From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.


Post Survives Abandonment Attempts--Civil War Thrills

by Harry H. Seckler

Leavenworth Times, Sunday, April 27, 1947

The first battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, was the incentive that brought about the last of several endeavors to put over e abandonment of Fort Leavenworth as a military post.

Gen. Winfield Scott, then in command of the Army, insisted as the government could not protect the eastern states adequately and at the same time take care of the western territories, the western forts, Leavenworth among them, be abandoned.

Fortunately for the preservation of the army post here it had a champion in Alexander Caldwell, a prominent citizen of Leavenworth, who was one of the two men in this city's history who became members of the United States senate. The other was Lucien Baker.

Caldwell was the senior member of the freighting firm of Alexander Caldwell and Len T. Smith, early day freighters and railroad builders. Both these men became wealthy in their work, and built magnificent homes on North Broadway, the Caldwell residence and grounds extending from Osage to Pottawatomie streets and the Smith mansion from Ottawa to Kickapoo.

Tells of West's Resources

In 1871 Caldwell was elected to the US senate. He resigned in 1873, but in the interim went to the rescue of Fort Leavenworth by rushing from this city to Washington when he was advised of Gen. Scott's recommendations. With the aid of influential friends in high army circles he had Scott's order changed.

He laid the facts before the assistant secretary of war, pointing out the great resources of the west, its strength and availability for the organization of great bodies of troops. The official was convinced and added his influence toward holding the territories, keeping their posts garrisoned and increasing the number of their troops.

Gen. Scott finally was prevailed upon to change his mind and again Fort Leavenworth was spared.

Threatens Entire State

In August, 1861, Gen. Sterling Price of the Confederacy, elated with his success at the battle of Wilson Creek, made the threat to "wipe Kansas off the map."

Gen. Lane, commanding the Kansas Brigade, ordered the commanding officer of Fort Leavenworth to send what troop and artillery reinforcements he had or could get to Fort Scott from where it was planned to protect Fort Leavenworth.

No aid was sent Lane who messaged again, insisting he had chosen the correct position for the defense of the Fort, stating by way of argument "the idea of holding artillery to rust at Fort Leavenworth does not strike me with favor."

Capt. W. F. Prince, commanding officer of Fort Leavenworth, indorsed Lane's demand, but Governor Robinson of Kansas insisted there was no danger of invasion of this portion of Kansas, "provided the government stores at Fort Scott were sent back to Leavenworth and Lane's brigade is removed from the border."

Gen. Fremont agreed with Governor Robinson and Lane was ordered to fall back at once to Fort Leavenworth and to send all government supplies which might be at Kansas City to Leavenworth by water, or destroy them in case there was no means of transportation.

Defenses Built Here

In September, 1864, came another scare--rumors Gen. Price was about to capture Leavenworth and Fort Leavenworth. Governor Carney, a citizen of Leavenworth, called out all able-bodied men here and placed them under command of Gen. T. A. Davies to defend the Fort.

Maj. Franklin E. Hunt, later a Leavenworth resident, who was stationed then at Fort Leavenworth as paymaster, and earlier had served in the artillery, was placed in charge of the defense of Leavenworth.

Earthworks were constructed in the western part of the Post overlooking every part of the city. Siege guns were planted and the position named "Fort Sully." To defend the city of Leavenworth a long line of earthworks was thrown up along the general line of what is now Michigan avenue.

(Note in a previous early-day article the writer mentioned his father, together with a large number of German residents, was stationed near what is now that portion of Leavenworth south and west of the Fifth and Ohio avenues intersection, camped in what was then known as Siegel's Garden.)

Price was decisively defeated at the "Battle of Westport" by Union troops under command of Gen. Curtis and this removed the threat to Leavenworth and the Fort.

Citizens Guard Fort

An ordinance depot at Liberty, Mo., was broken into by an armed body of men and ordnance stores stolen. When people of Leavenworth heard of this raid they became frenzied. With a rumor on attack upon Fort Leavenworth was contemplated, they took every precaution to guard against such an assault."

Mayor McDonald of this city visited the Post and offered the services of 100 men to assist in its defense. The offer was accepted and the 100 volunteers were stationed at the Fort that night. The commanding officer at the Fort also gave the mayor a large quantity of arms to be used in the defense of the city.

A request was made to the governor of Kansas for aid to the army post until troops already ordered to proceed there should arrive. Accordingly three volunteer companies in this city were called. They were known as the Leavenworth Light Infantry, commanded by Capt. Powell Clayton (later US minister to Mexico); the Union Guards, commanded by Capt. Edward Cozzens; and the Shields Guards, commanded by Capt. Daniel McCook, with James A. McGonigle, (one of Leavenworth's outstanding citizens for many years) as first lieutenant.

Turnverein Company First

They served at Fort Leavenworth for about ten days, until relieved by the regulars. There were 120 officers and men in the local force.

The day before the arrival of the regular troops Camp Lincoln was established on the reservation and from 1861 to 1865 many thousands of volunteers from Kansas and this vicinity were inducted into the federal army there.

The first volunteer and the first to offer their services as a unit were the Steuben Guards, organized in Leavenworth, composed almost entirely of men of German birth, members of the Leavenworth Turnverein. Their commanding officer was Capt. Gustavus C. Zesch, also a citizen of Leavenworth and a Turner.

Germans Were Trained Soldiers

Of these Germans and those who served in the trenches southwest of Leavenworth, a great percentage were members of the old Leavenworth Turnverein or what was known as the singing society or "Gesangverein." They were men who had served the required three-year enlistment in the German army, required of all boys over 18 years, for none could leave what they called the Vaterland unless such military duty had been performed.

They, as members of the Turners, were the ones who captured the cannon known as "Old Kickapoo" from the Kickapoo Rangers, and who dragged it to the river levee when a steamboat came up the river just after war between the states had been declared, flying the Confederate flag.

There threat to shoot down the flag and blow the boat out of the water had the desired effect. The flag was lowered, the boat docked and was turned over to the leaders who carried it off in triumph to Turner Hall. What became of the flag is not known to this day..

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