Guardhouse - Duties of the Guards
Guard duties included standing as sentinels. Sentinels were posted at various locations throughout the fort at locations such as the powder magazine, post headquarters and around the perimeter of the fort. They were also responsible for guarding prisoners who were performing work details, such as working in the gardens or hauling firewood.
Anyone approaching sentinels were asked to halt and give a password or countersign. As a person approached, the conversation would generally go as follows:
Guard: Halt, who comes there?
The person then advances and gives the countersign or password. The countersign would often be the name of a battle that the soldiers had participated in. If the person does not have the countersign, the guard will call for the sergeant of the guard.
Other duties of the sentinel included watching for prairie fires and keeping an eye out for soldiers misbehaving. In the event of misbehavior, the sentinel would report to his sergeant. In the event of a prairie fire, the sentinel would summons the other guards not on sentinel duty to come and fight the fire. The guards would form a bucket brigade, using leather buckets to hold water to fight the fire.
Sentinels were generally relieved after two hours, and could then rest for four hours, before their next tour of duty. This rotation continued throughout the 24 hours of guard duty.
Guard mounting was one of the high points of the day as the new guard relieved the old. Both old and new guards were dressed in dress uniform and would march in a military parade. As many trumpeters and buglers as could be mustered accompanied guard mounting.
A typical guard mount went through the following procedure:
The sergeant of the guard would then make a list of the guard. The guard is then marched to the guardhouse. While at the guardhouse the sergeant of the guard will assign the guard their posts and give them their orders, the password and set the reliefs.
During the guard mount, the best dressed and most polished of the new guards would be selected as orderly of the day, assisting the post commander. The soldier selected as orderly would be relieved from sentinel and other guard duties and would likely be able to sleep in a bed as opposed to resting on the platform bed. Hence, there was keen competition among the guards to be selected as the orderly of the day.
The information on this page comes from an anonymous article in the files of Fort Scott NHS.
Did You Know?
Two of Fort Scott's surgeons, William Hammond and Joseph Barnes served as Surgeon Generals during the Civil War. One of them, Joseph Barnes, was attending physician at the deaths of both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield and he oversaw the autopsy of President Lincoln. More...