Final Army base stripped of Confederate name as Fort Gordon becomes Fort Eisenhower
Stars and Stripes October 27, 2023
FORT EISENHOWER, Ga. — The names of Confederate leaders who took up arms against the United States in the Civil War have been fully stripped from Army installations, as the former Fort Gordon in Georgia was renamed Fort Eisenhower on Friday.
The post, which carried the namesake of Confederate Gen. John Brown Gordon since its inception as Camp Gordon in 1941, now carries the name of one of the Army’s most historic and revered figures — former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star Army general who commanded all Allied forces in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II.
A ceremony marking the name change was held on the post’s parade grounds, a location where Eisenhower as president conducted his final review of troops as commander in chief in January 1961 in the waning days of his second presidential term, officials at the post noted Friday.
“We’re transitioning from arguably a failed leader [as a namesake] to the visionary world leader who resonated with all of the soldiers that he led on a world stage,” said Army Maj. Gen. Paul Stanton, the commander of Fort Eisenhower and its Army Cyber Center of Excellence, which trains the service’s cyber and signal forces. “He was recognized and admired. There’s no doubt … the soldiers under his command knew they were being led by a man of character, and he inspired them to do their life’s best work on a daily basis — whether that be in combat, whether that be in training, or whether that be later in life as a statesman.
“So, he’s absolutely the right namesake.”
The renaming ceremony was the ninth — and final — among Army installations this year, capping a controversial three-year effort initiated by top Pentagon officials in 2020 amid a nationwide racial reckoning following the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Congress mandated the Naming Commission in a 2021 annual Pentagon policy bill, charging the panel with identifying all items in the Defense Department inventory associated with the Confederacy. Among the items that the commission was to study were the names of nine Army bases honoring Confederate generals, including Fort Gordon. Then-President Donald Trump vetoed the bill, disapproving of the effort to remove Confederate names from the military. But lawmakers were able to override the veto.
During recent months, Fort Pickett, Va., became Fort Barfoot, Fort Lee, Va., became Fort Gregg-Adams, Fort A.P. Hill, Va., became Fort Walker, Fort Hood, Texas, became Fort Cavazos, Fort Rucker, Ala., became Fort Novosel, Fort Polk, La., became Fort Johnson, Fort Bragg, N.C., became Fort Liberty, and Fort Benning, Ga., became Fort Moore.
Retired Adm. Michelle Howard, who was the chairwoman of the Naming Commission, said Friday’s ceremony was “the cherry on top” of the massive, multimillion-dollar effort. In addition to the Army bases, U.S. defense officials have spent 2023 removing hundreds of other Confederate-linked items, renaming buildings, roads and two Navy ships.
Howard, who was a Navy trailblazer as the service’s first female four-star admiral and the first Black female commander of a Naval battle group, said the commission found initial objections in the Augusta community to ridding the post of its namesake, a slave owner who challenged Reconstruction efforts as Georgia’s U.S. senator and governor after the Civil War. But, she said, the community rallied around the choice of Eisenhower, a name proposed by local Augustans because of his ties to the community. Eisenhower, Army officials said, often vacationed in Augusta during his presidency and especially enjoyed playing the city’s world-famous Augusta National golf course.
“There were some angry voices when we started this process. You know, this was a part of the heritage of the communities,” Howard said. “Working with the communities, I think we got to the names that fit well with each of the communities, and so this is a wonderful day in this community, which has just rallied around this name.”
Throughout Augusta, several businesses already sported the Fort Eisenhower name, and road signs had already been changed to reflect the installation’s new moniker.
But the Naming Commission’s efforts remain controversial in some circles. Multiple Republican candidates for president have vowed to undo the name changes if elected to the White House in the 2024 election.
Howard said such a move would be a step backward and illegal under current law. The 2021 law that created the commission outlaws naming any future Defense Department property for anyone who served the Confederacy voluntarily, she said.
“If an elected leader thinks that we should go back down this path, I would hope they would talk to their constituents first,” Howard said. “It was pretty clear to me that once we got into names that the communities rallied around those names. … So, if you were going to go backward, you should talk to the constituents first and see how they feel about it.”
In its Oct. 1, 2022, report to Congress on renaming Army bases, the Naming Commission wrote the group had recommended Eisenhower to replace Fort Gordon not only for his storied efforts as the top Allied commander of forces in Europe during World War II but for his “extensive, innovative and effective military experience and leadership [which] shaped our modern world.”
“His career demonstrated superlative devotion to duty, executing those duties with an eye on history and personal experience adapted to new circumstances,” the commission wrote. “He continues to be an example and inspiration for the present and future soldiers of the Army he so faithfully served and decisively led.”
Stanton, Fort Eisenhower’s top general, said those innovation efforts included early computer-based efforts that would shape the Army’s early efforts into cyberspace, which is the post’s primary mission. Eisenhower established NASA as president, ordered America’s first satellite launched into space and established the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which would develop the early internet.
“President Eisenhower … promoted the rapid development of science and technology which is in use at Fort Eisenhower today,” the general said. “Where would our Fort Eisenhower mission be without his vision? We wouldn’t be postured to fight and win in cyber operations.”
Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, said her grandfather would have been honored with the selection — especially because of the time that he and his wife Mamie spent in Augusta.
“My how they loved this community,” Susan Eisenhower told the crowd at the post. “If Dwight Eisenhower were here today, he would be full of heartfelt appreciation for the focus and dedication this community has placed on serving our country and keeping it safe.”