Camp Douglas was established in October 1862 as a small military garrison about three miles east of Salt Lake City, Utah, for the purpose of protecting the overland mail route and telegraph lines along the Central Overland Route. In 1878, the post was renamed Fort Douglas. The fort was officially closed in 1991, and most of the buildings were turned over to the University of Utah. A small section of the original fort is used by the Army Reserve and includes the Fort Douglas Military Museum.
The increasing threat of violence was caused by the withdrawal of federal troops from the West for action against the Confederacy in the Civil War. Col. Patrick Connor was selected to establish a military presence in the Utah Territory and selected a site east of Salt Lake City, where Camp Douglas (named after Stephen A. Douglas by President Abraham Lincoln) was officially established on Oct. 26, 1862. Connor had brought volunteer troops from California and Nevada to the camp. During the Civil War, the post served as the headquarters of the District of Utah in the Department of the Pacific.
Regular Army arrives, 1866–1874
Between 1866 and 1898, the fort was part of the Department of the Platte. The fort's importance grew when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined rails at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, completing the Transcontinental Railroad.
Through the efforts of Utah's U.S. Sen. Thomas Kearns, the fort became a regimental post.
World War I
During World War I, the fort was used as an internment camp for Germans living in the United States and also to house German naval prisoners of war. One of the crews was from the SMS Cormoran, which set sail from Tsingtao, China, and took refuge from the Japanese at Guam in December to refuel and take on provisions. Denied the fuel and provisions they requested, the Germans submitted to detention rather than return to sea. They became prisoners of war and were shipped to the fort when the United States declared war on Germany in 1917.
In 1922, the fort became the home of the 38th Infantry. The 38th remained at Fort Douglas until August 1940.
World War II
The fort then became an Army Air Field and was home to the 7th Bombardment Group (B-17s). The fort reverted to an Army base after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when fears of a Japanese attack of the U.S. mainland caused the 9th Service Command Headquarters to be moved to the fort from the Presidio in San Francisco. The most famous person to be stationed there was probably Samuel Moore Walton, founder of Walmart, who served his military career there from 1943 to 1945.
Final years, 1945–1991
After World War II, the Army began a slow divestiture of its lands at the fort to the University of Utah, which is located directly adjacent to it. However, it maintained busy Reserve functions for several more decades, notably with the 96th Army Reserve Command under the command of Maj. Gen. Michael B. Kauffman, who had spent much of his Army career at the fort and was instrumental in keeping it alive well past its announced closing in the 1970s. The Fort Douglas Military Museum is housed in a building named after Maj. Gen. Kauffman, who founded the museum and built it into one of the United States' premier military museums featuring exhibits from all branches of the Armed Services. Between 1962 and 1973, Fort Douglas was the site of the Deseret Test Center (Buildings 103 and 105) with the responsibility of evaluating chemical and biological weapons, although no tests were actually performed on the base.
On Oct. 26, 1991, the fort closed officially, though the Utah National Guard maintained control of the museum, and the 96th ARCOM received the parts of the fort that were not deeded to the university.
During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, much of the fort was used as part of the Olympic Village for the participating athletes.
A cemetery was established in 1862 about a mile south of the original parade grounds. In 1864, the soldiers at the post improved the cemetery significantly. They erected a monument in the center dedicated to the memory of the men killed at Bear River. They also constructed a red sandstone wall around the cemetery, with a steel gate located at the north end. The following year, a smaller monument was added for Utah Gov. James D. Doty following his death and burial in the cemetery. Later, the cemetery was expanded to accommodate a larger number of burials, not only from the fort, but also from Fort Cameron following its closure. A special section of the cemetery was also added for the German prisoners of war who died here during World War II. The Fort Douglas Cemetery continues to be an active federal military cemetery, actively maintained. A list of cemetery burials is available through the Utah History Research Center's cemetery database.
- Robert F. Rogers, Destiny's Landfall: A History of Guam (University of Hawaii Press, 1995), 134-40, available online, accessed April 1, 2011
- personal experience of one of guards and viewing of headstones
- Madsen, Brigham D. The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985)
- Hibbard, Charles G. Fort Douglas, Utah: A Frontier Fort (Vestige Press, 1999)
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