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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Fort Scott, Kansas never saw a major battle but it played a vital role in pioneer, pre-Civil War and Civil War military history.

We visited the Fort Scott National Historic Site on a hot, muggy August afternoon, when the green grass and heavily leafed trees were muted by the moisture in the air. It takes at least an hour, probably more, to walk the grounds and go through the buildings. The great news - the buildings are open to visitors and portray frontier military life.

First established as a fort in 1842, soldiers came to keep peace between the Indians and the settlers. When pushing westward, the government guaranteed land to each tribe. When settlers came in large numbers, the dragoons stationed at the fort were challenged with keeping the peace.
Officers quarters

In 1855, the government closed the fort and sold the buildings to local settlers. Most of the townspeople were pro-slavery but abolitionists and free-staters were settling the countryside. Fort Scott, caught in the middle of a growing problem, even had two hotels: the Free-State Hotel and the Western (pro-slavery) Hotel. Imagine the discord at the two hotels - separated only by the former parade grounds - as hostilities broke out.

By 1858, radicals from both sides made the hotels their headquarters. John Brown and James Montgomery (later a Union officer) tried to burn the Western Hotel, supposedly because a vicious raid - the Marais des Cygnes Massacre where pro-slavery forces executed 11 free-staters - had been planned at the hotel.

Dragoon stables (80 stalls)
The border between Kansas and Missouri became a hotbed of conflict and retribution. Soon after the war started in 1861, the US Army returned to Fort Scott, setting up a supply depot for Union forces west of the Mississippi. It also served as a hospital for wounded soldiers and a safe haven for escaped slaves and Indians.

Although Confederate General Sterling Price intended to attack Fort Scott, it never happened. He was soundly defeated at the Battle of Westport (present day Kansas City, MO) in 1864, and retreated back to Arkansas.

Fort Smith was home to the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, made up of African Americans and American Indians.

After the war ended, the military left once again, only to return in 1869 to protect railroad workers who faced much opposition for area settlers. In 1873, the military left for the final time. Businesses and citizens took over the old fort buildings.

It would be over 100 years later - 1978 - before Fort Scott became a national historic site. Today the buildings have been restored, or in some cases reconstructed, and visitors can capture a moment in our country's history and relive what military life was like more than 150 years ago.

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