In the years when Cherokee Indians lived along the banks of Chattahoocee River in Georgia beside their white neighbors, a plot of pasture land lay just southwest of the fledgling settlement that was first known as Terminus, then Marthasville, and finally, just before the Civil War, Atlanta.
In that pasture citizens met and militia units drilled. Not far from that pasture is Fort McPherson, now one of the most important military installations in the United States.
Small in size but large in stature, Fort McPherson consists of nearly 500 acres of the prettiest terrain in the Atlanta area, bordering on the neighboring city of East Point. It is the home of three major Army organizations and several smaller ones that play critical roles in defense of our nation. The largest and most visible organizations are United States Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), Third United States Army, and the United States Reserve Command (USARC). These latest responsibilities for Fort McPherson are just the most recent in a long, proud history.
For a quarter of a century before the Civil War the site that eventually became Fort McPherson was used as a convenient meeting place and training ground, for local militias. Upon Georgia’s secession in 1861, the Confederate government took charge of the land, erecting barracks and a cartridge factory for soldiers in the region. When the siege of Atlanta threatened these operations, they were dismantled and moved elsewhere.
After the war the victorious Union established the district of Alatoona which consisted of Atlanta and thirty-seven surrounding counties. Later this was redesignated the 3d Military District with its headquarters in Marietta on the outskirts of the city. The last commander of the 3d Military District was MG George G. Meade, former commander of the Army of the Potomac and victor of Gettysburg. He remained in command until 30 July 1868 when civil authority was restored in the area.
Upon restoration of civil authority, the land was leased for Army use. The installation was named McPherson Barracks in honor of MG James B. McPherson, who was killed on 22 July 1864 during the Battle of Atlanta. A stellar soldier and leader with a bright future ahead of him, McPherson holds the dubious distinction of being the highest ranking Union soldier killed in the Civil War. Between 1867 and 1881, McPherson Barracks was garrisoned by a series of units, including the 2d, 16th, and 18th Infantry Regiments, and the 5th Artillery.
In October 1881, Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln ended the lease and ordered that the land be returned to the owners and the buildings be publicly auctioned. Pursuant to his orders McPherson Barracks was abandoned on 8 December 1881. The auctioned buildings added $17,264.40 to the government coffers.
Even though the installation was closed, each summer Army troops escaped the oppressive heat of subtropical Florida for an encampment on the same ground. After just four years of sporadic use, Congress recognized the need for a formal installation in the Atlanta area. On 3 March 1885, Congress passed the Sundry Civil Bill allocating $15,000 for the initial purchase of land sufficient for a 10-company post. MG Winfield Scott Hancock, another hero of the Civil War and commander of the Division of the Atlantic, was tasked with selecting the site.
The Army purchased land for the new post in 1885. CPT Joshua West Jacobs, assistant quartermaster, was responsible for developing and implementing the first master plan. Construction commenced in November 1886, and the installation was once again designated McPherson Barracks on 30 December 1887. The first buildings were completed and occupied by the 4th Artillery in early 1889. On 4 May of that same year, McPherson Barracks became Fort McPherson.
CPT Jacobs’ beautiful work endures today. The initial twenty-nine acres now comprise a historic district in the northeast corner of the post where forty building are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These majestic structures are still in use. They include quarters for senior officers along Staff Road and barracks buildings that surround the Hedekin Parade Field.
They maintain their original red bricks, white wood trim, gabled roofs with red decking, and hand seamed roofs. A few buildings have circular walls with domed roofs. The intricate brickwork of these quarters includes patterned chimneys and trim.
The most distinctive of this group is a Queen Ann style home with several turrets, small paned windows, and Doric columns. Surrounding them on the modern installation are dozens of roads named for distinguished soldiers from the Civil War and World War II.
The Spanish-American War brought a change of mission to Fort McPherson. The just arrived 4th Artillery moved on and the 5th Infantry arrived. Later the 16th Infantry, which had been at McPherson Barracks after the Civil War, returned and was followed by the 17th Infantry. The 17th garrisoned the post for fifteen years between 1902 and 1917. During that time the 17th conducted deployments to Cuba, and to Texas and Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa.
Fort Mac, as Fort McPherson is commonly called, became a major recruiting and training post during the Spanish-American War. Large bodies of troops transitioned through Fort McPherson putting great pressure on the post’s infrastructure. Lacking sufficient barracks to house all the troops, tent cities were erected throughout post. The living conditions were cramped and perfect for the spread of disease. Typhoid broke out among the troops necessitating the creation of a hospital.
The original Atlanta Army Hospital was a 48-bed, two-story building with two wings built in 1867 at McPherson Barracks. In 1888, a much larger facility was built for with room for 922 beds. This new building functioned as a general hospital during the Spanish-American War. In 1917 it was designated General Hospital Number 6 with a maximum capacity of 2,400 beds. Ten thousand sick and wounded soldiers were treated at the hospital during World War I. At the end of the war, the hospital reverted back to its previous identity of the post hospital and served as a major treatment and rehabilitation facility for a nine state area. Construction in 1919 added a second floor and porches. In 1930, the hospital expanded again with the addition of a new kitchen and a ward and clinic building.
In addition to the mission of healing patients, the post hospital became a research site into tropical diseases and insecticides as the Army prepared for World War II. The hospital continued to function through World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, but its need declined as other hospitals were established throughout the Army. In 1969 the Fort McPherson Hospital took responsibility for the medical care of those assigned to nearby Fort Gillem in Forest Park, Georgia. On 1 October 1977, the hospital was inactivated and a clinic established in its place. Today, the original hospital building is still in use. It serves as the headquarters for Southeast Region, Installation Management Agency, which oversees operations of all Army installations in the Southeastern United States.
Eighteen years later, construction began on a modern health and dental clinic facility. On 7 January 1998, the Lawrence Joel Army Heath and Dental Clinic was dedicated in honor of SP6 Lawrence Joel, an Army medic who earned the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.
As a military installation, Fort McPherson provided a secure environment to house prisoners of war. A small number of Spaniards were housed there during the Spanish-American War. During World War I, 1,300 German soldiers and merchant sailors were held at Fort McPherson. Many of the German prisoners joined a number of local civilians to build Camp Jessup, another installation adjacent to Fort McPherson. Camp Jessup served as a vehicle maintenance and supply facility. After World War I Camp Jessup was a motor transport school and quartermaster depot until it was inactivated on 23 August 1927.
In addition to all these missions Fort McPherson served as host to an officer candidate school and a mechanical repair depot during World War I. These years were marked by significant growth of the post. Several buildings were constructed to support post functions, including a chapel, a post exchange, a school, and Red Cross facilities.
Between the world wars, Fort McPherson remained a bustling location. Army units continued to come and go regularly. Among those was IV Corps headquarters, the 8th Infantry Brigade, and the 26th Infantry Regiment. The 26th remained on Fort McPherson from 1922 to 1941 making it the longest continually serving unit in the history of the post to that point. Georgia National Guard and U. S. Army Reserve units also trained on Fort McPherson during the interwar years.
The Great Depression brought the Civilian Conservation Corps to Fort McPherson. Men assigned to North Georgia projects first came to Fort McPherson where Division B was headquartered. After two weeks of basic training conducted by soldiers of the 22d Infantry Regiment, these members of “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” as the CCC was nicknamed, were assigned to companies working throughout the region.
World War II brought more growth to Fort McPherson. Several buildings were constructed to support the post’s new mission of recruit reception and training. Already a busy place, the activity became frenetic after the Pearl Harbor attack. Thousands of new soldiers trained and shipped through Fort McPherson. Additionally, the post main motor pool was turned into the shipping site for vehicles of the Fourth Service Command. These activities reversed direction at the end of the war when Fort McPherson was designated one of nineteen Army Personnel Centers on 11 July 1944. From then until mid-1946, thousands of soldiers entering and leaving the Army did so through Fort McPherson. During that time 20,000 soldiers were discharged from the post separation center each month.
The three current major organizations on Fort McPherson arrived in the decades after World War II. Third Army headquarters, once commanded by GEN George S. Patton Jr., returned from Europe and has been on Fort McPherson since 1947. United States Army Forces Command activated and has been on Fort McPherson since 1 July 1973. United States Army Reserve Command, the younger brother of the group, was activated on Fort McPherson in 1997.
The 1980s and 1990s saw another round of massive construction and growth on Fort McPherson. At least $60 million was spent constructing new headquarters on Fort McPherson during those two decades. In addition to the previously mentioned $11.3 million Lawrence Joel Army Medical/Dental Clinic, $25.7 million was spent on a new barracks complex, and USARC and FORSCOM received new state of the art headquarters buildings.
Fort McPherson has a long, deep and rich history of over a century of contribution to our nation’s defenses. It has a bright but short future in which to continue those contributions. In 2005 the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommended that Fort McPherson be closed. That recommendation became law on 10 November 2005. Beginning in 2008, and continuing until completion in 2011, the various activities will continue to conduct their missions while they close their facilities on Fort McPherson and establish new facilities elsewhere. FORSCOM and USARC will move to Pope AFB, North Carolina. Third Army will relocate to Shaw AFB, South Carolina. The Department of Defense expects that the closure of Fort McPherson will result in an initial savings of $111.4 million in the first year and an overall savings of $895.2 million in 20 years.
The life of Fort McPherson is just about complete. From the time when it was a cleared area surrounded by woods to the time when the post is surrounded by a major metropolis, Fort McPherson has always been an important part of our national defense. In future years, those with a personal link to Fort McPherson will diminish until there are none left. But the post will remain as one of the shining stars of Army history for over 150 years.