ARMY POSTS established by the U.S. Army played an important part in the conquest and settlement of western lands by white Americans. In the older, eastern states army posts became centers for recruiting and drilling troops and guardians of the coastline at strategic points. In contrast to these elaborate structures, forts on the frontier of white settlement were often crudely built and uncomfortable for their inhabitants. Nevertheless, these outposts served as effective tools of economic and military control. Among other things, the army posts enforced the Indian factory system, a system of production and exchange introduced by President Thomas Jefferson as a means of "civilizing" Native Americans. Most importantly, the armed troops and artillery in the forts served as potent bargaining chips during negotiations with Native Americans. Using the promise of protection—or the threat of military force—army officers won important concessions of assistance and land from Native American tribes.
The army built forts slightly in advance of the line of settlement, pushing rapidly into the old Northwest Territory, formerly claimed by the British, after the War of 1812. As Spain and Mexico retreated to the Southwest, army posts followed. By 1845, a line of eleven forts extended from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico. Indian raids during the Civil War, the extension of mail routes, and the completion of railroads to the Pacific Ocean necessitated the building of forts at strategic points.
Regular-army forts accommodated from two to six companies with artillery. They consisted of a quadrangle constructed around a parade ground, with the officers' quarters, barracks, post traders, and hospital on one side and the stables and quartermaster's supplies on the other. The ends of the quadrangle might be occupied by the guardhouse, company kitchens, and workshops, and farther back by the laundresses' quarters. Not all new forts had such elaborate equipment, however. Temporary centers, designated as camps or cantonments, were usually little more than huts or shelters suitable for a few days' stay.
Despite the lack of amenities, life at some frontier posts was pleasant, in peacetime, for younger people. Young West Point men brought their wives, who maintained as far as possible the social standards of their old homes, and "post hops," riding and hunting parties, and card games were held. Gardens and farms were laid out around the posts to provide vegetables, grains, and forage. Flour mills were constructed at such posts as Snelling and Atkinson. Most garrisons had post schools, libraries, newspapers, and magazines.
Settlements grew up around the posts, and towns of the same name frequently remained after army buildings were sold and land was ceded or auctioned off. In a few cases, abandoned posts were made into national reserves.
Prucha, Francis Paul. A Guide to the Military Posts of the United States, 1789–1895. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1964.
Utley, Robert M. Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848–1865. New York: Macmillan, 1967.
———. Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866–1891. New York: Macmillan, 1973.
———. The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846–1890. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984.
Carl L.Cannon/a. r.