Fort McClellan, originally Camp McClellan, was a United States Army post located adjacent to the city of Anniston, Alabama. During World War II, it was one of the largest U.S. Army installations, training an estimated half-million troops. After the war and until it was closed in 1999, Fort McClellan was home for an average population of about 10,000 military personnel, some half of whom were permanently assigned, and employed about 1,500 civilians.
Located in the Choccolocco Foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Woodstock, Alabama, was founded as a private industrial town by the Woodstock Iron Company in 1872. The town was later renamed Anniston and was opened to the public in 1883; by 1890, it had a population of near 10,000 persons. While Fort McClellan was the first and only long-lived United States Army post near Anniston, a temporary facility named Camp Shipp existed there during 1898-1899.
Camp Shipp — Spanish-American War
The Spanish-American War ended in 1898, but with a final peace settlement still in the future, the U.S. Army had an immediate need for a facility to quarter a Military reserve force from Alabama should the hostilities start anew. Anniston was on a north-south railroad that continued to Mobile, Alabama, a major seaport for Cuba-bound departures, and successfully sought the reserve facility. Camp Shipp was established in August 1898 within the northwest city limits of Anniston; an artillery range was planned to be on the nearby Blue Mountain. By October, nearly 10,000 troops of the 3rd Alabama Volunteer Infantry were at Camp Shipp, but by the end of the year they began to rapidly move out. The camp never fully realized its intended purpose; it was used temporarily as a hospital for patients of the influenza epidemic sweeping Army posts, and then phased out in March 1899. The camp was named for Lt. William E. Shipp of the 10th Cavalry Regiment who was killed in action at Santiago, Cuba while leading a charge in the Battle of San Juan Hill.
Camp McClellan — World War I
In 1912, there was renewed interest in Anniston for having a nearby Army training facility. The U.S. Congressman for this District brought to the Department of War’s attention the potential of the Choccolocco Mountains for artillery training, Twenty-thousand National Guardsmen were sent to the area for maneuvers. Officials of the participating Army War College found the terrain highly suitable for artillery training, and advocated purchase of the land. On 17 March 1917, the Federal Government acquired 18,952 acres (75.8 km²) of this land for $247,000 and began construction of a National Guard camp.
The Department of War formally established Camp McClellan on 18 July 1917. The camp was named in honor of Major General George B. McClellan, General-in-Chief of the United States Army 1861-1862, and Governor of New Jersey 1878-1881. Camp McClellan was one of 32 mobilization camps formed to quickly train men for World War I.
Like the other National Guard mobilization facilities, Camp McClellan used hastily constructed wooden buildings for headquarters, mess halls, latrines, and showers, with rows of wooden-floored tents for housing the troops. There were 26 blocks of training areas composed of central buildings and tents, each designated for a particular function (infantry, artillery, ammunition, etc.). Overall, about 1,500 buildings were built, including a base hospital with 118 buildings. The Anniston city limit at that time was a circle 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) in diameter. The Camp McClellan reservation was approximately a square some 3.0 miles (4.8 kilometers) on each side, adjoining the northeast quarter arc of the city limits and extending northward along the Anniston to Jacksonville, Alabama, pike. The training blocks were in the northern part of the reservation. An existing Southern Railway line was close by the western boundary; a terminal facility called Remount Depot was built near the southwest corner of the reservation and, farther north, a spur into the camp was constructed.
The first troops arrived in late August 1917; by October there were more than 27,000 men from units in New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia training at the camp under the 29th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Charles G. Morton. (During World War II, a Navy transport vessel, the USS General C. G. Morton honored Morton.) The 29th was deployed in France in June 1918 as part of the American Expeditionary Force, and suffered almost 6,000 casualties in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. During the war, other troops trained at Camp McClellan included the 1st Separate Negro Company of Maryland, the 6th Division, the 157th Depot Brigade, the 11th and 12th Training Battalions, and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Development Regiments.
Fort McClellan — Permanent Post
Following the Armistice with Germany (11 November 1918) and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (18 June 1919) officially ending the war, most of the mobilization camps were closed. Nine facilities were placed on “caretaker status”; Camp McClellan was included, intended to be used for special training in the Army’s 9th Corps Area. Congress and the public had little interest in maintaining these camps, much less in upgrading them as permanent facilities. In 1926, however, Congress approved funds for permanent facilities, and new buildings were started at Camp McClellan for the headquarters, officer quarters, barracks, and a central hospital. On 1 July 1929, by War Department order, the post was designated Fort McClellan and a permanent installation. This would be a post for one regiment of Infantry having 1,500 officers and men and a summer camp with a capacity for 6,400 civilian trainees.
As the Great Depression started, unspent funds initially allocated for military construction were diverted into programs to stem the unemployment. Construction on the permanent facilities slowed, but in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt allocated Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds for Fort McClellan. In the next three years, an estimated $1,785,000 in WPA funds was used for constructing new roads, the Fort McClellan Army Airfield, and additional permanent buildings. Included was a radio facility with a high-power transmitter (call letters WUR) for Morse-code communications, Most of the buildings were Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in style.
During the 1930s, the Army 22nd Infantry Regiment had the role of Post Garrison, responsible for training units of the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), units within the Organized Reserve, and the annual encampment of the Alabama Army National Guard (the 32nd Infantry Division). In addition the Post Garrison maintained the headquarters for District “D” of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), handling 45 CCC camps in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
World War II Activities
As World War II approached, the facilities at Fort McClellan underwent considerable expansion. Although the central area of permanent buildings remained the headquarters, many new temporary wooden buildings were constructed and all of the buildings remaining from World War I were upgraded. In October 1940, the 27th Infantry Division of the New York National Guard was activated and sent to Fort McClellan. New housing for trainees was not yet available; the majority of the men of the 27th lived in tents until leaving at the start of the war in December 1941, and were soon deployed throughout the Pacific Theater of Operations.
About $6.5 million in Federal Funding was made available for construction to accommodate quarters and other facilities for up to 50,000 military personnel at Fort McClellan. Overall improvements included 74 miles (118 km) of new roads, sewage facilities for 50,000 persons, a huge general hospital with 80 wooden buildings connected by 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of catwalks, 5 theaters plus an amphitheater seating 12,000 persons, 27 warehouses, and many ammunition–storage bunkers. Hundreds of five- and fifteen-man hutments, arranged in Company-level groups, were built for personnel being trained. Colonel John L. Jenkins was the Commanding Officer (1941-1944) during most of the construction period.
The land area of Fort McClellan was also greatly expanded. Directly to the east, a mountainous peninsula connecting to the Talladega National Forest was acquired, allowing access to this Federal Area for training maneuvers. This increased the reservation to a total of 42,286 acres (169.1 km²). A few miles to the west, a 22,168-acre (86.7-km²) tract was purchased for $675,000 and used for artillery and heavy mortar ranges, tank firing, and bivouac areas. This is directly north of another Army facility, the Anniston Army Depot. The range was initially called Morrisville Maneuvering Area and later changed to Pelham Range, named for John Pelham, a hero in the Confederate cavalry during the American Civil War, who was raised in that area.
At peak, there were officially 2,170 officers and 42,126 enlisted personnel at Fort McClellan. The station complement tripled in number; this complement included two detachments of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). In the war years, a total of nearly 500,000 men were trained at Fort McClellan.
Basic and Special Training
Replacing the 27th Division, in 1942, the Army began training new recruits and draftees at Fort McClellan under what was called the Branch Immaterial Training Center. Recruits received eight weeks of basic training, and were then sent elsewhere for combat training or specialized schools. In 1943, this became the Infantry Replacement Training Center (IRTC). Under IRTC, the basic training was increased to nine weeks and included situations corresponding to combat in European areas such as training within simulated urban areas, actions under live artillery fire, and crouching in foxholes with tanks moving overhead.
In addition to the IRTC, there was training at Fort McClellan of special troops such the 92nd Infantry Division with African-American soldiers from all states. The 92nd Division trained during 1942-1943, then were deployed overseas to fight in Italian campaigns.
Prisoner of War Camp
During the war, Fort McClellan became the temporary home for many captured enemy soldiers; a 3,000-capacity Prison Internment Camp for prisoners of war (POWs) was built in 1943. The camp also served to receive prisoners who would go on to three other POW camps in Alabama. At the end of the war in Europe, the camp at Fort McClellan held 2,546 men. A cemetery on the reservation marks 26 German and 3 Italian prisoners of war who died while in captivity.
Post-World War II Missions
After the war ended with Germany and then Japan, the IRTC at Fort McClellan trained soldiers for occupation duty until November 1946, at which time the activity was redesignated a Recruit Training Center. The number of troops being trained dwindled rapidly, and the installation was placed on inactive status on 30 June 1947; only a small maintenance crew remained on the post.
Under pressure from the Alabama Congressional Delegation, in early 1950, the Army began plans to again use the area for National Guard training. With the onset of the Korean War in June 1950, these plans were accelerated. Brigadier General Theodore R. Wessels was assigned as Commander (1950-1952) and $10 million in funds were allocated for facility restoration. In 1951, Fort McClellan was officially reactivated, with missions to have a National Guard Training Brigade and to operate the Chemical Corps replacement training center. Wessels is often called the “Father of the New Fort McClellan.”
Funding was appropriated to build specialized facilities at Fort McClellan for what was initially called the Chemical Corps School (CCS). The CCS began operations in 1952, and the facilities were completed in 1954. The CCS offered eight weeks of basic training followed by eight weeks devoted to chemical warfare training.
In September 1953, Operation Top Hat was conducted at the CCS. Highly secret at the time, then very controversial when revealed, Top Hat used Chemical Corps personnel to test decontamination methods for biological and chemical weapons, including sulfur mustard and nerve agents.
The name of the CCS was changed to the U.S. Army Chemical Center and School in 1962. Also in 1962, another activity, the U.S. Army Combat Development Command Chemical Biological-Radiological Agency, moved to Fort McClellan. Both of these operations were relocated to Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, in 1973. However, in 1979 the moves were reversed, with the U.S. Army Chemical School (ACS) relocating from Edgewood to Fort McClellan. After reorganizing, the ACS provided numerous courses for officers, non-commissioned officers, and initial-entry soldiers, ranging from general in nature to highly technical. Several allied countries sent their military to train at the School. It continued to operate there until being transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 1999. H.R. 411, The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act, was reintroduced to congress. The goal of H.R. 411 is to establish a registry of persons who were exposed to chemical agents during military service at Fort McClellan. The chemical weapons that were present at BRAC were incinerated but areas of the base have levels of chemical agents in concentrations of up to 55,000 times established safe levels.
Military Police Corps
The Military Police Corps is one of the youngest branches of the U.S. Army, being officially established in September 1941. A Military Police School, earlier operating at Fort Gordon, Georgia, was officially transferred to Fort McClellan on 11 July 1975.
The Military Police School provided training programs in general policing activities, corrections and detention operations, police and criminal intelligence operations, and security. The School also operated the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute. The Military Police School was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 1999.
Women's Army Corps
The Women's Army Corps (WAC) was the women's branch of the U.S. Army. It was created as an auxiliary unit, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942 and converted to full status as the WAC in 1943. The Women’s Army Corps School was founded at Fort McClellan on 25 September 1952. About two years later, official ceremonies were conducted to establish the post as the first permanent home of the U.S. Women's Army Corps Center, the WACC.
The WACC provided the receiving, processing, and training operations for all female officers and enlisted personnel entering the U.S. Army. Civilian summer training was also conducted at the WACC during the 1950s. Fort McClellan remained its home until the Corps was disestablished and its flag retired in 1978. Participating in the final ceremony was Major General Mary E. Clarke, the last director of the Women’s Army Corps and soon appointed the Commanding General of Fort McClellan (1978-1980), the first female officer ever to command a major U.S. Army installation.
Vietnam War Training
To meet special infantry needs of the Vietnam War, an Advanced Individual Training Infantry Brigade was activated at Fort McClellan in 1966. With this mission addition, the Fort was renamed the U.S. Army School/Training Center and Fort McClellan. As forces in Vietnam were reduced, the Training Infantry Brigade was deactivated in April 1970, after training more than 30,000 men.
During 1969, this Training Brigade, along with the Military Police School and the Army Chemical School, made Fort McClellan the only U.S. Army installation in the United States with three major missions.
Closing and Present Use
During the last decades of the 20th century, Fort McClellan was 'home' for an average military population of about 10,000 people, including about 5,000 who were permanently assigned, and employed about 1,500 civilians.
In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission voted to permanently close Fort McClellan. The official closing ceremony ending Fort McClellan's illustrious past was held on 20 May 1999. At the official closing ceremony, Major General Ralph G. Wooten, Commanding General and Chemical School Commandant (1996-1999), conveyed a heartfelt thanks from the Department of the Army to Fort McClellan and the surrounding communities:
- For more than 81 years, Fort McClellan set the standard of excellence in training America's sons and daughters to defend freedom in two world wars and a myriad of conflicts and operations. In the last generation, we were singularly responsible for providing our Army with the world's finest military police and chemical soldiers. Our pride is justified by our spectacular success!
At the time of closure, Fort McClellan was home to the U.S. Army Chemical School, the U.S. Army Military Police School, the Training Brigade, and the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute. The Chemical School, Military Police School, and the Training Brigade relocated to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, integrating with their Engineer School to form the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence. The DoD Polygraph Institute relocated to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
The grounds of Fort McClellan continue to be operated by the Alabama National Guard for field training, as well as a notoriously difficult National Guard Officer Candidate School, which was briefly shown in the film Brüno. Fort McClellan is also home to the Center for Domestic Preparedness of the Department of Homeland Security.
In early 1999, the local community leaders of Anniston and Calhoun County established the Fort McClellan Joint Powers Authority for the purpose of overseeing the redevelopment and reuse of Fort McClellan. On 30 April 2009, Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed into law Act # 2009-337 authorizing,". . . the incorporation of development authorities for the purpose of developing real and personal property of closed military installations in Alabama. . . .” On 3 March 2010, the McClellan Development Authority was officially certified as a non-profit public corporation charged with the future economic development of the former U.S. Army Fort.
Carved from the developed portions of the original reservation, McClellan is a 10,000-acre (40.0-km2) master-planned, mixed-use community offering opportunities for residential, commercial, industrial, retail, education, research, and technology development. Since its opening, McClellan has become home to over 900 residents and a work place for more than 3,000 employees.
Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge
In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, established the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge on 9,016 acres (36.1 km²) in undeveloped land on the reservation of the former Fort McClellan. It takes its name from some of the last-remaining mountain longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forests in the southeastern United States.
As a relatively new wildlife refuge, Mountain Longleaf has not yet developed any sizable tourist facilities. A single information kiosk is located at the junction of Bain's Gap Road and Ridge Road South, near the center of the McClellan community. Additionally, part of the reserve is closed to the general public, pending environmental cleanup. Otherwise, there are limited opportunities for hiking, photography, and wildlife observation at the refuge. Work is underway to restore the environment from the ecological problems introduced by the long use of the area for Army field training.
- Commanders of Fort McClellan; http://www.mcclellan.army.mil/Commanders.asp?TimeFrame=2
- Fort McClellan Army Base in Anniston, Alabama—Abandoned but Not Forgotten; http://www.abandonedbutnotforgotten.com/fort_mcclellan_army_base_in_anniston_alabama.htm
- Gates, Grace Hooten; The Model City of the New South, U. Ala. Press, 1996, pp. 13-55, 148; ISBN 978-0-8173-0818-6
- Gates, op. cit., pp. 140-143
- Reed, Mary Beth, Charles E. Cantley, and J. W. Joseph; Fort McClellan: A Popular History, New South Associates, 1996, pp. 71-83
- Primary reference for this section is Reed, Mary Beth, Charles E. Cantley, and J. W. Joseph; Fort McClellan: A Popular History, New South Associates, 1996, pp. 84-105
- Freeman, Paul. "Ft. McClellan Army Airfield / Henry J. Reilly Army Airfield, Anniston, AL". Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields. http://www.airfields-freeman.com/AL/Airfields_AL_Birmingham.htm. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
- Stanton, Shelby L.; Order of Battle: U.S. Army World War II, Presidio Press, 1984, p. 600; ISBN 0-89141-195-X
- Daugherty, James Harden; The Buffalo Saga: a story from World War II U.S. Army 92nd Infantry Division known as the Buffalo Soldiers, Xlibris Corp., 2009; ISBN 1-4363-9654-9
- Hutchinson, Daniel; ”WWII POW Camps in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama; http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1418
- Pechura, Constance M. and David P. Rall, Veterans at Risk: The Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite, U.S. Institute of Medicine, National Academies Press, 1993, pp. 379–80; ISBN 0-309-04832-X
- Holm, Jenne; Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution, Presidio Press, 1994; ISBN 0-89141-450-9
- ”Transition Force – U.S. Army Garrison, Fort McClellan, Alabama,” http://www.mcclellan.army.mil/Info.asp?article_id=11
- Major General Ralph G. Wooten, Fort McClellan Closing Ceremony, 20 May 1999
- Alabama National Guard; http://alguard.state.al.us/Pages/Default.aspx
- Center for Domestic Preparedness;http://cdp.dhs.gov
- Fort McClellan official website
- Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge
- Official US Army's Anniston Army Depot Website
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