During the Civil War, a number of permanent military camps, forts, and blockhouses existed in Kansas. In all, at least 27 were located in various areas of the state. These camps and forts had some similarities, but many differences existed among them.
The forts in Civil War-era Kansas had at least one similarity. All were maintained by the Union; no Confederate forts existed in the state. The differences among the forts were striking. Some forts were established by the regular Army to protect travelers and settlers against Indians. Forts Aubrey, Harker, Larned, Riley, and Dodge were among these.
Some forts established by the Army served as administrative headquarters in the chain of forts stretching across the west. Forts in this category in Kansas included the Camp Ewing complex outside Lawrence and Forts Leavenworth, Riley, and Scott.
A few forts established by the Army existed partly to protect Kansas residents against attacks from Confederate regular and guerrilla forces. Such forts included the relocated Fort Lincoln, and Fort Blair.
Most of the forts established by the Army were manned at times totally by volunteer or militia forces raised to fight the Confederates.
Some forts operated by the Army had other functions. The original Fort Lincoln, established by Kansas Senator/militia general James H. Lane, was used primarily to house Confederate prisoners. Fort Zarah, at one point, was unique among the Army forts as for a time a large part of its garrison consisted of former Confederates. These men were freed from prison camps on the condition they joined the Union forces and be sent west to fight Indians. Many forts served as post offices and as Indian agencies.
To make the history of these historic sites even more interesting, several of these old posts are said to be haunted including Forts Blair, Dodge, Hays, Leavenworth, Riley, and Scott.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.