From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Fort to Kansas Site on Account of Superior Site
Fort Leavenworth, from which the county and city derive their names, was established May 8, 1827.
As early as March 7, 1927, Colonel Henry Leavenworth, Third United States Infantry, was directed to take four companies of his regiment, ascend the Missouri river and, at some point on its left bank within twenty miles of the mouth of the Little Platte river, either above or below its confluence, to select such position as, in his judgment, would be best calculated for a permanent cantonment.
He explored the regions and failing to find a desirable site, he wrote to the Department that there was no available site for a military post on the left bank of the Missouri within the distance mentioned. He reported he had proceeded up the river some twenty miles and found a very good site for a cantonment on the right bank of the Missouri, about twenty miles from the mouth of the Little Platte.
Early in July, before the official approval of his selection reached him, he began the erection of barracks. He named the post "Cantonment Leavenworth." September 19, 1827, the official approval was received by Major General Gaines, commanding the Western department, and the site selected by Col. Leavenworth thus became the permanent site of the most important military post ever established by the government in the West.
Once since its establishment, May 16, 1829, the garrison was withdrawn for three months, leaving only a small guard at the Fort. August 12, 1829, it was re-occupied, and has been garrisoned by troops uninterruptedly since that time. It was known, until February 8, 1832 as Cantonment Leavenworth, at which time the Secretary of war directed that all cantonments be called forts--thereafter, in all army orders it was designated as Fort Leavenworth.
The postoffice at Fort Leavenworth was established under the name of Cantonment Leavenworth, in Clay county, Mo., October 16, 1828, with Thomas S. Bryant as postmaster.
The first record in the office of the adjutant general, defining the boundaries of Fort Leavenworth Military Reserve, bears date of June 21, 1838. At that time its limits were defined as follows:
"The land held as reserved, extends from six to seven miles along the Missouri river, and varies from one to two miles wide, with about 6,840 acres."
"The reservation is on the right bank of the Missouri river, and about 150 feet above its surface. Latitude 30 degrees, 21 minutes north; longitude 04 degrees, 44 minutes west."
It at present comprises an area of about nine square miles, being bounded; on the north and east by the Missouri river; south by the city of Leavenworth, and west by the town of Kickapoo. The general proportions of the tract have not been materially changed since first defined.
Whatever military advantages decided Col. Leavenworth in selecting the site, they were certainly in accord with the tastes for the most ardent and exacting demands of the lover of the beautiful. From the high bluffs that front the Missouri river the land slopes westward in gentle undulation, broken by occasional abrupt elevations, just sufficient to give variety to the landscape. Heavy wood covered the land adjacent to the river, thinning out somewhat and opening into a natural shaded park a short distance from the river bluff where the barracks were built.
A description in Hale's History of Kansas (1855) reads as follows:
"It is the greatest frontier depot for the other military posts on the Santa Fe Oregon routes, and the general rendezvous for troops proceeding to Western forts.
"There is a good landing for steamboats. All the buildings are well constructed of stone, and present quite an imposing appearance. they consist of the barracks for the troops, a large structure three stories high; a hospital, which cost from $12,000 to $15,000; the quartermaster's building, a capacious warehouse, etc.; connected with the fort is a large farm.
At this time (1854) the fort was garrisoned by one company of the Fourth Artillery and one of the First Dragoons, under Col. Fauntleroy.
The Fort was first established the protection of the Santa Fe traders from the incursions of the Indians, who had begun a system of raiding and plunder on the caravans of traders passing yearly, in increasing numbers, over the route.
It was at first garrisoned by four companies of the Third Infantry, under command of Maj. Baker. This was a part of the regiment of Col. Leavenworth, the founder of the post.
The troops for several years were seriously afflicated(sic) with climatic diseases, which resulted in the summer of 1829 in the removal of almost the entire garrison to the plains, as has been before stated.
Up to 1845, the history of the fort has no special interest to the general reader, beyond that of any remote military post of the government. The war with Mexico, the subsequent acquisition of California, New Mexico, and part of Colorado, the consequent tide emigration to the far western territories and the Pacific coast have combined to render it a point of historic as well as picturesque interest.
Through all the changes of the intervening years it has been the great source of supply and main point of departure for the government expositions, whether peaceful or hostile, as well as the immense tide of western emigration which set in, in 1946, and went on unceasing and increasing, until the transcontinental railway diverted it to a safer and more rapid path of transit.
It was the rendezvous of Gen. Kearney's troops in June, 1846, and their starting point in his Santa Fe expedition. The expedition of Gen. Joseph Lane of Oregon, 1948; and Capt. Stansbury to Utah in 1849, were both fitted at this point.
Col. Freemont also started thence on his expedition of 1849. The new military road (new in 1850) from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Kearney and Laramie, on the Upper Platte, became the great thoroughfare of the western emigrants to Oregon, California and Utah. Upwards of 70,000 men, women and children with wagons, horses, flocks and herds innumerable, passed over this road in 1849-50.
During the border troubles and intestine(sic) wars of territorial Kansas, the troops stationed at Fort Leavenworth played no unimportant part, as related in the general history. They were alternately the hope and fear of the contending parties. The fort was also designated, in the Territorial act, as the temporary seat of government, and was, at that time (May, 1854), the only place in the Territory having any buildings or conveniences for the government officials.
Many of the flower of the army—indeed, most of them—who gave their blood free as water to their country, spent portions of their service at Fort Leavenworth.
Gallant, chivalrous Reno was the ordinance officer here when the war cloud came, but was soon called to Washington to accept a major general's commission--and a glorious grave.
The aesthetic and precise Bankhead Magruder commanded the fort once, prior to the unpleasantness, and was a good showman or ringleader. He instituted pageants for its edification, sham battles and such like. The artillery boomed over the prairies and reverberated through the fastnesses, much to the Post's amusement. Magruder was expensive—a sort of military dandy--but popular, doubtless, with the powder contractors.
Sturgis sowed his wild oats here abouts, and, seventy-five years ago, probably was the most powerful men in the army. He could readily pitch any ordinary man across a fence, but was withal, a most courtly officer and thorough gentleman.
Custer was here frequently after the war, with the glorious Seventh Cavalry, and his lovely wife reigned as one of the queens of society.
General Hancock was once quartermaster at the Fort and afterwards became department commander.
Colonel May, the Steels, Bragg, Canby, Meiggs, Kearney, Marcy, Swift, Sully, Mills, Sacket, Sedgwick, and, indeed, all the old army officers, have sojourned for a time at this garrison.
General Phillip H. Sheridan had his headquarters at Fort Leavenworth. He probably would have remained here until his death, as he liked the Fort and enjoyed the society hereabouts, had it not been for a little faux pas. One of the justices of the peace fined the dashing cavalryman one hundred dollars for contempt of court.