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Fort Lancaster on the Confederacy’s Western Frontier

October 21, 2009
Ruins of Historic Fort Lancaster in West Texas

Ruins of Historic Fort Lancaster in West Texas

Of all the places that comprised the Confederate States of America from 1861–1865, few were as remote as Fort Lancaster, on the high, arid plains of west Texas.

Established in 1855, Fort Lancaster was one in a series of forts erected along the western Texas frontier. It was located on 82 acres in the Pecos River Valley of Crocket County, 33 miles west of the small county seat town of Ozona. The fort’s purpose was to guard the mail, supplies, and immigrants moving along the lower San Antonio–El Paso Road.

Fort Lancaster housed approximately 150 men and 3 officers. In 1856 a United States Army Inspector visited the fort and found that the soldiers were so untrained, he didn’t want them to demonstrate rifle firing. He also discovered 76 prisoners in the guardhouse, 15 of them there for drunkenness. The Inspector reported, “they desire nothing better than to get drunk and lay in the guardhouse.” The problem stemmed partly because of lack of officers and also poor conditions at the fort. The men were living in what was called “hackadales,” portable frames covered with canvas. The living quarters were soon improved.

The fort saw little action, but in 1857, a wagon train was ambushed by Indians about 25 miles away. The soldiers were able defeat the Indians, with the loss of only one sergeant.

Fort Lancaster was surrendered to the Texans in 1861, at the beginning of the War Between the States. The fort became a part of the Confederate far western frontier line. It played a role in protecting the supply line from Arizona in the New Mexico Campaign of 1861-62. The campaign was intended to make the Confederacy a nation which would have stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Confederate “Minute Men” from the 2nd Texas Calvary occupied this lonely post. The fort was inspected by Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley in the fall of 1861. Regular patrols guarded supply trains and checked Indian activities. When things became dull, the troops entertained themselves by putting out a camp newspaper and spiced things up with the nightly sport of shooting pesky coyotes.

The fort was abandoned in 1867, only to be reactivated briefly as a sub-post during the Kiowa-Comanche troubles of 1871. Today Fort Lancaster is a State Historical Site, operated by the Texas Historical Commission. A handful of graves on the property contain the remains of those who died at this remote, windswept outpost. One of them was a Confederate soldier, Private J. H. Norris, whose tombstone is a silent reminder of the War for Southern Independence.

The lonely grave of Confederate Private J. H. Norris, Fort Lancaster, Texas. He stands vigil to this day, a Silent Sentinel watch over The Republic of Texas' last frontier!

The lonely grave of Confederate Private J. H. Norris, Fort Lancaster, Texas. He stands vigil to this day, a Silent Sentinel watching over The Republic of Texas' last frontier!

Stand Fast Private Norris. You are not forgotten. I swear as a Southern Gentleman and Texan, I will make it to you to tend your final resting place.

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