Confederate Symbols and Military Space

U.S. Army bases named after Confederate soldiers are a controversial topic and one that was protested in the Summer of 2020.  The controversy lies deep in public memory of the Civil War.  Those who support the name change give two reasons for renaming: the support of slavery of Confederacy and Confederate soldiers and the fact that many U.S. military officers who resigned from the U.S. Army to join the Confederate Army committed treason against the United States.  Those against the name changes often say Confederate officers should be celebrated for defending state’s rights and for their military heroics as reasons to keep the names.  For many years, the Army said that naming bases for Confederate names was an act of reconciliation between the North and the South, and not a political act.  What does reconciliation mean?

Sectional Reconciliation

This cover of sheet music and the song lyrics represents the Confederate soldier as a civilian on the left and the Union soldier as a citizen on the right, as they shake hands to unify over the cause of fighting in World War I. This “sectional reconciliation” favored White Americans and helped usher in decades of Southern Jim Crow laws and military segregation of Black American soldiers. Edson, Clif. The Sons of the Blue and GrayMarching Home from Victory
. [, monographic. Clif Edson Music Publisher,, Brockton, Mass.:, 1918] Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/2013562194/.

After the Civil War, the South entered a period of Reconstruction, when the U.S. Federal government sought to rebuild the Southern economy after the Civil War and the end of slavery, and create an environment that gave more rights to black Americans, many recently ex-slaves.  This continued for about a decade before the North and the South entered a period of Sectional Reconciliation.  As David Blight argues in his book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, sectional reconciliation brought White Northerners and White Southerners under a national narrative that enough time had passed that old Civil War wounds could be healed and the nation could recognize its shared military experience in the war as one that was equally honorable. 

While soldiers took part in this reconciliation, civilians also sought this unification of both sides.  Blight says a move towards sectional reconciliation came at the expensive of Black Americans. Reconstruction was a complicated process that required a long term commitment to bring racial equality in the South and rebuild the Southern economy after the war.  White Northerners grew tired  and disinterest in supporting Reconstruction efforts.  Soon after the war, the South quickly embraced The Lost Cause narrative which viewed the Civil War as a war fought over state’s rights versus federal rights, and ignores the idea that the Confederacy fought over the right to continue the institution of slavery.  Ultimately reconciliationists (those hoping for the North and the South to make amends) conceded to the Lost Cause myth pushed by white supremacists to forge union and forgiveness, pushing aside the freeman’s cause in emancipation and reconstruction.  As history tells us, Jim Crow laws soon emerged in the South allowing legal segregation which further reduced rights of Black Americans.

Building Military Installations

“Tent life, Camp Devens, Ayer, Mass.” Card. Boston, Mass.: Tichnor Bros., Inc., 1914. Digital Commonwealth, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/6w927h952 (accessed February 21, 2021).

When America made the choice to fight in World War I, the Army needed to quickly build training camps (https://www.army.mil/article/185229/world_war_i_building_the_american_military) around the country to train the 4 million men who served in the military during the war (https://www.loc.gov/collections/stars-and-stripes/articles-and-essays/a-world-at-war/american-expeditionary-forces/).  During World War II, additional camps were built to train the 8 million men and women who served.  These camps needed names! Most of the current U.S. Army bases were named during the training and preparation for World War I and World War II.  As the documents below show, much consideration was taken into account when choosing names, especially when it came to White soldiers.  Black Soldiers served in a segregated Army during World War I and World War II which violated their civil rights and limited their ability to serve in combat units.  Like many Confederate named public statues and entities, Confederate named military bases fueled negative and harmful feelings in People of Color.

World War I: Base Naming

Ceremonies- 124th Infantry, Camp Wheeler, Macon, Georgia, November 7, 1918. National Archives, Record Group 165. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/26422583.

In naming these camps, the Army look towards names that would create pride and national spirit within the local community and among the soldiers.  In 1917, Brig. Gen Joseph E. Kuhn set eight criteria which should be met in naming army camps which included “(1) represent a person from the locale of the troops stationed there, (2) that it be “not unpopular in the vicinity of the camp,” and (3) that it focus on “Federal commanders for camps of divisions from northern States and of Confederates for camps of divisions from southern States.”[1]  A number of names were accepted and rejected throughout this process, but overall only four of nineteen camps in the South were named after Confederate officers: Camp Lee, Camp Beauregard, Camp Gordon and Camp Wheeler.  Others were either named for Northern officers or Southerners who fought in wars prior to the Civil War, as well as two U.S. Presidents who enslaved Black people, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor.  Black soldiers were assigned to numerous bases throughout the United States, many were forced to serve on segregated bases named for Confederate soldiers or other enslaver American leaders.

https://history.army.mil/faq/army-posts-documents/005c-Names_for_cantonments_and_posts_with-policy_statement_1917_(names_retyped).pdf
https://history.army.mil/faq/army-posts-documents/005c-Names_for_cantonments_and_posts_with-policy_statement_1917_(names_retyped).pdf

Braxton Bragg, a U.S. Army officer and General in the Confederate Army, was considered for a camp name during World War I.   A 1917 War Department memo about suggested camp names lists Gen. Braxton Bragg as an alternative name to Camp Pike in Arkansas.  While he is not chosen for the camp name in Arkansas, he is chosen for the camp name in North Carolina.  The official General Orders No. 77 dated 1918 show Bragg listed as Captain Braxton Bragg which was his rank in the U.S. Army, and below his rank of General with the CSA.  At this time, it is not known why the Army chose to list his service this way on the official orders, but future research might reveal if this practice was common or a unique circumstance.  Certainly Army camps were allowed to be named after Confederate soldiers.  It could simply be his U.S. Army service tends to be more successful than his Confederate Army experience.

World War II: Base Naming

World War II Era Post Card of Camp Forrest, named after Confederate Army General and Founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Photo: https://www.cardcow.com/688517/tullahoma-tennessee-entrance-camp-forrest/.

During World War II, eight major camps were named after a Confederate soldiers: Camp Polk, A.P. Hill Military Reservation, Camp Gordon, Camp Pickett, Camp Rucker, Camp Hood, Camp Forrest, and Camp Van Dorn. Black Americans, both men and women, served at these installations during the war.  The Army continued to carefully name the camps and bases.  A memorandum issued by The Secretary of the Historical Section of the Army War College on September 17, 1940 includes notes associated with Southern sensitivities surrounding the Civil War names in the South.  For Camp Beauregard in Louisiana the note reads “Many of the appropriate names connected with Louisiana history are already in use.  Civil War names, because of local sentiment, can only be used with caution; moreover, one Army camp in Louisiana already commemorates a Confederate soldier.”[2] 

Post Name Suggestions September 1940. U.S. Army Center of Military History: https://history.army.mil/faq/army-posts-documents/075-Post_name_suggestions_Sep_1940.pdf.

When discussing a Savannah Anti-Aircraft Firing Center, a War Department memo dated 1940 suggested a Revolutionary War Officer Gen. Benjamin Lincoln but advised against the name as the “connotation” of the name Lincoln “to the people in that section of the country” is offensive.[3]  Even though the Civil War ended in 1865, people in the South continued to resent leaders of the Union.  These sets of World War II memos tended to connect soldiers to their CSA military service: General Order issued June 11, 1941 named A.P. Hill Reservation in Caroline County, Virginia as a Major General in the CSA, as subsequent orders also connect CSA service in name designations.[4] 

World War II: Black Soldiers and Army Base Names

Camp George Jordan, World War II Army Installation for Black Soldiers, Washington State. Source: Photo: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/camp-george-jordan/.
Sergeant George Jordan, Buffalo Soldier Medal of Honor Recipient and namesake of Camp George Jordan. Source: NPS. https://www.nps.gov/people/george-jordan.htm

The Army’s desire to name installations that would build spirit within units is evident in the naming for an embarkment center for Black soldiers in Seattle, Washington.  Five Black soldiers with exceptional valor and military service were recommended to be used as a name for the base. The Adjunct General in Washington, D.C. responded by directing the camp to be named Camp George Washington Carver on August 10, 1943.[5]  While Carver’s accomplishments as a scientist and proponent for equality for African-Americans is heroic, the name denies Black soldiers to serve on a base named after a black soldier that exemplifies valor and masculinity through military service. 

Postcard 1943 Depicting A Small Soldier Next to Two Larger Soldiers Claiming How Army and Masculinity Are Linked. Source: University of North Texas Libraries, The 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum. https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth618297/.

 These ideas were important to Black soldiers as they saw military service as a means to equal citizenship in American society.  By October 2, 1943, an order is issued by Brigadier General Eley P. Denson recommending the embarkment port be named Camp George Jordan after Sergeant George Jordan, thirty year veteran of the U.S. Army who distinguished himself with the 9th Cavalry K Troop by earning a Medal of Honor Recipient as a Buffalo Soldier.[6]  The order is approved for the name change. In this example, the Army had the opportunity and support from some of its members to name the base after someone who reflected the Black soldiers who served there.  While the Army supported the name in this case, other cases were not as successful.

Soldiers During World War II, June 1944. Source: Charles “Teenie” Harris © Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/african-american-soldiers-served-during-world-war-ii-180974962/.

The Black Press protested bases named for Confederate soldiers.  Camp Forrest in Tennessee, named after enslaver, Confederate Officer, and founder of the Ku Klux Klan, came under protest by The Chicago Defender and the Illinois legislature when the Illinois National Guard moved there for training.  They were not successful in changing the name, but this shows a long history by the Black community against Confederate names on bases and an American society that was presented with these objections for over 80 years.

Confederate Army Base Names in 2020-2021

Many military leaders are acknowledging the need to change the name of Confederate bases.  Retired General David Petraeus wrote an article in The Atlantic on June 9, 2020, relating his own personal journey in realizing the significance of these base names and why they should be changed.  Petraeus, moving away from a rhetoric of reconciliation or arguments that it is either too divisive or difficult said, “The United States is now wrestling with repeated instances of abusive policing caught on camera, the legacies of systemic racism, the challenges of protecting freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights while thwarting criminals who seek to exploit lawful protests, and debates over symbols glorifying those who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The way we resolve these issues will define our national identity for this century and beyond.”[8]  He understands the significance of this moment, and the power to change the narrative in the United States, knowing that America has been here before.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Memorandum for Senior Pentagon Leadership: Stand-Down to Address Extremism in the Ranks. Page 1. Source: https://media.defense.gov/2021/Feb/05/2002577485/-1/-1/0/STAND-DOWN-TO-ADDRESS-EXTREMISM-IN-THE-RANKS.PDF.
Page 2

Many military leaders, including Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff Chairman General Mattis and Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper support the renaming of Confederate bases.  The House of Representatives and the Senate drafted a bill requiring the renaming of Confederate bases within the next three years.  This is important as many participants in the event at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 are active military or veterans.  This event included people wearing and carrying many symbols of hate groups.  Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, first African American person to hold this position, issued a “military wide ‘stand-down’ to address extremism in the ranks” as “nearly 1 in 5 people charged in connection with the riot have some form of military background.”[9]  The military has a right to be concerned about racists symbols in the military. 

Petraeus says the names should be removed to follow that second criteria of Army Regulation 1-33 that says memorializing deceased soldiers and individuals should benefit all races in society and inspire soldiers, employees, and other races.  Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley did say that Confederate Flags, another Confederate symbol used by some military members, could affect unit cohesion and effectiveness as over 40% of the Army are People of Color.  Units often make up 20-30% of African Americans and serving on a base of a Confederate name might mean that they are serving on a base of someone who could have enslaved their ancestors. Milley also acknowledged that the naming of bases were political decisions “100 years ago and they are going to be political decisions today.”[10]

Understanding the deeper history of Confederated named bases can offer insight into why the names of bases should be changed.  Not only is it important to military effectiveness and unit cohesion (which makes the military better able to defend the country), but it also creates a more inclusive environment to all military members, regardless of race.  It also honors the long history of sacrifice by Black American soldiers and their continued enlistment in the armed forces.


[1] “Naming of Army Posts,” U.S. Army Center of Military History, https://history.army.mil/faq/naming-of-us-army-posts.htm, accessed November 29, 2020.

[2] “Memorandum for the Secretary, Historical Section, A.W.C.” Historical Section, Army War College, September 17, 1940. U.S. Army Center of Military History. https://history.army.mil/faq/army-posts-documents/075-Post_name_suggestions_Sep_1940.pdf.

[3] Ibid.

[4] General Orders No. 5, War Department, June 11, 1941. U.S. Army Center for Military History. https://history.army.mil/faq/army-posts-documents/100-GO_5_(11_Jun_1941).pdf

[5] “Memorandum for Operations Branch, A.G.O, Class IV Camp Under Seattle Port Embarkation,” August 20, 1943, Col. John W. Wright. U.S. Army Center for Military History, https://history.army.mil/faq/army-posts-documents/140-Corresp_re_facilities_named_for_African_Americans_1942-1943.pdf.

[6] Letter, Brigadier General Eley Denson, October 2, 1943, U.S. Army Center for Military History, https://history.army.mil/faq/army-posts-documents/140-Corresp_re_facilities_named_for_African_Americans_1942-1943.pdf; “George Jordan A Soldier’s Soldier,” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/people/george-jordan.htm.

[7] https://history.army.mil/faq/army-posts-documents/155-Camp_Adair_1942.pdf

[8] David Petraeus.  “Take the Confederate Names Off Our Army Bases It is time to remove names of traitors like Benning and Bragg from our country’s most important military installations.” The Atlantic, June 9, 2020.  https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/take-confederate-names-off-our-army-bases/612832/.

[9] Ellen Mitchell, “Pentagon Chief Orders Military wide ‘Stand-down’ to Tackle Elusive Issue of Extremism,” The Hill (The Hill, February 4, 2021), https://thehill.com/policy/defense/537251-pentagon-chief-orders-military-wide-stand-down-to-tackle-elusive-issue-of?utm_source=thehill&utm_medium=widgets&utm_campaign=es_recommended_content.

[10] Meghann Myers. “Military’s top officer is open to renaming Army posts honoring Confederate generals.” July 9, 2020, Military Timeshttps://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/07/09/militarys-top-officer-is-open-to-renaming-army-posts-honoring-confederate-generals/.