The names of U.S. Army posts are in the news of late. In an effort to inform the debate, here is some information about how the names and current situation came about, as expressed in three maps.
The first map shows the extensive post-Civil War network of posts established during the Indian Wars period from 1860 to 1890. Many posts were named for Union war heroes or war dead, such as Phil Kearny, Grant, Sheridan, Harker, Sill, D.A. Russell, and many others. (Fort Meade on this map is why the post in Maryland today is Fort George G. Meade, to avoid confusion.) This trend extended to Schofield Barracks and Fort DeRussy in Hawaii, plus the former Camp John Hay and Fort McKinley in the Philippines. Many of the western forts fell into disuse in the early 20th Century, and quite a few are preserved as national or state parks.
The second map shows U.S. Army installations 1917-1919, during the World War I years. While the Army had a network of smaller posts around the country, note how many frontier posts have closed or fallen into reduced roles at this time. Large bases were set up to accommodate the massive influx of soldiers training for service in Europe, as the Army expanded from 400,000 to over 4 million by war’s end. Many posts still active today were founded at this time as training installations. These new installations were named for local military figures of renown (Grant, Funston, Custer, Benning, Bragg, Pike, Devens, etc). Several posts (Wadsworth, McClellan, Logan, etc) were built by northern National Guard troops shipped south to train in a supposedly more temperate climate. Some of these places closed after the war, or reverted to state control, while others stayed in Army possession for future use.
The third map, an interactive located here, shows the Army’s active installations today. The difference between this map and the previous map is largely explained with the post-Cold War drawdown, specifically, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) rounds from 1989 to 2005. Many northern bases were closed and functions consolidated in areas closer to the southern border and the coasts. A side effect is that the Army has retreated somewhat from major population centers, especially in places like New York City (closure of Governor’s Island/First Army HQ), San Francisco (ex-Presidio), Chicago (ex-Fort Sheridan) and Atlanta (ex-Fort McPherson), among other places.
So, to summarize: Western forts were named to recognize Union leaders of the Civil War. During World War I, large bases received names of local significance, either to the communities or the units stationed there. Force changes and drawdowns have since concentrated many active Army bases in the former Confederacy.
Of course, there are exceptions to the general trends laid out above. For our purposes, three that stand out are Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Polk in Louisiana, and Camp Forrest in Tennessee. Fort Hood was founded in 1942 as the Tank Destroyer School; its first commander, Andrew Bruce, named it in honor of General J.B. Hood because of Hood’s connection to the Texas Brigade. Fort Polk grew out of the 1941 Louisiana Maneuver Area, and was named for Leonidas Polk because of his ties to the state (Polk was the Episcopal bishop of New Orleans). The Army turned over Camp Forrest (named for Nathan B. Forrest, who grew up nearby) to the Air Force, which now operates the installation as Arnold Air Force Base, in honor of General of the Air Force H.H. “Hap” Arnold.
I hope this adds perspective on how the roll of Army installations got to its present state after 160 years of evolution.