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Kansas Forts During the Civil War

by William C. Pollard, Jr.

[The following material has been made available in electronic form through the courtesy of the author. It may be copied, reproduced, and redistributed freely in its entirety provided full credit is given to the author. Distribution of portions of the text, or inclusion of all or parts in printed and published form should be performed only with the express consent of the author. The electronic distribution of this material does not preclude its later publication in other forms.]

A paper presented at the Fourteenth Annual Mid-America Conference on History at the University of Kansas, Lawrence KS September 1992

During the Civil War a number of permanent military camps, forts, and blockhouses existed in Kansas. In all, at least twenty-seven were located in various areas of the state. These camps and forts had some similarities, but many differences existed among them.

This paper will first examine the subject of Kansas forts as a whole. It will then in detail examine a number of the forts.

The forts in Civil-War era Kansas had at least one similarity. All were maintained by the Union side; 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. Camp Wynkoop and Forts Ellsworth, Larned, Riley, and Zarah 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, Fort Baxter, and the Fort Blair complex outside the town of Fort Scott.

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. 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, it should be added, served as post offices and an Indian agency was located at Fort Larned.

Quite a number of Kansas forts were established by local residents to protect their settlements from Indian and Confederate guerrilla raids. Such little known forts as Belmont, Brooks, Clifton, Drinkwater, Montgomery, Osborn, and Simple fit into this category. Also, the Lawrence blockhouses and the stockade erected at Salina should be included among these.

Some forts established by settlers had Indian agencies within their confines. Fort Belmont was one of these. A major function of Fort Row, in Wilson County, was to administer aid to Indians forced from their homes in Indian Territory. The Territory was the scene of much fighting between Indians supporting the Union and the Confederacy.

Some settler forts provided additional types of services. Fort Drinkwater served as a post office and Fort Montgomery served as a schoolhouse.

A few words should be said about the impregnability (or lack of it) of the Kansas forts. The strength of the fortifications varied widely. Surprisingly, some of the forts built by settlers were considerably more defendable than some built by the military.

Weaker forts included Fort Larned, which originally was built mainly of adobe. Typically, many military forts started as groups of buildings and dugouts that would have been difficult to defend, had fullscale attacks been mounted against them. Forts Dodge and Zarah also started as weak forts; Zarah ended up being one of the strongest forts in Kansas.

Some of the settler forts were substantially built. They were almost always log forts. In some of these, such as Fort Montgomery, the builders incorporated breastworks and small gun ports that could be covered when not used.

The best way to discover what the forts were like is to examine each fort. Since there is not time in this presentation to do that, only some forts will be examined.


Lawrence was not well defended in the early part of the Civil War. The August 21, 1863, raid by William Clarke Quantrill, which left much destruction and about 180 Lawrence boys and men dead, changed that.

By early 1864 soldiers were permanently camped on the top and slopes of Mount Oread, to Lawrence's southwest. It seems the camp was originally named Camp Ewing.1

Soon a battery of cannon was placed at the top of Mount Oread and this was named Camp Lookout. In the spring of 1864 many of the soldiers in the camps were ill. They were kept at the German Methodist church in Lawrence, which for a time was used as a hospital.2

About August 1864 construction of a fort on top of Mount Oread was begun. Sometimes this fort was called Fort Ulysses. As of December 1864 this fort remained only partially built, although it contained some government storehouses. It is not known whether the fort was completed. The garrison there was probably removed at the end of the Civil War or soon thereafter.3


Fort Baxter, in southeast Cherokee County, was located in the very corner of southeast Kansas. It was located in what was known as the Cherokee Neutral Lands and was the only Kansas fort assaulted by Confederate forces. At one point the Confederate government claimed authority over the Neutral Lands and both Union and Confederate troops operated in the area.

Fort Baxter, officially known as Fort Blair, was started as a military camp in the spring of 1862, when some Indian regiments were organized at the location. The camp was put under the control of Fort Scott and white troops were sent there.1

Apparently, life at the camp was easy and at times very dull. One soldier wrote 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."2

Such tranquility was not to remain throughout the war. In August 1863 fortifications were built. Historian William E. Connelley, in his book Quantrill and the Border Wars, described the fort, "The fort consisted of some log cabins with a total frontage of about a hundred feet, facing east--towards Spring River." All four sides of the fort were enclosed. The walls, four feet high, consisted of earth embankments thrown up against logs. Apparently, the cooking camp was always located two hundred feet south of the fort, on the north bank of a stream, and near some large springs after which the town of Baxter Springs was named. Baxter Springs was founded after the Civil War.3

On October 4, 1863, Lieut. James B. Pond arrived from Fort Scott to take command of Fort Baxter. The fort at that time was manned by more than 155 men, of which at least seventy were black troops. Pond, whose tent was located two hundred yards west of the fort, decided the fort was too small to accommodate everyone and needed to be enlarged. On October 5, he ordered the west wall of the fort to be removed, so the men could extend the walls to include his tent.

The next morning a foraging party of sixty men and all the wagon teams were sent out of the fort. Pond was left in charge of twenty-five white and seventy black soldiers.

Meanwhile, 400 guerrillas under William Clarke Quantrill were on their way to Texas, where they intended to spend the winter. That morning they captured a Federal wagon train and learned about the location of Fort Baxter from the prisoners, who were murdered after giving this information. The guerrillas headed for the fort and attacked at noon. What resulted is commonly called the Baxter Springs Massacre.4

The garrison was eating lunch at the cooking camp and was cut off from the fort by the mounted guerrillas. Pond was in his tent and was also cut off. His quick and decisive actions were said to have saved his men. He ordered the unarmed men to charge through the guerrillas and into the fort. Most did as Pond ordered, but some ran southwest and hid in the tall grass there; some of these were captured and killed. Others were killed in their attempts to get to the fort.

When Pond got to the fort he turned a small howitzer there on the guerrillas and fired. In the desperate battle just fought Pond's men successfully defended the fort and sustained only a small loss.5

The guerrillas meanwhile met a wagon train and a body of mounted troops, about 100 in strength, under the command of Maj. Gen. James Blunt. The troops happened to be passing through and were a very short distance north of the fort when they met Quantrill's men.

At first Blunt's men thought the guerrillas were an honor guard sent to meet them. When they realized the other group was the enemy, Blunt tried to organize a battle line. Quantrill then attacked and the troops scattered in disorder. One officer broke through Quantrill's men and reached Fort Baxter to tell Pond about the turn of events to the north. Blunt escaped, but many of his men were killed in the attack, many of these in a ravine their horses could not jump. The majority of Blunt's men, however, were killed after being captured.6

Immediately after destroying Blunt's force, the guerrillas plundered the supply wagons. They found weapons, much food, and whiskey. They ate much and many, including Quantrill, got drunk.

During this time two messengers were sent to the fort to inquire about prisoners. Two of Quantrill's leaders, George Todd and William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, wanted to attack Fort Baxter again, but Quantrill was more concerned about carrying away his wounded men. No attack was made and the guerrillas headed south into Indian Territory about 5 P.M.

The Federals were badly defeated; eighty-five of Blunt's men were killed or died from their wounds; eight were wounded. Six of Pond's men were killed and ten were wounded. The guerrilla casualties were probably twenty to thirty killed and at least three wounded. All the Union and guerrilla dead were buried near the fort. Blunt was dismissed from command for a time, being blamed for the terrible defeat he suffered.7

Probably at or after the end of the Civil War, Fort Baxter was abandoned.


Fort Belmont, in Woodson County, was built near the town of Belmont to protect the settlers there from Border Ruffians and Indian attacks. The fort consisted of three or four officer cabins, a redoubt about a quarter of a mile to the north, and a parade ground a mile to the east.

The redoubt was an earthwork and log structure. Various sources give the structure different sizes and shapes. They report it to be either circular or oval shaped and measured 100 to 200 feet across. Historian Daniel C. Fitzgerald, who has visited the remains of the redoubt, reports it to be rectangular, 150 feet by 60 feet across. The earthworks were the base of the structure. J. H. Gregory, an area settler who helped build the fort, years later said log pens were built and filled with dirt. On top of the earthworks were four layers of logs. The fort wall was fairly high. Also, a house was built in the center of the redoubt.

Fort Belmont was manned by companies C and G of the Kansas 16th Regiment (all local militia). Capt. Joseph Gunby was the commander. These militia were older men and they were trained at the fort. All of them lived in their homes, although some officers apparently lived in the officer quarters.

Also, a Federal agency for the Osage and Creek Indians was located at Fort Belmont. The agency was discontinued sometime prior to October 1864. On October 30 of that year Gov. Thomas Carney relieved the milita from duty. At that time the use of Fort Belmont ceased. The town of Belmont was soon abandoned and the fort fell into disrepair. It stood until at least 1871.1


In the spring or early summer of 1864 work was begun on a complex of forts and earthworks to protect some of the roads leading into the town of Fort Scott. Three forts (Forts Blair, Henning, and Insley) were constructed by the end of the summer. They undoubtedly were used to guard Fort Scott when Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price passed through the area in October 1864 near the end of his raid into Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.

These forts were blockhouses armed with heavy artillery and they were surrounded by earthworks. Apparently a large blockhouse was built in the center of the complex. When completed the complex, located east of town and covering two acres of land, was formidable, although it was said to lack a supply of water.

Fort Insley, the largest fort, defended the northwestern approaches to town. Fort Blair, the second largest fort, covered the southern roads into town.

If the forts, under the jurisdiction of the post of Fort Scott, saw combat, it was limited to either firing on bushwhackers who threatened travelers until the end of the Civil War or being fired upon by such bushwhackers.1


Fort Brooks, in northeastern Cloud County and located near what is now Clyde, was built in August or September 1864 on the left bank of the Republican River. Since it was built on the farm owned and occupied by George Brooks, it was named for the latter. Brooks was an ensign in the Shirley County Militia. Capt. I. M. Schooley was the fort's commander.

Fort Brooks was a log blockhouse and it served as the area headquarters for the defense against Indian attacks.1


In August 1862 the settlers living in what are now southwestern Washington, northwestern Clay, and northeastern Cloud counties erected a small fort near the old townsite of Clifton. Fort Clifton served as a defense against Indians and was occupied until spring 1863.

The exact location of Fort Clifton is unknown. It may have been near Fort Brooks, which was near what is now Clyde, Kansas, in Cloud County.1


In June or August 1864 the 7th Iowa Cavalry picked a spot on the left bank of the Smoky River and established a blockhouse fort there. The troops had been sent by Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, the department commander, to establish a fort to protect the remote frontier settlements springing up in the area.

The fort was named for 2nd Lieut. Allen Ellsworth, commander of the troops establishing the post, and was renamed Fort Harker in 1866.1

The fort's mission was to protect the settlers from Indians, but apparently until the end of the Civil War no Indians were seen in the area.2

Two soldiers, in letters published in Fort Riley's Soldier's Letter, described conditions at Fort Ellsworth. M. Wisner, whose company arrived at the fort on January 19, 1865, wrote two letters. In the first he said the weather was very cold and that the men planned to build shelters in which to live. It was so cold, Wisner wrote, that his ink had frozen and he had trouble keeping his feet warm. He said buffalo meat was plentiful and he liked its taste. The soldiers, he added, were behaving well and had not stolen from the area's farmers.3

In Wisner's second letter he wrote that on January 31, less than two weeks after his arrival, he and his company departed on foot for Fort Larned. However, the men had dug holes into the ground and installed mud chimneys in these improvised quarters. Wisner noted these "coyote" holes had been comfortable.4

The second soldier, identified only as "T," wrote that the buffalo meat was tough, but that the troops hunted for game some distance in all directions from the fort. Also, he corresponded, the troops were in good health, despite the lack of a doctor or medicine at the post.5


Fort Montgomery was built in or near Eureka, in central Greenwood County, in 1860 or 1861. It was named for James Montgomery, a free-state leader. It was built by the local citizens to protect themselves from attacks by Osage Indians and proslavery forces.1

Fort Montgomery was solidly built. It was a large rectangular building with a thatch roof. Inside was a wooden floor constructed of rough planks. Gunholes were built into the fort's walls. These holes were normally covered, but could be uncovered in the event of an attack. Around the sides were layered green logs covered with dirt. These were layered up to the level of the gunholes.

Outside was a small cannon mounted on a swivel. The cannon could be swiveled to fire a four-pound ball or grape shot in any direction. The cannon was surrounded by either a stockade or a breastwork.2

Leander Bemis, a local farmer, commanded the fort until 1868. It was manned by local militia and government scouts. Its main duty was Indian scouting. It also served for a time as the local school. In 1861 Eureka's school burned and teacher Annie Clutter taught at the fort.3

Late in the Civil War Fort Montgomery was readied for a guerrilla attack that never came. In 1868 regular troops occupied the fort for a short time. After they left the fort's log breastworks were dismantled and used for firewood. Apparently the fort's use ceased at that time.4


Forts Riley and Leavenworth are the only active military bases in Kansas dating from the Civil War. Established as Camp Center in May 1853, Fort Riley received its present name only one month later. The name change was to honor Maj. Gen. Bennett Riley, a Mexican War hero.1

The fort was established to protect settlers and travelers against Indians. A number of trails passed through the area.2

When the Civil War broke out, Nathaniel Lyon commanded the post. Lyon was transferred to Missouri and was killed in the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August 1861. While at Fort Riley he was a harsh disciplinarian who inflicted severe punishments. He also had an almost fanatical devotion to the Union and he was disliked by his soldiers.3

The outbreak of war gave Fort Riley a new duty: keeping the area secure for the Union. A number of Junction City's citizens either supported the south or were opposed to conducting a war to bring the south back into the Union. The southern element of town was vocal during the early part of the War and objected to having the U.S. flag displayed in town. Capt. J. R. McClure responded to this element by raising the American flag in the town square and making a fiery speech supporting the Union.4

The post was manned mainly by volunteers rather than professional soldiers during the Civil War. The fort seemed to be well developed by the Civil War period. A soldier stationed there wrote to The Fort Scott Bulletin in May 1862, "The buildings are all stone, with the exception of the blacksmith shop, which is built of brick."5

A sutler, Robert Wilson, had a store at the post and his store sold a large variety of items. By June 1862 an Episcopal church building was built and throughout the War the post hospital received praise from Junction City's newspaper, The Smoky Hill and Republican Union. The paper said the hospital was neat, orderly, and well run.6

Sometimes the soldiers got into trouble in surrounding towns, especially Junction City. Most of the time the trouble involved liquor or gambling and took place in saloons. A provost marshal unit at times was very active. The provost marshal had authority to ban saloons and individuals from selling liquor to soldiers and prosecutions of violators were not uncommon.

In spring 1862 a major Civil War campaign enveloped much of New Mexico Territory. In June 133 Texas Confederates taken prisoner there were sent to Fort Riley. They were treated exceptionally well, although all or most vowed they would fight again after they were exchanged. Capt. Daniel S. Whittenhall, a nephew of the fiery Gen. Lyon, at the time commanded Fort Riley (although he was transferred to Fort Larned on June 20).

The prisoners stayed less than a month before being moved to Fort Leavenworth. Seven died from battle wounds or illness and were buried at Fort Riley. Most prisoners were paroled while at the post. These men were free to walk around the post at will and they were even allowed to visit Junction City. At least a few agreed to join the Union army and fight Indians out west rather than remain prisoners; one of these was later buried at Fort Riley.

Twenty-nine prisoners did not receive paroles and they were required to work around the post. The work included policing for trash, cutting grass, and cleaning walks. After the Confederates were led out of the post on July 1, The Smoky Hill and Republican Union protested the extremely generous treatment shown the men.7

On at least one other occasion, in May 1863, Confederate prisoners were held at the post. Most were guerrillas who had raided the Council Grove area and four had traveled with the guerrillas, believing them to be fellow travelers; these four were released.8

Starting in 1864 Fort Riley was served by the Soldier's Letter, a newspaper edited and owned by Oliver V. Wallace. The Soldier's Letter provided soldiers news from various forts, including Fort Riley. At first it was published in Kansas City, but by January 1865 Wallace moved it to Fort Riley. The paper was probably published in the basement of the commanding officer's quarters after its move to the post.9

At least one humorous story about events at the post was written in the pages of the Soldier's Letter. One day in March 1865 a man hurriedly rode to Fort Riley's headquarters. Unable to find a place to hitch his horse, he asked a bystander whether he would hold the horse; the man agreed. "After the lapse of fifteen minutes, he again made his appearance, mounted and rode away, unconscious of his being indebted to -- General James H. Ford, for the courtesy extended to him."10


Camp Ewing/Camp Lookout/Fort Ulysses Complex
    1 "Deserters Captured, Kansas Daily Tribune (Lawrence), February 9,
1864, p. 2.
   2 "Sick Soldiers," Kansas Daily Tribune, May 19, 1864, p. 3.
   3 Untitled story, Kansas Daily Tribune, August 12, 1864, p. 3;  
untitled story, Kansas Daily Tribune, September 22, 1864, p. 3;  "The
Fort," Kansas Daily Tribune, December 4, 1864, p. 3.
Fort Baxter
   1 Woodbury F. Pride, The History of Fort Riley (n.p.: 1926), p. 46;
William E. Connelley, Quantrill and the Border Wars (New York:  Pageant
Book Co., 1956), 1956 ed., p. 422.
   2 N. W., "The Indian Expedition," Fort Scott Bulletin, June 28, 1862,
p. 2.
   3 The Baxter Springs Story (n.p.: 1958),pp. 9-10; Connelley, pp. 422,
   4 Connelley, pp. 422, 424-5; Edward G. Longacre, "Baxter Springs,
Kans., Massacre at," Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the
Civil War (New York:  Harper & Row, 1986), p.  47.
   5 F. W. Giles, Thirty Years in Topeka:  A Historical Sketch (Topeka:  
Capper Special Services, 1960), 1960 ed., pp. 425, 427- 8; Longacre, p.
47; William C. Pollard, Jr., Dark Friday:  The Story of Quantrill's
Lawrence Raid (Big Springs, Kans.:  Baranski Publishing Co., 1990), pp.
   6 Giles, pp. 425, 427-8; Lary C. Rampp, "Incident at Baxter Springs on
October 6, 1863," Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol.  XXXVI, No. 2 (Summer
1970), pp. 184, 196-7.
   7 Giles, p. 430; Connelley, pp. 432-4; Longacre, p. 47; Rampp, pp.
Fort Belmont
   1 Daniel C. Fitzgerald, Ghost Towns of Kansas:  A Traveler's Guide
(Lawrence:  University Press of Kansas, 1989), p. 140;  "An Old Settler,"
The Toronto Republican, July 12, 1912, p. 1; Jo Newman, "Early Day History
of Old Fort Belmont," The Toronto Republican, September 29, 1955, p. 1;
"Fort Belmont," In the Beginning Vol. 2, No. 6 (April 1969), pp. 3-6;
William C.  Pollard, Jr., interview with Daniel C. Fitzgerald, Topeka,
Kans., July 24, 1992.
Fort Blair/Fort Henning/Fort Insley Complex
   1 "The Defences," The Daily Monitor (Fort Scott), June 8, 1864, p. 3;
untitled story, The Daily Monitor, August 8, 1864, p.  3; "Our
Fortifications," The Daily Monitor, September 6, 1864, p.3; C. W.
Goodlander, Memoirs and Recollections of C. W.  Goodlander of the Early
Days of Fort Scott:  From April 29, 1958, to January 1, 1870, Covering the
Time Prior to the Advent of the Railroad and During the Days of the
Ox-Team and Stage Transportation:  And Biographies of Col. T. H. Wilson
and Geo. A.  Crawford, the Fathers of Fort Scott (Fort Scott, Kans.  
Monitor Printing Co., 1900), p. 52.
Fort Brooks
   1 Robert W. Frazer, Forts of the West:  Military Forts and Presidios
and Posts Commonly Called Forts West of the Mississippi River to 1898
(Norman:  University of Oklahoma Press, 1965), p.  52; Marvin H. Garfield,
"The Military Post as a Factor in the Frontier Defense of Kansas,
1865-1869," Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1, November 1931, p.
59; "Lost Towns and Settlements:  Clay County Former Settlements Now
Almost Forgotten," The Times (Clay Center), Janaury 12, 1922, p. 2.
Fort Clifton
   1 "Lost Towns and Settlements:  Clay County Former Settlements Now
Almost Forgotten," The Times (Clay Center), January 12, 1922, p. 2.
Fort Ellsworth
   1 Robert W. Frazer, Forts of the West:  Military Forts and Presidios
and Posts Commonly Called Forts West of the Mississippi River to 1898
(Norman:  University of Oklahoma Press, 1965), p.  53; Louise Barry, "The
Ranch at Walnut Creek Crossing," The Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol.
XXXVII, No. 2 (Summer 1971), p.  144.
   2 T., untitled letter, Soldier's Letter (Fort Riley), February 18,
1865, p. 2.
   3 M. Wisner, untitled letter, Soldier's Letter, February 4, 1865, p. 3.
   4 Wisner, untitled letter, Soldier's Letter, February 13, 1865, p. 3.
   5 T., p. 2.
Fort Montgomery
    1 C. H. Duby, "History of the Sixties: Ft. Montgomery, Kansas," Eureka
Democratic Messenger, June 3, 1937, p. 3; "To Mark Fort Site," The Toronto
Republican, September 29, 1955, p.  1.
   2 Duby, p. 3.
   3 Duby, p. 3; "To Mark Fort Site," p. 1; "Eureka's 'Ancient History'
Reveals Faith and Industry of First Settlers,"  Greenwood County
Clippings, Vol. 1, 1874-1958, Kansas State Historical Society (Topeka), p.
   4 Duby, p. 3.
Fort Riley
   1 Herbert M. Hart, Old Forts of the Southwest (Seattle:  Superior
Publishing Co., 1964), p. 113.
   2 Map, The Nemaha Courier (Seneca), May 28, 1864, p. 4.
   3 Bruce Catton, The Coming Fury (Garden City, N.Y.:  Doubleday & Co.,
Inc., 1961), p. 373.
   4 Hart, p. 115; untitled story, The Smoky Hill and Republican Union
(Junction City), January 30, 1862, p. 3.
   5 S., W. H., "From the Kansas Second," The Fort Scott Bulletin, May 17,
1862, p. 2.
   6 Advertisement for the Sutler's Store, The Smoky Hill and Republican
Union, October 31, 1861, p. 3; untitled story, The Smoky Hill and
Republican Union, June 5, 1862, p. 3; untitled story, The Smoky Hill and
Republican Union, June 12, 1862, p. 3;  "At Fort Riley," The Smoky Hill
and Republican Union, August 1, 1863, p. 3.
   7 Untitled story, Freedom's Champion (Atchison), June 14, 1862, p. 2;
"Ceremony Is Held for Ft. Riley Confederates," The Civil War News, July
1991, p. 40; William C. Pollard, Jr., "Newspaper Cited Ft. Riley
Prisoners," The Civil War News, October 1991, p. 3; "Our Confederate
Guests," The Smoky Hill and Republican Union, June 19, 1862, p. 3; "A
Nephew of General Lyon Commanding Fort Riley," The Smoky Hill and
Republican Union, June 19, 1862, p. 3; "Another Change," The Smoky Hill
and Republican Union, June 26, 1862, p. 3; "Left," The Smoky Hill and
Republican Union, July 3, 1862, p. 3.
   8 "Prisoners," The Smoky Hill and Republican Union, May 16, 1863, p. 3.
   9 Woodbury F. Pride, The History of Fort Riley (n.p.:  1926), pp.
  10 Untitled story, Soldier's Letter, March 18, 1865, p. 3. 

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