• Which post oldest west of Mississippi?

    • email print
  • Quentin Schillare | Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp
    Fort Leavenworth, established on May 8, 1827, on a bluff above the Missouri River, calls itself the oldest active military installation west of the Mississippi River and the third continuously active Army post after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. (1778), and Fort McNair (formerly Washington Barracks), in Washington, D.C. (1791).
    In September 1827, it was designated Cantonment Leavenworth and in 1834 it became Fort Leavenworth.
    On July 10, 1826, Army troops occupied a newly purchased parcel of land in the state of Missouri on the bluffs above the Mississippi River 10 miles south of St. Louis. In October of that year, it was designated Jefferson Barracks. On April 17, 1827, the officers and men of the 3rd Infantry Regiment who established Fort Leavenworth departed from Jefferson Barracks. Jefferson Barracks also identifies itself as the oldest U.S. military installation in continuous use west of the Mississippi River.
    How can Jefferson Barracks and Fort Leavenworth both be the oldest continuously active U.S. military installation west of the Mississippi River? After all, Jefferson Barracks was established 10 months before Fort Leavenworth. The answer, as it usually does, lies in history.
    The War Department and its successor, the Department of the Army, with a few exceptions related to unit lineage, long ago decided not to get into the “superlatives” business. It is Army policy not to adjudicate any Army installation’s claim to be the oldest, largest, longest serving, earliest or so on. Any post can make a claim as long as they can back it up when challenged with contrary evidence. Interpretation of “continuous” is the key.
    Carlisle Barracks, Pa., home of the Army War College, is a case in point. It was established by the British Army in 1755. After the American Revolution, until the time of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, its military history is a bit sketchy. The federal government did not even own the land until 1801. It served as a frontier and school post until 1879. From 1879 to 1918 it was under the control of the Department of the Interior as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. The Army regained control during World War I. So, although Carlisle Barracks is old, it clearly has not been a continuously active Army installation.
    Jefferson Barracks continued on active service from 1826 to July 1, 1946, when it was declared surplus and decommissioned. For a number of years, portions were sold off to private developers and local governments. The federal government established a Veterans Affairs hospital and cemetery. The main post area was eventually occupied by National Guard and Reserve units that remain to this day. So, even though parts of Jefferson Barracks are still federal property and have been in continuous use since its decommissioning, it did have a break in service.
    Fort Leavenworth was never declared surplus or decommissioned, but it had a short break in service. In the summer of 1827 and the spring of 1828 outbreaks of malaria and other diseases caused the fort to be vacated for short periods. Although vacated, the intent was to return when the health risk subsided. And although it occurred long ago, parts of the post have been diverted to other non-military uses. The location of the Leavenworth water works near the Centennial Bridge and the land occupied by the U.S. Penitentiary were once part of Fort Leavenworth. The former Nike missile radar site above Hancock Gate is now in private hands.
    Page 2 of 2 - In keeping with Army policy, this author will not formally adjudicate the competing claims of oldest continuous active military installation west of the Mississippi River. However, it is prudent to point out that while they have similar histories, Fort Leavenworth was never declared surplus and never decommissioned. The 190-year-old post on the west bank of the Missouri River established by Col. Henry Leavenworth and his troops from the 3rd Infantry on that early May day in 1827 ought to win the argument on points.
  • Comment or view comments