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  • KANSAS 150: Fort Scott had key role in statehood

  • Kansas statehood and the Civil War were intertwined, and a lot of the issues were played out in Kansas, according to Galen Ewing, park ranger at the Fort Scott National Historic Site.

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  • Kansas statehood and the Civil War were intertwined, and a lot of the issues were played out in Kansas, according to Galen Ewing, park ranger at the Fort Scott National Historic Site.
    The fort was established and garrisoned by the U.S. Army from 1842 to 1853 to assist in protecting the Permanent Indian Frontier. It was abandoned by the army in 1853, but the violent “Bleeding Kansas” period brought the soldiers back.
    Fort Scott was originally a pro-slavery town, in a predominantly free area, according to Ewing. From 1857 to 1860 army soldiers would come out to quell violent outbursts between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in Bourbon County. When troubles subsided, the soldiers would be pulled out, until violence flared again and they were called back by the governor.
    “Particularly there were troubles north of Fort Scott, with Jayhawkers raiding in Missouri,” he said. “Jayhawkers would raid in Missouri. Company B, 2nd U.S. Infantry was here 150 years ago to keep Kansans on the Kansas side and Missourians on their side.”
    That company was under the command of Capt. Nathaniel Lyon. On Jan. 29, 1861, the day that Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state, Lyon and his company were ordered to proceed to St. Louis to defend the arsenal there and keep it from falling into the hands of pro-Confederate militias. They marched out of Fort Scott on Feb. 1, 1861, headed for Sedalia, Mo., to catch the train to St. Louis.
    “As soon as states started to succeed from the Union, arsenals in the South were being confiscated by militia units,” Ewing said. “Lyon successfully protected the arsenal.”
    He was killed the morning of Aug. 10, 1861, in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek a few miles south of Springfield, Mo.
    “He was the first Union general to be killed in the war,” Ewing said.
    The Civil War started around three months after Lyon left Fort Scott. More soldiers came in, Ewing said.
    “The 6th Kansas Cavalry was a something of a local unit, composed of men from Linn and Bourbon Counties, some from the Neutral Lands, Pittsburg and further south,” he said. “The 3rd Wisconsin came to Fort Scott and stayed three years. There were usually about 1,000 soldiers stationed at the fort during the war.”
    The fort served as a U.S. Army district headquarters, training center, recruitment center and major supply center for troops in southwest Missouri, northwest Arkansas and the Indian Territory.
    “You saw supplies loaded onto huge wagons that went south, but they didn’t come back to Fort Scott empty,” Ewing said. “They would load up refugees. Some refugees also came to the fort on their own for protection.”
    Where there are soldiers, there also tend to be saloons and other forms of unsavory entertainment.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Fort Scott was known as ‘Hell’s Headquarters’ by some,” Ewing said.
    Nevertheless, he added, the town was very supportive of the war effort.
    “Aid associations were formed to help the refugees, and Fort Scott had a Hospital Aid Society to help ill and wounded soldiers,” Ewing said
    The fort and town were threatened during the Battle of Dry Wood Creek, about 12 miles from Fort Scott in Vernon County, Mo., when Sterling Price and his Missouri State Guard attempted to capture the area. Sen. James Lane led the defenders, but was badly outnumbered and defeated. However, Price chose not to hold the fort, but continued a northern push into Missouri in an attempt to recapture the state for the Confederacy.
    “I think Fort Scott was an interesting town throughout the war,” Ewing said. “I think many citizens were waiting for the war to end to see if the growth of Fort Scott would continue, which it did when the railroads got there in 1869.”

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