By U.S. Army Garrison Public Affairs OfficeJune 29, 2011
Joshua West Jacobs can be called the father of Fort McPherson for his design and construction oversight of the post. His insight in the installation’s creation was drawn from a variety of military experiences.
Jacobs left his sophomore year at Centre College to begin his military career in 1861, during the early months of the Civil War. He enlisted in the Union Army as a private but was promoted to sergeant major within a year. In 1862, he was appointed as a first lieutenant. Jacobs became part of the Union cavalry under Gen. Daniel McCook Jr. in the Atlanta Campaign.
After McCook’s Raid on July 27, 1864 (just five days after Brig. Gen. James Birdseye McPherson’s death at the Battle of Atlanta), against the railroad leading from Atlanta to Macon, then Capt. Jacobs was captured and held prisoner for seven months before being released.
Jacobs was promoted to major shortly before he was honorably mustered out of volunteer service Aug. 17, 1865, as a seasoned combat veteran at only 22 years old. Jacobs did not remain a civilian for long.
He received an appointment as a second lieutenant June 28, 1866. Jacobs joined the 7th Infantry and served through several Indian campaigns, including the Battle of the Little Big Horn. During this same period, Jacobs served as the regimental quartermaster of the 7th Infantry for 14 years.
His experience reportedly made him the senior regimental quartermaster in the Army and helped earn him a promotion in 1882 as captain in the quartermaster department. It was in this capacity that Jacobs was selected to design and oversee the construction of Fort McPherson.
Atlanta’s popularity as a summer camp area convinced Congress to authorize a permanent post in the area in 1885. The work of constructing the post, which later became Fort McPherson, was assigned to Jacobs.
Jacobs was verbally briefed about his upcoming assignment in the fall of 1885. Though he received guidance on the general concept of the post’s layout, he never received any written directive that specifically outlines any construction work. It was left up to him to draw up the initial master construction plan and to prepare specific plans, specifications, building proposals and the actual building contracts.
Although Jacobs always submitted these documents to the quartermaster general for approval, as far as available records show, his proposals were never altered. Jacobs had a deep sense of purpose and high standards. His conscientious performance of duty and sharp attention to detail caused a lot of friction with the local contractors " frequently he would point out deficiencies in material and workmanship.
The magnitude of Jacobs’ work can be understood by the fact that from vacant woodland there merged a small, self-contained city; quarters, barracks, post headquarters, hospital, bakery, guardhouse and stables. One of the first steps Jacobs took in the post’s construction was a large-scale grading operation.
The grading was done in stages between 1886 and 1888 by locally hired civilians using mule-drawn equipment. The installation’s design called for a line of troop barracks and officers’ quarters along the 1,500-foot length of two parallel ridges. The two lines were placed 550 feet apart and the land between them was designated as the parade ground. This arrangement was based on the belief a Soldier’s home should not be far from his workplace and the park-like parade ground would create a relaxing atmosphere.
The post became a permanent military installation by War Department General Orders No. 44 on May 4, 1889. By November 1891, Jacobs was assigned to Fort Riley, Kan., as the post quartermaster in charge of the construction of buildings there. Other assignments followed with additional promotions in rank.
After 40 years of service and facing health problems, Jacobs retired in 1904 at the age of 61 with the rank of brigadier general. He died at Los Gatos, Calf., Oct. 13, 1905.