Following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Intercourse Act of 1834, which declared that the land west of the Mississippi belonged to the American Indians, the United States built a series of forts from Minnesota to Louisiana to enforce the promise of a “permanent Indian frontier.” Erected in 1842, Fort Scott was among the line of forts established to maintain peace between white settlers and neighboring Indian tribes. Eventually, as the nation developed, tensions over the issue of slavery would place Fort Scott at the center of Bleeding Kansas and ultimately the Civil War. Today, Fort Scott National Historic Site stands as a witness to the history of the conflicts between various cultural groups important in the American story. When the United States broke its promise to reserve the land west of the Mississippi for American Indians, the United States Army recognized that its services to protect the Indian frontier were no longer required and abandoned Fort Scott by 1853.
The debate in Kansas over slavery turned into a violent affair that terrorized the State for more than five years. “Bleeding Kansas” offered a preview of what the nation would face in the Civil War. The town of Fort Scott divided over the issue of slavery. Before the Army reinstated Fort Scott, settlers on both sides of the issue gained control of the fort’s vacant buildings. The abolitionists took over the former officers’ quarters and named it the Free State Hotel, while on the opposite side of town square, the proslavery headquarters was at the Western Hotel, formerly the site of the old infantry barracks.
During the Civil War, many freedom seekers sought the protection and liberty provided by the United States Army. Fort Scott was one such safe haven. As the main citadel protecting Kansas’ southern flank from invasion, the militarized town served as a major Union Army supply depot, general hospital, and recruitment and training center. From Fort Scott, soldiers pressed the offensive into the neighboring Trans-Mississippi. Wagons returned with the sick and wounded as well as with refugees and freedom seekers hoping to find sanctuary. Although life at Fort Scott proved difficult for lack of basic necessities, thousands displaced by war found the town to be a critical, if temporary, respite along their journey to freedom.
Kansas was the first State to recruit and train American Indians and African Americans to serve in the Union army. Many able bodied free and formerly enslaved African American men were recruited at Fort Scott to form elements of the First and Second Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry regiments. These soldiers acquitted themselves well in the face of the enemy, with the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry being the first African American unit to serve in combat, at Island Mound, near Butler, Missouri, in October 1862. The First and Second Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantries were federalized and reorganized as the 79th and 83rd United States Colored Troops, respectively. At least one formerly enslaved African American woman served as a nurse at the US Army General Hospital at Fort Scott; she later received a U.S. government pension for her Civil War service. Fort Scott is also known
At Fort Scott National Historic Site, visitors can see 20 historic structures, a parade ground and five acres of restored tallgrass prairie. They can tour 33 historically furnished rooms in the fort’s historic buildings and enjoy three exhibit areas. At the Infantry Barracks Museum, visitors learn about Fort Scott’s history. The Dragoon Barracks Museum exhibits feature stories of different soldiers, and the Wilson Goodlander House focuses on the construction of Fort Scott. The visitor center and bookstore are located in the historic post hospital.
Fort Scott National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System that has been designated a National Historic Landmark, is located at 101 Old Fort Blvd. in Fort Scott, KS. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Fort Scott is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm, April-October and 9:00am to 5:00pm, from November-March. The site is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Guided tours are available, as are middle school and elementary education programs. For more information, visit the National Park Service Fort Scott National Historic Site website or call 620-223-0310.
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