Civil War fort in St. Joseph

Fort Smith Park

Ft. Smith, named after Colonel Robert F. Smith, was erected in late September 1861 as a safeguard against conflicting armies battling on either side of the state line.  With the strong possibility of battles reaching St. Joseph, Colonel Smith stood ready with his 2,500 troops and 12 cannon poised a top the newly created fortification on Prospect Hill.  However the conflict was averted and by the spring of 1862, the Union troops at Ft. Smith were downsized.

Amenities at Fort Smith Park include 3 full-scale authentic reproduction cannons, restored redoubts, a lookout point, period flags, informative signage, and an ordnance shed displaying illustrations of various types of artillery shells used in the conflict.  The fort is a passive park, where visitors can come, relax, picnic and see a wonderful view of the city and beyond.

Fort Smith Park is located at the corner of Bellevue St. and W. Michel St.
 
GPS location: Lat 39.772934,Long -94.863282
Map to site


Fort Smith is open 9am - 5pm, 7 days a week, April 16th - October 14th
Closed October 15-April 15th
Contact info: 816-271-5500 
parks@ci.st-joseph.mo.us 

Directions to Fort Smith Park

1.  I-229 to Highland Exit (Exit 7) (north and southbound I-229)
Highland to Dewey, Right on Dewey, Dewey to Poulin, Right on Poulin, Poulin
to Bellevue, Left on Bellevue, Continue on Bellevue to Parking Area at
Fort Smith (Bellevue curves to the left and becomes Michel).

2.  I-229 to St. Joseph Avenue Exit (northbound I-229 only)
St. Joseph Avenue to Main, Left on Main, Main to Poulin, Left on Poulin,
Poulin to Bellevue, Left on Bellevue, Continue on Bellevue to Parking Area
at Fort Smith (Bellevue curves to the left and becomes Michel).

3.  I-29 to Frederick Avenue Exit (Exit 47) (north and southbound I-29)
Frederick going West to Francis, Right on Francis, Francis to Main, Right
on Main, Main to Poulin, Left on Poulin, Poulin to Bellevue, Left on Bellevue,
Continue on Bellevue to Parking Area at Fort Smith (Bellevue curves to the
left and becomes Michel). 

GPS location: Lat 39.772934,Long -94.863282 

History of Fort Smith

In September 1861, Union forces comprised of the 16th  & 52nd Illinois, the 2nd Iowa and the 39th Ohio had descended upon St. Joseph, Missouri with the goal of containing civilian unrest and preventing invasion by Confederate forces.  Prior to the war, the town had become the nation’s transportation and communication center.  At the time of the Civil War, St. Joseph was the second largest city in the state, exceeded only by St. Louis. 

The city, though, held strategic importance for the North.  Its importance was five-fold.  First, it served as the western terminus of the country’s railroads, second, it operated as the eastern terminus for the Pony Express mail service, third, it was a major staging point for the Oregon-California Trails, fourth, the town had become a major steamboat hub and fifth, it offered telegraph service to the east.  Most importantly, it had become one of the major connections to California and its huge gold reserve.  Its gold has long been recognized as helping President Lincoln fund his armies and win the war for the North.

On entering the community, the Union Army established its headquarters at the Patee House and stationed its troops on the grounds of the Pony Express Stables.  In order to better control the town and have a strategic presence, the soldiers constructed an earthen fort overlooking the city and the Missouri River.  The commander of these troops was Colonel Robert F. Smith.  On the fortification’s completion, his men named it in his honor by calling it Fort Smith.  Initially, it was manned by 2,500 troops and an accompaniment of 12 artillery pieces.  There were two reports of artillery discharges.  One being target practice, where it blew up a privy and the second being at suspected rebels across the river in Kansas. 

As the war moved further south in 1863, into the heart of the Confederacy, its importance faded and many of the troops in St. Joseph were repositioned, especially in aid to General Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign in the spring.  Sources indicate some troops remained at the fort well into 1864.  After the war, it became a forgotten landmark, until its rediscovery in 2003.  Today, it has become one of the many spectacular parks in the city.  Because of its unique presence and having housed 12 cannons, it is being developed into a Civil War Artillery theme park.  This will allow visitors to see and experience the massive weaponry used during the war. 

Amenities at Fort Smith Park include a restored redoubts, a lookout point, period flags, informative signage, and an ordnance shed housing the various types of artillery shells used in the conflict.  The fort is a passive park, where visitors can come, relax, picnic and see a wonderful view of the city and beyond.  North of the fort, during the winter of 1862-1863, the Missouri River froze and allowed upwards of 150 runaway slaves to escape nightly into the free-state of Kansas.  With all these features, it truly is a testament of the struggle our ancestors endured during this horrific conflict, which claimed over 750,000 lives in the span of four short years.

Among the many local donors that have made this project a success, additional funding was secured through two grants one through the sponsorship of the St. Joseph Chapter/Daughters of the American Revolution, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and the second through a Missouri Humanities Council (MHC) grant, the only state-wide agency in Missouri devoted exclusively to humanities education for citizens of all ages. MHC has served as a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities since 1971.

Special thanks to other contributors: 

Anonymous Trust
City of St. Joseph
Buchanan County Commission
Commerce Bankshares Foundation
Continental Title Company
W. Fairleigh Enright Charitable Trust - U. S. Bank, N. A. Trustee
Hillyard, Inc.
William T. Kemper Foundation- Commerce Bank, Trustee
Norma J. and William J. Kenney Charitable Trust,
U. S. Bank N. A., Trustee
Harry F. and Helena Messick Charitable Trust,
U. S. Bank N. A., Trustee
Mr. & Mrs. Richard N. DeShon
Margaret “Maggie” Elder
Robert M. Ford
Marge Haage
Katherine Van Hook
Mr. & Mrs. Joseph K. Houts, Jr.
Kathleen Kearnes
Neal & Carlene Makawski
Wes & Patsy Remington
John F. Rotherman
Elizabeth Zink

FT. SMITH FOUNDATION & DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE:

Sarah M. Elder
Robert M. Ford
Joseph K. Houts, Jr.