Forts could drop Confederate names

Illustration of Braxton Bragg from a Library of Congress image.
Illustration of Braxton Bragg from a Library of Congress image.

It is strange, to say the least, to name an army fort for a soldier who committed treason.

    But the U.S. has done precisely that.
    In fact, at least 10 forts are named for Confederate officers. But the country's odd reverence for these men -- several of whom were not exactly models of soldierly comportment -- could soon change. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, a $740 billion bill setting policy for the Pentagon that includes a provision removing Confederate names from military bases, according to Reuters. The U.S. House of Representatives included a similar provision in the defense bill it passed on Tuesday.
    President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill even though military officials have voiced support for changing the names. So, who were the Confederates whose names adorn the bases of the 21st century Army? Here's the rundown, along with links for further study:

Camp Beauregard: This fort, located in Louisiana, is named for G.T. Beauregard, formally Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1818-93). Born on his family's sugarcane plantation outside of New Orleans, Beauregard was raised "in a French-speaking aristocracy that prized European manners and held American culture in contempt," according to the online site Encyclopedia Virginia. A West Point graduate, he resigned from the army when Louisiana seceded from the Union. He commanded the Confederate and South Carolina forces in Charleston and led the siege on Fort Sumter -- the opening salvo of the Civil War.
     The South's early victory made Beauregard a Confederate hero. But after a defeat in 1862, Beauregard "obtained a certificate of disability for a recurring throat problem," the Encyclopedia Virginia recounts. Then, "without [Confederate President Jefferson] Davis's approval, and leaving his army under the command of Braxton Bragg, he repaired to Alabama for the summer to recuperate."
      Davis wasn't amused. He gave the army to Braxton Bragg and transferred Beauregard. 
      After the war, Beauregard's views evolved: "In 1872 he helped found the Reform Party in Louisiana, a coalition of moderate Democrats who supported civil rights, including suffrage, for African Americans," the encyclopedia reports. "In 1873 he helped form the Unification Party, which sought to lower taxes with the support of the black vote."

Fort Benning: Positioned on the Georgia-Alabama line, Fort Benning is named for an outspoken racist and advocate of treason.
       Henry L. Benning (1814-75), was a lawyer and associate justice for the Supreme Court of Georgia. But he was also described in the New Georgia Encyclopedia online as "a vocal advocate for secession."  He helped draft Georgia's ordinance of secession. In January 1861, Benning was "dispatched as Georgia's representative to Virginia, which was still debating the secession question," the New Georgia Encyclopedia recounts. "There, he gave a speech before the Virginia secession convention, arguing that separation from the Union was the only way to preserve slavery." He served as a brigadier general in the Confederate army. After the South surrendered, he again practiced law.

Fort Bragg: The sprawling base in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to U.S. Army Special Operations Command, is named for Braxton Bragg (1817-76), a commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Bragg was a graduate of West Point and known to be a stickler for discipline. According to the Ohio State University website, he "was rumored to have forwarded letters of complaint to himself when he held two overlapping positions."
    Bragg made enemies, too, and failed to follow up on his successes in an important battle, the article explained. One example: He "merely observed the Union forces penned up in Chattanooga. They were slowly starving, inadequately supplied over roads that Nathan Forrest was harassing, but Bragg spent his time quarreling with his subordinates ... rather than pursuing his advantage."
      On the Union side, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant snapped at the opportunity, launching an attack that broke Bragg's lines.

Fort Gordon: The Augusta, Georgia-area fort is named for a John Brown Gordon (1832-1904), who excelled at just about nothing during the first 29 years of his life. As put by Encyclopedia Britannica, Gordon, "attended but did not graduate from the University of Georgia. He became a lawyer but abandoned his practice to develop coal mines in Georgia’s northwestern tip." 
    He found his footing during the Civil War, climbing the ranks of the Confederacy from captain to general. Afterward, he was rumored to be a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization.
    Gordon opposed Reconstruction and ran for governor but lost. He served as a U.S. senator 1873–79. Although reelected, he resigned to take a position with a railroad company, "thereby leading the shift of the New South to commercialism and industrialism," according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Fort A.P. Hill: The fort in Virginia was named for Ambrose Powell Hill. Hill was known for his timely arrival at the Battle of Antietam, which kept the Army of Northern Virginia from being cut off and captured, according to HistoryNet. That aside, for years, writers believed Hill had "some type of psychosomatic disorder. It always seemed that when the action was getting hot or stressful, down went A.P. Hill," according to the Ohio State website. The article adds that Hill suffered from prostatitis -- an inflammation of the prostate. HistoryNet attributes Hill's uneven decision-making to gonorrhea. He was shot and killed during fighting at Petersburg, Virginia.

Fort Hood: Located in Texas, the fort is named for John Bell Hood (1831-79), who "holds the distinction of being one of the most rapidly promoted leaders in the Confederate military forces during the Civil War," according to the National Park Service. He also was one of the primary leaders of shock troops during an assault that nearly destroyed the Union army at the Second Battle of Manassas.
    But Hood became involved in a dispute with a superior officer and was nearly court-martialed. His bad luck didn't end there. During Gettysburg, his left arm was wounded, and at the Battle of Chickamauga, he was hit again, requiring the amputation of his right leg. He died in 1879 of yellow fever.  

Fort Lee: This Virginia fort is named for Gen. Robert E. Lee (1807-70), the South's most well-known officer. At the beginning of the war, Lee was offered command of federal forces but resigned to fight for the Confederacy. While revered, Lee had his share of mistakes. During the Battle of Gettysburg, he ordered "a frontal assault across a mile of open field against the strong center of the Union line. The stunning Confederate defeat that ensued produced heavier casualties than Lee’s army could afford and abruptly ended its invasion of the North," sums up an article in the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University. This came to be known as "Pickett's Charge," even though Lee took responsibility for the disaster.
    Nonetheless, Southerners loved Lee during and after his lifetime. When he died, Frederick Douglass (1818-95), former slave, political activist and a prominent African American, wrote, "We can scarcely take up a newspaper . . . that is not filled with nauseating flatteries” of Lee. “...It would seem . . . that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven.”

Fort Pickett: This fort in Blackstone, Virginia, was named for Gen. George Pickett (1825-75), a Confederate who graduated last in his class at West Point and is remembered for the disastrous charge ordered by Lee at Gettysburg.
     To recap: Pickett led a division up Cemetery Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. He lost more than half of his command in this attack, "killed, wounded or captured, including all three of his brigadier generals," according to the National Park Service website. "Although not directly responsible for the disaster, Pickett's name came to be associated with it and his reputation suffered."
    But there was more.
    Later in the war, Pickett was defeated at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, which "precipitated Robert E. Lee's decision to evacuate Richmond," the park service recounts. Toward the end of the war, Pickett was relieved of his command, and after it was all over, he became an insurance salesman.

Fort Polk: The Leesville, Louisiana, fort was named for Leonidas Polk (1806-64), a U.S. bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, founder of the University of the South in SewaneeTennessee, and lieutenant general in the Confederate army.
     Polk, who was related to the 11th president of the United States, James K. Polk, is a complex historical figure. Well before the Civil War, he founded the university "dedicated to training Southern aristocrats in their responsibilities toward blacks, who Polk anticipated would be gradually emancipated," according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
     When the war started, however, he accepted a commission as major general in the Confederate army. As an officer, he is known for a catastrophic decision. He marched troops "into Columbus, Kentucky—negating Kentucky’s avowed neutrality and causing the Unionist legislature to invite the U.S. government to drive the invaders away," recounts the website. He was killed in action in 1864. Four years later, with the war over, classes started at the University of the South.

Fort Rucker: The Alabama fort was named for Edmund Rucker (1835-1924). Ambitious and smart, Rucker was self educated, according to an article by Gregory S. Hospodor in The Journal of Southern History. When the Civil War began, Rucker "was in his mid-twenties and a founding partner in an engineering concern,"
     He didn't think deeply about secession, however, Hospodor writes. "For him, the Civil War probably represented opportunity. Having made a promising start to his career, Rucker secured an initial officer appointment as an engineer; he later served in both the artillery and the cavalry." But his war experience ended ingloriously when he was wounded and captured while covering the Confederate retreat after the Battle of Nashville in 1864.


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