Sunday, June 17, 2007

Oliva: "Fort Scott: Courage and Conflict on the Border"

[Fort Scott: Courage and Conflict on the Border by Leo E. Oliva (Kansas State Historical Society, rev ed. 1996) Softcover, photos, illustrations, 5 maps, appendix, reading list. Pages Total/Main=99/81 ISBN 0-87726-027-3 $8.95]

Originally published in 1984, the revised edition of Leo Oliva's Fort Scott is volume one of the Kansas Fort Series published by the KSHS. While Fort Scott* was officially established in 1842, shortages of funding, skilled labor, and materials slowed its progress. In covering this period, the author includes several interesting biographical sketches of officers involved in choosing the location of the fort and in its construction, men like John Hamilton, Benjamin Davis Moore, and Thomas Swords. According to Oliva, by the time the fort was fully up and running it was largely obsolete in terms of the U.S. army's strategic plan for frontier defense and management, its duties largely assumed by newly established Ft. Riley. By 1853, the fort was abandoned and the buildings auctioned off, to be later incorporated as the town of Fort Scott. The bulk of Fort Scott covers this period 1842-1853.

The Kansas territorial troubles saw the return of federal troops to the fort and, while this "Bleeding Kansas" period and the Civil War years are of primary interest to us here, Oliva covers this time only briefly with a 12-page chapter. The fort became a very active military and administrative post again during the Civil War, its original buildings leased to the U.S. government for the duration of the conflict.

Fort Scott is very handsomely put together. It is profusely illustrated with photographs, drawings, and artwork. The maps included in the volume are definite assets. Diagrams depict the layout of the fort at various stages and others map the complex territorial interaction of state, federal, and Indian governments. A finely drawn and highly detailed map of Civil War Ft. Scott was particularly welcomed.

Fort Scott was originally designed as a three company frontier post, and the appendix includes a number of useful tidbits about the men and units that served during the 1842-1853 period. Commanding officers and post surgeons for this period are listed, along with a table of monthly aggregate strengths for the garrison and a list of companies stationed at the fort. Finally, a meticulous accounting of the 1855 auctioning of Fort Scott's public property is included.

Over a number of editions, Leo Oliva has done a very fine job putting together this short history of Fort Scott. Sufficiently detailed while written in a manner that engenders broad appeal, interested individuals of all stripes, from students and general readers to specialists, will likely discover a great deal of useful information. I look forward to examining other volumes in the series.
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* = Fort Scott was named in honor of Bvt Lt. General Winfield Scott, who was reportedly displeased to have his name associated with a fort he considered insignificant.

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