Fort Blair & the Baxter
Fort Blair, aka: Fort Baxter (1862-1865)
Baxter Springs was situated on the old
military road that made its way from
through Fort Scott,
and southwest to Fort Gibson in
Initially the site was primarily utilized as a rest stop for the wagon
trains that supplied the troops, and for military personnel assigned to
protect them from hostile
along the journey. However, when the Civil War
began, the region soon found itself under attack from
Confederate regular and guerilla forces.
In the Spring of
1862, a field camp, first called Camp Baxter Springs, was built by
Colonel Charles Doubleday's 2nd Ohio Brigade and Colonel William
Weer's 2nd Kansas Brigade to garrison about 6,000 troops.
Several more field
camps would be established along the route, including Camp Little Five
Mile, built by Colonel John Ritchie’s Indian Home Guards in June,
1862, which was located to the southeast across the Spring River. Two
more field camps were built near here in the summer of 1863, including
Camp Joe Hooker and Camp Ben Butler, both constructed by Colonel James
Williams' 1st Kansas Colored Troops.
A reconstruction of one of the buildings at
Fort Blair, Kathy Weiser, May, 2004.
In the beginning, life at the camp was
easy and at times very dull, leading one soldier to write in June
1862, "Here we camp, with nothing to do but eat, drink, swim, sleep
and read -- the latter only when we are fortunate enough to procure
newspapers or books."
In July, 1863, the decision to build a
permanent post was made and Colonel Charles Blair sent Lieutenant John
Crites with companies C and D of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry to build it
on August 17th. Though the post was officially called Fort
Blair, it was more commonly referred to as Fort Baxter. When complete,
it consisted of a block house and a few cabins surrounded by
breastworks made of logs, rocks and dirt.
Crites was soon reinforced by a
detachment of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry under command of
Lieutenant R. E. Cook, and early in October further reinforcements
were added under Lieutenant James B. Pond of the Third Wisconsin
Cavalry, which provided a 12-pound howitzer.
Baxter Springs Massacre (October
Though the post’s activities had been
slow, things would change in October, 1863.
On October 4,
1863, Lieutenant James B. Pond arrived from
to take command of the post, which was then manned by about 155 men.
Setting up camp about 200 yards west of the fort, Pond made the
decision that the fort need to be enlarged, and the following day he
ordered the west wall of the fort to be removed so it could be moved.
The next morning
a foraging party of sixty men and all the wagons were sent out of the
fort, leaving Pond with about 90 men. What Pond had no way of knowing
was that William Quantrill and
about 400 guerillas, who had decided to winter in Texas, were making
their way south.
After capturing and killing two Union
teamsters on the Texas Road who had just recently left Fort Blair,
decided to attack the post. Though short staffed, when the guerillas began
to attack, Lieutenant Pond manned the howitzer and fought them off, though
they suffered several casualties. Quantrill's
men moved on but would quickly find another opportunity to do battle.
Meanwhile, on the very same day that Pond had arrived at
Fort Blair – October 4th, General James G.
with an escort of 100 men of the Third Wisconsin and Fourteenth Kansas
Cavalry, headed to Fort Smith, Arkansas.
By noon of October 6th, they were nearing Fort Blair, when they
spied a body of mounted men advancing from the trees along the Spring
River. Dressed in Federal uniforms, Blunt thought they were Pond's men out
on drill and sent his Chief of Scouts, Captain Tough, forward to meet
them. However, Tough quickly returned with information that the men were
not Union soldiers, were in fact rebels, and that a battle was taking
place at Fort Blair.
The men spied, were
guerrillas, who quickly began to attack Blunt’s troops. Though Blunt tried
to organize a battle line, they were powerfully outnumbered, and the Union
troops scattered in disorder.
One officer broke through
Quantrill's men and reached Fort Blair to tell
Pond about the turn of events, but it was to no avail. General Blunt,
along with about 15 of his men were able to escape and eventually made his
way back to Fort Scott.
Wiley Britton, in his book, Civil War on
the Border, described the carnage thusly: "In many instances where the
soldiers were closely pursued, they were told that if they would surrender
they would be treated as prisoners of war; but in every case the moment
they surrendered and were disarmed, they were shot down sometimes even
with their own arms in the hands of the bandits."
Immediately after destroying Blunt's force,
the guerrillas plundered the supply wagons, finding weapons, food, and
whiskey. Though two of Quantrill's
leaders, George Todd and
William "Bloody Bill"
Anderson, wanted to attack Fort Blair again,
was more concerned about carrying away his wounded men. No further attack
was made and the guerrillas then continued their southward march.
In the end, it was a Confederate victory, with
eighty-five of Blunt's men killed or dying from their wounds and another
eight wounded. Six of Pond's men were killed and ten were wounded. The
guerrilla casualties were probably twenty to thirty killed and at least
All of the
casualties were buried near the fort. Following the massacre, Blunt was
temporarily dismissed from his command, but was later reinstated. In 1885,
Congress appropriated $5,000 for a national
cemetery about a mile west of Baxter Springs,
where many of the bodies were re-interred.
Civil War was over, the fort was abandoned but the town of
grew up around it, becoming an outlet for the
Texas cattle trade and one of the wildest cow towns in the West.
Today, the story of Fort Blair, as well
as more regional history can be found at the Baxter Springs
Heritage Center & Museum located at
740 East Avenue. The 20,000 square foot facility also interprets the
American, mining, and
history. A self-guided Civil War
tour can also be taken that points out 12 points of interest relating to
the attack. Maps and brochures may be picked up at the museum or the
Chamber of Commerce.
of America, updated May, 2017.
Springs - 1st Kansas Cowtown
William Quantrill -
Leader of the Missouri Border War
Kansas Route 66
Kansas Photo Print
From Legends' General Store
66 Postcards -
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for our Route
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