Historic Structures Report
(Part II — Historical Data Section)
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Chapter 1
Strategy — Construction Policy

The Army established Fort Larned in 1859. By the middle of the 1860s it had become apparent that the original structures, crude adobe buildings, no longer adequately housed the men and their supplies. At that time the post was rebuilt. The construction program included the buildings which are the object of this report.

As a means of setting the historical background to this construction program, this chapter attempts to briefly describe, first, why the U. S. Army decided to spend well over $100,000 to rebuild Fort Larned, and, second, how army construction policy influenced the construction. In analyzing the first topic, attention is given to the strategic and tactical conceptions of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. In handling the second, the policy differences between the Quartermaster Corps and the frontier line officers are examined.

I attach much importance to these deep incisions into the enemy's country. . . .we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as the organized armies. . . .My aim, then, was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their in most recesses, and make them fear and dread us. [1]


Great military commanders are made, not born. Sherman, the man most responsible for rebuilding Fort Larned, was made during the Civil War. On March 14, 1864, the new commander of the Union armies, Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, appointed him commander of the Division of the Mississippi. Shortly thereafter Sherman launched his now-famous campaign that resulted in the capture of Atlanta and the devastating march to the sea. Out of this experience Sherman formed a conception of the nature of war that he brought with him to the West.

According to Sherman, war was fought not between antagonistic armies, but rather between opposing peoples and their civilian armies. War was total. It had one supreme goal, the crushing of the enemy's will to resist. Will was formed by the entire people. They shared in defining war aims and morally and materially supported the efforts of their fighting men. To break that will, a general must not only defeat military organizations; he must also inflict pain, dread, and suffering on the civilian population, force the people to experience the horror of war. When the civilian population ceased to support the war, it would end.

At the end of the Civil War the regular United States Army turned its attention to, among other tasks, pacifying the American Indian in the vast frontier territories. The geographical boundaries of Sherman's command, the Division of the Mississippi, were changed to include most of the territory between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. When he moved to his new headquarters at St. Louis, Sherman was aware that he would be facing a military situation entirely different than the set-piece, large-force engagements of the Civil War. He would have to devise strategic and tactical plans that adjusted his limited means, a very small force, to the end of securing the major travel routes. But his grand strategy remained the same. As he whipped the Rebels, so he would now whip the Indians. They would be made to feel the hard hand of war.

During the war, the regular army had marched east to fight the South, leaving the task of garrisoning the frontier posts to volunteer outfits. Taking advantage of the general weakness of the white settlers, the Indians had by 1865 succeeded in slowing down and in some cases stopping travel over the major routes between the settled areas and the Far West. Upon arriving in St. Louis, Sherman's first task was to determine an effective distribution of the limited forces under his command.

On March 14, 1866, General Grant issued Sherman a general directive. Pointing out that the only information he had of general conditions in the West was Maj. Gen. John Pope's report "of the conditions and necessities of the Department of Missouri," Grant instructed Sherman:

In the middle belt of country described by General Pope where the country is uninhabitable, select such of the travel routes as you think ought to be protected, and compel all travel to pass over them. . . .Select posts to be temporarily occupied on the best information on hand. Inspections during the summer will determine points that should be permanently occupied. [2]

As was Grant's custom, he informed Sherman that the latter, who was "on the spot," would be free to determine the details.

The report to which Grant referred was written by Maj. Gen. John Pope, at that time commanding the Department of Missouri. Pope had literally been exiled to the frontier after his unfortunate performance at Second Manassas. Nevertheless, he was an experienced frontier officer and had long concerned himself with the implications of the collision of the white and red man. Dated February 25, 1866, and written after General Pope had obtained the opinions of his post commanders, the report presented an analysis of the nature of the problem facing the Army and contained recommendations for troop dispersal. Because it formed the basis for Sherman's later decisions, it is here quoted at length.

Pope divided the geographic area between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains into "three distinct belts of country." The "agricultural belt" embraced the frontiers of Minnesota, Iowa, southern Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. The mining regions in the Rockies formed another belt, and the third was the Great Plains. According to Pope, these plains were "uninhabitable by civilized man." "They," he stated, "can never be settled and the military arrangements for the security of the great highways which cross them will be necessarily kept up as long as Indians exist in that region." [3]

The first priority consisted of protecting travelers on the major routes across the Great Plains. The Southern routes were the Santa Fe and Smoky Hill trails. Pope suggested the following force dispersal on the Santa Fe Trail: Fort Riley, 3 infantry companies, 2 calvary companies; Fort Ellsworth (Harker), 3 infantry, 2 cavalry; Fort Larned, 3 infantry, 2 cavalry; Fort Dodge, 2 infantry, 1 cavalry; and Fort Lyon, 3 infantry, 2 cavalry. He further recommended that the existing posts on the trail be made permanent. Fort Larned occupied a position of strategic importance in these recommendations.

General Sherman read Pope's report and used it as the basis for his own considerations of the future needs of the division. However, he fitted the existing posts into his own conception of how to protect the trails. He disagreed with Pope's analysis of the Indian challenge and soon replaced him with a man more attuned to his conception of the military's mission, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock. Pope's recommendations were in essence defensive. He offered no recommendations as to how the Indians could be defeated. Sherman thought Pope soft on Indians.

Like all good generals, Sherman believed that the responsible officer should be personally familiar with the terrain and conditions of the area he commanded. In the spring and fall of 1866 he made long trips throughout the division, which in August was reorganized as the Division of the Missouri (contained departments of Missouri, Platte, Dakota, and Arkansas). Each department was soon commanded by a man of Sherman's choice, usually an officer who had fought with him in the Civil War. During his two inspection trips Sherman wrote lengthy reports to Grant, which contained his thoughts on how to protect the travel routes. An admiring biographer of this period of Sherman's career says,

It was his notion that small army posts, used primarily for forage depots, could support the cavalry expeditions that would patrol the principal western routes during the travel season, protecting those emigrants and travelers who would follow regular roads and refrain from straggling. . . .It was clear to him that he must employ the method of penetration, using well guarded roads as wedges into the great block of territory he hoped to control. [4]

This was Sherman's tactical conception; it was not his strategic goal. The travel routes and logistic support positions were intended not only to control the area, but primarily as the base for expelling the Indian from all the territory between the Arkansas and Platte rivers, driving them into selected reservations and leaving the territory open for white settlement.

In his annual report to Grant dated November 5, 1866, Sherman not only discussed his military requirements, but also suggested an Indian policy for the federal government. The Sioux would be restricted to an area north of the Platte, west of the Missouri, and east of the Bozeman Trail. The southern tribes, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Navaho would be held south of the Arkansas and east of Fort Union. The goal was explicit, the creation of a cordon sanitaire: "This would leave for our people exclusively the use of the wide belt east and west, between the Platte and the Arkansas in which lie the two great railroads, and over which passes the bulk of travel to the mountain territories." [5] Time and again, as long as Sherman was commander of the division, he urged the removal of the Indians to fixed reservations and mistrusted the Office of Indian Affairs for its refusal to grasp the military necessity of such a policy. During the Civil War two peoples had been engaged, one of which had to give way. Now, according to Sherman, it was not only a question of conflicting peoples but also of incompatible races:

So long as the two distinct races of people, with such diverse interests as subsist between the roving Indians of the plains and our own white settlers, remain together, so long will actual war exist, and if there be an earnest desire on the part of the law making power of the government to save the weaker party from absolute annihilation, some provision must be made for separating these conflicting races. [6]

In this 1867 report, when it had begun to become clear that the Great Plains were inhabitable, Shermans apartheid conception (and it was exactly that) took the following form. The Sioux would go north of Nebraska, west of the Missouri, and east of the parallel of the mouth of the Yellowstone. "They would have a range as large as they ought to want, until necessity would force them to live on and cultivate the little strips of land that are fit for corn, along the banks of the Missouri river." [7] The southern tribes would be removed to Indian Territory.

In devising his military strategic and tactical plans to accomplish the goal of this grand strategy, Sherman displayed his great ability of adjusting means to his end. Writing to Grant on September 21, 1866, at the time of his second swing through the division, he said,

My present impression is, that we should have a thin line of infantry posts, as now, from the head of the railroad building out to Smoky Hill, to this Fort Garland, at the head of the Rio Grands; that somewhere near Bent's old fort, or the mouth of the Huerfano, on the Arkansas, we should construct, next spring, a post or cantonment for a full regiment of cavalry; that the infantry posts should be constructed as main points of security and deposits of stores. [8]

In March 1867, in response to an inquiry from the Secretary of War regarding "military operation in progress or contemplated," Sherman reported,

All the troops in the Departments of Dakota, Platte, and Missouri, embracing the Indian country, have been and are now being placed, in position to afford the best protection to the telegraph and mail routes across the plains, as well as to protect the four principal roads by which emigrants travel or merchants send their goods destined to the mountain territories. These troops will occupy posts rudely built but designed for defense by a fraction of the garrison, whilst the balance can operate as escorts on expeditions between the posts. [9]

In addition to guarding the mail and wagon trains, these posts would also protect the railroads, "enterprises in which the whole civilized world has an interest." The railroads played an important role in Sherman's strategic goal and also had tactical value:

When these two great thoroughfares reach the base of the Rocky Mountains, and when the Indian title to roam at will over the country lying between them is extinguished, then the solution of this most complicated question of Indian hostilities will be comparatively easy, for this belt of country will naturally fill up with our own people, who will permanently separate the hostile Indians of the north from those of the south, and allow us to direct our military forces at one or the other at our pleasing, if thereafter they continue their acts of hostility. [10]

Sherman, the brilliant offensive general of the march to the sea, refused to be tied down to defensive positions. The posts would also serve as bases for offensive purposes. He demonstrated an astute grasp of the enemy's tactics, and his conception of offensive operations, pursuit, punishment, and reservation confinement, became the pattern which eventually brought the demise of the plains Indian. As the army had marched through Georgia, so it would now "get amongst" the hostile tribes:

I will remark that defensive measures will not answer against Indians. We are tied down to long routes and our detachments are necessarily small and hardly enough to build shelters and gather firewood, the materials for which have to be hauled two and three hundred miles, whilst the Indians move hundreds and thousands of miles, taking along their ponies, lodges, wives, and children. They are thus enabled at one time to attack or molest our road at one point, and in a month or so make their appearance at another hundreds of miles distant. Our troops must get amongst them and must kill enough of them to inspire fear and then must conduct the remainder to places, where Indian agents can come amongst them, and be held responsible for their conduct. [11]

Fort Larned had by 1866 become one of the principal posts on the Santa Fe Trail. Its location made it a logical choice for continuation under the plan devised by General Sherman, i.e., as a point where emigrant and commercial wagon trains could gather to be escorted to the next point of safety, and a post from which reprisal patrols and expeditions could be either launched or legistically supported (such as Sheridan's 1868 winter campaign).

It was this decision to retain Fort Larned that changed its designation from temporary to permanent fort. This upgrading of status to permanent meant that Fort Larned became eligible for barracks and quarters funds which would allow the construction of buildings conducive to the health and comfort of a regular garrison. In addition, the size of the garrison envisaged under Sherman's plan for small posts would determine the number and capacity of the structures.

The rebuilding of Fort Larned was, then, the direct result of Sherman's plans for meeting and eliminating the North American plains Indian as an impediment to the westward expansion of American civilization. This was the fort's raison d'etre. He did not formulate his plans alone and, indeed, always discussed the situation with his local commanders. Nevertheless, he was the man most singularly responsible for army military policy in the West during the years 1865 to 1869. He may have thought of himself, as his admirers claim, as an apolitical general, refusing to become involved in domestic politics. Nevertheless, his tragedy—and it is an American tragedy—was his failure to grasp that his grand strategy meant not only the elimination of the Indian as a military threat, but also dictated the political settlement or result. For the United States its pitiful fulfillment at Wounded Knee resulted in undisputed control of the Great Plains. For the plains Indian the result was his subjugation to a strange civilization and culture and the end of the social, political, economic, and cultural forms which had characterized his existence, giving it order, content, and meaning.

Army Construction Policy — Sherman's Sheltering Fund

The Civil War consumed not only the attention and energies of the army, but also all available construction funds. Frontier posts, scarcely models of the finest in military architecture, suffered particularly as structures built of adobe bricks or rough lumber further deteriorated. When the regular army moved back to the frontier, men and officers alike bemoaned the inferior quality of their new homes.

It was an American custom until recent times that, during war, price was of no concern. However, with the return of peace, economy became the dictum for the peacetime army. At the end of the Civil War, Congress reduced the size of the army to an authorized strength of 55,000 men (reorganization of 1866), and drastically cut all spending. The custodians of the nation's purse expected the army to all but support itself while it used up the war surpluses. Spending reductions applied to that portion of the quartermaster appropriation designated "barracks and quarters." It was from this appropriation that funds came for repair and construction at military installations on the frontier.

During 1866 officers who made inspection trips through the frontier territories became aware of the dilapidated condition of almost every post. Col. Delos B. Sackett, assistant inspector general in 1866, wrote that the buildings at Fort Randall were "uninhabitable" and designated the quarters at Fort Sully as being "not fit to live in." [12] Sherman, always concerned with the well being and morale of his men, and thus their fighting ability, shared these sentiments. Writing from Fort Lyon he observed: "The post is about as good as could be expected under the circumstances, but it is not fit for troops. Anybody looking through them (frontier posts) can see full reason for the desertions that have prevailed so much of late years. . . .troops in this barren country should have decent houses and decent tents." [13] In June 1866 he informed Grant, "We cannot expect troops to be worth anything, if we winter them in holes, and force then to fight with rats, bed bugs, and fleas for existence." [14]

Sherman, the man of action, refused to await the slow grind of regulation red tape to catch up with the housing needs of his troops. "I hold," he said, "that if the U. S. can afford eleven millions of dollars for the freedmen, there should be no hesitation in giving us a couple of million for our white soldiers." [15] He addressed a letter to Grant, requesting that $2,000,000 be made available for construction purposes and, moreover, that he and his department commanders be given direct control over its administration: "You will perceive that General Pope feels embarassed and naturally too, by reason of the fact that the Quartermaster General construes himself the judge of what improvements shall be made. This is all wrong. We who command troops must station them, and we must be the judge of the kind of structures needed." [16]

Sherman's complaints that the Quartermaster Department was overstepping its authority in attempting to determine where and how posts would be built plus his request for direct control of quarter-master funds brought about an argument with intra-army political implications. Who would determine purpose and who would control were the issues, and the disputants were a ranking line officer, Sherman, and a pillar of the Washington staff corps, the Quartermaster General.

Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs became Quartermaster General on May 15, 1861, a position he held for the next twenty years. Admired and praised for the contributions of the department to the Union victory, Meigs was a dedicated officer of many interests and large administrative ability. An amateur scientist, engineer, and architect, he designed among other things the Pension Building in Washington, D. C., and the first regulation barracks lamp. However, his talents were matched by his prejudices. Meigs was devoted to regulations, economy, and order.

In 1866 regulations concerning organizational command within the army established no clear vertical chain. The staff departments (quartermaster, adjutant general, paymaster, ordnance, hospital corps, engineers, etc.) were not directly responsible to the General-in-Chief, but rather to the Secretary of War. So long as the General-in-Chief worked harmoniously with both the staff departments and the Secretary, or one deferred to the other, the organizational matrix functioned. However, when the General-in-Chief and one of the bureau commanders disagreed, or, when a line officer challenged the practices of the staff, as Sherman was now doing, friction developed. Both the bureau commander and the General-in-Chief were forced to turn to the Secretary of War to arbitrate the dispute.

The regulations concerning construction and repair at frontier posts placed administrative control in the hands of the Quartermaster Department. The regulations stipulated that plans and estimates of proposed construction and repairs, normally submitted on a fiscal year basis, would be sent to the Quartermaster General, who would recommend their acceptance to the Secretary of War. By being thus able to influence whether or not barracks and quarters would be built, the Quartermaster General acquired a voice in where and how posts would be constructed. General Meigs was determined that such would be the case in the Division of the Missouri.

In January 1866 Meigs became alarmed at the size of funds requested by the Department of Missouri. In a letter to the Adjutant General, he pointed out that according to the estimates then on hand, the entire quartermaster appropriation for the coming year

will be consumed in the department of Missouri alone, unless great reduction can be effected in the number of troops and the cost of their maintenance. . . .Believing the subject of great importance, I submit this statement in hopes that measures may be possible, which may curtail this expenditure, by reducing the number of troops and of posts; by placing them at points where they can be more cheaply supplied, and by other means, which may occur to the authorities, as well as by enforcing the discharge of civilians, and the employment of troops in all labors and work relating to service of supply and shelter. [17]

A copy of this letter was sent to Sherman, and it aroused his anger. Meigs was recommending troop reduction at exactly the time Sherman was wondering where he would get the troops to protect the travel routes. Worst of all, Meigs' suggestion that posts be built where they could be cheaply supplied contained the implication that the Quartermaster Department would determine the location of forts. The line officer, the man who understood the military realities and devised plans, must determine where his forces would be stationed, not the Quartermaster General sitting at a desk in far off Washington. General Meigs was attempting to mold military policy in Sherman's division to fit the limited quartermaster appropriation imposed by Congress.

In June 1866 the matter came to a head and resulted in Sherman's request for $2,000,000. The occasion was supplied by Fort Larned. In May Maj. Cuvier Grover, Fort Larned's commanding officer, had submitted drawings for proposed construction at his badly deteriorated post. In addition to being poorly executed, the plans did not comply with Quartermaster General Order No. 3, January 21, 1864, which stipulated that drawings should embrace a ground plan, a vertical section, and the general mode and style of construction in addition to detailed estimates of material costs. Meigs immediately wrote that no funds would be allocated on the basis of Grover's drawings. Sherman complained to Grant, and, in addition, sent a strongly worded letter to Meigs. Explaining that General Pope, the department commander, knew nothing of plans for Fort Larned, because the post quartermaster corresponded directly with Washington, Sherman went on to say,

You can exercise a judicious control over the expenditures of your department by and through us. My quartermaster should have supervision over the affairs of the quartermaster department in all the country subject to me, and in like manner, each department commander should have a good quartermaster whose district of control should be the same as that of his general. Then you could set aside to me what you could spare to enable me to house my troops. Knowing the necessities of service I could apportion the amount to my several departments discriminating against those who have timber and materials that soldiers can use, and favoring those that must have money. [18]

General Meigs replied immediately. Contending that quartermaster officers had orders to follow the wishes of the line officers, and pointing out that the Fort Larned plans were totally inadequate and could not be sent to the Secretary of War without definite cost estimates, Meigs continued,

But the Secretary and under him the Heads of Bureau are held responsible for Army expenditures, and we do not meet this responsibility by saying to each General Commanding a Division we have such and such appropriations, spend them at your will, without informing us where and how you intend or expect to apply them, merely send the vouchers after the expenditures to the 3rd auditor for settlement. [19]

However, the matter had already been decided. On July 3, 1866, Grant had recommended and the Secretary of War had endorsed that "the sum of one million dollars be put into the hands of General Sherman's Chief Quartermaster to be expended in such amounts in sheltering the troops upon the Plains and within General Sherman's Military Division as may directed by him." [20]

Sherman received half of his original request and considered the matter closed. As far as Meigs was concerned, only a round had been lost. Grant's directive did not clear up the real difficulty, namely, the confusion between the responsibilities of the line commanders and the Quartermaster Department. The regulations still stipulated that approval for expending barracks and quarters funds would come from Washington through the Quartermaster General.

No sooner had Meigs learned of the directive than he devised new tactics to retain control. He informed Sherman's Chief Quartermaster, Col. Langdon C. Baston, that $200,000 would be made available. Further funds, however, would come "from time to time, upon your advice that they are needed." [21] Baston was to continue to comply with regulations and "forward plans and estimates of cost of all structures which may be ordered under this appropriation; and will also forward copies of all orders which you may receive relative to the application and distribution of the fund." [22]

When General Baston was transferred to the Department of Missouri and replaced at St. Louis by Bvt. Maj. Gen. James S. Donaldson, another of Sherman's Atlanta Campaign quartermasters, Meigs frankly informed him that he was to look after quartermaster interests:

Our great interest in detaining you at HdQrs is that you may be able to exercise control of the operations and expenditures of the quartermaster department in the Military Division, being at that point from which all orders for warrants of troops and establishing of posts emanate and to which all advices relating to military operations in the Division first go. [23]

In the meantime Sherman gave the order to begin a program of construction and repair throughout the division. During the fall and winter of 1866-1867 the $1,000,000, or sheltering fund as it came to be known, was distributed to the departments for necessary immediate repairs and the purchase of materials in anticipation of full scale work during the summer of 1867. During the winter department quartermasters complied with Meigs' directive to Donaldson and submitted plans and estimates to St. Louis. By March 1867 it became possible for Donaldson to send Meigs a rough estimate of the cost of the proposed activity in the Department of Missouri. The estimates for the new posts and construction at the existing in just that department came to a huge $1,600,028. The new post for a full regiment of cavalry, which Sherman wanted established near Pueblo, Colorado Territory, would alone cost $486,000. As Donaldson informed Meigs, "Estimates seem frightful, and yet cannot be safely reduced in view of Orders." [24]

As of March 1867 approximately $524,000 officially remained of the original $1,000,000 sheltering fund. In reality only $100,000 was still banked in St. Louis for the entire division and the $250,000 which the Department of Missouri had received had already been spent. [25] With the sheltering fund gone, the questions became, where would new funds come from, and who would control them?

Once he had the estimates for the Department of Missouri, Meigs went directly to the Secretary of War, informing him that they far exceeded any appropriations. As a result the Secretary of War issued the following directive, which Grant endorsed on April 18:

Instead of expending large sums of money in erecting permanent quarters at temporary posts, it would be better to keep the troops at present in cantonments, occupying such quarters as they can construct with their own labor assisted by an appropriation from the remainder of the $1,000,000 recently turned over to General Sherman for such purposes. [26]

This of course meant that once the sheltering fund had been spent, control over all barracks and quarters funds reverted to the Quartermaster General. General Meigs had won the fight.

Nevertheless, Sherman had reason to be pleased. With the $1,000,000 he had set in motion a construction program which met his minimum requirements. Although he had to abandon the post for a full regiment, numerous new posts were started throughout the division and, equally as important, new construction at the existing was either underway or well along in the planning stage. His major objective, freedom to determine where his limited forces would be stationed, had been achieved. Once started it became impossible to reverse the construction program. Such would have meant the waste of material already purchased and at the sites. This forced General Meigs to present larger requests to Congress to complete the work and, ultimately, required Congress to appropriate the necessary funds to support the army to which it had given the task of bringing order to the frontier. Fort Larned was one of the posts that benefited from Sherman's sheltering fund.

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Last Updated: 30-Nov-2009