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Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2015

Rapid Communication

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Before the use of the "talking wire" or telegraph, during the Civil War, the fastest way of sending written communications was by sending the documents with an express rider or courier. Needless to say, this was hazardous occupation, but the courier did have some protection because normally a small detail or squad of soldiers would be provided as an escort. In the summer of 1863, Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt (commanding officer of the District of the Frontier) established a semi-weekly Military Express between Fort Scott and Fort Blunt (formerly Ft. Gibson, Indian Territory) to expedite communications between the two "Union" forts. In order to do this, a relay station was established at Baxter Springs where riders and horses could be changed. There were additional "Union" camps between Fort Scott and Fort Blunt where horses and riders could be changed, but Baxter Springs was the largest relay station on the southern half of the old/ original Military Road. The following documents describe the establishment of this Military Express and are located on Pages 478 and 479, Series I, Vol. 22, Part II "Correspondence in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion."

"Hdqrs. District of the Frontier, Asst. Adj. General's office, Fort Scott, Kansas, August 22, 1863.

General Orders No.11

To facilitate communication with the troops in the field, Capt. M.H, Insley, Depot Quartermaster, is directed to establish a Military Express between this post and Fort Blunt (Gibson), C. N. (Cherokee Nation), to make semi-weekly trips, each trip to be made in as short a space of time as possible.

The post quartermaster at Fort Blunt and the commanding officer of the outpost at Baxter Springs will have charge of the stock and control of the expressmen while at their stations, under such instructions as may be furnished them by Captain Insley and other officers are hereby prohibited from any interference whatever with the men or animals employed on this special and important duty.

With the Express in operation for public business, officers in the field will have no further excuse for delays in the rendition of the various reports and returns required by the different departments of the service.

Private letters will not be carried by this Express, except when of great importance and when the public matter is so light as in so doing to work no detriment to the public service.

By command of Major General Blunt:H. Z. Curtis, Asst. Adj. Gen."

"Headquarters District of the Frontier, Fort Scott, Kan, August 26, 1863.

To: Lt. Col. C. W. Marsh, Asst. Adj. Gen., Dept. of the Missouri, St. Louis, Mo.:

Colonel: As will be seen by General orders No. 11, from these headquarters, I have taken the liberty to establish an outpost at Baxter Springs, 58 miles south of this post, and to organize an Express to Fort Gibson (generally called here Ft. Blunt), with a change of riders and horses, or rather mules, at the outpost. The distance from Baxter Springs to Ft. Blunt is 105 miles (whole distance from here 163 miles), and another post with a small force, I think maybe established below Cabin Creek, say 50 miles from Baxter Springs. A very little system will reduce the time for carrying dispatches through from this post to Ft. Blunt (quickest time yet made, 4 days, 96 hours, to 36 hours, 1-plus days).

Lt. J. B. Pond, Co. C, 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, will have a command at Baxter Springs of about 75 men and officers of his regiment and one company of the 2nd Kansas (Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment), under a lieutenant.

This Lt. Pond has greatly distinguished himself during the past six months in this country in fighting guerrillas, fighting them at all times in their own style, principally at night, by watching the crossings of streams, suspected houses, etc. He is a brave and gallant officer; and if new corps are to be organized in their own way, I would beg to recommend Lt. Pond for an advancement therein.

I do not, of course pretend to know the plans of the government concerning future army movements in this western country, but it has occurred to me that if an expedition against Texas should move up the Red River, as was suggested in a recent telegram from the commanding general, the main portion of the forces at Ft. Blunt may be sent through Indian Territory, or Arkansas, to join it and then, communication being kept up on this line, this Express may constitute by far the speediest route for dispatches that can be had with that force. As by that time the guerrillas in Missouri will be more subdued (Note: now that was a fond wish!) then at present, the Express may, for a still more immediate connection with a telegraph line, start from Springfield instead of Fort Scott. Springfield to Baxter Springs cannot be more than 10 or 15 miles farther than from here to the same point.

I have the honor to forward, for the information of the commanding general, a particular map of the route hence to Ft. Blunt, measured by an odometer and notes made by Capt. Boyd, 2nd Colorado volunteers and Lt. Gould, Adj. 5th Indian Regiment.

I have the honor to be, Colonel, respectfully, your obedient servant. H. Z. Curtis Major and Asst. Adj. General."

Did this Military Express expedite and improve "Union" communications between Fort Scott and Fort Blunt? Yes it did and it worked so well that eventually a "Military Pony Express" was established from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Scott and onto Ft. Blunt with many camps and relay stations at 12-mile intervals and of course the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches