Fort McClellan, AL (Alabama)

*Note: Fort McClellan closed in 1999

Fort McClellan is an army base with a proud, fascinating history dating back to the war between the Spaniards and the Americans. The army bases roots proved advantageous during World War I and sowed even more fruit when World War II came. Where it is located, Fort McClellan is surrounded by the Choccolocco foothills, a portion of the Appalachian Mountain chain. A spur ridge cuts through the main post running north to south, the very same ridge that attracted the interest of the military during the Spanish-American War that led to the army base being built to benefit from the excellent background ideal for artillery firing.

The War Department set to formally establish Fort McClellan in 1917, named after Major General George McClellan, the General-in-Chief of the United States Army from the years 1861 to 1862 and also the New Jersey Governor from 1878 to 1881. While it is not typical for a fort in the south to be named after a general from the north, there were a lot of strong points for using McClellans name for the fort. For starters, McClellan was credited for the swift training and mobilization of army troops of the Potomac when the Civil War was going on. In keeping with the actions of the major general, Fort McClellan was used as a mobilization camp for quick training of soldiers to fight in the World War II.

The newly established 29th National Guard Division hailing from the Mid-Atlantic States under the command of Major General Charles Morton arrived at Fort McClellan a month after the army base was formally operational. Two months after, over 27,000 more men arrived at the army base for training. In 1918, the 29th National Guard Division was sent to France and unfortunately suffered major casualties totaling nearly 6,000 men during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. In honor of Major General Morton, a road near Baker Gate was named after him.

In 1929, Fort McClellan was designated as a permanent post, signaling the start of new construction that led to the immense growth of the army base. Aside from the 29th National Guard Division, the 27th Division followed in 1940, becoming one of the first units sent for combat during World War II. After being given orders to report overseas after 12 days following the attack in Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the 27th Division fought in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, Guam, Saipan, and the Philippines. Later on, they were assigned to occupy Japan.

In 1943, a Prison Internment Camp with a 3,000-person capacity was built in Fort McClellan for the prisoners of war, becoming a temporary home for a lot of the enemy soldiers. While held captive, the prisoners were able to make use of their artistry talents in Remington Hall, painting murals depicting memories from their homeland. Deaths during captivity cannot be avoided and so a memorial cemetery was created close to the western corner of Fort McClellan for three Italian and 26 German prisoners.

For World War II, almost 500,000 passed through Fort McClellan to train, including the Japanese-Americans who aided the American troops in becoming familiar with the ways of Japanese soldiers. As a testament to how good a training ground the army base is, a lot of the units and individuals who trained at Fort McClellan went on to receive the highest military decorations and honors for service rendered during the war.

Fort McClellan was a really proud facility for training soldiers during the war. But when the Recruit Training Center established in 1946 closed down, the number of soldiers rapidly dwindled after the war. In fact, the whole installation was rendered inactive in 1947, with only a small group of people remaining for maintenance purposes. In 1950, there were plans of using Fort McClellan again for training National Guards but instead it was used by the Chemical Corps in 1951. It was disestablished again in 1973 when the Chemical Corps School or the US Army Chemical Center and School left. The Womens Army Corps also called Fort McClellan for a while but also retired in 1977. The US Army Chemical School went back to Fort McClellan in 1979, joining the Training Brigade and Military Police School to make the army base the only installation in the US to have three major missions.

Over the course of its operation, Fort McClellan was literally home to around 10,000 military personnel, including around 5,000 of which are permanently assigned and around 1,500 civilians employed at the army base. In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to close Fort McClellan permanently, although the official closing ceremony was held in 1999. At the time it was being shut down, the army base was called home by the US Army Chemical School, the Training Brigade, the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, and the US Army Military Police School. The Training Brigade, Military Police School, and Chemical School were moved to Fort Leonardwood in Missouri, joining the Engineer School to create the US Army Maneuver Support Center. The Polygraph Institute of the Department of Defense meanwhile relocated to Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

Before the army base was built, the locals were the ones who shaped the landscape of that stretch of land in Alabamas countryside. The locals and Fort McClellan were part of the same community so a lot of the history of the army base involved its neighbors as well. As a testament to what the army base meant to the area, there are historic cemeteries and old home sites still in place in the Choccolocco foothills.

When the Base Realignment and Closure Commissioned signed the papers for closing down Fort McClellan, this resulted in numerous documents being prepared to identify the environmental condition of the area, future land users, and the environmental cleanup program required before Fort McClellan could be transferred to public domain. This ensured that whatever effects the activities of the US Army Chemical School may have had on the area will have been taken care of properly.

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