Racist past of Confederate generals with army bases named after them

Racist past of Confederate generals with bases named after them including Leonidas Polk who owned 400 slaves, KKK leader John Brown Gordon and Henry Benning who feared a ‘land in possession of the blacks’

  • Donald Trump last night ruled out naming 10 military bases named after Confederate generals of the Civil War
  • The names have come under scrutiny as statues fall amid anti-racism protests after the death of George Floyd
  • Most of the 10 Confederate generals either owned slaves – including Robert E. Lee – or their families did  

The 10 Confederate generals who give their names to US Army bases include a bishop who owned 400 slaves, a suspected Ku Klux Klan leader and a fierce advocate of slavery who feared a ‘wilderness in possession of the blacks’. 

Donald Trump last night ruled out renaming the bases despite their links to slavery and racial oppression, saying they were ‘hallowed grounds’ where soldiers had been trained for great American victories. 

The bases have come under scrutiny amid a wave of anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd, which have also led to the toppling of Confederate statues and monuments to Christopher Columbus.  

Most of the 10 Confederate generals either owned slaves or their families did. One of them, Henry Benning, was vociferous in his defense of slavery and said abolition would lead to ‘black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything’. The South’s most famous general Robert E. Lee inherited 189 slaves from his father-in-law, tried to block their emancipation and had them beaten if they tried to escape. 

Another general, John Brown Gordon – who owned a 14-year-old girl as a slave – is widely thought to have been a leader of the KKK in Georgia.  Many of the 10 men had previously fought for the US Army but defected to join the Confederacy when the 11 Southern states seceded in 1861.  

Henry L. Benning (pictured) owned at least 89 slaves on his 3,000 acres of land 


Fort Benning, Alabama-Georgia border  

The home of the United States Army Infantry School, Fort Benning was named in 1917 for plantation owner and Confederate general Henry L. Benning. 

Benning was a Georgia lawyer who became an outspoken defender of slavery and advocate for secession in the lead-up to the Civil War. 

His father owned more than 100 slaves, and tax records from 1863 show that he owned at least 89 slaves himself along with more than 3,000 acres of land. 

These investments gave him a total wealth of more than $150,000, and one historian has described him as ‘devoted to slavery’. 

In early 1861 he took his secessionist campaign to Virginia, where he complained to the legislature that the abolition of slavery would lead to ‘black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?’. 

He also predicted that ‘the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa or Saint Domingo’.  

Imagining a world in which former slave Frederick Douglass became President, Benning said: ‘I say give me pestilence and famine sooner than that.’ 

Benning also made explicit that Georgia was fighting for slavery, saying secession had come from ‘a deep conviction that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery’. 

During the Civil War he became a colonel in the Georgia militia and was promoted to brigadier general in 1863, fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg later that year. He died in 1875. 

Fort Bragg is home to more than 50,000 troops and hosts the Army’s Special Operations Command. It was named after Confederate general Braxton Bragg in 1918.

Born in North Carolina, Bragg moved to Louisiana in 1856 where he and his wife bought a sugar plantation for $152,000 – which came with 105 slaves.  

The Army says the base is named for Bragg’s actions during the Mexican-American War in the 1840s, but Bragg was also a Southern general described as ‘the most hated man of the Confederacy’. 

Although he was sceptical about secession, he defended the South’s right to do so and seized a Union arsenal in Baton Rouge in January 1861.  

Beginning the war as a major-general in Louisiana, he rose to become a general and commander of the Confederate Army of Mississippi. 

However, he presided over a series of Confederate defeats and was disliked by his subordinates because of his bad temper and combative personality. 

One officer called him him ‘self-willed, arrogant and dictatorial,’ while another soldier labelled him ‘obstinate, haughty and authoritative’. 

Historians have said that Bragg ‘did as much as any Confederate general to lose the war’ because of his string of military losses. 

Bragg resigned as a commander in 1863 but continued to serve as a military adviser to Jefferson Davis and remained in the Confederate cabinet until its defeat.   

Fort Bragg in North Carolina (pictured) is home to more than 50,000 troops and hosts the Army’s Special Operations Command. It was named after Confederate general Braxton Bragg in 1918

John Brown Gordon (pictured) owned a 14-year-old girl as a slave 


Fort Gordon, Georgia 

Fort Gordon, established during World War II, was named for Confederate lieutenant-general John Brown Gordon. 

Gordon supported secession and owned slaves as a young man, investing in coal mining operations in Georgia and Tennessee. 

In 1860, the census showed him owning one 14-year-old girl as a slave, while his father owned four slaves.  

When war broke out, he returned home to Alabama and became a colonel – impressing Robert E. Lee by promising to hold his ground ‘until the sun goes down’.

Later promoted to brigadier-general, he led a brigade of Georgia regiments during the Gettysburg campaign in 1863. 

Although he led a failed assault on Fort Stedman in the final months of the war, Gordon has been called ‘one of the most successful commanders’ in Lee’s army. 

After the war he entered politics, becoming both a US Senator from Georgia and the Governor of the same state. 

He was also rumored to be a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, and one historian said it was ‘almost certain’ that he was head of the KKK’s Georgia branch. 

Gordon also served as commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans. He lived until 1904. 

Leonidas Polk (pictured) is thought to have had as many as 400 slaves on plantations


Fort Polk, Louisiana   

This base was named after Leonidas Polk, who was both a bishop in the Episcopal Church and a major-general in the Confederate Army. 

Polk, a cousin of 11th US President James Polk, is thought to have had as many as 400 slaves on sugar plantations in Tennessee. 

His family owned more than 100,000 acres of land and he initially went to West Point, but diverted to religious life and became Bishop of Louisiana in 1841. 

Although he had no military experience, he had trained with Jefferson Davis at West Point and used this connection to become a major-general in the Confederate army.

Polk also supported the secession of the Southern states by withdrawing his own ecclesiastical diocese from the national church.  

Known as the ‘Fighting Bishop’, he blundered early on by ordering troops into neutral Kentucky – prompting the border state to ask for Northern help. 

He later clashed with the above-mentioned Braxton Bragg, who accused him of disobeying orders during the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. 

Polk was killed in action in 1864 while fighting at Pine Mountain, Georgia. 

Robert E. Lee (pictured) inherited slaves from his father-in-law in 1857


Fort Lee, Virginia   

Fort Lee, 25 miles south of Richmond, is named after Confederate general-in-chief Robert E. Lee. 

Lee fought in the Mexican-American War and spent three years as a superintendent at West Point, training some of the men who would later serve under him. 

He owned slaves from the age of 22, when he inherited several families of black people after the death of his mother Ann Lee. 

In 1857, his father-in-law left him 189 slaves who worked on the estates of Arlington, White House, and Romancoke. 

The will provided that the slaves should be freed after five years, but Lee tried multiple times to resist this and keep the slaves under his control.  

Although he was ‘not a pro-slavery ideologue’ according to one historian, Lee was known to use ‘violence typical of the institution of slavery’ and some slaves tried to escape his discipline. Some were recaptured and beaten on Lee’s orders. 

He did not finally free the slaves until three days before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would have done so anyway. 

Lincoln had offered Lee the command of Union forces in 1861, but Lee defected instead and became a general in the Confederate army. 

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia did battle with Grant’s federal troops in some of the defining battles of the war, which ended with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865. Lee died in 1870. 

P.G.T. Beauregard (pictured) grew up in a slave-owning household in Louisiana 


Camp Beauregard, Louisiana  

A National Guard training facility, this base was initially named Camp Stafford but renamed after Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard in 1917. 

Beauregard was a U.S. Army officer who served in the Mexican-American War in the 1840s, but defected to support the Confederacy when Louisiana seceded in 1861. 

Born on a sugar plantation outside New Orleans, Beauregard had grown up in a slave-owning household and later rented slaves for himself while in the military. 

Commissioned as a Confederate brigadier-general in 1861, Beauregard commanded the defenses of Charleston during the bombardment of Fort Sumter which marked the start of the Civil War. 

Beauregard commanded Southern troops throughout the war, including at the 1862 Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee and during the defense of Petersburg in 1864. 

But by 1865 he was among the generals who persuaded Confederate president Jefferson Davis to surrender and end the war. 

After the war he wrote that ‘in seventy-five years the colored race [would] disappear from America along with the Indians and the buffalo’, although for tactical reasons he advised his fellow white Southerners to accept black voting rights. 

In later life he became wealthy in his own right by promoting the Louisiana Lottery. He died in 1893. 

Ambrose Powell Hill (pictured) quit the US Army to join the Confederacy 


Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia  

A US Army training center in Virginia, this base was established during World War II and named after Confederate general Ambrose Powell Hill. 

Hill was not a slave owner, but quit the US Army in 1861 to join the 13th Virginia Infantry at the outbreak of the Civil War. 

He rose through the ranks from colonel to brigadier-general, then major-general and finally lieutenant-general after the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.  

However, he was criticized for his ‘less than stellar’ performance on the first two days of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. 

Hill reputedly said that he did not want to survive the fall of the Confederacy – and indeed he did not, although he only missed Lee’s surrender only by a few days. Hill was killed in action in April 1865, shot by a Union soldier during a battle in Petersburg, Virginia. 

John Bell Hood (pictured) was from a neutral state but chose to fight for the South 


Fort Hood, Texas  

Fort Hood is the Army’s ‘premier installation to train and deploy heavy forces’, and is named after Confederate general John Bell Hood. 

Hood was from Kentucky, which declared itself neutral in the war, and had previously served in the US Cavalry after graduating from West Point, where he met Lee. 

The Hood family owned seven slaves in the 1830 census and had 11 slaves by 1840, and Hood himself had a fortune of nearly $10,000 by the end of his life.  

In 1861, he chose to fight for the South in the Civil War and had been promoted to brigadier-general by 1862.  

On one occasion he gave orders to procure thousands of slaves – demanding the ‘services of 4,000 negroes’ for his army.  

By 1864 he was leading Confederate forces in defense of Atlanta, but failed to stop Sherman advancing through Georgia with his Union troops. 

After the war he wrote a memoir called Advance and Retreat described as the ‘bitter attempt of a soldier to rebut history’s judgment of himself’. He died in 1879. 

George Pickett (pictured) came from a family which owned dozens of slaves 


Fort Pickett, Virginia  

This National Guard facility is named after George Pickett, the Confederate general responsible for Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. 

His Virginia family owned 42 slaves in 1830 and 23 slaves in 1850, when his father was recorded as having a wealth of $50,000.  

Pickett graduated from West Point in 1846 – although he came last in his class – but defected to the Confederacy at the outbreak of war in 1861. 

His charge at Gettysburg proved a disaster when he lost more than half of his command to death, injury or capture.   

In 1864, he signed off the execution of 22 Union soldiers from North Carolina after they were captured at New Bern. 

However, he escaped justice from a military tribunal after Ulysses Grant – a former West Point classmate – intervened to protect him.

He was also saved by President Andrew Johnson’s 1866 proclamation that the rebellion was over, allowing him to return from exile in Canada. He died in 1875. 

Edmund Rucker (pictured) served under Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest


Fort Rucker, Alabama  

Home to the Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker was originally named Ozark Triangular Division Camp but was later renamed after Confederate general Edmund Rucker. 

Rucker served under General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the Civil War and was appointed as an honorary general himself. 

Rucker was in Forrest’s cavalry during the Fort Pillow Massacre in 1864 when hundreds of African-American troops were killed by Confederate forces.  

After the war he became an industrialist in Alabama, working as president of a railroad firm and director of an iron and steel company. He lived until 1924.    

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