Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 24
Dred with the Army of
Observation and Harriet with
the Children in St. Louis

THE STEAMBOAT TRIP to Louisiana took a week. Along the lower Mississippi, Dred could see slaves at work in the sugar and cotton fields. It took little imagination to understand the hard lives they lived. He had once lived that life, as a young man, working an Alabama cotton plantation for the Blow family before being brought to St. Louis.

The large military expedition arrived at the mouth of the Red River, but the Mississippi steamboat was too large for its tributary. All aboard transferred to the smaller steamer and two days later, the troops disembarked and were trucked through the woods with horse teams to break a new camp, 25 miles southwest of Fort Jesup. By May 10, the regiment had established headquarters at a place named in honor of the same war secretary who had feuded with Hitchcock.1 All that was behind them now. The army was unified in preparing for war.

In mid-June, General Zachary Taylor, who had once commanded Ft. Snelling, arrived to take command of the forces which he named the “Army of Observation.” But there was little for the army to observe yet. The troops remained at the temporary camps, hidden in backwoods Louisiana, waiting for the president, or else the upcoming presidential election, to give them a signal. The stay at the temporary camp in Louisiana dragged on for well over a year. The officers fully expected to move nearer to Mexico before winter fell, but out of precaution, they built huts against the colder weather. That turned out to be a wise decision since they remained at that location through the winter.2 Bainbridge and Hitchcock were close companions during these months of waiting,3 riding horses together and sharing books. Hitchcock brought along his entire library, which included more than 700 books. The captain read the Book of Mormon, which had caused such excitement in Missouri and the West. Hitchcock meditated on the works of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who had been a Roman emperor and had also encamped for a winter with his army, awaiting the time to advance.4

-219-

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