From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Gen. Henry Leavenworth Selected the Site of the Army Post on the Banks of the Missouri River in Kansas in Preference to One in Missouri--A Modest Monument in the National Cemetery at Leavenworth Marks the Grave of the Officer Whose Part in Early Western Development Is Little Remembered Now.
One hundred years ago today, near the falls of the Washita, at a place called Cross Timbers in old Indian Territory, there died Gen. Henry Leavenworth, distinguished soldier, who founded the important military post that bears his name. Today his services to the country, and its early western development, virtually are forgotten and it is doubtful that even a fresh wreath will be placed on the modest monument that marks his grave in the Ft. Leavenworth National cemetery.
Yet General Leavenworth contributed much to the history of this region and left as a heritage a center of military education that has played an important role in the development of our army, a part fully reflected in the far-off victories of St. Mihiel, Chateau Thierry, Cantigny and the Argonne.
The very names of the streets and avenues and the buildings at Ft. Leavenworth bear witness to the great deeds of soldiers who have been stationed there. Of the Mexican War period, there are the names of Doniphan and Kearny. From the Civil War come those of Sherman, Sheridan, Augur, Crook, Custer, Sumner and Pope. And not always have generals been honored in the choice of historical names. Dickinson hall is named for a lieutenant killed in action at El Caney, in Cuba, in 1898. The Carrizal incident in Mexico, in 1916, in which Capt. Charles T. Boyd was killed is commemorated in a building named Boyd hall. Other buildings bear the names of Col. William D. Davis, Lieut. Col. Robert J. Maxey, Lieut. Col. Emory J. Pike, col. Hamilton A. Smith and Brig. Gen. Edward Sigerfoos, all of whom lost their lives fighting on the soil of France in 1918.
The fact that Ft. Leavenworth was established in Kansas, rather than Missouri, was due entirely to accident, or perhaps it would be better to say, the judgment of the officer responsible, Henry Leavenworth, himself. It was the habit in the early days of the army to give the names of living officers to military posts. Ft. Snelling, Minn., really should bear the name of Leavenworth, for it was he who founded that station. But Leavenworth's transfer to another regiment threw the honor to Col. Josiah Snelling, who completed the work at the Falls of St. Anthony.
Henry Leavenworth was born at New Haven, Conn., in 1783, son of an officer who served under Washington in the Continental army. He grew up at Delhi, Delaware County, New York, and was educated for the law. At the outbreak of the second war with England he was elected captain of a company of Delaware County men, which was attached to the 9th Infantry, in the brigade commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott. He was promoted to the rank of major and commanded his regiment in the invasion of Canada at Niagara. At the end of the war, he obtained leave of absence in order to serve in the New York state legislature.
In 1818, Leavenworth re-entered the military service as lieutenant colonel of the 5th infantry and his first detail was to establish the post now known as Ft. Snelling. Before he could complete his work there he was transferred to the 6th infantry at Ft. Atkinson, Neb., from which point he led an expedition against the Arickaree Indians and won the commendation of his superiors. In 1825, he became colonel of the 3d infantry with instructions to proceed to Jefferson Barracks, Mo., and there establish a school "for the practice of infantry." So, in a measure, the name of Leavenworth is properly continued in the military post which has become the most important of army educational centers.
Perhaps the war department at that time felt remiss in permitting another officer's name to be used for the post established in Minnesota and sought to right the situation by giving Leavenworth the temporary task of proceeding up the Missouri River to erect a cantonment somewhere near the mouth of the Little Platte. His instructions were to select a site on the east bank of the Missouri within twenty miles, on either side, of the confluence of the Platte with the larger stream. Four companies of infantry were the troops of the command.
Colonel Leavenworth, after exploring the country, decided the east bank was not suitable, being perhaps unhealthy and subjected to floods, so without waiting for permission he chose a sightly eminence on the west bank and it was there that "Cantonment Leavenworth" was established. The change was approved by the war department. At first, the new post proved to be very unhealthy, despite its location high above the river bank, and it very nearly was abandoned two years later. However, the coming of troubles with the plains Indians led to its retention and it was garrisoned again with troops under command of Maj. Bennett Riley, later brigadier general and close adviser of General Scott in the war with Mexico, and whose fame is commemorated by the other Kansas military post at the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers.
In 1834, Colonel Leavenworth, whose ability was recognized by the war department, was placed in command of the entire southwestern frontier. He led an expedition against the Pawnee and Comanche Indians which he conducted with such tact and skill that no bloody clash with those tribes occurred, and yet he was able to obtain a treaty that satisfied the desires of the government. For this he was made a brigadier general, but did not live to enjoy the honors. A fever resulted in his death July 21, 1834, at Cross Timbers. His loss to the nation was the occasion of special remarks in the President's message to congress the following year.
An estimate of General Leavenworth's service was written a number of years ago by Gen. George B. Davis, then judge advocate general of the army, in the Calvary Journal, from which the following excerpt is taken:
"General Leavenworth seems to have exercised a profound influence on the development of the standard of training and discipline in the army of the United States during its formative period. . . .H was one of the first, as he was one of the most active and intelligent, regimental commanders upon whom devolved the duty of adapting European methods of drill, discipline and administration to the peculiar needs of our own military service. How well this task was performed is seen a little later in the splendid behavior of the regular regiments in the war with Mexico. He was a man of broad and varied culture, keenly alive to the needs of the time, fully impressed with a sense of the importance of the part the army was to play in the development of the great empire beyond the Mississippi which had only recently been acquired."
A more intimate, if somewhat fulsome, glimpse is obtained from "Dragoon Campaigns," written in 1833 by James Hildreth, who said he knew General Leavenworth well:
"He is a plain looking old gentleman, tall, yet graceful, though stooping under the weight of perhaps fifty years, affable and unassuming in the presence of his brother officers, mild and compassionate toward those under his command, combining most happily the dignity of the commander with the moderation and humanity of the Christian and the modest and urbane deportment of the scholar and the gentleman. All love him, for all have access to him, and none that know him can help but love him."
For several months following his death, the body of General Leavenworth remained in a simple soldier's grave at Cross Timbers. Then it was removed to Delhi. On its arrival in New York City, on the way to Delhi, in May, 1835, there was a great military and civic ceremony. The officers and men of his command erected the monument over their commander's grave in Delhi, the last words of the inscription reading: "The fields of Chippewa, Niagara and Arickaree establish his fame as a soldier."
But fame is fleeting, as has been said, and by the turn of the century the fact that such a man as Henry Leavenworth had existed was almost forgotten. Not quite, however, for in the late Henry Shindler, Ft. Leavenworth found a friend and historian. In 1901, Shindler started a movement to have General Leavenworth's body transferred to the post he founded. Family objections were overcome and war department approval obtained. The reinterment, Memorial day, 1902, was the occasion of a great military ceremony, attended by Gen. John C. Bates, Governor Dockery of Missouri and other dignitaries, as well as General Leavenworth's granddaughters.
A roster of those officers in the command of Colonel Leavenworth when he proceeded up the Missouri River in keel boats to establish the post in 1827 includes among the second lieutenants the name of S. P. Heintzelman, grandfather of the present commandant of Ft. Leavenworth, Maj. Gen. Stuart Heintzelman. Lieutenant Heintzelman had a distinguished career in the army, reaching the rank of major general and commanding an army corps in the Union army during the Civil War. Another in that expedition was and 8-year-old boy, Henry J. Hunt, who accompanied his father, Capt. Samuel U. Hunt.
Development of Ft. Leavenworth as a military educational center was begun by Gen. William T. Sherman, who had served there before the Civil War. In fact, Sherman liked the country so well that after resigning from the service he attempted to practice law in Leavenworth and invested in city real estate there. The venture was one of Sherman's several early failures. But he held no grudge and in 1881 issued orders for the establishment of the infantry and cavalry school. From this grew, after the Spanish-American War, the idea of training officers from all branches in general staff duties and higher command. Elihu Root, who created the general staff, and Col. A. L. Wagner and Maj. Gen. John F. Morrison, who did much to establish the system of instruction, deserve most credit for the high standard that has been achieved.
It was a saying in 1918 that "Leavenworth is running the war," because the school's graduates held so many import posts in the A. E. F. and at home. The work of the schools there has been developed to a more intensive degree since then by such commandants as the late Maj. Gen. Harry A. Smith, the late Maj. Gen. Edward L. King and by the present head, General Heintzelman. R.W.R.