I might say, in the general rush of the bucks, it was impossible for the men to distinguish the bucks from the squaws.
Captain Charles S. Ilsley, at fifty-three years of age, was the most senior and one of the two oldest of the captains in the 7th Cavalry. He had been assigned to the regiment for two decades but was on detached service as Brigadier General John Pope’s aide-de-camp for the first nine years in the regiment. Thus, he did not participate in any of the regiment’s campaigning during the 1870s. He returned to the regiment in 1879 and had commanded E troop since that time.
E Troop had its full compliment of officers, non-commissioned officers, and forty-three privates at Wounded Knee, twelve of which were recently assigned from the recruiting depot at Jefferson Barracks, comprising twenty-eight percent of the troop’s junior enlisted soldiers. Captain Ilsley’s first lieutenant, Horatio G. Sickels had served in that capacity for eight years and had been with the regiment since being transferred to it following the battle along the Little Bighorn River just a couple of weeks after graduating from the military academy. The troop’s second lieutenant was Sedgwick Rice, a civilian appointee that had been with the unit since transferring to the 7th Cavalry four years earlier. The unit’s senior non-commissioned officer was First Sergeant Charles M. Clark, a veteran enlisted man with over twelve years in the saddle with the regiment and at least one enlistment prior to that with the 6th Infantry.
With only one major actively serving with the regiment during the campaign, Captain Ilsley, in addition to commanding his troop, also commanded the regiment’s Second Battalion. Major Whitside referred to this unit as the nickel battalion, and in addition to Captain Ilsley’s own E Troop, the battalion consisted of Captain Jackson’s C Troop, Captain Godfrey’s D Troop, and Captain Edgerly’s G Troop. On the morning of 29 December 1890, these units made up the outer cordon around the Indian camp with C and D Troops mounted to the south of the ravine, G Troop mounted on the east side of the road to the Pine Ridge Agency, and E Troop mounted and positioned just west of the hilltop where the light artillery was positioned. Captain Ilsley positioned himself on the hilltop where he could best view all of his battalion’s elements. During that day’s fighting, E Troop suffered two men killed, Sergeant R. H. Nettles and Private A. Kellner, and one man wounded, Sergeant J. F. Tritle. In all, the Second Battalion’s Wounded Knee casualties included four men killed and four wounded, significantly less than the forty-nine casualties suffered in the First Battalion.
Captain Ilsley was the first officer called to testify on 9 January 1891, the third day of Major General Miles’ investigation of Wounded Knee. He provided the following testimony.
I commanded the 2d Battalion of the 7th Cavalry during the engagement on the Wounded Knee on the 29th of December, 1890.
Q[uestion]: Were your troops so placed on the morning of the battle as to be out of danger from the fire of other troops?
A[nswer]: From my remembrance of the location, E Troop of the Battalion was located out of the danger of fire from others. G Troop’s position was the safest I regard of all. D and C, I think their position was such as to receive the fire from other Troops.
Q: Do you recognize this (handing him the map hereunto appended and marked “A”) as correctly showing the position of your Troops relative to the other Troops just before the engagement commenced?
A: I do not; I don’t remember the position of the reserve marked 1/3d of A and I Troops; otherwise, I recognize it as correct.
Q: What precautions did you take in the pursuit of the Indians to prevent the unnecessary killing of Indian women and children?
A: By cautioning the men whenever I observed that any man was careless in shooting at any Indian running to be careful and not kill any squaws. I might say, in the general rush of the bucks, it was impossible for the men to distinguish the bucks from the squaws. After they became scattered, I heard several times men say “Lookout, don’t shoot, that is a squaw.” I also heard officers make the same remark, and in one particular instance, the entire fire of one Troop was stopped to prevent one squaw, separated from the rest, from being shot; and in passing some wounded Indians lying on a hill some men shouted “Look out, there are some wounded bucks, they are going to shoot.” Some of the other men shouted “Don’t fire, they are wounded squaws.”
Q: You say that the positions of C and D Troops were such as to receive the fire from other troops; please state if they did actually encounter such a fire?
A: That would be impossible for me to state; I was not there; it was the fire from Troops C and D that I referred to; I located myself with the Artillery, Captain Capron, when the fire took place. Captain Jackson commanded C; Captain Godfrey commanded D; I stood nearest my own Troop – E Troop.
Q: Under all the circumstances attached to the work of the day referred to, do you consider that the disposition made of all the troops was judicious?
A: I don’t think it was. I think in the disposition of the troops the troops should have been on one side and the Indians on the other. I don’t refer to the nature of the ground but to the nature of the case. If General Forsyth received orders to disarm Big Foot’s band right on the ground where the council was held, the flank towards G Troop left open, would have, in my opinion, made the disposition different. I think then that G Troop should not have been there.
Captain Ilsley’s final answer was perhaps the only critique of Colonel Forsyth’s handling of the affair from any of the regiment’s officers during the course of the inquiry. A correspondent present early in the morning of 29 December 1890 noted that Captain Ilsley commented on the disposition of troops prior to the outbreak of hostilities that day. In response to a lieutenant’s query regarding the odd disposition of troops if trouble should occur, Thomas H. Tibbles quoted Ilsley’s reply, “There’s no possibility of trouble that I can see. Big Foot wants to go to the agency and we’re a guard of honor to escort him in.” Perhaps a week and half of reflection between the battle at Wounded Knee and his testimony at the investigation gave Ilsley cause to second guess his commander’s disposition of troops. The captain’s remarks that late December morning indicate that he had no such misgivings just prior to the outbreak of hostilities.
Following the close of the campaign, the 7th Cavalry was the first of the Army’s regiments to return from Pine Ridge. Colonel Forsyth’s Field, Staff & Band–the headquarters of the regiment–and Major Whitside’s First Battalion were the first elements to depart from Rushville, Nebraska, by train on 26 January. Captain Ilsely’s Second Battalion along with Captain Capron’s Light Battery E, 1st Artillery, followed later that same day. The regiment’s monthly return succinctly described the Second Battalion’s ill-fated return trip to Fort Riley.
The train containing troops C, D, E & G and Lt Baty E 1st Arty with Det Lt Baty F 4th Arty was wrecked by a collision near Florena, Kans. in which two enlisted men were killed & 2 com. officers & 15 enlisted men were injured.
In the coming days following the accident, newspapers across the country provided greater detail of the tragic crash.
Four troops of the Seventh United States cavalry and one battery of artillery, en route to Fort Riley from the scene of the recent Indian disturbances in South Dakota, comprising the second battalion, under command of Captain Ilsley, were aboard a Union Pacific mixed train of twenty-six cars, including five or six passenger coaches, all heavily loaded with men, horses and accoutrements, drawn by two engines. This train, southbound, was to have met and passed the northbound Blue Valley afternoon passenger train at a blind siding south of Irving, and thirty-three miles north of Manhattan. The meeting occurred while the soldier train was moving about fifteen miles an hour, and the other at about double that rate of speed. The ruin resulting is described as the most complete wreck that can be imagined, and the wonder is, considering the numbers aboard, so few people were killed and injured.
The two officers injured in the wreck were Captain Ilsley and Captain Godfrey. Ilsley’s injuries were minor and he was reported present for duty at the end of the month, just five days after the accident. Godfrey received more serious injuries to his shoulder and leg when he jumped from the engine of his train. He spent more than a month in the post hospital at Fort Riley before being placed on sick leave for six months. Godfrey’s injuries never fully recovered and he limped for the remainder of his life. Captain Ilsley along with Lieutenant Selah R. H. Tompkins and two enlisted soldiers filed a lawsuit the following November against the Union Pacific Railroad Company seeking an aggregate of $9,500 in damages. The more seriously injured Godfrey did not take part in the claim.
That Ilsley was proud of the service rendered by his troopers that day is evident in the recommendations and endorsements he made for a number of his soldiers. Of the nineteen 7th Cavalry troopers awarded the Medal of Honor for actions at Wounded Knee Creek, White Clay Creek, or during the entire campaign, five were from Captain Ilsley’s E Troop: Sergeants McMillian and Austin and Privates Feaster, Sullivan, and Ziegner; all were recommended for their actions at Wounded Knee. In addition to the Medal of Honor recipients, another non-commissioned officer, Sergeant Tritle, was recognized for his services with the presidential Certificate of Merit. Both of Ilsley’s lieutenants, Sickel and Rice, received honorable mention from the commanding general of the Army, although Rice was recognized specifically for actions at White Clay Creek. These eight laudatory commendations made E Troop the most formally recognized unit at Wounded Knee. They were not, however, the first of the regiment’s soldiers to be recognized for their actions during that winter’s campaign. By the third week of April 1891, when Ilsley, Sickel, and Rice recommended their soldiers for recognition, six 7th Cavalry troopers and two artillerymen had already received their medals.
Charles Stillman Ilsley, born on 4 August 1837, was the sixth of ten children 0f Nathaniel Ilsley and Betsey Pettingill. Both parents were natives of Portland, Cumberland County, Maine, the town where they were reared, raised, and married, where all of their children were born and grew up, and where both parents died and were buried.
Nathaniel, born in 1800, was the son of Benajmin Ilsley and Betsey Dole. He was a craftsman and cabinet maker by trade, a profession in which he was engaged in Portland with his older brother, Benjamin. Nathaniel’s wife, Betsey, born in 1802, was the daughter of David Pettingill and Mehitable Carle. The eldest of Nathaniel and Betsey’s children was Nathan, Jr., born in 1823 and died 1873. Next was Caroline who died in 1840 at fifteen years of age. The third child was Harriet, born in 1830 and died in 1894. David was their next child born in 1832 and died in 1886. Joseph Morrill Pettingill was the fifth child born in 1834 and died in 1907. Charles, the subject of this post, was born 1837 and died in 1899. Their seventh child was Daniel, born in 1839 and died in 1904. The eighth child was Mrs. Caroline Elizabeth Paul, born in 1841 and died in 1914. The youngest son was George Leonard, born 1844 and died in 1920. And the youngest child was Elizabeth, known as Betsey, born in 1845. The mother, Betsey Pettingill Ilsley died in 1846, a few months after the birth of her last child and namesake. Nathaniel joined his wife in death in 1870.
By 1850 the Ilsley’s eldest son, Nathan, Jr., had relocated to Chelsea, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Charles Ilsley resided for a time during the 1850s with Nathan and his wife Alice. Over the next decade most of the siblings also moved to Chelsea. Twenty-seven-year-old David Ilsley was living there with six of his brothers and sisters in 1860. Most of the Ilsley children would spend the remainder of their lives in the Boston area.
At the onset of the Civil War Charles Ilsley enlisted as a private in Company C, 71st New York Infantry Regiment, and took part in the first Battle of Bull Run. He served in the 71st for ninety days mustering out at New York City at the end of July 1861. Ilsley returned to his father’s hometown of Portland where in December 1861 he was appointed a captain and given command of Company D, 15th Maine Infantry Regiment, which was then being organized in Augusta. Within two months the regiment was transported, likely by steamship down the east coast, around Florida, to Ship Island, Mississippi. Ilsley’s unit was engaged in the capture of New Orleans, again at Thibadoux, Louisiana, then at Mustang Island, and at Fort Esperanza, Texas. In November 1863, Ilsley served on the staff of Brigadier General Thomas Ransom as acting assistant inspector general at Brazos Santiago, Texas, until the following April. He participated in Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Red River campaign of 1864 when he was engaged in battle at Sabine Cross-Roads, Pleasant Hill, and Cane River, Louisiana. July 1864 saw the 15th Maine transferred to the Army of the Potomac, first at Fort Monroe then to Bermuda Hundred in Virginia. Ilsley participated in Major General Philip Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley campaign where he was engaged in the third battle of Winchester in September 1864 when the veterans of his regiment were on furlough. Charles Ilsley served out the remainder of the Civil War as the acting assistant inspector general on the staff of Brigadier General William Henry Seward, Jr.
Following the war, Charles Ilsley transferred to the 5th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment in April 1865 still serving as a Captain in the U.S. Volunteers. He served on the staff of Brigadier General Francis Fessenden, and as an aide-de-camp to Major General William H. Emory until July 1865 before being mustered out of service at Harper’s Ferry. He received a brevet promotion to captain for “gallant and meritorious services during the war.”
Charles Ilsley requested a commission in the regular Army and was appointed a second lieutenant in the 16th U.S. Infantry in February 1866. He was promoted to first lieutenant of B Company the same month serving with his unit on reconstruction duty in Macon and later Atlanta, Georgia, where he served as Colonel Thomas Ruger’s acting assistant quartermaster. In January 1868, Ilsley was placed on detached service as an aide-de-camp to Brigadier General John Pope who was then commanding the Department of the Lakes. While serving in the capacity of an aide, Ilsley was apparently unassigned to a line regiment for almost eighteen months from April 1869 to December 1870 at which time he was transferred to the 1st Cavalry for a week and then the 7th Cavalry. He was promoted to Captain of E Troop the following summer and remained assigned to that unit for more than two decades. However, he saw little of the regiment during its active campaigning through the 1870s. Ilsley continued to serve as General Pope’s aide while that officer commanded the Department of Missouri posted at Fort Leavenworth.
Charles Ilsley finally joined the 7th Cavalry in September 1879 in the Dakota Territory where he served with his troop through most of the next decade. He was posted to Fort Meade and later Fort Yates while serving in the Department of Dakota. His troop was transferred to Fort Sill in the Indian Territory in August 1888 for two years before locating to Fort Riley with the regiment’s headquarters just two months before departing on the Sioux campaign of 1890-1891.
Ilsley’s promotion to major came in February 1892 when he was assigned to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, one of the Army’s colored regiments. That summer Major Ilsley, in command of six troops of the 9th, took his battalion on summer field exercises to the Powder River in Wyoming. As he neared the town of Suggs he became keenly aware of a disturbance between large cattle ranchers and the local citizenry, the latter believing the cavalry’s presence was to support the cattlemen. The major tried to assure the local citizens that he has not there to interfere with, or take sides in any conflict they had with the ranchers. From his camp on the Powder about five miles outside of Suggs, Ilsley was weary of his proximity to a town that he realized was full of rustlers, gamblers, and “notorious outlaws.” Despite the major’s verbal and written orders that no men were authorized in the town of Suggs, some buffalo soldiers ventured into the local saloons. On the night of 17 June the cavalry camp was awakened by volleys of gun shots coming from the town. Bated by racial slurs heaped upon the African American troopers by some of the lower elements of the town, at least twenty of the 9th Cavalry soldiers were in Suggs. They were retaliating to an altercation from the previous night that erupted over a black trooper’s involvement with a prostitute and a furious white rustler. The troopers fired numerous volleys first into the air and then into houses and tents when they wounded one civilian. The soldiers were ambushed on their way out of town, and one trooper was killed and two wounded. The Suggs affair was just one chapter in the Johnson County Range Wars, in which Major Ilsley and his buffalo soldiers became embroiled in the summer of 1892.
As an aged field grade officer that had spent most of his life in a cavalry saddle, Major Ilsley in his late fifties and early sixties coped with kidney disease. He was ill for several months in 1895 spending more than five months in the Army and Navy Hospital at Hot Springs, Arkansas. In December 1896 the cavalry major took command of Fort Duchesne, in the newly admitted state of Utah. Ilsley was with his regiment in Cuba in the summer of 1898, but was sick in quarters during most of the regiment’s fighting. Following the regiment’s return from the Spanish-American War, Ilsley returned to command of Fort Duchesne. At the age of sixty-one he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the 6th U.S. Cavalry and appointed commander of Fort Riley. Suffering from Bright’s disease, a class of kidney ailments, Ilsley requested to be retired rather than take up station in Kansas. The Army approved his retirement effective 8 April 1899, just eleven days after his promotion to lieutenant colonel. He died nine days later in Salt Lake City.
Charles Stillman Ilsley never married. His body was returned to Chelsea, Massachusetts, where he was buried next to his brother, David, and sister, Harriett. Two more of his siblings were laid to rest by his side in the Woodlawn Cemetery in subsequent years.
Lieutenant Colonel Ilsley was an active member of the Massachusetts Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, a fraternal organization of officers that fought for the Union during the Civil war. He was also a member of the Sons of the American Revolution being a descendant, through his mother, of Samuel Carle who had served as a private in Captain Benjamin Hooper’s company, Massachusetts Sea-coast defense.
 Adjutant General’s Office, Official Army Register for March 1891, (Washington: Adjutant General’s Office, 1891), 72; Adjutant General’s Office, “Fort Meade Post Return, September 1876,” National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C., Returns from U.S. Military Posts, 1800-1916, Microfilm Serial: M617, Microfilm Roll: 764.
 Adjutant General’s Officer, “7th Cavalry, Troop E, Jan. 1885 – Dec. 1897,” Muster Rolls of Regular Army Organizations, 1784 – Oct. 31, 1912, Record Group 94, (Washington: National Archives Record Administration).
 Jacob F. Kent and Frank D. Baldwin, “Report of Investigation into the Battle at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, Fought December 29th 1890,” in Reports and Correspondence Related to the Army Investigations of the Battle at Wounded Knee and to the Sioux Campaign of 1890–1891, the National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington: The National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1975), Roll 1, Target 3, Jan. 1891, 684-686.
 Thomas H. Tibbles, Buckskin and Blanket Days, (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1969), 311.
 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C., Returns from U.S. Military Posts, 1800-1916, Microfilm Serial: M617, Microfilm Roll: 1014.
 Associated Press, “Ill-Fated Seventh,” Abilene Weekly Reflector 29 January 1891, 4.
 Calvin P. Godfrey, “General Edward S. Godfrey,” Ohio History Journal (http://publications.ohiohistory.org/ohj/search/display.php?page=1&ipp=20&searchterm=godfrey&vol=43&pages=61-98) accessed 19 Oct 2014; Associated Press, “Soldiers Want Damages,” St. Paul Daily Globe 21 November 1891, 6.
 Adjutant General’s Office, “General Order No. 100, Headquarters of the Army, December 17, 1891,” General Orders and Circulars – 1891, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), 4-6; United States Congress, “Senate Document No. 58, General Staff Corps and Medals of Honor, July 23, 1919,” 66th Congress, 1st Session, Senate Documents, vol. 14 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1919), 420-421.
 Ancestry.com, Maine, Birth Records, 1621-1922 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
 Ibid.; Ancestry.com, United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, Year: 1840, Census Place: Portland Ward 3, Cumberland, Maine, Roll: 137, Page: 176, Image: 279, Family History Library Film: 0009702; Year: 1850, Census Place: Portland Ward 3, Cumberland, Maine, Roll: M432_252, Page: 98B, Image: 194; Year: 1860, Census Place: Portland, Cumberland, Maine, Roll: M653_436, Page: 556, Image: 557, Family History Library Film: 803436; Ancestry.com. Maine, Marriage Records, 1713-1937 [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, original source data: Maine State Archives, Augusta, Maine, USA, Pre 1892 Delayed Returns, Roll #: 56.; Ancestry.com, Delaware, Craftperson Files, 1600-1995 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014; Ancestry.com, Maine, Death Records, 1617-1922 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, original source data: Maine State Archives, Cultural Building, 84 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0084, Pre 1892 Delayed Returns, Roll #: 56; Ancestry.com, Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013, Original data: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts. The Maine, Death Records indicated that Nathaniel Ilsley died in Portland, Maine, and the Massachusetts, Death Records state that his place of death was Boston, Massachusetts. Both records place his date of death as 19 October 1870.
 Ancestry.com, United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, Year: 1850, Census Place: Chelsea, Suffolk, Massachusetts, Roll: M432_339, Page: 399B, Image: 339; Year: 1860, Census Place: Chelsea, Suffolk, Massachusetts, Roll: M653_526, Page: 806, Image: 178, Family History Library Film: 803526; Ancestry.com, Massachusetts, State Census, 1855 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
 Historical Data Systems, comp., U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009; Guy V. Henry, Military Record of Army and Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, vol. 1 (New York: D. Van Nostrand, Publisher, 1873), 348.
 Historical Data Systems, Civil War Soldier Records; Henry, Military Record of Army and Civilian Appointments.
 Adjutant General’s Office, Official Army Register for March 1891, 72.
 Ancestry.com, U.S., Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
 United States Congress, “The Brownsville Affray,” 60th Congress, 1st Session, December 2, 1907 – May 30, 1908, Senate Documents in 36 Volumes, vol. 19 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1908), 376-392.
 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C., Returns from U.S. Military Posts, 1800-1916, Microfilm Serial: M617, Microfilm Roll: 482; Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Register of the Commandery of the State of Massachusetts (Cambridge: The University Press, 1912), 234; Associated Press, “Death of Lieutenant Colonel Ilsley,” The Anaconda Standard, April 18, 1899, 2.Morning, Page 2.
 Ancestry.com, Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.
 MOLLUS, Register of Commandery, 234; Ancestry.com, U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011, Volume: 22, SAR Membership Number: 4352.
 Dino, pho]to., “LTC Charles Stillman Ilsley,” FindAGrave (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=137022416) accessed 18 Oct 2014.
Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Captain Charles Stillman Ilsley, Commander, E Troop and 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry,” Army at Wounded Knee, posted 19 Oct 2014, accessed _______, http://wp.me/p3NoJy-yR.