Fred M. Greguras
Fenwick & West LLP
Two Palo Alto Square
Palo Alto , California   94306

Telephone:  650/494-0600
Fax:  650/494-1417


Omaha served as a major command and supply center for the Army’s operations in support of the settlement of the West during the final half of the nineteenth century.  This command center role was reestablished on a grander scale during the post World War II period and into the 1990s through the presence of the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command and the Strategic Command.  The purpose of this narrative is to examine the origin and role of Omaha ’s military posts in performing their command and support function.

Post of Omaha :1

The need to maintain coast to coast communication generated the creation of the Military District of Nebraska in November, 1862.2  Omaha , the territorial capitol, was designated as headquarters by Commanding General James Craig.  Omaha 's proximity to the eastern terminus of the Overland Road and its accessibility from the east via the Missouri River provided the rationale for his selection.  Craig’s primary mission was the protection of the mail-carrying stagecoaches and the lifeline of the nation, the telegraph line.  He was also tasked with protecting the westward flow of emigrants and freight.

The District operated from rented buildings.  Craig used the Herndon House, a major hotel, as his headquarters.3  When Company D of the 2nd Nebraska arrived in April 1863 to relieve Company H of the same regiment, the scarcity of rentable buildings necessitated the use of the territorial capitol building as quarters for the company.4

During that April, General Craig indicated to his superior, Commanding General Samuel R. Curtis of the Department of the Missouri, that Omaha was the depot for supplies for the District and that one company was needed on a continuing basis to guard the supplies.5  A company of the 2nd Nebraska had been stationed at Omaha since the creation of the District.  Thus, it is likely that in early 1863 the post was formally established to separate the mission and administration of the District headquarters from that of the cavalry company assigned to protect the supplies, act as prison guards at the District’s prison, and to patrol the streets of Omaha to help maintain order.

The “Post at Omaha” was officially established when six companies of the 7th Iowa Cavalry reported into the District on August 19, 1863.6  Most of the companies of the regiment were destined to be spread across almost 600 miles of the Overland Road.7  Company C, which had been directed to establish the post, remained at Omaha until early January, 1864 when it was relieved by Company A of the fledgling 1st Battalion Nebraska Cavalry.  Companies of this Battalion garrisoned the post until January 1865.

The flurry of attacks along the Overland Road in August 1864 created an additional role for the post; protectorate of Omaha .  A daring Indian raid on some stock owned by the Overland Telegraph Company about twenty miles west of Omaha8 probably initiated the early October, 1864 construction of a company-sized post at the military bridge over the North Omaha Creek.

This post was located in the vicinity of 25th and Cumings Streets which was then the western edge of Omaha.9  These structures were likely the first built solely for military purposes on the Omaha plateau.  The post served as an effective deterrent throughout the hostilities of 1864 and 1865.  It provided a psychological boost to Nebraskans in the vicinity, especially to those who had fled to Omaha from the contested areas along the Platte and Little Blue Rivers.

The remains of the soldiers who died at Omaha during the Civil War were buried at the Omaha City Cemetery.10  Shortly after the end of the war the post again functioned in rented buildings in “downtown” Omaha , although the “attached Camp at the Military Bridge , N.T.” remained in existence through mid-1866.  Many of the volunteer soldiers awaiting muster out were housed or tented there.

The 1st Nebraska Cavalry Regiment maintained a company at Omaha throughout 1865 except for July, August and part of September during which the responsibility was assumed by the newly arrived 12th Missouri Cavalry.  The 11th Ohio Cavalry and the 5th U.S. Volunteer Infantry11 furnished the garrisons during the post’s existence in 1866.  Captain George Bailey of the 5th, the last commanding officer, provided the only excitement in 1866 by helping break up an organized band of horse thieves and counterfeiters operating in the vicinity of the post.  It appears that most of the victims were Army horses and gullible soldiers.

In his Memoirs, General Sherman wrote,

The construction of the Union Pacific Railroad was deemed so important that the President, at my suggestion, constituted on the 5th of March, 1866, the new Department of the Platte, General Phillip St. George Cooke Commanding, headquarters at Omaha, with orders to give ample protection to the working parties and to afford every possible assistance in the construction of the road . . . . 12

General Cooke established his headquarters in the capitol building and sought approval for the construction of a Department headquarters building and a company-sized post at Omaha but General Sherman disapproved his proposal.  Sherman considered Omaha to be too far to the east of the contested areas to allow effective command and resupply of operations.  The last order issued at the Post of Omaha is dated May 5, 1866.13

Fort Omaha :14

The abandonment of the Bozeman Trail posts and the completion of the Union Pacific to the Rocky Mountains in the spring of 1868 persuaded General Sherman to change his position.

We have never had resources on hand for the clamors that always open with spring, and instead of pushing our troops out so far I am convinced he [General Augur, then commanding officer of the Department of the Platte] should have a regiment at Omaha in winter to send out on the railroad to meet these cases.  Instead of building these expensive posts out here, I will recommend that we build cheap barracks for one regiment in or near Omaha . . . . 15

The site selected for the post was three miles north of Omaha.16  The eighty-two and one-half acre rectangularly shaped tract was purchased in part and the remainder leased from Augustus Kountze, then a prominent Omaha banker.  Kountze was acting as trustee for a civic group which supported the establishment of a post because of the economic benefits its presence would bring to Omaha .  Because of legal technicalities involved in the transfer of title of the purchased forty acre tract, construction did not begin until September 1, 1868.

The first occupants, Battery “C” of the 3rd Artillery, arrived from Fort Kearny , Nebraska on November 20th, five days after the contractual completion deadline.  They found the barracks complete but “damp and cold even with the stoves roaring.”  Many of the other buildings were not complete.

In mid-November General Order 34 of the Department of the Platte was issued which named the new post “Sherman Barracks” in honor of the General.  However, the Department of the Platte was subordinate to the Division of the Missouri and its orders were subject to review by the Division Commanding General, one William Tecumseh Sherman.  The General disapproved and the post was renamed “ Omaha Barracks.”17  This name was approved.

The frame buildings of the post surrounded and faced a rectangular parade ground.  On the level ground on the east side were the post headquarters, guardhouse, bakery, storehouses and sutlers store.  Ten single-story barracks were constructed to accommodate an equal number of companies, ten being the number of companies which then comprised a regiment.  Five of the barracks were on the north end of the parade ground and the other five on the south end.  The hospital was built northwest of the north barracks.

The first death at the post on December 24, 1868 necessitated the establishment of a cemetery.  Like its predecessor, a section in the Omaha City Cemetery was selected and purchased for use as a cemetery.18  In the spring of 1869 trees were planted along the sides of the parade ground and by 1871 a regimental band barracks, ice house and quarters for laundresses and married enlisted men had been added.

Although the Department of the Platte headquarters was in the city, Omaha Barracks housed the department reserve.  From its inception until 1875 the post served as headquarters and winter quarters for four different regiments.  The 27th Infantry, with the exception of one company, spent the first winter there.  The headquarters of the 2nd Cavalry arrived during the summer of 1869 and most of its companies and several companies of the 9th Infantry spent the next three winters at the post.  In late 1872 the 9th Infantry assumed responsibility for the post and most of that regiment wintered at Omaha Barracks until 1874 when the 23rd Infantry assumed responsibility.

The soldier who wintered at Omaha was warmed by drill and fatigue duty during the day, the stoves of his barracks at night and, during his limited free time, by the liquor of the saloons that always sprang up just outside a military reservation.  Hopefully, the officers of the regiments headquartered at the post used the long winters to carefully read a two part article in the Army and Navy Journal during mid-1871 entitled “Hints for Frontier Service.”19  They would be given abundant opportunities to make use of those “hints.”

Each spring or early summer companies were distributed across the plains to protect the Union Pacific and the frontier settlements, to function as a deterrent to hostilities and to serve as a reaction force as needed.  When the summer camp was along the Union Pacific it was named for the station it protected; Plum Creek Station, Ogalalla Station, O’Fallon’s Station, etc.  When the patrol base was located elsewhere, it was named after a terrain feature, prominent individual, the commanding officer or the troops “favorite” sergeant.  Some camps were never given names.

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Ó Fred M. Greguras
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1977, 1999, 2000