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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 263: Escorting supply trains

Friday, May 6, 2011

During the Civil War, Fort Scott evolved into a huge military complex that extended well beyond the current boundary of Fort Scott National Historic Site.

One of the largest parts of this complex was a huge Quartermaster Depot that facilitated the transportation of supplies to Fort Gibson in the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) and Fort Smith, Ark.

These articles of war were transported in supply trains that consisted of 50, 100, 150, 200 or more wagons that were drawn by four or six mules, depending on the total weight of the cargo in each wagon.

A military escort consisting of one or more companies of cavalry soldiers protected the supply train from Fort Scott to its destination. If the supply train was very large, as the wagons were loaded they were ordered to travel down the Military Road and rendezvous at Fort McKean on the Drywood Creek that was 12 miles south of Fort Scott.

This rendezvous point was selected because on a good day and on a good road a fully loaded supply wagon was only expected to travel 12 miles.

Finding an escort for a supply train could be easy or difficult to do. If a cavalry company was available and not engaged in other duties, it was easy to assign it as an escort. If one was not available, then parts of different companies were often used.

The following correspondence describes the formation of an escort from Company M of the 6th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. All of the original documents are located in Company M's bound order book that can be found in the old Military Branch of National Archives in Washington, D.C.

"Headquarters, Ft. Scott, Ks. November 12, 1864.

(To:) Capt. Duff, Commanding Detachment of 6th Ks. Cav.

You will see that all officers and enlisted men of your Regt. temporarily at this post are in readiness to go below (south) with the train on Tuesday next and report to Capt. H.P. Ledger ranking officer of the escort present for duty.

By Order of Col. C.W. Blair, Commanding Post

Wm. H. Hewitt, Lieut. and Post Adj."


Fort Scott, Kansas, Nov. 15,1864.

Special Orders No. 83:


1st Lieut. Anderson "6th Kans. Cav. is hereby relieved from duty as Commanding Officer of the Military Prison at this Post and will report without delay to the Comdg. Officer of the Detachment of said Regt. now at this Post for duty.

By Order of Col. C.W. Blair, Wm. Hewitt, 1st Lieut. and Post Adjutant."

"Fort Scott, Kansas.

November 17, 1864.

Special Order No. 1

(To:) Captain J. W. Duff, Comdg. 6th K.V.C.

All officers and Enlisted Men belonging to the 6th K. v. c. as escort to the supply train to Fort Smith and Gibson that maybe in Fort Scott or away from the command will proceed to the train and remain with the train. The train is camping at Drywood this evening and await further orders.

By Order of

H. P. Ledger,

Captain, Comdg. Escort."

"Headquarters, Fort Scott, Kansas

November 17, 1864.

(To:) Captain Duff Comdg. Escort and Comdg. Officer of Escort to Train:

Stay on Drywood till the Indian Refugee Train under Col. Coffin arrives so (they) can all go on together.

C. W. Blair

Colonel Comdg. Post."

Now things are getting complicated. Not only do Capt. Duff and Capt. Ledger have to provide an escort for a supply train, they have to wait at Drywood for another wagon train that contains "Indian refugees'' who are returning to their homes near Fort Gibson. This, of course, reduces the size of the escort on the supply train, and by extending the length of the train it will take longer to reach Fort Gibson and increase the danger of being attacked.


Fort Scott, Kansas, Nov. 21, 1864.

(To:) Commanding Officer,

Escort to Train:


The Colonel Commanding directs that you select a mail party from the troops whose commands are stationed at Fort Gibson to Carry the Mail which I send by bearer. Direct them to carry the mail to Fort Gibson as expeditiously as possible.

Very Respectfully,

Your Obt. Servant,

Wm. H. Hewitt,

1st Lieut. 3rd Wis. Cav. and Post. Adj."

Note: As if things weren't complicated enough, now Capt. Ledger was required to select a mail party and send it as fast as possible to Fort Gibson, thus reducing his escort even more.

"Headquarters, Fort Scott, Ks.,

November 19, 1864.

Special Orders No. 97;

I. All commissioned officers and enlisted men belonging to the escort to the supply train now en-route for Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation, will repair to said train and report to the Comdg. Officer there who will see that they are kept at their posts and not permitted to leave the escort thereby giving them the privilege of straggling (lagging behind) except Capt. H.P. Ledger who will remain at the Post (Fort Scott) until he has completed the arrangement for the train to move, which he will do with as much speed as possible.

II. Commissioned Officers will be held strictly accountable for the conduct of the enlisted men under their command.

III. Any violation of Part I of this order will be severally and summarily punished!

By Order

Colonel C. W. Blair

Wm. H. Hewitt

lst Lieut. and Post Adj."

Now then, did this supply train and Indian refugee train arrive safely at Fort Smith and Fort Gibson? There is no correspondence that indicates that it did not, so we can expect that it did and, of course, the war went on.

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I enjoyed this post regarding supply train logistics and the location of Fort McKean. I have a large old muster roll of James B Pond's company of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry from when it was stationed at Fort McKean. I wondered where it was located.

-- Posted by JoeMaghe on Mon, Nov 11, 2013, at 10:17 PM

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Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches