WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Despite the furor over displays of the Confederate flag in South Carolina and other onetime secessionist states, the Pentagon does not intend to rename military installations named after Confederate generals or other officers.
Some of the country’s biggest military bases, among them Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Hood, Texas, carry the names of Confederate heroes who were once reviled north of the Mason-Dixon line but revered throughout the South.
But the Army doesn’t view the names as representing the Confederacy.
“Every Army installation is named for a soldier who holds a place in our military history,” said Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost, chief spokesman for the Army. “Accordingly, these historic names represent individuals, not causes or ideologies.”
Like society at large, U.S. military forces were segregated for almost a century after the Civil War, with all-black units fighting in both world wars and other conflicts.
That ended when President Harry Truman ordered the integration of the American military in 1948, following the end of World War II. Yet nearly 70 years later, African-Americans, who make up 20 percent of Army soldiers, still serve at bases honoring generals who fought to preserve slavery.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said it is up to each military service to name its installations.
“The services are ultimately responsible for naming their own military installations, and as of now, there are no current plans to change policies regarding how installations are named,” Warren said.
The biggest onus falls on the Army, which is by far the largest and oldest military service. Virtually all of the major bases carrying Confederate officers’ names are Army installations.
Among the key ones:
Fort Bragg, command center for Army airborne and special forces, is named after Gen. Braxton Bragg, who was a Confederate general and a close friend of Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s president, from their days fighting side by side in the U.S. Army in the Mexican War.
Fort Hood, the U.S. military’s largest base, with more than 53,000 soldiers, is a major training hub named after Gen. John Bell Hood, who commanded Confederate troops and was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Fort Gordon, home of the Army Signal Corps in Augusta, Ga., was named after Gen. John Brown Gordon, a close confidant of Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee who spent much of his later life denying widespread reports that he had headed the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.
Not all the onetime Southern heroes whose names are on military bases made their names in the Confederate Army.
Fort Benning, Ga., is named after Henry Benning, a former Georgia Supreme Court justice widely viewed in his time as a judicial lackey of Lee, who rubber-stamped the Confederate commander’s orders to the civilian populace.
Fort Polk, La., honors the Rev. Leonidas Polk. While he reached the rank of Confederate general, Polk was more widely known as a second cousin of President James K. Polk and bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. After becoming famous as “Sewanee’s Fighting Bishop,” he was killed in action June 14, 1864, when struck by a missile while scouting Union positions from atop Pine Mountain, Ga.
Frost, the Army spokesman, said most of the bases were named long after the Civil War had ended.
“It should be noted that the naming occurred in the spirit of reconciliation, not division,” he said.
©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau
Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.