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Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 279: 1861 -- 'Defending Southern Kansas'

Friday, August 26, 2011

During the Civil War, in the first summer of discontent, that being 1861, things were pretty chaotic and confusing in Fort Scott, Kan., as they were in all the states whether they were "Union" or "Confederate."

After the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Mo., on Aug. 10, 1861, the citizens of southern Kansas believed that a Confederate invasion was imminent and something should be done for their protection. They were not the only ones concerned about an enemy invasion, so was the "Grim Chieftain," which was the nickname of newly commissioned Brig. Gen. James Henry Lane.

Gen. Lane arrived back at Fort Leavenworth from Washington, D.C., on Aug. 10, the same day as the Battle of Wilson's Creek, with written authorization from Secretary of War Simon Cameron to raise (recruit) two additional regiments of Kansas troops that eventually became the nucleus of "Lane's Brigade." This is the same brigade that raised havoc and devastation in western Missouri in the fall of 1861.

On his arrival at Fort Leavenworth, Gen. Lane was accompanied by three members of his staff who had served as officers in the Italian Army. They were Maj. Luigi Navoni, a veteran of the Crimean War, Capt. Gais Laiguanite with 22 years' experience, Capt. of Artillery Archille DeVecchi and Lt. Luigi Marini, a veteran of the Italian Wars, having served with the Italian Patriot "Garabaldi."

On Aug. 19, 1861, Gen. Lane and his entire staff and his partial brigade arrived in Fort Scott to assist in the defense of southern Kansas against the Confederate force of the Missouri State Guard that was commanded by Gen. Sterling Price as it moved north from Wilson's Creek toward the Missouri River. On Aug. 20, five companies of Col. James Montgomery's 3rd Regiment of Lane's Brigade arrived in Fort Scott from their rendezvous point at Mound City.

On Aug. 31,1861, the Fort Scott Democrat newspaper included the following description of Fort Scott:

"Our city presents the appearance of one grand military camp. Every vacant tenement has been taken possession of by the government for the quarters for Uncle Sam's men. Villages of tents surround the town and the measured tread of the sentinel and tramp of the cavalry may be heard at all times of the day and night.

We are gratified to know that an order has been issued to restrain some of our mischievous soldiers from crowding around the wagons of the fruit vendors and pilfering from them products of their orchards and gardens. We hope the captains of the companies will not permit any more such performances as we have witnessed take place in our streets again."

In a letter to his wife on Sept. 5, 1861, Lt. Joseph Trego of Montgomery's Regiment described his living quarters and that of some of his fellow officers in Fort Scott as follows:

"I and seven other officers, with four soldiers as servants and a contraband wench for a cook, are occupying the house where (pro-Southern) Judge Joseph Williams was living. The parlor and one bedroom are richly furnished, fine paintings and engravings on the walls, spring bottom sofa, divan, chairs, etc. A good piano which (Lt.) Zoulasky is now amusing himself with. Preserves and jellies, magazines and books and everything we want are here, so you see we are living high at present."

The following description of Fort Scott was written by a civilian traveling through eastern Kansas and was published the Atchison, Kan., newspaper, the Champion of Freedom on Sept. 15, 1861:

"Next morning by nine o'clock we were on our way to Fort Scott and in two hours halted in front of its principle hotel (now Officer's Quarters No. HS-1 at Fort Scott National Historic Site), then occupied as the headquarters of Gen. Lane.

The place was all excitement. Bodies of soldiers were constantly passing and re-passing; cavalry were rushing in hot haste through the streets; the clamor of the deafening drum and the notes of the piercing fife were constantly sounding in our ears and all was bustle and activity.

Going into the headquarters we paid our respects to the commander, who was busy with a dozen of his staff in writing orders, issuing commands and arranging details.

We also found here a large number of old acquaintances and friends. Cols. Montgomery, Johnson and Weir were busy with their respective commands, ably assisted by their corps of field and staff officers. We meet W.O. Gould, formerly city engineer of Atchison, now attached to Gen. Lane's staff as lieutenant of engineers and a host of familiar faces."

Gen. Lane's plan to defend southern Kansas consisted of two defensive lines with Fort Scott as the center of one and the newly established Fort Lincoln that was under construction on the north bank of the Little Osage River, approximately three miles west of present Fulton, Kan. On Aug. 25, 1861, Gen. Lane described his defensive plan that is located in on Pages 454--455, Series Vol. 3, of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

"Fort Lincoln, Little Osage, Aug. 25, 1861.

(To) Captain Prince, commanding Fort Leavenworth:

Sir: Your directions and orders as to the stores at Fort Scott will be forwarded to Col. Montgomery, who is in command of that post. I intend to defend the line of the Marmaton (River), including Fort Scott. But as that post cannot be fortified, I am withdrawing from there all (supply) trains and stores not required for immediate use.

This, the Little Osage (River) line, about 12 miles north (of Fort Scott), I can and am fortifying and here I will establish such depots as are necessary while organizing the brigade. There are now at Fort Scott about 1,200 men, say 600 cavalry and about the same number of infantry, including little artillery. The cavalry will be employed defending the border and dispersing such parties as they can reach. The infantry are drilling industriously and all are at work filling up the companies. At this point we have two companies, about 100 men engaged in erecting entrenchments and drilling.

Three miles in advance on Fish Creek, on the road to Fort Scott, we have 40 men; five miles below, at Barnsville, three miles from the Missouri line, on this river, on the Military Road from Kansas City to Fort Scott, we have about 100 men entrenched and drilling; at Mound City we are fortifying, to be manned by the local militia.

Our little force will be actively employed to defend Kansas and confuse the Missourians. Can you not send us reenforcements; with it, we could play hell with Missouri in a few days.

Yours truly,

J. H. Lane."

Fort Lincoln

The following description of Fort Lincoln is from an article published in the Atchison, Kan., newspaper "The Champion of Freedom" on Sep. 14, 1861.

"After a wearisome march of 10 days (from Fort Leavenworth), suffering very much from the dust and heat, we encamped on the Little Osage River and received orders from Gen. Lane to fortify and make our position as secure as possible. Accordingly, we commenced erecting an embankment five feet in height and having about eight angles, so as to command all accessible points leading to our position. The purpose of the erection of this fortification, as I understand it, is to make this post the general depot for all stores (supplies). At this time (late August of 1861), there are 60 wagons all heavily loaded (from 60 to several hundred pounds) in each wagon for this point. The fortification is superintended by Maj. Navoni, an Italian officer, belonging to Gen. Lane's staff and by the energetic way which he is prosecuting the work, I think he understands his business.

Most of the troops of Gen. Lane's brigade are at Fort Scott, 12 miles south of this place."

Lane's brigade remained at Fort Scott and Lincoln until the middle of September in 1861. Then it went on an expedition into western Missouri that really was a rampage of revenge, retribution and retaliation on the "Missourians" for the destruction and damages they committed in Kansas from 1856 to 1860. This included an attack and partial destruction of Humboldt, Kan., by a band of Missouri guerrillas on Sept. 8, 1861, and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches