St. Joseph was seen as a strategic stronghold during the Civil War. The city in northwest Missouri was considered a gateway to the west via railroads, central location for pioneers headed west and a port on the Missouri River.
With its importance determined for the Union, Fort Smith was built on Prospect Hill in 1861. It was named after General Robert F. Smith, commander of the troops. The fort was built atop a bluff overlooking both the river and the city.
The fort was home to 2,500 soldiers, and 12 artillery weapons. The expected battle with the Confederacy didn’t happen. Midway through the war, most soldiers were reassigned deeper south.
Today, Fort Smith Park is a historical attraction for St. Joseph. The small park makes for a quick walk through. Three regulation-sized replica cannons stand in position, likely where the originals did in the 1860s.
The park has a lookout point, where visitors can relax and take in a view of the Missouri River with Kansas located across the water.
Civil War-era flags fly, attached to wooden poles.
An ordnance shed serves as a small museum of sorts. Some artillery shells sit inside, as well as posters on the walls, offering information about the fort, Civil War and uniforms.
The park is a short drive from downtown. It is definitely worth the trip up the hill.