Quartermaster - Building the Fort
It was fortunate that Swords was experienced as well as resourceful. In one of his letters he comments that he was "thrown entirely upon my own resources for plans, etc. Not one of them here can draw a straight line, even with the assistance of a ruler." He went on to remark, "you may judge of their qualifications in this respect, as I believe Eustis stands at the head of the list."
Within a day after his arrival at Camp Scott, however, Swords was writing Jesup of his plans and with spring gone and summer half over energetically organizing the command to get it under cover by winter. He planned that the buildings would be "finished in a plain and substantial manner-with at the same time as much neatness of appearance to be preserved as is consistent with a proper economy."
Timber was available nearby, but the means of cutting it into lumber was a real problem. A sawmill was obtained and located one and one-half miles west of the fort under the charge of Lieutenant Eustis. Eustis moved to the sawmill with his horses and dogs and was perfectly satisfied but had frequent bouts with illness. Swords visited the mill once or twice a week and found it a constant source of frustration. It worked only from January to June or July, when the stream dried up. When there was water, the mill was broken; and when the mill was repaired and ready to cut, there was no water. At one time the saw flew apart and broke the lanterns, which had been specially ordered and fueled with sperm oil. New saws had to be ordered, and these broke within days of being installed. There was a fire in the kiln, and 6000 feet of oak plank intended for flooring were burned beyond use. Another time the Marmaton flooded and carried off about 12,000 feet of sawed timber, only part of which could be recovered and none of which was undamaged.
Swords reported directly to the Quartermaster Department on everything relative to the work going on at Fort Scott. Despite a tight freeze on hiring, Swords obtained civilians, including two brick layers and plasterers and one stone cutter, to assist in finishing the buildings but was forced to discharge them later and to rely upon soldiers. Swords had justified the stonecutter because stone was needed for fireplaces and the plasterers because "it would be impracticable to render frame quarters habitable in the winter season in this latitude without plastering the interior." By August the Quartermaster had let contracts for some of his building needs:
· $2.98 per 1000 bricks;
· $1.45 per 1000 laths;
· $2.97 per 1000 shingles.
In July 1843, the Assistant Quartermaster General in Philadelphia purchased 50 boxes of first quality "Patent glass" of Coffin Hag and Bowdle in New York. Four boxes contained 50 feet each of 12x 18-inch glass; and 46 boxes contained 50 feet each of 9x12 inch glass. The glass was received at Fort Scott in April 1844.
In July 1844, there were 12 mechanics chosen from the enlisted men to work on the fort. There were two house carpenters, four joiners, one shop carpenter, one painter and glazer, two blacksmiths, one stonemason, and one carpenter. In the fall the Dragoons returned after their summer expedition, and Swords increased his working roster to 68. There were several Quartermaster Sergeants at Fort Scott, including Sgt. George Reed, who signed as witness to several quartermaster documents for that period. Morrow also obtained the services of a Quartermaster Clerk, Diederick Sahliman. With so many soldiers on extra duty, drill and routine duties became secondary. Although he expressed disgust to Swords at having his men do menial work, Dragoon Captain Terrett received little relief and no sympathy.
The information for this section was taken from the Historic Furnishings Report for the Quartermaster Storehouse at Fort Scott by Sally Johnson Ketcham.
Did You Know?
Captain Thomas Swords, the quartermaster in charge of building Fort Scott, said that the other officers were of no assistance in planning and designing the fort and that "none of them can draw a straight line even with the assistance of a ruler".