Fort McPherson’s history includes prisoner camp, polo, hospital more
June 29, 2011
Fort McPherson, situated on 487 acres of gently rolling terrain four miles southwest of the center of Atlanta is rich in military tradition dating back to 1867. It was during that year that a post was established in west Atlanta on the grounds where Spelman College is located.
Between the years 1867 and 1881, the post was garrisoned in turn by elements of the 2nd, 16th and 18th U.S. Infantry Regiments and the 5th Artillery.
Their mission was to enforce Union regulations during the reconstruction period following the Civil War. In October 1881, Secretary of War Robert Lincoln directed the lease of the site be surrendered and the buildings sold at public auction. In compliance with this directive, McPherson Barracks was abandoned by U.S. troops on Dec. 8, 1881.
Part of the site was purchased by the American Baptist Missionary Society for use by the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, which later became Spelman College. The U.S. Treasury received $17,264.40 from the sale of the buildings.
On March 3, 1885, Congress passed the Sundry Civil Bill which contained an initial sum of $15,000 for the purchase of land and the erection of a 10-company post. The task of site selection went to Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, commanding general of the Atlantic. Five tracts of land, amounting to 140.09 acres, were purchased in September 1885.
Capt. Joshua Jacobs, assistant quartermaster, was totally responsible for developing and implementing the first master plan for the post. That same year Maj. Gen. John Schofield, Chief of Staff, suggested the new post be formally named in honor of Maj. Gen. James Birdseye McPherson.
During the Civil War, he participated in the Battle of Jackson and Vicksburg, earning the promotion to brigadier general. In 1864, he was killed while on a reconnaissance patrol during the battle of Atlanta. During the Spanish-American War, Fort McPherson served as a general hospital and as a recruit training center for nearly 20,000 men.
Barracks were filled to overflowing and emergency tents were set up. It later became a prisoner of war facility, and by the end of July 1898, 16 Spanish army prisoners were incarcerated in what is now the Post Chapel. During World War I, Fort McPherson was selected to be an internment camp for German prisoners of war, a base hospital, General Hospital No. 6, and the site of an officers’ training camp.
Immediately to the west of the post, across Campbelton Road, a war prison barracks was established to confine German prisoners of war. The prison camps reached a peak population of 1,411 in July 1918. Secretary of War Newton Baker directed “that the permanent barracks of Fort McPherson … be made available for general or base hospital use” June 23, 1917. The command of the post was turned over to the ranking medical officer, and Fort McPherson transformed itself into a general hospital, which had a capacity of nearly 2,400 beds.
It is estimated more than 10,000 patients were admitted from August 1917 to December 1918. Fort McPherson served as the headquarters for the IV Corps Area from 1920 to 1923 and 1927 to 1934. In the 1930s, the post hospital was expanded to serve as a rehabilitation center, and the post also served as the headquarters for District B of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
With the passage of the 1940 Selective Service Act and the outbreak of World War II, Fort McPherson activities were greatly expanded. In addition to serving as a general depot, a reception center was established to process thousands of men for entry into the service. The post also served as a major hospital center.
In August 1945, as World War II ended, the War Department reversed the flow of work at the introduction center. Fort McPherson became a separation center for almost 200,000 Soldiers and processed countless others for reassignment.
In its final years, the base was the home to U.S. Army Forces Command, Third Army/U.S. Army Central and the U.S. Army Reserve Command. The base is scheduled to close Sept. 15 in accordance with 2005 BRAC law.