orders from General Persifor F. Smith, Lieutenant Colonel John J.
Abercrombie arrived at the Clear Fork of the Brazos River with five
companies of the Fifth Infantry on November 14, 1851. His first
impression was not a good one, as a wet snowstorm blew in killing one
teamster, and twenty horses, mules, and oxen that froze to death.
Abercrombie found, much to his dismay, that the site had neither wood
for construction nor suitable water for the men and the animals. Though he sent word of the poor conditions the orders were unchanged
and construction on the fort began. What was unknown to both
Smith and Abercrombie is that the fort was being built at the wrong
location. Smith had just recently taken command from his ailing
General who had been supervising the construction of the forts along
The plan had been to build the fort at a site
in Coleman County but Smith, unfamiliar with the area, changed the locale
to the Clear Fork near its junction with Elm Creek. This decision
affected the post’s future as the fort was built in an area with
inadequate water and building timbers to supply the needs of new garrison.
Stone was brought in from Elm Creek about two
miles south of the fort and oak logs for the officers' quarters and
hospital had to be brought in by ox wagon from as far away as forty miles.
The guardhouse, magazine and commissary storehouse were built entirely of
stone, but the other buildings were built in an adobe style.
Fort Phantom Hill
was never officially named. Rather, it was simply referred to as the
"Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos." There are two legends about the
origin of the unofficial designation
the first of which is that the hill rises sharply from the plains when
approached from a distance, but seems to level out as it is approached,
vanishing like a phantom. The second account is that of a nervous sentry
who fired on what he thought was an
on the hill. The investigation that followed failed to discover the
presence of any
and one of the troopers suggested that the man had seen a ghost.
Life at the fort was difficult for the soldiers
as Elm Creek was often dry, and the waters of the Clear Fork were
brackish. Early on, an eighty-foot-deep well was dug near the guardhouse,
but even it was not always reliable. More often than not, it was necessary
to haul barrels of water in wagons from a spring about four miles upriver
from the post. Because of the lack of water a post garden could not be
toiled, leading to a shortage of vegetable in the men’s diet. As a result
the soldiers began to suffer from scurvy, fevers, dysentery, colds and
pneumonia. Desertions at the fort were said to have been common due to the
monotony and loneliness at the isolated fort.