While I have deep respect and support for the men and women in our military, I have very little experience with the military way of life. That is what I found most interesting about my visit to the fort. It was fascinating to drive through and get a brief glimpse of the lives of the soldiers who have made the decision to defend our country each and every day.
Fort Leavenworth was established in 1827. It was and still is one of the most influential forts in American history. In addition to playing pivotal roles in several different historical events such as the Mexican American War, Bleeding Kansas, the Civil War, and the Indian Wars, the fort is also an active military base. In this post I’m going to list a few historical points, but I will spend more time talking about the visit to the fort itself. The history is interesting, and I encourage anyone interested to dig deeper into that history, but I think the real story here is the visit to the fort.
When visiting the Fort Leavenworth, you will first need to pass through the access control gates where you will be asked for a government issued ID. After providing the ID, you will be asked to pull over and wait for further processing. I was initially told that the wait would be 45 minutes. However, within about 15 minutes, I was given a visitor’s card and sent on my way into the fort. There is a museum in the fort which was my first stop after leaving the security checkpoint.
The museum is nice, please take the time to look at the images that accompany this post for more details. The museum has one of the largest collections of antique horse drawn wagons and coaches that I have seen anywhere. A few historical points about the fort include:
- Second oldest active Army post west of Washington DC
- Oldest permanent settlement in Kansas
- Originally built to protect travelers on the Sante Fe Trail.
- Location of the US Disciplinary Barracks (This is the prison for all branches of the armed forces)
- Location where the “Buffalo Soldiers” units (African American Units) were first created.
- In 1877 General William T Sherman established the School of Application for Cavalry and Infantry. The school is still located on the fort today and is now called, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
- The fort is known as the “Intellectual Center of the Army”.
Leaving the museum, my plan was simply to drive around the fort for a while and see what it was like. Initially, I felt like I was driving through a picturesque college campus with lots of green space and large university like buildings. When I got to the more northern and western parts of the fort the vibe changed from college campus to the feeling of being in a National Park. Stunning vistas of the Missouri River, along with the rolling hills and forests of eastern Kansas are presented while driving on a series of small, paved roads on which a driver needs to watch out for residents jogging, riding bikes, or horseback riding.
The base is very large, 5,600 acres of land, with 1,000 buildings and 1,500 residential quarters. At one point, I got a little lost, but figured if I just kept driving I would either hit the western or southern edge of the post, or the Missouri River on the eastern side. There are historical markers everywhere. As a history buff, I enjoyed reading all of them. There is also a waypoint tour that you can follow along with in your car. I didn’t figure this out until it was too late. I will likely go back so I can follow along a little better. I would recommend printing out a map or asking someone at the security checkpoint where you can get one. A map will be very helpful in understanding what you are seeing as you travel through the fort. The signs on the base are not the greatest.
Readers like me, who have never spent any real time on a military base, will find it interesting that the base is very similar to most small towns. Granted, a small town where every resident works for the same employer and one in which you must pass through security gates to enter. Visitors will see, hospitals, schools, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, a golf course, and a swimming pool along with most anything else you will see in an American town. In fact, I would argue that for a casual visitor the base presents the best of what an American town might be. As you might imagine on an Army base, I saw no trash, no rundown buildings, no cars up on blocks, and no lawns that needed to be mowed. True Americana, kind of like a Norman Rockwell painting.
Overall, I spent about two hours on the base and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I highly encourage anyone who wants to see some history along with a place that is a bit outside of what we see every day to visit the fort, it is well worth the trip.
God Bless America!