnished thanks are due Miss Agnes K. Lawson, Librarian-Curator, Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, Vermont.