Battlefield Dispatches # 22
“Scoundrels & Scalawags” in Fort Scott
In the summer of 1862, the town of Fort Scott, Kansas was not the huge “Union” military complex that it would become from 1863-1865. There was a small “Union” garrison in Fort Scott because most of the troops that had been stationed at and around the town in the “Spring” of 1862 were participating in the ‘Indian Expedition” which was the first Union attempt to re-occupy the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma). The small garrison consisted of 230 soldiers from the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment that was faced with a complicated military mission. In addition to guarding the town, the increasing military supplies and prisoners, the commanding officer (Major Benjamin S. Henning, 3rd Wis. Cav.) was responsible for the protection on Northern Bourbon County and Southern Linn County. The prisoners included civilians who violated martial law, Confederate soldiers, suspected spies, SCOUNDRELS, SCALAWAGS, JAYHAWKERS & DESPERADOES (outlaws). Because the worst prisoners had friends on the “OUTSIDE”, Major Henning wanted to “Hang” some of them as an example, but there is no record that any were executed.
The following letter by Major Henning describes his sense of frustration at being required to accomplish a complicated military mission with an inadequate number of troops. It is located on pages 465-466 in Series I, Vol. 13 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.
Fort Scott, July 10, 1862.
Capt. Thomas Moonlight,
Assistant Adjutant – General [Fort Leavenworth]:
Captain: I find that my force at this post is entirely too SMALL to do the effective duty expected of us by the Commanding General [Brigadier General James G. Blunt]. As provost guard [here] there is much to do, as the state of the country has been and is quite unsettled, and the well-disposed citizens, feeling that the Commanding General is severe and that he is determined to put down JAYHAWKING and kindred crimes, have taken hold of the matter, and are active and vigilant, feel it their privilege to call on me as provost-marshal [Chief of Military Police] for details of men to assist them, which I immediately give. Besides our duty as provost guard we have to furnish a strong force to guard prisoners and commissary stores at this post.
My whole effective force is 230 men! By my original order from Colonel Barstow I am required to keep a sufficient force at Mine Creek and Trading Post to insure the quietness of that neighborhood. My force there now is 60 men. At the suggestion and approval of the Commanding General I have sent a force to Jasper County, Mo., to protect the “Union” men in that vicinity, which leaves me only 120 men to protect the post and the immense amount of stores here. I have no disposition to exaggerate or create needless alarm, but I cannot help feeling that it would be very proper for our force to be increased. I assure you, Sir, that I shall be active and vigilant and do all that can be done to protect the interests of the government, and hardly fear any attack without Quantrill’s and Hay’s bands should drop in on us on their way down to the southern country.
Our guard-house is well filled with JAYHAWKERS & DESPERADOES of different kinds, and some of the worst ones, with their friends outside, threaten just enough to make me a LITTLE ANXIOUS to STRING SOME OF THEM UP!
I am notified that 105 rebel prisoners taken at the fight of Grand Saline will reach here tomorrow (July 11), and with my small force it will be impossible for me to guard them safely, and under the circumstances shall order them being taken to Fort Leavenworth, together with some prisoners already in confinement here.
I am, Captain, Very Respectfully, Your Obedient Servant,
B. S. Henning,
Major 3rd Wis. Cavalry, Comdg. Post & Provost –Marshal.
James G. Blunt