Fort Scott National Historic Site is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas History because of its unique place in the formative years of the state beginning in 1842, its role in the western expansion of the nation, as well as the Bleeding Kansas, and Civil War eras.
Painting of Fort Scott. Courtesy Reed Hartford
The story of Fort Scott is the story of America growing up. When the fort was established in 1842, the nation was still young and confined largely to the area east of the Mississippi River. Yet within a few years, Fort Scott's soldiers became involved in events that would lead to tremendous spurts of growth and expansion. As the nation developed, tensions over slavery led to the conflict and turmoil of "Bleeding Kansas" and the Civil War. Fort Scott's story takes you through these years of crisis and beyond to the time when the United States emerged as a united, transcontinental nation. Source: Fort Scott National Historic Site brochure
Encampment march. Photo courtesy Reed Hartford
ABOUT BEING A NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Fort Scott NHS (National Historic Site) is impressive with its beautiful, authentically restored and maintained examples of military Greek Revival elements on French Colonial architecture. Eleven original structures and nine reconstructions allow the visitor to experience the military post as built and occupied by the U.S. Army on the American frontier.
Captain Thomas Swords, first Quartermaster of Fort Scott referred to Fort Scott as the "Crack Post of the frontier," as he designed and directed its construction.
Fort Scott NHS is unique in Kansas and the United States representing and preserving the importance of the western military post of the mid-19th century.
The enabling legislation establishing the Fort Scott NHS says, "in order to commemorate the significant role played by Fort Scott in the opening of the west, as well as the Civil War and the strife in the State of Kansas that preceded it."
Fort Scott. Photo courtesy Franklin Thompson
Fort Scott was established in 1842 (twelve years before the Kansas Territory and 19 years before statehood) to maintain the western boundary of the United States and to police the Permanent Indian Territory.
Fort Scott was established in April 1842, by the First Dragoons as one of a series of forts from Minnesota in the north (Ft. Snelling) to Louisiana in the south ( Ft. Jesup), separating the white settlers from the Indians who had been removed to the Permanent Indian Territory. It served that purpose for approximately eleven years. Troops stationed at Fort Scott built the post, provided escorts for merchant wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail, and made two excursions up the Oregon Trail as far as the front range of the Rockies. Troops from Fort Scott participated in all three campaigns of the Mexican /American War.
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act opening the area to white settlement. This eliminated the purpose for the fort. The Army abandoned the post, selling the buildings to the public in 1855. The city of Fort Scott took root in the former military buildings around the Parade Ground.
With white settlement came the political issue of whether Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a Slave State or a Free State and the beginning of a very violent period along the Missouri - Kansas boarder known as "Bleeding Kansas." The Army was in and out of the area, trying to keep the peace.
In January 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a Free State, but that spring the Civil War broke out in the East. In many ways we had already been fighting the war over slavery in Kansas for five years. The Army returned to Fort Scott, renting the buildings they had sold and many more in town. The fort became a major supply depot for Union troops in Southwest Missouri, Northwest Arkansas, and down into the Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma). They established a General Army Hospital here to care for Union troops in this western part of what they called the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the war.
Fort Scott was a training and recruitment center during the war. The first black troops to enter federal service from a northern state, the First Kansas Colored Infantry, were mustered in here. After the war the Army's priority was to protect settlers along the migration trails. They again abandoned Fort Scott. There were some troops in the area between 1865 and 1873 to defend the construction of the north-south railroads in the area. After 1873 the Army is gone from Southeast Kansas, but left a permanent mark on the history of Kansas and the nation.
Fort Scott Barracks. Photo courtesy Reed Hartford
YOUR EXPERIENCE AT THE FORT
Open daily April-October 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; November-March 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. An interpretive orientation film, cell phone tour, wayside exhibits, historic structures with authentically furnished rooms, interactive museum exhibits, and special events tell the complex stories of those who settled the Kansas frontier. Soon, a mobile app will further enhance the visitor experience. Fort Scott NHS is a National Historic Landmark and a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom certified site. There is no admission fee.
Source: Nomination from Reed Hartford, President, Friends of Fort Scott National Historic Site, Inc.