Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: Fort Churchill: Nevada Military Outpost of the 1860's

Fort Churchill: Nevada Military Outpost of the 1860's, edited by Stanley W Paher, Research by Kathryn Totton, Nevada Publications, Las Vegas, NV 1981.

Fort Churchill was located about thirty miles east of  Virginia City along the Pony Express Trail in western Nevada.  It was an answer to the Paiute Wars of 1860 and was created to protect the overland trails and interests in Nevada.  It was initially manned by regular troops, but with the start of the Civil War most of the regular troops wen East to fight.  Californian and Nevada volunteers then had responsibility for the fort.  The garrison at the fort varies from 80 to 500 men.
This book starts with a very good description of the First and Second Battles of Pyramid Lake.  The first the white militia went ill prepared, and were routed.  Major William Ormsby was killed, as were most of the hundred or so men with him.  However the return battle had a different result.  Regular federals from California joined the fight, as did a larger volunteer militia with almost 500 members.  The Indians were quickly overwhelmed.  The first day of fighting heavy casualties were inflicted.  The second day most of the Native Americans had melted away leaving the field.  The volunteer militia went home, however the regular federal troops stayed and took up defensive positions.  With Captain Joseph Stewart commanding, this was the group that made Fort Churchill.  The cost of the fort was more than what would be expected, however natural resources were few and wood was hauled some distance to the fort, as were all other needed items.  Initially they guarded the Pony Express route, and as this gave way to the telegraph, they protected the telegraph wires.
The fort did not have an outer wall.  It had buildings on three sides.  On on side were the hospital, commissary and quarter master store and headquarters, on the north were officer housing, very fine two-story homes, and on the west were the regiment quarters and mess halls.  There were also corrals for horses.  there were as many as four calvary regiments located there at times.
After the fort was built, the were only occasionally involved in calming Indian issues, however they did happen.  Lieutenant Colonel Charles McDermit was killed in the last such conflict in 1865.  Fort McDermit was built near where he was killed.
The fort was more often used to keep a lid on Southern sympathizers during the war.  They would be arrested, and taken to the fort an put to work until the would sign a loyalty pledge.  Other civic issues were also handled by the military including a threatening strike by the mine worker in Virginia City.  Another time the investigated a lynching by a vigilance committee.
After the war the need for the fort became less and less.  It was changed form fort status to barracks status, and less and less people were stationed there.  It was closed in 1869 and much of the assets sold.  However there are still some ruins on the site.

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