State of Nebraska - Genealogy Trails







 Military History and Militia




In September, 1819, Colonel Henry Atkinson, then of the Sixth Infantry, established a military camp near the site of the Council Bluff where Lewis and Clark first held a council with the Indians. Subsequently Fort Atkinson was established on this bluff.


This was the first military post and the first settlement of consequence on Nebraska soil. A regiment of Infantry and an­other of riflemen made up the garrison. The fort was abandoned on June 15, 1827.    The present village of Fort Calhoun adjoins the site of old Fort Atkinson.


Protection of whites from Indians and of warring Indian tribes from each other later made the establishment of other forts necessary.


In July, 1847, old Fort Kearney was established on the west bank of the Missouri river fifty miles south of Omaha, where Nebraska City was afterward located.  Lieu­tenant-Colonel Ludwell E. Powell and five companies of soldiers wintered there, but this fort was abandoned in May, 1848, and its name was given to Fort Childs which had Just been established on the Platte river about five miles from the present site of the city of Kearney.


The block house at Old Fort Kearney was used as a newspaper office in 1854, the News of Nebraska City being printed there.


 The new Fort Kearney was permanently established in July of 1848, after one or two trial sites had been abandoned. Its name was given in honor of Brigadier-General Stephen W. Kearney who died October 8, 1848. This fort was one of the defenses of the stream of west-bound ad­venturers and settlers for many years. It was abandoned on May 17. 1871. During this time it was occupied by both regular and volunteer troops—the First Nebraska regiment being among the latter.


In 1850 a military road was established which connected Fort Leavenworth in Kansas with Fort Kearney.


The policy of the government was to have a string of forts to protect the Oregon Trail.


Fort Laramie, now in Wyoming, was the most famous of all Nebraska territory's forts.  It was established by fur traders as early as 1834, and was sold to the United States June 26, 1849.


It was abandoned as a military post on April 27, 1890.


In 1855 two forts were located in Nebraska Territory. Fort Grattan at Ash Hollow, 188 miles west of Fort Kearney, was established on September 8, and almost immediately (October 1) abandoned.


Fort Pierre, now in South Dakota, was established July 7, 1856, and abandoned May 16, 1857. 


Nebraska having established a territorial government in 1854, a proclama­tion of Acting-Governor T. B. Cuming of date December 23. 1854, recited that settlers were continually threatened by Indian depredations and recommended that two regiments of volunteers, one north and one south of the Platte be organized.


Governor Cuming appointed the regimental officers.


Early in 1855 –   General John M. Thayer was commissioned as brigadier-general.  A. J. H. Hanscom as colonel of the First regiment, and John W. Boulware as colonel of the Second regiment.


On July 30, 1865, Governor Izard ordered General Thayer to raise a volunteer company, which, with the “First Company” was to be stationed near Fontanelle, Dodge County, to protect the lives and property of settlers until the federal government should afford adequate protection.  A company was, accordingly, stationed in that vicinity, another at Elkhorn City, and another at Tekamah.


On January 23, 1856, the legislature passed an act organizing the Nebraska volunteer militia. The organization was to consist of one brigade on either side of the Platte River. The first major general and brigadier generals were to be chosen by the legislature in Joint convention and after that by the com­missioned brigade and regiment officers.


Each company was to elect its own officers. On January 24, 1858, the legislature in joint session elected John M. Thayer major general, L. L. Bowen brigadier general of the First brigade, and H. P. Downs brigadier general of the second brigade. On July 1 or 2, 1859, General Thayer headed an expedition to deal with Pawnees who had been troubling settlers In the vicinity of West Point and beyond. A detachment of the United States Fourth artillery regiment joined this expedition.


The beginning of the Civil war found Nebraska Territory with only Fort Kearney and Fort Laramie maintaining: garrisons, and the necessity for pro­tection from the Indians as imperative as ever.


Nevertheless, Nebraska fur­nished 3.307 men and officers to the Union Armies. The First .Nebraska volunteer regiment was organized in June and July, 1861, as an Infantry regiment, with 1,370 officers and men.


On July 30, 1861, Colonel John M. Thayer and the First Battalion left for Missouri. The rest of the regiment joined the First battalion in August and were in service during the winter at Fort Donelson and the battle of Shiloh.


In November, 1863, the regiment was transferred to the cavalry service and later was sent to Arkansas.


In January, 1864, the veterans were granted a furlough and returned at once to Omaha.  Upon the expiration of the furlough in August, they were ordered to Fort Kearney, arriving there on August 23, 1864.


The regiment was reorganized by an order dated January 31, 1866, under the name of First Nebraska cavalry, and was engaged in scouting and fighting Indians until It was mustered out on July 1, 1866


In December, 1861, the Nebraska battalion of what became known as the Curtis horse regiment was recruited at Nebraska City and Omaha.   After being in active service in Kentucky until June 25, 1862, this regiment became the Fifth Iowa cavalry and served until the close of the war.


Many Nebraskans were enlisted in the companies recruited in neighboring states.  In addition to white troops from Nebraska, there were in the government service two companies of Indian scouts, one of Pawnees and one of Omahas.  These served during the latter part of the war.


During the absence of the Nebraska troops at the front, there was great need of protection from Indians.  An additional fort was established on Sep­tember 27, 1863; near Cottonwood Springs in what is now Lincoln County about six miles from Maxwell on the south side of the Platte.  The first name of this fort was Cantonment Fort McKean.  This was changed to Post of Cottonwood in February, 1864, to Fort Cottonwood in May. 1864, and to Fort McPherson February 20, 1868.


In 1873 a portion of this reservation was set aside for a national cemetery in which have been buried over 700 of those who died on the frontier—pioneers and soldiers.


Fort McPherson was abandoned as a military post in 1880.


To meet the necessities of the frontier on July 31, 1862, Governor Saunders issued an order requiring "all male residents of the territory between the ages of 21 and 45", to enroll forthwith in Independent militia companies of not less than thirty-five nor more than sixty-four persons each.


At this time government recruiting officers had been sent into Nebraska to fill up regiments credited to other states.   This was resented by many Nebraskans because of the need of protection from Indians.


On August 18, 1862, Governor Saunders issued a proclamation notifying such recruiting officers to desist immediately, and forbidding all citizens of the territory to enlist in any regiment not recruited under his authority.


In September, 1862, upon representations of Acting-Governor Paddock con­cerning the necessity for frontier defense, federal officers came to Nebraska to organize the Second regiment of Nebraska cavalry.


This regiment was mustered in with R. W. Furnas as colonel and was sent to do frontier work.  On September 3, 1863, this regiment took part in an engagement with Indians at Whitestone Hills, now in South Dakota.  Their enlistment was for nine months, at the expiration of which the regiment was mustered out.


In August, 1864, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians raided settlements in Ne­braska, and Governor Saunders called out four companies of militia and a de­tachment of artillery.  The most conspicuous depredation of this time occurred at Plum Creek, now Lexington, and is known as the Plum Creek massacre.


So great was the excitement that Adjutant General W. H. S. Hughes on August 22 called on all able-bodied men in the territory between the ages of 18 and 45 to enroll themselves in the militia.


The companies called out by Governor Saunders furnished their own horses and rendered important service in guarding the overland trail.


One of these companies served n the active campaign against the Indians, under Major General S. R. Curtis.  Under General Curtis, also, Captain (afterwards Major) Frank J. North, of Platte County, served with his company of Pawnee scouts.  At intervals from this time until the spring of 1877 Major North and his Pawnee scouts were of the greatest service to the military authorities and settlers on the frontier.


Fort Sidney (formerly Sidney barracks) was established December 13, 1867, as a sub-post of Fort Sedgwlck, Colorado Territory.  It became an independent post November 28, 1870, and was abandoned June 1, 1874.


Fort Omaha, four miles above Omaha, was established December 5, 1868.  It was known as Omaha barracks until 1878.  Since September 16, 1896, when the troops were withdrawn after Fort Crook became an accomplished fact, it has served as a quartermaster's depot, and afterwards as a U. S. signal service station.


Continued warfare on the border was characteristic of the period during the building of the Union Pacific railroad.


After the close of the civil war, more regular troops could be spared for frontier work.


On September 6, 1874, Fort Hartsuff was established on the north side of the Loup River, seventy-six miles from Grand Island, and abandoned May 9, 1881.


On May 8, 1874, Fort Robinson was established at the Red Cloud agency, about three miles from the present site of Crawford. There is no longer an Indian agency at this point


Fort Niobrara, at Valentine, Nebraska, was established April 22, 1880, and abandoned October 22. 1906.


On August 1, 1911, all but 1,093.50 acres of this military reservation were transferred to the department of the Interior to be thrown open to settlement.


The land reserved by the war department was to be held for military purposes and reserved for an experimental farm. 


The University of Nebraska has had this land under easement for use as an ex­perimental sub-station. A recent act of congress has opened this land to settlement, but the university is given the privilege of purchase at $1.25 an acre. The legislature of 1915 will be asked for an appropriation for this purpose.


On January 11, 1912, part of the original Niobrara reservation was set aside by the department of the interior as a bird reservation.


The first act concerning a military establishment after Nebraska became a state was the act of February 16, 1869, establishing the office of adjutant general as a state office.


On March 4, 1870, an act authorizing the raising of troops on extraordinary occasions was approved.  This was repealed by the military code of February 28, 1881. This code provided for the establishment of the Nebraska National Guard, and re-established the office of adjutant gen­eral which had been abolished in 1871.   This act has been variously amended.


Since the close of the border wars, the Nebraska national guards have had a comparatively peaceful existence. They were called out to guard the north­ern border of the state in the winter of 1890-91 during the Sioux disturbance following the battle of Wounded Knee.


Their services have been necessary at the scenes of such calamities as a riot at smelting works in Omaha. May 21, 1880; a strike at Omaha, March 11, 1882; a threatened riot in the capitol at the outset of the Boyd-Thayer contest, January 8, 1891; strike at South Omaha stock yards, August 10, 1894; escape of convicts from the penitentiary March 14, 1912; and the Omaha tornado of March 23, 1913.


On May 2, 1898, the First and Second regiments of Nebraska national guards were ordered to Lincoln to be mustered into the United States service for the Spanish-American war.


On May 16 the First Nebraska volunteers left Lincoln for the Philippines.


On May 17 recruiting for the Third Nebraska volunteers was ordered.


On May 19 the Second Nebraska volunteers left for Chickamauga.


On July 18 the Third Nebraska, with William J. Bryan as colonel, left Omaha for Jacksonville, Florida.  Later the regiment went to Cuba. It returned to Nebraska in May, 1899.


The First Nebraska volunteers served in the Philippines until June 22, 1899.    The regiment took part in many battles, and lost 64 members from wounds and disease.


It was mustered out on August 23, 1899, and arrived in Lincoln on a special train which was fur­nished by citizens of Nebraska, on September 14.


The Second Nebraska volunteers were mustered out of the service at Fort Omaha on October 24, 1898, having spent their whole term of service outside Nebraska at Chickamauga Park.


The Nebraska National Guard is now organized into two regiments of Infantry called the Fourth and fifth regiments, a signal corps of one company, and an engineer corps of one company.



Nebraska Blue Book 1915