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FORT SAM HOUSTON
Postcard of Fort Sam Houston, ca. 1908, showing the quadrangle plaza and the clock tower. Construction began at Fort Sam Houston in 1876. In 2009 Fort Sam Houston became the headquarters for Joint Base San Antonio.
FORT SAM HOUSTON. Fort Sam Houston is a major military installation in the northeast section of San Antonio. The United States Army first established a presence in San Antonio at Camp Almus near the Alamo in October 1845 when the Republic of Texas was in the process of becoming a state. In addition to a small garrison, the post at San Antonio included a quartermaster depot. As early as 1846 the city was attempting to secure the establishment of a permanent United States military installation. During the Mexican War, the army established a mobilization camp at San Pedro Springs for Gen. John E. Wool’s army. In December 1848 the headquarters of the Eighth Military Department moved to San Antonio. Except for the period from 1853 to 1855, there was a regional headquarters in San Antonio until the Civil War. The San Antonio Quartermaster Depot occupied the Alamo on January 2, 1849, on lease from the Catholic Church. The Vance house, a two-story stone house where the Sheraton Gunter Hotel now stands, was leased for the headquarters. Barracks for garrison and officer quarters were nearby in rented buildings. The city made several offers of free land, but all were refused except for a small parcel on Flores Street, which was used for the San Antonio Arsenal, constructed in 1859. In 1861 all federal facilities in San Antonio were surrendered to secessionist forces. Federal forces returned in 1865, and the headquarters occupied the French Building. Between 1870 and 1875, the city council made several offers of land to the U. S. War Department for a permanent post. The War Department eventually accepted three parcels of land amounting to 92.79 acres located two and one half miles northeast of the Alamo on what would soon be called Government Hill.
On June 7, 1876, construction was begun by the Edward Braden Construction Company on a 624-foot square quadrangle. In 1877 the depot began operating from the quadrangle. Work was completed in February 1878. Total cost for construction was $98,366.63. A temporary hospital was built, and the garrison troops of the post at San Antonio moved to Government Hill in 1879. Between 1878 and 1879 the quadrangle was modified to accommodate the headquarters, but the headquarters remained in San Antonio until 1881 when quarters were built for the staff west of the quadrangle on what would be called the Staff Post. The quarters were designed by Alfred Giles. The largest of these quarters, designated for the commanding general, would be named the Pershing House for Gen. John J. Pershing, who lived there in 1917. In 1886 a permanent hospital was added on the Staff Post. Between 1885 and 1891 forty-three acres and sixty buildings, also designed by Alfred Giles, were added to what was to become the Infantry Post, making Fort Sam Houston the second largest in the United States Army.
In 1890 the post at San Antonio was designated Fort Sam Houston in honor of Gen. Sam Houston. In 1886 Apache Chief Geronimo was held in the quadrangle before his exile to Florida. During the Spanish-American War, the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, commanded by Col. Leonard Wood but known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, mobilized in San Antonio and received their equipment from the depot in the quadrangle. Fort Sam Houston expanded again after the war, with the construction of the Cavalry and Light Artillery Post Addition, 1905–12. The War Department began purchasing land near Leon Springs in 1906 for firing ranges and training areas. This area became Camp Bullis in 1917. The first chapel on post was built with funds donated by the citizens of San Antonio and the soldiers and dedicated by President William Howard Taft in 1909. It was named the "Gift Chapel.” In 1908 a new hospital was built at the artillery post. It was enlarged in 1910 and again in 1917. In 1910 Lt. Benjamin Foulois brought the army's only airplane to Fort Sam Houston, and on March 2, 1910, he made his first solo flight, marking the “birth of military aviation” (see AVIATION).
Quartermaster Mechanical Repair Shop No. 304 at Fort Sam Houston (circa 1914). Courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association.
By 1912 Fort Sam Houston was the largest army post with the headquarters of the Southern Department, the San Antonio Quartermaster Depot, and a garrison of an infantry regiment, a regiment of cavalry, a field artillery battalion, and signal and engineer troops. During Gen. Pershing’s punitive expedition into Mexico in 1916, Pershing’s force was supported by the depot in the quadrangle and under the operational control of the headquarters in the quadrangle.
Vehicle Division at Fort Sam Houston (circa 1914). Courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association.
During World War I an addition of 1,280 acres northeast of the fort was purchased for a National Army Cantonment called Camp Travis. More than 208,000 soldiers passed through Camp Travis, including the Ninetieth Division, the Eighteenth Division, and numerous other units. After the war, the Second Division was billeted in Camp Travis. The temporary buildings of Camp Travis rapidly wore out and were replaced under the Army Housing Program of 1926. This program employed the best urban planners to design military communities. At the suggestion of San Antonio architect Atlee Ayres, Spanish Colonial Revival style was chosen for what would be called the New Post. Five hundred new permanent buildings were constructed between 1928 and 1939, including a general hospital. In the 1920s and 1930s, Fort Sam Houston was involved in the filming of the motion pictures The Rough Riders (1927), The Big Parade (1925), and Wings (1927); supporting the Civilian Conservation Corps; conducting large-scale maneuvers; and developing the “triangular division.” By the outbreak of World War II in 1941, the post had added hundreds of temporary mobilization buildings.
During the war, the headquarters for the Third, Sixth, Ninth, Tenth, and Fifteenth Armies trained and deployed from Fort Sam Houston. So did the VIII Corps, Second Infantry Division, Eighty-eighth Infantry Division, Ninety-fifth Infantry Division, and a host of smaller units. In 1944 the headquarters of the Fourth Army moved into the quadrangle. Also on post were schools for the adjutant general, the provost marshal, and railway operations. There was a prisoner of war camp and the first unit of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Many of the top commanders during the war were Fort Sam Houston alumni. Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges commanded the First Army in Europe. Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger commanded the Sixth Army in the Pacific. Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson commanded the Fourth Army at Fort Sam Houston and the Ninth Army in Europe. Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner commanded the Tenth Army on Okinawa. When he was killed in action, Lt. Gen Joseph W. Stilwell replaced him. Lt. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow commanded the Fifteenth Army in Europe. Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who began the war as Chief of Staff of the Third Army at Fort Sam Houston, rose to the rank of General of the Army and was the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe.
After the war, the Fourth Army remained in the quadrangle, but Fort Sam Houston received a new mission—medical training. Brooke Army Medical Center was established with Brooke General Hospital, built in 1937, as its core. To this were added the U. S. Army Medical Training Center which trained enlisted medics and the Medical Field Service School which trained all the officer medical branches as well as enlisted medical technicians. In 1946 the Institute of Surgical Research was moved to Fort Sam from Halloran General Hospital in New York. The institute specialized in trauma surgery. The Burn Center was established in 1949. During the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Fort Sam Houston trained all of the army’s medical personnel and earned the nickname, the “Home of Army Medicine.”
A series of reorganizations within the army in the early 1970s brought many changes to Fort Sam Houston. In 1971 the Fourth and Fifth Army areas were combined, and the Fifth Army Headquarters replaced the Fourth in the quadrangle. In 1972 the Medical Field Service School and the U. S. Army Medical Training Center, plus a few other medical-related activities, were combined to form the Academy of Health Sciences, putting all army medical training in one institution. Also in that year, the U. S. Army Health Services Command was established to command all medical activities in the army. Its headquarters were located at Fort Sam Houston. Fort Sam Houston was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1975.
Throughout the Cold War and the post-Cold War period, Fort Sam Houston provided trained soldiers and units for exercises; for international crises like Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield, and Desert Storm; and for national disasters. In 1996 Brooke Army Medical Center relocated to new facilities east of Salado Creek. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, Fort Sam Houston again deployed trained troops and units to Iraq, Afghanistan, and wherever needed, and cared for casualties returning from the war zones. The headquarters for U. S. Army South moved to Fort Sam Houston in 2003, occupying the former Brooke General Hospital.
During the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005, several major organizations moved to Fort Sam Houston. The enlisted medical training of the United States Navy and United States Air Force moved to Fort Sam Houston and formed with the Army Medical Department Center and School a new Medical Education and Training Campus. Also coming to the post were the Installation Management Command and the Mission and Installation Contracting Command. In 2009 Fort Sam Houston became part of Joint Base San Antonio (the largest Joint Base) which had its headquarters at Fort Sam Houston.
In the 2010s Fort Sam Houston, Joint Base San Antonio included the 502nd Air Base Wing (the Joint Base headquarters), the headquarters of U. S. Army North/ Fifth United States Army, United States Army South, the United States Army Medical Command, the Medical Education and Training Campus, Brooke Army Medical Center, the Institute for Surgical Research with its world-renowned Burn Center, the Center for the Intrepid, the San Antonio Naval Recruiting District, the San Antonio Military Entrance Processing Center, and Fort Sam Houston’s sub-post, Camp Bullis. Also on the post are the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Robert G. Cole Middle School and High School, and Fort Sam Houston Elementary School. The post also supports National Guard and Army Reserve units as well as Junior and Senior Reserve Officer Training Corps units. By virtue of the activities of the tenant organizations on the post and the service of the medical personnel of all the services who have trained at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio’s Army post has not only a national impact but also a global one.
Paul Ebers, San Antonio: The Metropolis and Garden Spot of Texas and Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio, 1909). Fort Sam Houston Museum, Commodious Homes for the Troops: A Centennial History of the Cavalry and Light Artillery Addition, Fort Sam Houston, Texas 1905–2005 (San Antonio: Fort Sam Houston, 2006). Fort Sam Houston Museum, A Pocket Guide to Historic Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio: Fort Sam Houston, 2003). Fort Sam Houston Museum, A Pocket Guide to the Staff Post Fort Sam Houston, Texas (San Antonio: Fort Sam Houston, 2006.) Fort Sam Houston Museum, The Post at San Antonio: 1845–1879 (San Antonio: Fort Sam Houston, 2002). Fort Sam Houston Museum, The Quadrangle: Hub of Military Activity in Texas, An Outline History (San Antonio: Fort Sam Houston, 2009). Robert W. Frazer, Forts of the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965). Mary Olivia Handy, History of Sam Houston (San Antonio: Naylor, 1951). John Manguso, Fort Sam Houston (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing Company Images of America Series, 2012). San Antonio Express, November 26, 1940.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, John Manguso, "FORT SAM HOUSTON," accessed September 20, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qbf43.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on May 22, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.