Old Army Ordnance Inventory: Fort Laramie (1877)

The one persistent theme of our articles is that paperwork and the 19th century U.S. Army went hand-in-hand.  Previous topics explored many types of records kept during that period, including orders, boards of survey, and lists of countersigns and paroles.  Lists provide a brief glimpse into the who, what, and where of the Old Army.  Army ordnance, for example, consistently made lists. 

Historic 1876 Fort Laramie plan view showing location of the army ordnance magazine, in red, taken from "Outline Descriptions of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri, 1876". oldarmyrecords.com
This plan view, dated 1876, shows how the size and extent of the Fort Laramie. Army ordnance of all ages was stored in the magazine located along officer’s row.

In the summer of 1877, the Department of the Platte inspector general (IG) submitted a report of military posts located in what is today Wyoming.  An IG scrutinized and reported upon a wide array of subjects pertaining to the efficiency of the army.  Significant topics coming under the purview of inspectors included the condition and serviceability of supplies, arms, and equipment.

In addition to providing brief discussions on the proficiency of the garrisons, the report included lists of ordnance and ordnance stores he deemed no longer of value and “should be transferred or sold.”  The IG report for Fort Laramie revealed a list of ordnance-related items. Magazines, buildings dedicated to the storage of arms and munitions, often became attics for various types of ordnance and ordnance stores.

Post on the North Platte

Established in 1849 in a run-down fur trade post, Fort Laramie became the center piece of army presence on the northern plains.  Over its 41-year history mounted riflemen, dragoons, cavalry, and infantry, passed through the fort.  Ordnance stored in the post magazine in 1877 was as diverse  as the fort’s history. 

Historic photo, 1942, of Fort Laramie magazine courtesy of Library of Congress. oldarmyrecords.com
View of the Fort Laramie magazine in 1942 years after the post was abandoned. Interestingly, the structure appears to have modified for use as a livestock shed. HABS WYO,8-FOLA,3I–1, Library of Congress.
Captured Army Ordnance

In October 1876, the army seized several firearms and related equipment from inhabitants at Red Cloud Agency.  At the time the agency, located 78 miles east of Fort Laramie, included 5,000 to 6,000 Sioux, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne Indians.  The list of confiscated weapons included the following, which were likely stored at Fort Laramie for safety concerns:

  • 1 old style horse pistol
  • 1 Harpers Ferry Rifle
  • 11 squirrel rifles (brass mounted, some barrels cut-down)
  • 1 English musket (cut-down)
  • 1 Sharps Carbine, caliber .50 (worn with a broken stock)
  • 4 Remington pistols
  • 7 Colt pistols (navy and army)
  • 8 Spencer Carbines (1 with a broken stock)

Some, if not all, of the weapons undoubtedly saw use by warriors in clashes with the army earlier in 1876.  Battles included Powder River, Rosebud, Little Big Horn, and Slim Buttes as well as numerous skirmishes.  However, the “squirrel rifles” probably represented small-animal hunting muzzle- loading firearms.  Many guns with that designation fired small caliber, roughly the size of a pellet, lead balls.

Other items taken from Indians included three bullet molds, three holsters, four field belts with cartridges, and about 100 rounds of caliber .44 ammunition for the Henry Rifle.  Unfortunately, the list does not elaborate on whether the Indians took the field belts and holsters from soldiers. 

Antiquated Arms 

The U.S. Army entered the Civil War woefully deficient in material, including firearms, to supply its soldiers.  As a result, the army purchased and issued guns of all different calibers and ammunition types.  Following the War, the ordnance department standardized the caliber of small arms.  As a result, the army adopted caliber .45 for its revolvers, rifles, and carbines.  Twelve years after the end the Civil War, the Fort Laramie magazine still contained antiquated ordnance of no use to the Regular Army. 

  • 19 Enflield Rifles
  • 14 American and English rifles
  • 5 Spencer Carbines
  • 11 Starr Carbines
  • 12 Smith Carbines
  • 1 Sharps Carbine
  • 2 Maynard Carbines
  • 1 Joslyn Carbine
  • 2 Springfield percussion carbines
  • 2 American-contract carbines

Significantly, the IG noted that the above property was “[a]ll broken, utterly unserviceable, and mostly fit for scrap.” 

Photo of Smith carbine, saw extensive service during the Civil War and at Fort Laramie and often showed up on army ordnance inventories.
The Smith Carbine, caliber .50, saw extensive service during the Civil War and at Fort Laramie.  By 1877, however, the Regular Army no longer needed the carbine and its foil-type cartridge.  Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.
Outdated Ammunition

The Fort Laramie magazine also contained outdated ammunition, representing various calibers and ignition systems.  This included, for example, over 10,000 rounds of caliber .44 linen and/or paper cartridges for cap and ball revolvers and the Colt revolving rifle.  The inventory also included over 9,300 percussion caps.  In addition, 1,000 rounds of caliber .52 Sharps ammunition and 3,000 rounds of Poultney’s brass foil cartridges (with a patent date of December 13, 1863) for the Smith Carbine made the inventory.  

Perhaps the most interesting type on ammunition on the list are 5,890 rounds of caliber .58 ball cartridges for the percussion carbine.  This ammunition likely fit the two Springfield percussion carbines listed above.  The carbines were actually pistols with an attachable shoulder stock better known as the Model 1855 Percussion Pistol-Carbine.

Photo of M1855 Springfield percussion horse-pistol often showed up on army ordnance inventories.
Interestingly, in 1877, the Fort Laramie still had M1855 Springfield pistol-carbines and associated ammunition. However, the condition of the weapons were poor compared to this example at the National Museum of American History and photographed by Ralph G. Packard.
Other Agencies Storage Facility

Fort Laramie was strategically located on main travel routes.  As a result, numerous government expeditions, military and otherwise, passed through the post.  Sometimes, those expeditions simply left government property there.  In 1877, the army ordnance list included; 22 firearms (8 Spencer Carbines and 9 Springfield muskets, caliber .50) and 7 infantry cartridge boxes, “reported belonging to [the] Interior Dept.”  The condition of the weapons used by the Interior Department is revealing.  The IG noted that the condition of the Spencers, for instance, as “worn, rusty or [with] locks out of order.”  The rifles also showed signs of heavy use, or misuse.  Many, for instance, featured broken ejectors; with at least one broken stock.  I wonder if the condition of the guns would have been as bad if the Interior Department retained ownership and responsibility for them.

A Simple, yet Revealing View of the Old Army

Lists offer a simple, albeit brief, view into what the 19th century army considered important.  Inventories provide an overview of the types and number of arms, equipment, and rations on hand or used by soldiers.  Likewise, rosters indicate duty assignments or casualties.  Lists are one of the dozens of types of documents that Old Army Records is actively digitizing and indexing.  Want to know more about the 1877 Fort Laramie ordnance inventory?  Contact us.


Army Regulations
Department of the Platte, Office of the Inspector, Letters Sent
Fort Laramie, D.T., Letters Sent

Government Publication
Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri (1876)


Bozeman Trail Abandonment Part 3 of 3: Fort Reno

August 1868 was a pivotal month in Old Army history.  It marked the military abandonment of the Bozeman Trail.  After a brief and furious period of packing, selling, and disposing of tons of government property the U.S. Army withdrew from the line.  Troops abandoned Fort C.F. Smith on July 29thFort Phil Kearny was technically abandoned on July 31st, but troops did not leave the vicinity until August 11th.  That left one occupied post:  Fort Reno.

Major General Jesse L. Reno, ca. 1862, oldarmyrecords.com
Major General Jesse L. Reno (1823-1862)

In August 1865, General Patrick Connor established a forward supply base on the Powder River in Dakota Territory.  Volunteer troops manned this remote post, originally dubbed Camp Connor, for the next year.  Colonel Henry B. Carrington and the 2nd Battalion of the 18th Infantry arrived at the post in July 1866.  By then the War Department changed the name to Fort Reno in honor of Major Jesse L. Reno accidentally killed near Fox’s Gap, Maryland in September 1862.

First In, Last Out

The garrison typically included, on average, three infantry companies with a usual garrison strength of 196 men.  In May 1868, Fort Reno must have seemed like an oasis on the Great Plains.  One officer noted that the buildings were painted and whitewashed, presenting a very neat appearance.  This probably made a strong contrast with the lush spring grass and blue-green sagebrush.

Official directions to abandon the trail were issued in May.  This precipitated a systematic withdrawal from north to south towards the Transcontinental Railroad in what is now southern Wyoming.  That meant that, with the exception of some commissary supplies that went to Fort Ellis, in current Montana, all military supplies and troops assigned to the Bozeman Trail passed through Fort Reno.  The subsistence stores wound up at Fort Laramie while most of the remaining property went to Fort D.A. Russell.   Fort Fetterman gained some of the military clothing, camp and garrison equipage.   Over the course of three years, an estimated 1,000 tons of supplies passed through Fort Reno.  That required the transport capability equivalent to 25 modern semi trailers.

The troop withdrawal began in June when the four companies of 18th Infantrymen left; replaced by two companies of the 27th Infantry.  With the change in garrison came a new commander of Fort Reno, Maj. Benjamin F. Smith.  As a staff officer, Smith had been posted with regimental headquarters at Fort Phil Kearny.  His reassignment to Reno was no doubt meant to superintend the packing and disposal of supplies and material at that post.

Fort Reno, D.T. circa 1867.

Honoring the Dead

Although official notification for the abandoned of forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C.F. Smith was not issued until May 19, 1868, scuttlebutt about the withdrawal began the previous winter.  Nevertheless, projects meant to outlast the occupation proceeded in earnest.  Throughout the spring of 1868, soldiers spruced up the cemeteries at all three Bozeman Trail posts.  In March, for example, the Reno quartermaster reported that soldiers built a paling (picket) fence around the cemetery.  He further stated that pine lumber headboards, with the name of the deceased and date of death, marked each grave.  A monument, made from sandstone laid in mortar, was also erected to honor those who died over the previous three years.  Labor costs for the improvements totaled $9.00 (about $160.00 today).  The monument was an obelisk and likely similar to the one built at the two other posts that guarded the trail.

Casualties Mount

Col. Benjamin F. Smith, ca. 1862. oldarmyrecords.com
Major Benjamin F. Smith, pictured here as a volunteer Colonel ca. 1862, died at Fort Reno early in the abandonment process.

The plans for the orderly abandonment were short-lived.  Major Smith died suddenly of an undisclosed illness not long after assuming command of Reno.  Command fell to 1st Lieutenant, Jacob Paulus.  Paulus had the unenviable task of not only assuming command of the post, but also seeing to the preparation of Smith’s funeral.

Peace commissioners tasked with gathering the northern plains tribes and signing a treaty predicated on the abandonment of the Bozeman Trail arrived at Fort Laramie in April 1868.  Despite their presence in the region, Indian warriors continued to harass the troops spread out along the trail.

On the morning of July 19th nine enlisted men left Fort Reno in search of cattle that strayed the previous night.  About a quarter of a mile from the post, roughly 25 warriors, surprised the tiny detachment.  Fortunately, Company A, 2nd Cavalry was at the post serving as the escort for the army paymaster.  The cavalrymen rode to support of the tiny detachment.  After a running fight and three shots from a howitzer the Indians broke off their attack and disappeared.  Two cavalrymen sustained injuries in the pursuit.  Private Joseph Miller received a flesh wound in the arm while Private George F. Peach was killed.  Peach has the distinction of being the last known military death on the Bozeman Trail.  His was the 33rd burial made in the Fort Reno cemetery.

The Court does therefore sentence him…

The frenzy of activity at Fort Reno precipitated by the abandonment of the post proved too much of a temptation for at least one soldier.  On August 1st, Private Robert Hoover, Company “D”, 27th Infantry, sold articles of clothing, belonging to a company mate (Thomas Waldron), to teamsters employed by the government.  At a garrison court martial the court found Hoover guilty.  In one of the last extant general orders issued, on August 11th, his sentence was published for distribution to the whole garrison:  forfeiture of $16.00, one month’s pay (about $285.00 today), and to be confined in charge of the post guard at hard labor for one month.  In addition, a 24-pound ball with a 6-foot-long chain was attached to his left leg.

Hoover likely marched the roughly 255 miles between forts Reno and D.A. Russell in charge of a guard.  It is not known if he carried the ball and chain.  Life as a soldier evidently did not sit well with Hoover.  He and several comrades stood trial, and were found guilty, of various infractions in the summer of 1867 while stationed at Fort C.F. Smith.  After departing the Bozeman Trail Hoover deserted his guard post at Fort D.A. Russell.

Abandonment Complete

Whereas the closure of Phil Kearny occurred in fits and starts the withdrawal from Reno was anticlimactic.  The abandonment occurred on August 18th.  The Record of Events for the Year 1868 of the Twenty Seventh U.S. Infantry tersely documented the event.  “Companies B, D, and F, left Fort Reno, D.T. (abandoned) enroute to Regimental Headquarters near Fort D.A. Russell, D.T. where they arrived on the 29th [of August].”  In many ways this is a fitting summation of the closure.  Nineteenth century soldiers, just as those serving today, frequently rotated stations.  The men who served on the Bozeman Trail simply moved on to continue their Old Army careers and enlistment obligations.

Where is Major Smith?

As previously mentioned, Maj. Smith died at Reno June 22nd.  Immediately upon receiving news of the death, regimental commander Colonel John E. Smith, directed Lieut. Paulus to encase the remains “in a good box and then cover this with tin, or similar material and closely solder it, if you have no material to do this with, a covering of canvas is suggested, which should be well painted.”  Col. Smith further specified that an officer escort the remains, “shrouded in the National Colors” to Fort Fetterman for temporary internment.  As a matter of course, Col. Smith sent a letter to the commander of Fort Fetterman warning him of the arrival of Maj. Smith’s body with the intent to eventually forward the remains to Philadelphia.

A review of the remaining records from both Forts Reno and Fetterman do not document a funeral escort or receipt of Smith’s body.  Rather, the monthly burial record kept for Reno lists one interment in June 1868.  Since no other deaths are documented for that month, the burial is likely for Smith.  In 1911, the Army removed the 33 bodies from the Reno cemetery and reinterred them at the Custer National Cemetery at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  Deterioration of the wooden headboards during the intervening 43 years presumably made most, if not all, of them illegible.  This is why most of the marble headstones for the Fort Reno dead simply read “UNKOWN U.S. SOLDIER.”  It appears that Maj. Smith is one of the unknowns.

The Fort Reno dead are likely in this group of unknowns in Section A at the Custer National Cemetery at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

Bozeman Trail History Lives

The question of Maj. Smith’s remains is indicative of the Fort Reno records.  The surviving records contain several chronological gaps and some types of records, such as correspondence, do not exist.  Reno was the first post established on the Bozeman Trail and last to be abandoned.  It was a microcosm of the Old Army.  At various times during its short history the post was the station for volunteer units (6th Michigan Cavalry), Indian auxiliaries (Company A, Omaha Scouts), former Confederate soldiers known as Galvanized Yankees (5th U.S. Volunteer Infantry), and regular army units (18th and 27th U.S. Infantry).  Despite its rich history, less has been written about Reno than Forts Phil Kearny and C.F. Smith.

Troops manned Fort Reno for three years, compared to about two years for both Phil Kearny and C.F. Smith.  However, Reno has the fewest documents compared to its length of service:  219 documents over three years (most date to 1867 and 1868).  By way of comparison, Fort C.F. Smith has 208 documents covering two years (most date to 1867 and 1868) and over 1,600 documents for Fort Phil Kearny (1866-1868).  Incidentally, all of these documents have been transcribed and indexed by Old Army Records.

The amount of publications written over the past 30 years suggests a strong interest in Bozeman Trail history. However, much of the what has been written regurgitates the same information.  Writers often misquote original documents or take the information out of context.  In this series Old Army Records strove to highlight the closing of the trail through the perspective of soldiers performing mundane day-to-day activities.  Our goal is to present the rich history that was the Old Army by placing its members in context with the paperwork, jobs, arms, equipment, and surroundings required for their duty.

What’s Coming Up?

We hope you enjoyed this Special Series.  We will resume the biweekly article schedule on August 27th.    In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment regarding this series, or any Old Army subject.  We welcome information on data gaps in Old Army records.  Anyone with information on the final resting place of Maj. Smith, please contact us.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)

18th U.S. Infantry Regiment

  • Record of Events for the Year 1868 of the 18th U.S. Infantry
  • Regimental Returns, 18th Infantry

27th U.S. Infantry Regiment

  • Letters Sent
  • Record of Events for the Year 1868 of the 27th U.S. Infantry
  • Regimental Returns, 27th Infantry

Fort C.F. Smith

  • Special and General Orders

Fort Reno

  • Post Returns
  • Special and General Orders
  • Monthly Report of Progress Made on the National Cemetery at Fort Reno, D.T. (March, June, July 1868)

Department of the Platte

  • General Court Martial Orders
  • Letters Sent, Office of the Chief Commissary of Subsistence
  • Letters Sent, Office of the Chief Quartermaster

Unpublished Sources

Isaac d’Isay letter to Alida d’Isay (dated Fort Reno, May 1868)

Old Army Records: General Orders

In the last post, I briefly discussed Old Army orders.  Orders covered a wide range of subjects and were typically issued as either general or special orders.  We will discuss general orders in this post.  As the name implies, general orders covered a broad range of subjects.  Although the exact content of general orders changed over the course of the 19th century, the Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895) summarizes the information contained in these orders:

General orders announce the time and place of issues and payments, hours for roll calls and duties, police regulations and prohibitions, returns to be made and their forms, laws and regulations for the Army, promotions and appointments, eulogies or censures, the results of trial by general courts-martial in all cases of officers or of enlisted men involving matters of general interest and importance, and generally, whatever it may be important to publish to the whole command. Orders eulogizing the conduct of living officers will not be issued except in cases of gallantry in action or performance of specially hazardous service.

This post led off with Article 65, paragraph 771 from the 1895 Army Regulations.  Examples of the categories referenced in the regulations are described below.

Hours for Roll Calls and Duties

Drums, bugles, and/ or trumpets regulated the daily routine of an Old Army soldier.  General orders announced the times of these signals.  Changes in the seasons, due to reduced hours of sunlight, necessitated changes in the schedule.

Time and Place of Issues and Payments

Troops, especially those serving in remote regions, often went months without receiving pay.  Payday was, therefore, a significant occurrence.  Formal inspections often accompanied pay activities.  General orders prescribed the order in which the troops received pay (i.e. by company letter, medical department, etc.).  These instructions often detailed the specific requirements for uniforms and equipment at inspection.

Police Regulations and Prohibitions

On April 29, 1873, Fort Laramie commander Colonel John E. Smith issued an order forbidding all persons from crossing the nearby bridge, across the North Platte River, “in a vehicle or on horseback at a gait faster than a walk.”   In another order, issued a week later, Colonel Smith forbid enlisted men from “peddling” at the post because it destroyed good order and military discipline.

Returns to be Made and Their Forms

Record keeping dominated much of the Old Army officer’s day-to-day activities.  Forms and reports accounted for weapons, uniforms, equipment, foodstuffs, animals, and a myriad of other items.  General orders provided instructions for the use of and/or changes to these forms.  For example, in General Order No. 76 (dated December 16, 1887) the Adjutant General discontinued the following returns, reports, and blanks furnished by the Medical Department:

No. 23 (Return of posts and stations)

No. 25 (Return of private physicians under contract)

No. 26 (Return of hospital stewards)

No. 27 (Return of hospital matrons)

No. 29 (Return of ambulance corps when in service)

Occasionally, general orders solicited detailed information from reports prescribed in the regulations.  The following order, from the Department of Texas requested that boards of survey report on a variety of information pertaining to the personal and service life of an enlisted man.

The Results of Trial by General Courts-martial in all Cases of Officers or of Enlisted Men

As noted early, we will discuss GCMO in a later post.

Laws and Regulations for the Army, Promotions and Appointments

Federal laws affected the pay, punishment, enlistment term, and a host of other subjects for the Old Army.  The task of disseminating information on laws and regulations fell to the Adjutant General.  Promotions of officers always came from the Adjutant General.  Conversely, promotions of enlisted men to staff positions within a regiment or at a military post typically originated at the unit or garrison level.

The subject matter of a large proportion of general orders issued at the department and division level dealt with the appointment of staff positions and aides-de-camp.  These appointments are especially useful in developing an experience matrix for Old Army officers.

Eulogies or Censures

As the subject heading implies, these types of general orders highlight the careers of deceased officers or, in the case inappropriate behavior, publicly reprimands officers.  These types of orders also designate the appropriate level of memorial observances for the deceased.  General Order No. 14 (dated November 9, 1872), issued by the headquarters of the Division of the Pacific reads:

In respect for the memory of Major-General George G. Meade, U.S. Army, whose illustrious services to his country have won for him imperishable renown and the enduring gratitude of his countrymen, it is ordered that, on the day of his funeral, Monday the 11th instant, the national flag be displayed at half mast at all the posts in the harbor of San Francisco, and from Alcatraz Island half-hour guns be fired from sunrise to sunset.

General Order Miscellany

Not surprisingly, each order included the source (general order number, date of issue, place of issue, and the name of the commander issuing the order).  Often orders also included the name of the adjutant.  As discussed in the previous post, orders emanated from a variety of Old Army commands and units.  Once written, the adjutant issued the instructions through intermediate commanders, in order of rank.  Depending on the issuing entity, a hundred or more copies of a single general order may exist.  For example, a general order issued by the Adjutant General in 1873 reached 5 geographic divisions, 11 geographic departments, over 153 posts or stations, and the army staff departments.

Whereas most general orders originated from the Adjutant General, subordinate commands and units issued fewer instructions.  The following illustrates the disparity in the number of general order issued by the Adjutant General, the four subordinate divisions, and two departments and military posts in 1873 (NOTE:  general orders often included the proceedings and findings of general courts martial.  In these instances, these documents were labeled General Courts Martial Orders [GCMO].  We will discuss these unique orders in a future post and, as a result, the tallies do not include GCMO):

Adjutant General’s Office:       112

Atlantic, Division of the :          21

Missouri, Division of the :         4

Pacific, Division of the:            10

South, Division of the:               9

Dakota, Department of :          10

Platte, Department of the:      19

Fort Fetterman:                        23

Fort Laramie:                            26

Often, a member of the staff read the contents of a general order, especially those issued by a post commander, to the entire garrison at parade.  Regulations stipulated that posts, and later units (i.e. companies and regiments), retain hard copies of all general orders they received.

Future posts will address three other types of written instructions: special orders, circulars, and general court martial orders.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Adjutant General’s Office, General Orders and Circulars
Department of Texas, General Orders, Circulars, and General Court Martial Orders
Division of the Pacific, General Orders, Circulars, and General Court Martial Orders
Division of the Pacific, General Orders, Circulars, and General Court Martial Orders
Fort Laramie General and Special Orders

Government Documents
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895)
Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1873)


Patiently Instructing New Officers: Lt. James Regan

In February 1867, Lieutenant James Regan assumed command of three small outposts north of Fort Laramie.  The assignment was typical for a junior officer serving in the Old Army.  However, to Regan, who just three months early was a sergeant, the responsibility must have felt daunting.  In 1858, at the age 13, Regan enlisted in the 2nd Infantry as a fifer.  Following a 5-year stint, Regan reenlisted and served in the General Recruiting Service.  He received promotions from lance corporal to a provisional rank as sergeant major.  On December 31, 1866, he received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 18th U.S. Infantry and journeyed west to join his company then serving on the Bozeman Trail.  Whereas most of his counterparts served in combat in the Civil War, many with command experience, Regan had not.

While heading west Regan passed through Fort Laramie.  Here the post commander, Colonel Innis Palmer, put the young officer in temporary command of Co. D, 36th Infantry because “there being no Infantry officers at the Post and the company without a commander.”  Shortly afterwards, Palmer assigned Regan to command Bridger’s Ferry and two other outposts north of Fort Laramie.

Period manuals offered instructions on specific topics, but they did not address the day-to-day issues faced by a company commander.  Lieutenants learned to be well-rounded leaders by observing their company commander, a captain.  When Regan arrived at Fort Laramie he did not have a mentor and was a fish out of water.

Colonel James Regan, ca. 1905, oldarmyrecords.com
James Regan spent most of his career with the 9th Infantry. He is shown here as the colonel of the regiment.  Photo from History of the Ninth U.S. Infantry, 1799-1909, by Captain Fred Brown, Fred R. (1909). Image courtesy of the Washington State Library Special Collections.


While indexing letters sent from the headquarters of Fort Laramie, I came across several letters sent to Regan.  Topics discussed include the appropriate use of the military telegraph, issuing clothing, and the appropriate time to visit Fort Laramie in person.

Lieutenant Alfred E. Bates (2nd Cavalry), the post adjutant, signed most of the letters.  Colonel Palmer was likely aware of the correspondence and difficult situation Regan was in.  Although the letters include strict language and attention to protocol, they read more like fatherly advice rather than a military commander issuing stern orders to a subordinate.  For example, a March 7th letter reminded Regan about the requirement for sending monthly inspection reports and mail to Fort Laramie.  The end of that letter also reminded Regan that he “need not feel bound to furnish transportation to everyone that may come along as the transportation there [Bridger’s Ferry] is furnished solely for [his] own use.”

A March 19th letter provided advice about maintaining military morale.  It warned Regan to relieve the small parties of enlisted posted at the three stations under his command

…as often as every two weeks so that you can have your men well instructed and see that they do not become too much demoralized by the detached service.  Unless you are very careful, your men will become fearfully dirty and heedless of all their duties as soldiers.  When the weather will permit you should be constantly drilling those men you may have at the Ferry so that your men become as proficient as possible in the use of their arms and their drill generally. 

A month later, the Fort Laramie adjutant reminded Regan to “keep a sharp look out for small parties of Indians and see that none of [his] men are away from the station by themselves in small parties.”

These letters are revealing for several reasons.  They provide insight into the perceptions of enlisted men and the day-to-day responsibilities of a young officer.  Old Army officers could be petty, vindictive, and elitist, especially to other officers.  These letters reveal a softer side.

James Regan served nearly 50 years in the army, rising to the rank of Colonel in the 9th Infantry.  Along the way he served as regimental quartermaster, authored several professional papers, and wrote two military manuals.  He fought and received wounds in the Spanish American War and at the Battle of Tientsin, China (1900).  Colonel Regan died in 1906 while on duty in the Philippines and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  I wonder if his career would have been as dynamic had it not been for the instruction he received from the Fort Laramie command staff.

Old Army letters, orders, and reports are loaded with valuable information related to the personalities of a 19th century soldier.  Old Army Records is committed to indexing these documents to flesh-out the rich history of that era.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Letters Sent, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory (1867)
James Regan papers, War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, Letters Received by the Commission Branch