Major Alfred Gibbs leaves a mark on Ellis County, Kansas

Oct 9, 2015

Major Alfred Gibbs
Credit wikipedia.org

Due to its central location between Forts Leavenworth and Wallace, Hays, Kansas, hosted numerous famous military men who earned their gold stripes and leaves fighting the Mexican- American War, Civil War, and Indian Wars.

These soldiers left their mark on our landscape in the names of forts, towns, parks, streets, and university buildings.  We would have forgotten one such site except for its mention in the letters and diaries of Albert and Jennie Barnitz, later collected and edited into Life in Custer’s 7th Cavalry by historian Robert Utley.

Barnitz mentions serving at Camp Alfred Gibbs in letters dated from April through July of 1868.  He states Major Joel Elliott, who later died at the Battle of the Washita, named the outpost after their Commander, Major Alfred Gibbs, stationed at Fort Leavenworth.

Gibbs, born in Astoria, Long Island, New York, was the son of mineralogist George Gibbs and grandson of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury to Presidents George Washington and John Adams.

A graduate of the United State Military Academy, he was no stranger to the frontier as he served in the Mexican-American War and the Apache Wars.

While he served in New Mexico, Confederate troops captured Gibbs. Following his parole and exchange, he served under General Sheridan as a commander of infantry and cavalry regiments in many Civil War battles. These included the Battle of Sayler’s Creek three days before R.E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, which Gibbs witnessed.

Though a Brevet Major General during the Civil War, Gibbs served his final duty as a major the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment at various forts around Kansas from 1866 to 1868. He died at Fort Leavenworth the day after Christmas 1868.

While some recall Gibbs as the inspiration behind the well-known 7th Cavalry Band, fellow soldiers knew Gibbs for his interest in military trivia and stern discipline.  Captain Barnitz alludes to this sternness in a journal entry dated April 16, 1868:

…all the officers of the regiment who called on us, as well as others at the Post, expressed themselves as highly solicitous that my company should be the one selected to stay,--but it proved otherwise.  Capt. Yates (“Co. “F”) was patronizing to General Gibbs and the Adjutant [Lieutenant Moylan], and in consequence obtained the “post of favor”—if not of honor.  I was the only company commander who was married, and should therefore, according to established usages of the service have been selected to remain, if I desired to do so, (and my wish in this matter was well known)—although I did not go personally to Genl. Gibbs, as perhaps he expected…

Gibbs’ life intersected with critical events that formed our nation.  In Ellis County history we recognize his role as namesake of Camp Alfred Gibbs, an outpost housing several companies of the 7th Cavalry that later fought both at the Washita and the Little Big Horn.