Henry Walton Wessells

Captain (Brevet Major) Henry W. Wessells, Company C, 2nd US Infantry, arrived at Camp Alert with two companies of the Second US Infantry on May 4, 1860, with orders to assume command of the post and construct a permanent installation. The presence of Capt. Wessells and his men increased the military force to 160 men. His tenure also brought about construction of permanent structures and the renaming of the fort in honor of the US Paymaster General, Benjamin F. Larned. 

Henry Walton Wessells was born February 20, 1809, in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was appointed from Connecticut as a cadet to the US Military Academy on July 1, 1829, graduated twenty-ninth in the class of 1833, and was given a commission as a brevet 2nd lieutenant in the Second US Infantry. During the period from 1837-1840, Wessells served with his regiment in the Florida Seminole Wars. Several journal entries from a fellow soldier, 1st Lieutenant Amos B. Eaton, mention the orders sending the Second Infantry, with Lieutenant Wessells, to Florida.

Man with beard in Civil War officers' uniform.
Captain (Brevet Major) Wessells during the Civil War

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In obedience to the above order the Garrison of Fort Howard in command of Bvt Maj Hoffman, left Green Bay in the Steam Boat Robt Fulton on the 24th of Augt- Officers, Maj Hoffman, Surgn Satterlee, Lieutenants Eaton, Hill, Patton, Bowford, Wessells, Anderson &Patrick. The Battalion arrived at Fort Hamilton N.Y. on the evening of the 6th of Sept '37. - Adjt Genls Office Washington Sept 13, '37

General Order No. 60. The Battalion of the 2nd Regt of Infty- consisting of four companies, now at Fort Hamilton, will immediately proceed to Tampa Bay, Florida. - By order of Maj Gl Macomb (Signed) R Jones Adjt Genl

As the Second Infantry's campaigns in Florida came to an end, the men boarded ships for the journey back to the northeast. Lieutenant Eaton, as they sailed north, mentions a meeting in the waters off the coast of Florida between the officers of the Second Infantry and a paymaster officer whose name would be extremely important in the history of Western Kansas, Major Benjamin Larned.

23 Nov. After much delay &some disappointments in regard to a Steam boat, got on board the schooners. Maj. Hoffman, Sargt. Stinneeke, Lieuts. Eaton, Bowford, Wessells &Andrews, &"D" "G" &"H" Companies on board the Schr. Sarah &Capt. Morris, Lieut. Patrick &"A" Company on board the Schr. Pilot - were just getting under sail, when the Pilot getting aground &evening in stop both schrs. for the night. At day break, finding the Pilot off, both set sail &proceeded (beating, the wind ahead) down the bay (Tampa). During the previous evening, rec'd a message from a boat passing up to the Fort, that some officers on board a schr. near by would be glad to see us. After tea some of us went on board &to our great pleasure found our old friend Maj. Larned - 9 days from N. Orleans. He gave us much political &other news.

Wessells very well could have been a member of the party to greet Larned, meeting the namesake of the fort he would one day command. It is interesting to note this "old friendship,"as it may well have determined the eventual name of the Camp on the Pawnee Fork.

Wessells then served in the Mexican-American War and was promoted to captain February 16, 1847. He fought at Contreras, seizing the regimental flag on the death of the color-sergeant and leading his men onward, despite being wounded. For his conduct in Contreras and at the Battle of Churubusco, Wessells was brevetted a major. The state of Connecticut awarded him a jeweled sword, "for distinguished services at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Contreras, and Curubusco." Following the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Wessells served on the Pacific Coast until 1855 when he joined the western Indian campaigns against the Sioux.

In 1860, after five years on the western plains, Wessells left the eastern Kansas post of Fort Riley with two companies of the Second Infantry and his orders to proceed to Camp Alert to relieve Lieutenant Bell. With continued tensions on the prairie, Major Wessells was charged with the oversight of construction projects at Camp Alert. Permanent structures had been planned since the fort's beginning as outlined in the diary of one of the first inhabitants, Captain Lambert Wolf,

October 23, plans are made for the horse and cattle stable, also for officers' and company quarters, all of which are to be built of sod, cut with spades by members of our company. Our stable is to be 100 feet square…wall 12 feet high…

The construction of these structures, however, appears to have been delayed until after the winter of 1859-1860, during which the troops spent most of their time in tents and temporary quarters. On May 29, 1860, the fort was renamed Fort Larned in honor of the US Paymaster General, Colonel Benjamin F. Larned and Major Wessells moved the location of Camp Alert further from the mail station where construction was begun on the adobe fort. Finished near the end of 1860, the fort included an officers' quarters, two storehouses/barracks, a guardhouse, two laundresses' quarters, and a hospital. Later, a bakery, meat house, and shops building were added.

Despite the increased military presence at Fort Larned, some hostilities continued to flare. On the Walnut Creek Ranch near the Walnut Creek crossing of the Santa Fe Road, the owner, George H. Peacock of Independence, Missouri, and several other civilians were killed by a group of Kiowas led by Satank. The Walnut Creek Ranch was one of the first trading posts and mail stations set up in the Pawnee Fork area. Major Wessells wrote in a report on September 9, 1860, "Mr. Geo. Peacock and two other persons were treacherously murdered at Walnut Creek on Sunday last by a party of ten Indians." The West Post Border Star from Kansas City gave an additional account,

Mr. Geo. H. Peacock, formerly of Independence, was killed on last Sunday week by a Kiowa chief named Satank. Satank and two or three others of the tribe reconnoitered around Peacock's Ranch until an opportunity offered when they fired on him, one ball entering his left temple, killing him instantly.They then fired upon a man named Myers, a German, also from Independence and wounded him so that he died in a short time.There was another man in the house lying sick, but he was not molested.The Indians then loaded themselves with considerable plunder and left.

Around the same time, brothers Larry and Mike Smith, conductors of the Santa Fe and Albuquerque monthly mail were killed by Indians a day after refusing escort from a group of soldiers in the Fort Larned area.

Despite these renewed tensions on the prairie, a great threat was looming in the east as the Civil War drew closer at the close of 1860. For his service, Wessells was promoted to major from his brevet rank. He was transferred to the 6th US Infantry and, soon after, promoted to colonel of the 8th Kansas Infantry, engaged in fighting on the Kansas-Missouri border. In March 1862, Wessells was transferred to the Army of Potomac and commissioned a brigadier-general of volunteers. His main battles took place in Virginia and North Carolina, including command of the town of Plymouth, North Carolina at its capture by Confederate forces. He was confined at four different prisoner of war camps and finally exchanged August 3, 1864. After his exchange, Wessells served as the Federal Commissary-General of Prisoners. Brigadier-General Henry Walton Wessells retired January 1, 1871, to his hometown of Litchfield, Connecticut.

For retirement, he settled down with his third wife, Caroline E. Wadsworth. In January 1889, Wessells came down with an illness and traveled to Dover, Delaware to spend the winter. According to his obituary, "he stood the journey well but died within forty-eight hours of his arrival." The day was January 12, 1889. The general was buried with honors in the Wadsworth burial plot of the Litchfield Cemetery, next to his mother and father-in-law, his wife, and Caroline's infant sister.

Last updated: February 15, 2024

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