During the spring and summer of 1866 there was a quick turnover of post commanders at Fort Larned. Maj. Hiram Dryer left in April, turning command over to Lt. James Cahill, 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Lt. Cahill assumed command on April 26th, only to be relieved on May 6th by Maj. Cuvier Grover. For the rest of the year, the command of Fort Larned would alternate between Maj. Grover and Capt. Henry Asbury.
Although the government had succeeded in making peace with the area Indians, the Army was apparently not taking any chances. In May, the Department of Missouri Headquarters issued General Order No. 27, instructing post commanders to make certain that defensive measures were carried out before allowing wagon trains to proceed. The traders were not waiting on the Army, though, and by July 20th a total of 582 wagons had passed by Fort Larned accompanied by 634 armed men.
By June 15, Capt. Asbury replaced Maj. Grover as post commander. Turning his attention to Fort Zarah, Asbury instructed Lt. J.P. Thompson, 3rd Infantry to forbid the sale of whiskey there, as well as to keep everyone off the grounds except anyone with official business. This order unfortunately kept out the workers who had come to re-roof the round house. According to H.M. Stanley, noted journalist for Harper’s Weekly, Asbury commanded the fort with orderliness and precision and all activities were carried out strictly to military code. He also noted that the officers were “affable to their equals and gracious towards their subordinates.”
On July 25th, Maj. Grover resumed command. During the summer, construction began on the fort’s stone buildings under the direction of the Quartermaster Officer, Capt. Almon Rockwell. It was definitely time for the post to have new buildings. The old sod and adobe structures were mostly falling down and needed to be replaced. By 1866, the walls of some of the buildings were in such bad shape they had to be braced up from the outside to keep them from falling down. Maj. Grover submitted a layout for the new post buildings along with plans for the buildings, which the Quartermaster General refused to approve. When he found out, Gen. Sheridan requested control of all construction in his military division, presumably to expedite post construction in his district.
Initially, the idea was to have the soldiers build the structures themselves while also carrying out their regular military duties. At the time, though, there were only two companies of soldiers present for duty. These men had to haul wood from 12 miles away, hay from 8 miles away, as well as carry out regular escort duties along the trail. Since the soldiers were too busy with their military duties to have time for construction work, the army hired civilian masons, stone cutters and skilled workers to complete the job.
Capt. Asbury again assumed command on Nov. 7th and would finish out the year as the post commander. The garrison consisted of 115 men from the 3rd U.S. Infantry. Many of the frontier posts were understaffed. Although Congress had approved legislation to reorganize the Army, the new numbers for soldiers and officers would be small compared to the job they were being asked to do. Not only was the Army expected to “manage” the Plains Indians as more settlers poured into the west, but also maintain martial law in the South. The coming year would be a challenging one for the soldiers tasked with enforcing U.S. government policy on the plains.
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