Fort Scott National Historic Site
Fort Scott was established in 1842. Named for General Winfield Scott, the fort was part of a line of forts on the Indian frontier. Established as part of a boundary between the settlers and the Plains Indians, the fort became the basis for a large community. The fort served as a town after it was abandoned by the army in 1853 and became a contested town between Jayhawkers and Border Ruffians during the Bleeding Kansas era. At the start of the Civil War, the town was reoccupied by the Union Army to prevent Confederate forces from marching north into Kansas and Missouri.
Fort Scott includes twenty buildings that visitors can tour
Fort Scott is maintained by the National Park Service and is located in downtown Fort Scott, Kansas.
Outline of Fort Scott (1843)
Backstory and Context
Camp Scott was initially established in 1842 since the title of Fort would come with the completion of the Fort’s permanent structures and the formal recognition of the federal government. Lt. Richard S. Ewell started construction, which was later continued and finished by Captain Thomas Swords in 1843. The original construction consisted of a central 350-foot square parade ground and a collection of buildings. Today, the site consists of the parade ground and 20 buildings, including a hospital, blacksmith shop, stables, magazine shop, bake shop, and multiple barracks.
The military picked the Fort site to protect the expansion of American settlers and create a divide between the indigenous and established American territories. The location of the Fort was chosen for three reasons: it was a midpoint between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Gibson, it was near the Marmaton River due to water being necessary for the Fort’s survival, and Fort Scott’s positioning would give it a broad view of the plains (Barlow 1921, 13). The Fort’s main objective was to house the soldiers who would protect the military road that connected Fort Gibson to Fort Leavenworth, which served as an essential logistical network to keep the frontier forts supplied along the western Missouri border.
After the Fort was abandoned in 1853, Fort Scott saw an implosion of settlers to the region after the Kanas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854. In 1855, the Fort was sold for parts, and several buildings were auctioned off. (Holder, Rothamn, 2001, 88-89) Civilians took over the site and its buildings, and some of the buildings were made into hotels and other buildings were used for commercial purposes.
Before the American Civil War and during its civilian control, Fort Scott, Kansas, was the center of conflict over whether Kansas would become a free or slave state. This time became known as Bleeding Kansas. Many supporters of each cause flooded into the area to sway the votes. The tension from Bleeding Kansas led to guerrilla groups using coercion and banditry to exert their ideas and influence over the Kansas region. Jayhawkers were the free state guerillas who disapproved of the expansion of slavery, and Border Ruffians made up the pro-slave state guerillas.
One of the most notable Jayhawkers, James Montgomery, played a significant role in the Bleeding Kansas conflict around Fort Scott. Initially, being a settler who moved to Southeastern Kansas, he had experienced being driven away from home by Border Ruffians looking to keep free soiler settlers from living in Bourbon and Lynn County. Montgomery and men who shared a similar fate would form up to seek justice. In the peek of the violence in 1858, a renowned Border Ruffian and slavery sympathizer, Charles Hamilton, with about thirty of his men, captured suspected free staters living in and around Lynn County. Five men were killed, another five were wounded, and one escaped. The barbaric act would be known as The Maraos Cygnes Massacre (Holder, Rothman, 2001, 83). Like many Jayhawkers, this fueled Montgomery’s need for revenge, and he attempted a raid on the pro-slavery hotel in Fort Scott. The chaos of Bleeding Kansas would continue to escalate up to the point of the Civil War, where the banditry would convert into more large-scale and organized warfare.
During the Civil War, the military again occupied Fort Scott, becoming a Union army base. It remained so from 1861 to 1865. General James Lane would become the Union army leader in Fort Scott. While occupied by the Union army, the Fort was expanded, and over 40 miles of fortifications were constructed. Lane organized a network of defenses, including several stockades, entrenchments, and numerous posts around Fort Scott to secure its position from a Confederate attack. (Holder, Rothman, 2001, 107-108) As a former Jayhawker, Lane sought to fight the war in a guerilla-style to antagonize Confederate forces and seek revenge on Border Ruffians. His raids into Missouri would almost mirror the bandit-like behavior seen from Bleeding Kansas, where contraband was taken from suspected secessionists. (Etcheson 2004, 227) Being so close to Confederate-occupied regions, the Lane saw the opportunity to raid to liberate slaves and suppress secessionist support in Missouri.
The proximity of Fort Scott to the South attracted refugees fleeing the war and the institution of slavery. A Fort Scott man observed, “Contrabands are increasing beyond the most extravagant abolition expectations throughout the entire Kansas border. Some estimates place the daily emigration from Missouri at from fifty to one hundred” (Eecheson 2004, 229). By 1861, Lane realized that the black refugees could have a role in the military, and he was able to form several of the first African-American regiments under his command. In 1862, The First Kansas Colored Infantry were the first African Americans to experience military combat during the Battle of Island Mound (Burke, Earle, 2013, 159). Lane pioneered the idea of black regiments, and it was not until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 that the military started to implement similar regiments. He did this partly out of the necessity to bolster the manpower under his command since the local area could not meet the necessary recruitment numbers.
Barlow, Mary L. The Why of Fort Scott. Legare Street Press. 1921. . 1-150.
Burke, M. Earle. Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border. University Press of Kansas. 2013.
Etcheson, Nicole. Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era. University Press of Kansas. 2004.
Holder, J., Rothman, K. The Post on the Marmaton: A Historic Resource Study of Fort Scott National Historic Site. United States Department of the Interior. 2001. http://npshistory.com/publications/fosc/hrs.pdf. 1-395.
Barlow, The Why of Fort Scott, The Plaza 1843, 1921, pg. 13
Foster Design Inc., Frontier of 1846