Fort Wyman and Defense of the Railhead - Rolla, MO
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member YoSam.
N 37° 56.766 W 091° 46.402
15S E 607775 N 4200544
Quick Description: Civil War happenings around Rolla
Location: Missouri, United States
Date Posted: 3/14/2022 6:02:50 AM
Waymark Code: WM15X4D
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member Turtle3863
Views: 0

Long Description:

County of mark: Phelps County
Location of mark: Main St. & 3rd St., between old and new courthouses, Rolla
Mark erected by: Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Marker text:


Fort Wyman was the first of two artillery field fortifications built by the Union army at Rolla, signifying the importance of the railroad terminus to the northern war effort in Missouri.

The South West Branch of the Pacific Railroad of Missouri (better know later as the "Frisco" line) reached Rolla by the beginning of 1861. As a railhead in the Ozarks on the direct line between St. Louis and Springfield, the young town became strategically important when war broke out in Missouri. Col. Franz Sigel's troops seized Rolla in a bloodless coup on June 14, 1861, as part of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon's plan to control Missouri's river and railroad network, Federal troops remained for the duration of the war.

The railhead was a critical supply depot and link in the federal army's line of communications. Beginning with Lyon's campaign in 1861 and continuing into 1865, Rolla was the primary forward supply point for Union armies in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Quartermasters, soldiers and civilian employees transferred thousands of tons of war material, food and forage from railcars to warehouses and wagons. They supported soldiers as far away as Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, Ark., in 1862, and during Gen. Sterling Price's Expedition in 1864. Just the routine supply of the post at Springfield was enormous.

Long trains of ponderous army wagons left Rolla almost daily. Each carried 4,500 pounds of freight at two and half mile per hour. The effective range of supply by wagon from the railhead was about 200 miles. To accommodate the burgeoning freight operation, the army built warehouses, loading docks, forage sheds, blacksmith shops and wagon repair facilities. The investment was enough for the army to begin a second fortification in 1863. Fort Dette stood on ground north of town on what is now the campus of the University of Missouri-Rolla, and was named after John F.W. Dette, the officer who supervised construction.

No Confederate forces every seriously threatened Rolla. Gunners at Fort Wyman fired the fort's 32-pound canons only in practice, on ceremonial occasions including the Fourth of July, and to announce federal victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, Tenn, and at Pea Ridge, Ark. in 1862, and the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee's army in Virginia in 1865. The guns tolled every half-hour in memory of Abraham Lincoln on April 19, 1865.

United States troops remained in Phelps County through the summer of 1865, dismantling the forts and shipping military surplus to St. Louis. The remaining government property required only a corporal's guard of three men when the post at Rolla was abolished in August of 1865

The site of Fort Wyman was a local landmark for years. Col. John B. Wyman ad the fort named after him are remembered in modern times in the names of a street, subdivision, elementary school and a church. As late as the 1990s, the outline of the fort was plainly visible from the air, its rectangular shape and rounded gun positions looking much like a baseball field. In recent years, modern development has destroyed all visible traces of Fort Wyman.

Refugees at Rolla
Fort Wyman and the Union garrison at the railhead represented a safe haven for thousands of uprooted people who had fallen victim to a regional calamity that engulfed a large portion of Missouri.

Refugees from southern Missouri and northern Arkansas converged on Rolla during the war. They had been forced from their homes due to unpopular opinions about the war or because of hostile neighbors. Many of these homeless families left farmsteads reduced to ruin after armies of either side had passed through. Many had been preyed upon by armed bands of guerrillas and bandits of every character.

With their men away in the armies, increasing numbers of destitute and starving women, children and aged civilians made their way to Rolla. Rations issued to them by army quartermasters at the railhead were a matter of life and death for hundreds of refugees who would have otherwise starved.

Sketch and Plan of Fort Wyman
No photographs of the fort are known to exist. Capt. William Hoelcke, engineering officer of the Department of the Missouri, made scale drawings of Fort Wyman in 1865. They show a standard military fortification known as a redoubt, in this case a simple rectangle, 300 feet square. Earth excavated from the enclosing moat ditch formed walls 10 feet high and a ditch 6 feet deep. Access to the interior of the fort was controlled through a single gate through the north wall, with a retractable plank drawbridge to cross the ditch. There were artillery positions at each of the corners. There were two log blockhouses for riflemen, placed at opposite angles in the moat and connected to the interior of the fort by log tunnels running underneath the gun platforms. The only structures inside the walls were the log powder magazine, a well and the artillery emplacements.

Col. John B. Wyman
Led by former railroad builder, John B. Wyman, the 13th Illinois Infantry ("Fox River") regiment arrived in Rolla on July 17, 1861. Except for brief forays, the unit remained at the railhead until March 1862, leading soldiers to quip that the regiment should have been called the "Rolla Home Guard." Col. Wyman died of wounds received at the head of his regiment during the failed attack on Chickasaw Bluff, Miss. (Battle of Chickasaw Bayou) on Dec. 28, 1862.

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