ChrisWeigant.com

It's Time To Change The Name Of Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, And All The Others

[ Posted Thursday, June 4th, 2020 – 17:23 UTC ]

General James Mattis has broken his silence on the presidency of Donald Trump -- in a big way. Current Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has also noticeably broken with President Trump on the need for active-duty military personnel to be deployed to American cities in response to the mostly-peaceful protests which continue around the country. Other military leaders, both retired and still serving, are speaking out about what their oath actually means. To be blunt, protecting the United States Constitution does not mean violently attacking Americans who are merely exercising their First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, and petition the government for redress. Quite the opposite, in fact -- the military is supposed to support and defend such activities, not subvert or quash them. And there's one very important step the Pentagon could take right now to show solidarity with the people protesting the treatment of African-Americans in this country, and that is to remove the names of Confederate military officers from Army installations.

There are ten of these, all located (no surprise) in the South -- or, to put it another way, "the former Confederacy." While statues to Confederate generals and soldiers are now coming down in response to the protests, there simply is no possible reason not to rename all of these bases. Here's a full list of these bases, and who they were named after (all military ranks are from the Confederacy, it's worth pointing out):

  • Camp Beauregard (Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard)
  • Fort Benning (Brig. Gen. Henry Benning)
  • Fort Bragg (Gen. Braxton Bragg)
  • Fort Gordon (Lt. Gen. John Brown Gordon)
  • Fort A. P. Hill (Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill)
  • Fort Hood (Gen. John Bell Hood)
  • Fort Lee (Gen. Robert E. Lee)
  • Fort Pickett (Maj. Gen. George Pickett)
  • Fort Polk (Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk)
  • Fort Rucker (Col. Edmund Rucker)

There are some famous names on that list (Robert E. Lee, George Pickett), and some which are lesser-known. There are also some well-known forts on that list (Benning, Bragg), as well as some not as widely known. All the Confederate soldiers except Rucker held the rank of general. And all of them committed treason against the United States of America, by leading an insurrection against the government. Yet all are still deemed worthy of honor by the U.S. Army.

The personal viewpoints of these men ranged from those who were strictly military officers (and weren't very gung-ho about the reasons for the Civil War) to those who were just flat-out racist white supremacists. Henry Benning, who led rebel troops at the Battles of Antietam, (Second) Bull Run, and Gettysburg, was clearly one of the latter. At the convention on secession in 1861, Benning explained why he was for the idea, in no uncertain terms:

What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery.... If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?

These are the charming thoughts for the man Fort Benning is named for. So how is this allowed to stand in the year 2020?

Perhaps these men deserved their namesake forts for being military geniuses? Well, no. At least not in these three notable cases:

Gen. Braxton Bragg was a North Carolina native who graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Army until 1856. He was not popular with the Confederate troops and ended the war as a military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Military historians give him very low marks for tactics and leadership. Fort Bragg also opened in 1918.

Bragg was notoriously ornery, and his short temper led U.S. Grant, who served with him in Mexico in the U.S. Army, to describe him as "naturally disputatious."

Historians generally rate Bragg as one of the worst tacticians on either side during the war, and his losses were major contributors to the Confederate States of America's (CSA) defeat.

But perhaps it wasn't all Bragg's fault:

Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk was a North Carolina native who also served as an Episcopal bishop in Louisiana. He was a second cousin of President James Polk.

Polk had no previous military experience before the war and was killed in action during the Battle of Atlanta. Camp Polk was opened in 1941, and Fort Polk is now home to the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center.

Bragg's supporters are quick to point out that Polk was a far worse leader than his commanding officer and that many of Bragg's defeats can be blamed on Polk's incompetence. Polk was a slave owner before the war.

And then there's the one that every schoolchild knows, because his infamous "Pickett's Charge" was perhaps the most disastrous tactic ever seen on an American battlefield:

Maj. Gen. George Pickett was a Virginia native who graduated last in his class at West Point. He served in the U.S. Army but switched sides at the start of the Civil War. He led Pickett's Charge on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg and fled to Canada at the end of the war.

These are the men deemed worthy of honor by the Army? Seriously?

In fact, there's only really one name on that list who might indeed be considered a model for twenty-first-century young soldiers to look up to, because he later changed his mind. Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard -- who (it should come as no surprise, with a name like that) hailed from Louisiana -- had a remarkable change of heart by 1873. Addressing a Louisiana meeting of black and white leaders in that year, Beauregard atoned for his previous sins:

I am persuaded that the natural relation between the white and colored people is that of friendship. I am persuaded that their interests are identical; that their destinies in this state, where the two races are equally divided are linked together, and that there is no prosperity in Louisiana that must not be the result of their cooperation. I am equally convinced that the evils anticipated by some men from the practical enforcement of equal rights are mostly imaginary, and that the relation of the races in the exercise of these rights will speedily adjust themselves to the satisfaction of all.

Now that's showing some moral leadership, at a time when such thoughts were downright dangerous to advocate in the Deep South. So perhaps Camp Beauregard could keep its name, as long as that part of the general's history is taught to those soldiers who pass through the facility during their careers.

But for all the others, it's high time for a name change. As statues to Confederate soldiers come down all across the South, the Pentagon should announce it has started the process of finding some other soldiers to honor at each of these facilities. I'm sure there are plenty to choose from. In fact, it might be a very appropriate gesture if many of these forts were renamed for African-American war heroes instead. That would indeed be a welcome signal that the Pentagon truly does take racism seriously.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

21 Comments on “It's Time To Change The Name Of Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, And All The Others”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    That is a great idea! I'm kind of surprised these names haven't been changed already - what a wonderful opportunity for someone with the authority to do that.

  2. [2] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Great article, CW! As someone who grew up in Columbus, GA (where Ft. Benning is located), I completely agree that it needs a new name. I would love to see it named for Eugene Bullard, born in Columbus in 1895, Mr.Bullard was the first African-American military pilot. Granted, he fought with the French Foreign Legion during WWI, but he is still one of our own. He lived a fascinating life — in WWII he acted as a spy, gathering information on the Germans that would visit the popular jazz club that he owned in Paris. Sadly, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I first learned of Mr. Bullard’s extraordinary life.

  3. [3] 
    andygaus wrote:

    How about Doris Miller (a man), who was stationed at Pearl Harbor as a cook and ended up manning the guns and shooting down Japanese planes? Let's have a fort for him.

  4. [4] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Andygaus 3

    Doris is getting an aircraft carrier... which is the equivalent of a fort for the Navy.

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I'm an Army Vet who didn't serve at any of these Posts, and had no idea that any were so named after traitors. Your argument is pretty much irrefutable, K?

    I guess I'm far more tripping that we're in a Constitutional crisis right now. Who will stand up to wanna be Putin Trump? The military? Will the GOP continue to collaborate with the death of Democracy? While your argument is correct I think it could end up inflaming our deep divisions. Don't forget about it but out it on a back burner.

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I'm an 80s-era Vet and I'm entirely confident that are military is still trained, yea, empowered to disobey an "unlawful order." They are also sworn to "defend the Constitution," Not Donald Trump. Period. But watching what's his name Chairman Milley follow Trump across the park in combat fatigues? Yeah, right - he's going to stand up Trump?

    And #MoscowMitch and the cowardly Repugs? They're so all-in on Trump they'll likely ride the tiger to whatever bitter end the GOP allows.

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    IF there is any truth in this world, it's that Trump is undeniably a 25th Amendment candidate.

    Republicans?
    Conservatives?

  8. [8] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    "Will the GOP continue to collaborate with the death of democracy?"

    Yes. And so will the Dems.

    The question is who they are both collaborating with.

    The answer is the big money interests.

    This is about power and racism is just one way that desire manifests itself.

    The incident that set this off would have still happened if it had been PINK Floyd, but then no one would be paying attention to it.

    Back in the seventies a friend of my brother wanted to be a police officer and went to the police academy after high school.

    After a week or two he quit because he said most of the other cadets wanted to become cops so they could beat up hippies and many of his friends were hippies.

    So let's not keep fooling ourselves that we can solve the problem by solving racism because you don't solve the problem by addressing a symptom of how the problem manifests itself- you have to treat the cause.

    Just like voting out big money Republicans/Trump is addressing the symptom of what is killing democracy but replacing them with big money Dems does nothing to solve the underlying cause of the problem.

    Wake up. Wise up. Rise up.
    Get Real.

  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I'm all for ripping off that rancid little band aid of "Confederate General Rehabilitation" - but I'm going to go off-topic and recommend the following short video about Covid-19 statistics.

    It's a brilliant summary and hope it wins some awards.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qdd7kirwIk

    If you are pressed for time you can skip the 90s introduction.

  10. [10] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Now that the White House is surrounded by a mile and a half of fence, Reddit is having a field day. The best so far:

    #Babygate

    Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!

    It's interesting that Mr reality TV, image is everything has so completely blown it over the last few days.

    Or maybe Trump is just the Antichrist.

    109,775 Americans dead from Coronavirus and counting...

  11. [11] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    It's hard to find a place to start.

    Maybe the place to start is, I get it. America needs to distance itself from its past and brush the worst episodes under the deep-pile rug of history. Well, isn't that what you've been doing for the last 120 years, without success?

    CW, you said, "So perhaps Camp Beauregard could keep its name, as long as that part of the general's history is taught to those soldiers who pass through the facility during their careers." Isn't that revisionist history at its play? Let us just forget the shitty things the man did and said before he aligned his sentiments to more closely reflect our own, let's celebrate his contrite submission instead.

    Bollocks.

    I also draw attention to the two dates mentioned for the establishment of the two bases, 1919 and 1941. Is it beyond belief that these bases were properly named to ease men from the former confederacy states into a unified American fighting force? 1919 and 1941 were both world war years.

    It's a slippery slope when you start diluting history to better suit your daily needs, you rarely achieve your goal because it always leaves a bad taste in someone's mouth. I fail to see how changing the name of US bases will ease racial tension throughout the US, in fact I think it lends credence to the myth that all White Supremacists use as their central pillar of belief, that they being systematically being reduced in stature to the secondary citizenry.

    Let them have their symbolism, who cares? Now just isn't the time to bother with such things, that is unless roiling another section of US society is your intention.

    On a related topic that concerns all Americans, black, white, and purple, I'm so glad Trump has finally achieved his campaign promise to build a wall, who knew he meant around the White House... He could have won the popular vote with that schtick.

    LL&P

  12. [12] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    Before I forget.

    I just watched a bit of Trump's word salad from the Rose Garden. The nonce was all over the place, so no surprise there, but I had to chuckle when he started on the folly of 'left-wing' economic policy. It was in fact a 'left-wing' economic ideal that helped stabilize somewhat the US economic free-fall that CV19 inaugurated. A basic living wage, subsidies and governmental programmes, are all liberal packages, throw in a universal healthcare package and you almost have a Canada, albeit a heavily armed and racially stoked Canada, but a happier place nonetheless.

    ;)

    LL&P

  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @jtc,

    your numbers are off. by the turn of 1919 the great war was already over. maybe woodrow wilson and his staff were just flaming segregationists.

    JL

  14. [14] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    My numbers are precise. Men were required to remain under arms until late 1919, ironically, until the 1918 pandemic became more of an expedient enemy to defeat. I regret leaving that obvious landmine to explain my point. But here we are.

    Again, now is not the time to roil any segment of society to further discontent, but to pursue an era free of enmity within all sections of society using the collective outrage we have toward police brutality.

    LL&P

  15. [15] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Here's another timely idea! How about we abolish the traditional term "The South" and replace it, perhaps by means of constitutional amendment, with "The North" and re-designate "The North" as "The Far North".

    Just think of how that would raise the level of civil discourse in our society, and eliminate regional conflict.

    Howcum none of you Fumduckers ever thought of that??

  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:

    Just in case anyone wasn't already "clued in" to how utterly effing ignorant and tone deaf Donald Trump actually is, he offers up this nugget for those still wondering just how far down the rabbit hole goes.

    Trump cannot contain his giddy joy because today's jobs report surprised a lot of people who crunch numbers and turned out to show the official unemployment rate of the United States today is now "only" 13.3%, down from 14.7% last month. Something seems off about this report like maybe some of the data weren't turned in, but okay, I don't ever remember a President in my lifetime calling a press conference to pat himself on the back over a double-digit unemployment rate, but then Trump is nuts.

    Oh, sure, Trump and the Righties say it's not his fault for how bad the unemployment numbers are, but when he thinks they're way better, Trump tweets out his wonderfulness and, of course, takes all the credit for it and calls a press conference to take victory laps. While in the throes of said victory laps about the "great" economy, Trump said this:

    Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country. It's a great day for him, it's a great day for everybody. It's a great day for everybody, this is a great, great day! ~ Donald Trump

    OMG. Y'all got that: It's a great day for George because Donald Trump's unemployment number -- a day Trump is claiming responsibility for it -- sucks a wee bit less... a great, great day... ranks really high on George's list of great days for him.

    Now, I'm going to go throw up in disgust.

  17. [17] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Kick,

    Additionally, the African American unemployment rate went up a 1/10 of a percent. Makes your Trump quote even more tone deaf...

    110,562 Americans dead from Coronavirus and counting...

  18. [18] 
    Kick wrote:

    BashiBazouk
    17

    Additionally, the African American unemployment rate went up a 1/10 of a percent. Makes your Trump quote even more tone deaf...

    Seriously!? I haven't yet had a chance to read the full report yet, dang. So then, not such a "great day for everybody."

    110,562 Americans dead from Coronavirus and counting...

    But Trump is giddy today and likely thinks they're all "looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country."

    Going to hurl again.

  19. [19] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    JTC

    I also draw attention to the two dates mentioned for the establishment of the two bases, 1919 and 1941. Is it beyond belief that these bases were properly named to ease men from the former confederacy states into a unified American fighting force?

    Sorry, but the first base was built some 50+ years after the end of the Civil War. Those that fought in the Civil War were long past fighting age in 1919 and 1941. The naming of these bases occurred around the same time that the vast majority of statues of Confederate heroes started being erected...and it just happened to be when civil rights issues were really being focused on. Blacks started holding office and positions of power and the white community could not handle that! The naming of the bases were meant to send a not-so-subtle message to the black community: “YOU ARE NOT OUR EQUALS!”

    It's a slippery slope when you start diluting history to better suit your daily needs, you rarely achieve your goal because it always leaves a bad taste in someone's mouth. I fail to see how changing the name of US bases will ease racial tension throughout the US, in fact I think it lends credence to the myth that all White Supremacists use as their central pillar of belief, that they being systematically being reduced in stature to the secondary citizenry.

    How does taking a hard look at the lives and positions held by these historical figures — that we have honored when we named our military bases for them —so that we can reassess if that honor was truly deserving in any way act to “dilute” history? “Diluting” involves watering down the facts, not taking a much closer look at the facts.

    I would encourage you to read the speech the Mayor of New Orleans gave the day the last Confederate statue was removed from city property... powerful words!
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/opinion/mitch-landrieus-speech-transcript.html

    Let them have their symbolism, who cares? Now just isn't the time to bother with such things, that is unless roiling another section of US society is your intention.

    Who cares??? WHO cares? Who CARES? Those who that symbolism is intended to offend would be the most obvious answer! As a white male, I do not have a good example to relate this to....as a gay man, I have quite a few to pick from. So let’s take one that really makes my blood pressure spike when I think about it:

    I cannot honestly donate blood for others to be given when they need it to live because the AIDS epidemic of the late 80’s/early 90’s terrified the masses so much that gay people were automatically branded as “unclean” and “diseased”. The ban on blood donations from any male who identified as gay was a blanket precaution 37 years ago.... that it has remained in place is not based on facts or scientific findings... it’s a type of “symbolism” meant to remind me that some parts of our society deem me as disgusting and diseased simply because of who I choose to love...that I am an “untouchable” and that parts of society would rather die from a lack of blood than to have the blood of someone like me entering their bodies.

    But I should not demand change because it is just going to roil another section of society, is that it? Right.

  20. [20] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    No, LWYH. And if you look back, I made reference to and indeed posted the same link to the Mayor's speech.

    You misunderstand, while I agree with an ultimate reckoning with the hard-right sentiment, now simply isn't the right time to address every concern.

    Trump must go. First.

    LL&P

  21. [21] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @jtc

    Is it beyond belief that these bases were properly named to ease men from the former confederacy states into a unified American fighting force?

    you say your numbers are precise. precisely what? most of 1941 was before the US started fighting, while 1919 was after the fighting stopped. World War One ended at 11am on 11 November, 1918. armistice was signed. why would former confederate states need to become a unified fighting force a year after the fighting had ended? to more effectively occupy the defeated central powers? and the H1N1 epidemic relates to the confederate generals... how exactly?

    i think you're talking about two very different time periods and trying to tie them together neatly with a bow, when they don't really connect.

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