Cantonment Leavenworth was the first settlement in Kansas Territory and is the oldest active Army post west of the Mississippi. The fort initially served as a quartermaster depot, arsenal and troop post and was dedicated to protecting the fur trade and safeguarding commerce on the Santa Fe Trail.
The post was evacuated in May 1829 and occupied by Kickapoo Nation until it was re-garrisoned that fall. The name of the post was changed to Fort Leavenworth in 1832 because the secretary of war, in general orders, directed that all cantonments be called forts thereafter.
Fort Leavenworth quickly became a primary stop for thousands of soldiers, surveyors, and settlers who were passing through on their way to the vast West. During these early years, soldiers from Fort Leavenworth protected wagon trains hauling supplies over the Santa Fe, Oregon and other wagon trails to most forts, posts and military camps of the West, some as far as the Pacific Ocean. In 1839, Colonel S.W. Kearney marched against the Cherokee with 10 companies of dragoons, the largest U.S. mounted force ever assembled.
With the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the Army spent much time attempting to keep a lid on the pot of troubles between the pro-slavery bushwhackers and the free-soil Jayhawkers during the Border War.
During the Civil War, thousands of soldiers were recruited and mustered out at Fort Leavenworth. Between 1861 and 1865, the regular Army formed the foundation on which the volunteer forces were built.
Fort Leavenworth was considered a rich prize by Confederate General Sterling Price, who advanced toward the fort in 1864. Before reaching the fort, however, Price was defeated in the Battle of Westport, near today’s Country Club Plaza in Kansas City in October 1864.
Railroads stretching toward the west came under increasing attack by the Plains Indians during the Civil War. The western posts were all undermanned because of the war, so Confederate prisoners were called upon to help fight the hostile Indians. Five of these regiments were outfitted at Fort Leavenworth.
In 1866, Congress authorized the formation of four black regiments – the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments and the 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments. The 10th Calvary Regiment was formed at Fort Leavenworth on September 21, 1866. In western Kansas the Kiowa encountered the soldiers of the 10th, finding them to be valiant opponents, and referred to them as the “Buffalo Soldiers.”
The term stuck, and in time was used for the black soldiers in all four regiments. The Buffalo Soldiers left Fort Leavenworth to win repeated honors on the Plains and in the West. In 1898, the Buffalo Soldiers fought in Cuba, winning praise from Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders for their crucial role in the battle for Santiago.
The Buffalo Soldiers also served on the Mexican border before the American entry into the First World War. Today a monument stands at Fort Leavenworth in tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments.
With the end of the Indian Wars, the fort was transformed into an integral part of the Army’s new officer educational system as well as a worldwide model for military corrections. In 1881, General William T. Sherman established the School of Application for Calvary and Infantry, which later evolved into the U.S. Army Command and General
Staff College. Some of the many famous students and instructors at the college are George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Colin Powell and George Patton.
Reference: “A Brief History of Fort Leavenworth,” by John W. Partin.
Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senio, or school groups. Reach Ted W. Stillwell at Ted@blueandgrey.com or 816-896-3592.