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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 345: Lunettes and fortifications

Friday, November 30, 2012

During the Civil War in the winter of 1862, it was decided that the southern approach to Fort Scott was the most vulnerable to attack and that it should be fortified to protect and defend the town and the vast amount of "Union" supplies located there. This was necessary because the southern and southeastern approaches to the town contained the most roads and topographically the land flattened out and the defensive advantage of the high ground where the town was surrounded by the Marmaton River and "Spring Branch" (Buck Run) had disappeared. Therefore, because the headquarters staff at Fort Scott did not include a "Combat Engineer," Capt. William Hoelcke from Fort Leavenworth was assigned to design the defenses of Fort Scott.

By the end of January 1863, Capt. Hoelcke had completed a map which included a series of rifle pits and four Lunettes that protected the "southern" and "western" approaches to Fort Scott.

The rifle pits were considered to be the first line of defense and were located in front of the lunettes. Eventually, each lunette contained one or more 24-pound siege guns (cannon) and a sub-surface magazine for the storage of ammunition. The blockhouses were used as living space, or quarters, for the troops assigned to each lunette. The lunettes could be defended by soldiers firing from and protected by the palisade or stockade wall that surrounded each lunette.

In the Civil War, a "Lunette" was a military fortification with two protecting faces with two parallel flanks for a total of four sides. The four lunettes were identified locally as "Forts" and were described as follows:

Lunette No. 1, Fort Lincoln: Located at the location of West Fourth and Heylman overlooking the Marmaton River and protecting the western approach to Fort Scott. No physical description of this lunette is known to exist.

Lunette No. 2, Fort Henning: Consisted of an octagonal log blockhouse, 14 feet in diameter, 15 feet high, 2 floors, weather boarded, shingle roof, enclosed by a log palisade (stockade), 342 feet long, 9 feet high 6 1/2 above ground, inches thick. This lunette was located where the Post Office is today on National Avenue and extended as far south and includes all of the area of Memorial Hall. This was the largest of the four lunettes and it protected the southwestern approach to Fort Scott.

Lunette No. 3, Fort Blair: Consisted of a square log blockhouse 1 by 1 feet, 15 feet high, 2 floors, weather boarded , shingle roof , enclosed by a 326 foot palisade, 9 feet high (6 1/2 feet above ground and inches thick. Fort Blair was located between what is now 1st & 2nd Street on the west side of Scott Avenue and protected the southern approach to Fort Scott.

Lunette No. 4, Fort Insley: Consisted of a double rectangular log blockhouse, 32 by 20 feet, 15 feet high, two floors, weather boarded, shingle roof, enclosed by a log palisade 32 feet long, 9 feet high (6 1/2 feet above ground) and 6 inches thick. Fort Insley was located near the point on the bluff immediately north of Officer's Row of the 1842 -1853 Fort on an area known as "Red Hill." It was so named because it consisted of "red clay," which was used in the 20th century to produce millions of Fort Scott Brick that subsequently destroyed the site of Fort Insley.

In early March of 1863, the following Special Order was issued in reference to the construction of the fortifications at Fort Scott:

"Headquarters, District of Kansas

Fort Leavenworth, March 11, 1863

Special Order No. 47

First Lt. C.H. Haynes, 6th Reg. Ks. Vol. Cavalry is hereby detailed on Engineer duty and will report to Capt. W. Hoelcke, A. D. C. superintending the erection of the fortifications at Fort Scott, Kan.

Lt. Haynes, is hereby ordered to assume command of fortifications now being erected at Fort Scott, Kan., under the plans and specifications furnished him with the order consisting of Fort Insley, Fort Henning and Fort Blair. And also to take charge of and account for all government stores (property) being used in said construction and turned over to him at this time.

By Order of General J. G. Blunt, Commanding"

The above blockhouses were completed and after a year's time, Col. Charles Blair, the commanding officer at Fort Scott, submitted the following report and description of Fort's Henning and Blair. This report is located on Page 89 in Series I, Vol. 34 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion:


Fort Scott, Kan., Jan. 15, 1864.

To: Lt. J. M. Hadley

Act. Assist. Adjutant Gen., District of the Border, Kansas City, Mo.

Lieutenant: In reply to yours of the 13th instant, I have the honor to state:

First, that there is a line of rifle pits southeast, south and southwest of this place, extending about a fourth of a mile and connecting with ravines, which, by opening into the Marmaton River bottom, completely encircles the town.

Second: There are two lunettes, field-works, inside this line and distant about 300 yards from same on the south and southwest of the town, which command the heights from the northeast clear around to the southwest. They are formed of earth and fascines and are substantial and well constructed, having been superintended by a competent engineer.

The one to the southwest is named "Lunette Henning" and has platforms for four guns and a subterranean magazine for ammunition. There are two 24-pounder siege guns in position on platforms and are in excellent condition. "Lunette Blair," to the south, is a smaller work, having platforms for but three guns and a subterranean magazine. There are also two 24-pounders in position here in admirable condition.

These works are in the state of Kansas to defend Fort Scott, the lunettes forming the inner line and are respectively on the Cato (now National Avenue) and the Military Roads (now Scott Avenue). The name of the officer immediately in charge of these fortifications is Capt. George J. Clark, Company E, 14th Kansas Cavalry, acting Ordinance Officer of the Post and the Post Office address of the station is Fort Scott, Kan.

I have the honor to be, Lieutenant, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Charles W. Blair

Colonel, Commanding Post."

Now then, these strong fortifications were probably one of the main reasons that Fort Scott was never attacked by Confederate forces or guerrillas by way of the southern approach to the town for the balance of the Civil War. After the war ended, the U.S. War Department was demobilizing the war effort by selling surplus property and structures at public auctions. This was the fate of the blockhouses that were known as Fort Lincoln, Henning, Insley and Blair as they were sold in late 1865 and early 1866. Today, a reconstructed Fort Blair is the lone survivor of the four blockhouses that defended Fort Scott during the Civil War and it is located on Skubitz Plaza.

Next week's column will focus on the various fates of these blockhouses and the preservation of the lone survivor, "Fort Blair."

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches