History of Fort McPherson
The history of the Army in Atlanta has evolved from the state militia’s use of a pasture for a meeting place and drill ground in 1835 — where Fort McPherson sits today — to the current Army presence at Fort McPherson, Fort Gillem and various locations throughout Atlanta.
Fort McPherson, situated on 487 acres of gently rolling terrain four miles southwest of the center of Atlanta, is rich in military tradition as an Army post dating back to 1867. It was during that year that a post was established in west Atlanta on the grounds where Spelman College is now located. Between the years 1867 and 1881, the post was garrisoned in turn by elements of the 2nd, 16th and 18th U.S. Infantry Regiments and the 5th Artillery. Their mission was to enforce Union regulations during the reconstruction period following the Civil War.
In October 1881, Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln directed that the lease of the site be surrendered and the buildings sold at public auction. In compliance with this directive, McPherson Barracks was abandoned by U.S. troops Dec. 8, 1881. Part of the site was purchased by the American Baptist Missionary Society for use by the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, which later became Spelman College. The U.S. Treasury realized $17,264.40 from the sale of the buildings.
March 3, 1885, Congress passed the Sundry Civil Bill, which contained an initial sum of $15,000 for the purchase of land and the erection of a 10-company post. The task of site selection went to Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, commanding general of the Division of the Atlantic. Five tracts of land amounting to 14,009 acres were purchased in September 1885. Capt. Joshua W. Jacobs, assistant quartermaster, was responsible for developing and implementing the first master plan for the post.
That same year, Maj. Gen. John A. Schofield, chief of staff, suggested the new post be formally named in honor of Maj. Gen. James Birdseye McPherson. During the Civil War, McPherson participated in the Battles of Jackson and Vicksburg, earning promotion to brigadier general. In 1864 he was killed while on a reconnaissance patrol during the Battle of Atlanta. During the Spanish-American War, Fort McPherson served as a general hospital and as a recruit training center for nearly 20,000 men. Barracks were filled to over Vowing and emergency tents were set up. It later became a prisoner of war (POW) facility, and by the end of July 1898, 16 Spanish Army prisoners were incarcerated in what is now the Post Chapel. During WorldWar I, Fort McPherson was selected to be an internment camp for German POWs; a base hospital, General Hospital No. 6 and the site of an officers’ training camp.
Immediately to the west of the post, across Campbellton Road, a war prison barracks was established to confine German POWs. The prison camp reached a peak population of 1,411 in July 1918. The secretary of war directed that the permanent barracks of Fort McPherson be made available for general or base hospital use June 23, 1917. The command of the post was turned over to the ranking medical officer and Fort McPherson transformed itself into a general hospital with a capacity of nearly 2,400 beds. It is estimated that more than 10,000 patients were admitted from August 1917 until December 1918.