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How the Confederates dominated America’s “Home the the Infantry”

It’s one of the largest military bases on earth. And since the opened, ft Benning has been a monument to white supremacy.

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Few bases are as essential to a armed forces service’s identity as ft Benning, the “home of the infantry,” is come the United claims Army. That is there, along the Georgia-Alabama border, whereby young men and—since 2017—women spend half a year in cultivate to sign up with the Army’s “main land combat force and also backbone,” earning blue shoulder cords on their dress uniforms that mark them as infantry soldiers. Somewhere else on fort Benning, upstream trainees endure Ranger training, and also Airborne institution hopefuls still take it their first terrified jumps from iconic people War II–era metal towers prior to ever boarding an airplane. Ft Benning also houses the western Hemisphere institute for security Cooperation, formerly known as the school of the Americas, whereby the military notoriously trained a generation that Latin American army officers—some that whom became dictators—on torture and repression techniques in the surname of anti-communism and the “war ~ above drugs,” sparking protests that resulted in congressional intervention. What happens on ft Benning, in other words, has long reverberated through the Army and also around the world. The is believed to be one of the five largest army installations top top earth. During the workday, that houses more than 100,000 soldiers and workers, enough to make it one of the 10 biggest cities in Georgia.

Rooted in former plantation floor in the South’s historical Black Belt, where numerous enslaved Black world suffered in sweltering noodle fields, fort Benning is additionally named after ~ Henry L. Benning, a local lawyer and slaveowner turned Confederate brigadier basic who publicly taken on Georgia’s secession as “the only thing that can prevent the abolition of her slavery” and bemoaned “the fate i m sorry Abolition will bring upon the white race.”

Benning is among 10 army installations at this time named in respect of Confederate soldiers. Following the police death of George Floyd and also the growing nationwide protest movement against racism and also police violence, the surname of those military bases have actually come in because that renewed scrutiny: The voices for change have had Black veterans and also retired military Gen. David Petraeus, as well as a may 23 brand-new York time editorial. Between the flurry of attention in overturning American monuments to Confederates, Secretary the Defense mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy additionally abruptly announced this month that they were “open” come the idea the renaming the service’s secessionist-named installations. This sparked an anti-change Twitter outburst from president Trump, with his press secretary claiming in a June 10 press briefing that the activity to rename bases insulted America’s collapse soldiers. Members that Congress, including the GOP-led Senate equipped Services Committee, have actually other ideas, though, and also Senate Republicans space not unified on what need to be done.

To it is in clear, the Confederate names don’t stop at the gate, either; as soon as the armed forces police tide me top top bases in the American South, roadway names honoring Confederate battle criminals prefer Nathaniel Bedford Forrest and also John S. Mosby await me. When I very first joined the phibìc Carolina national Guard, i was shocked to uncover that the army traces and also officially honors the civil War business of units through Confederate lineages, permitting such systems to bring Southern-gray battle “streamers” on their flags. (My views nothing necessarily reflect the official policy or place of the north Carolina army National Guard, the U.S. Army, or the room of Defense.) i noticed these things. Therefore did black color soldiers, consisting of a near friend who asked me: “You’re a historian—who also picked this names?”

The movement to name Georgia’s huge infantry base for a community slaveholder was spurred by the regional United Daughters the the Confederacy, an company with an obsessive focus on erecting monuments come Confederate and, occasionally, Ku Klux Klan heroes; the UDC tho exists this day as a federally recognized 501(c)3 tax-exempt charity, though it’s detailed as a hate team by the southern Poverty legislation Center.

The historical record is unambiguous: ft Benning was named for a white supremacist, by white supremacists, as component of a national project to enshrine a white supremacist narrative of the civil War. And also the army has allowed the surname to stand for more than a century.

Founded in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1894, the UDC organized an outsize affect in perpetuating white dominance in the United says after reconstruction ended. The UDC “aspired come transform army defeat into a politics and social victory, wherein states’ rights and also white dominance remained intact,” as college of north Carolina-Charlotte background professor Karen L. Cox puts the in Dixie’s Daughters: The joined Daughters the the Confederacy and also the preservation of Confederate Culture, the foundational job-related of scholarship on the group. Scions that the wealthy white upstream of the South, the UDC’s women were able come ruthlessly exploit their personal and political connections at every turn.

Benning was no widely commemorated for his military prowess; what Benning was, however, to be a key figure in the secessionist movement.

The UDC car for vindicating and also celebrating the Confederacy to be the lost Cause, a misleading narrative of the war and Reconstruction that cast the southern Civil War reason as a noble one, more about principles and virtues quite than slavery. In this distorted version of history, the U.S. Overwhelmed the rebellion rather of militarily beating it, Confederate leaders—especially Robert E. Lee and also Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson—were saints, and also “Johnny Rebs” to be the bravest and also fiercest soldiers ever seen. The lost Cause likewise held the Black world were incapable of exercising freedom and had been much better off in the Old South—as evidence, adherents pointed come embattled, Black-led Republican governments in the repair South, frame them together chaotic and evil. The entire Lost cause campaign, native its account of the war’s causes to the characterization of black politicians, “absolutely is around white supremacy,” stated Caroline Janney, manager of the john L. Nau III facility for civil War background at the college of Virginia and author of remembering the civil War: Reunion and also the limits of Reconciliation.

Throughout the summer the 1918, the white upstream of Columbus, Georgia, to be hopeful but nervous. A handwritten chamber of business journal in the Columbus State college Archives reveals exactly how city occupants had begun lobbying the federal federal government to locate a army training camp over there as early as march 1917—before the U.S. Had actually even entered the war. On respectable 18, 1918, the front page of the Columbus Ledger claimed victory: The army was to construct a new infantry school external the Southwest Georgia city.

The complying with morning’s Ledger front-page headline was “Ladies Endorse Camp Benning.” The women were members that the Lizzie Rutherford chapter of the UDC, and they had “unanimously voted to request the to name the army camp which is to it is in located right here in respect of the storage of the lamented general Henry L. Benning,” according to the room of commerce summary. The exact same day, the chapter’s secretary and also its vice president sent out a telegram to Secretary of war Newton D. Baker to “earnestly and also respectfully request that the army camp to be located in be named in respect of our much beloved Gen. Henry L. Benning.”


Bjorn P. Egeli/University the Georgia/Wikimedia Commons

Benning was not widely celebrated for his military prowess: unequal eight the the nine various other Confederates with military bases called after them, Benning never even served in the U.S. Military—rebellion in the polite War constituted the whole of his army career. What Benning was, however, was a vital figure in the secessionist movement, explained by one historian as an “important fireeater.” As early as 1849, the had suggested that southerly secession native the U.S. Would be the only method to defend slavery. He had actually no shortage of personal motives to defend slavery, having been born right into a plantation family and enslaved 89 black people. Benning later led a walkout of pro-slavery southern delegates indigenous the 1860 democratic convention after the northern delegations refused to clearly support slavery in the party platform, a walkout practically guaranteeing Abraham Lincoln’s choice victory. Then, in a pro-secession speech the November, Benning painted the newly elected Lincoln as a boogeyman to stoke fear of open race war, claiming Black human being were “savages” who would “exterminate the white race.”

Another contributing variable to Benning’s unanimous an option was that his daughter, Anna Caroline Benning, was the chairman of the regional UDC chapter and also perhaps the most powerful woman in Columbus. She 1935 obituary mourned her together “one the the most picturesque and also beloved females of the state” and also “a true daughter that the old southern aristocracy.” known as “Tiny” Benning, she likewise served together president of the neighborhood Ladies Memorial Association, a predecessor come the UDC, and also founded the local Daughters that the American change chapter, later ascending to national office in that organization.

Unsurprisingly, other white establishments in the neighborhood rallied behind the UDC’s Benning proposal. The local United Confederate Veterans endorsed it practically immediately. Then in September 1918, the rotating Club and also the room of business both sent letters come the war Department in Benning’s support. The editor of the Columbus Ledger complied with suit v a September 30 editorial titled “Name that Benning.” once the an initial soldiers landed on the brand-new post on October 6, it had currently been informally christened Benning by the locals. The post’s commandant, Col. Henry E. Eames, quickly captured onto the neighborhood name and started referring to it as Camp Benning. 2 weeks later, the battle Department make the name official, sending a telegram to the secretary that the local Chamber of commerce confirming that Henry Benning would get his base.

A officially flag-raising and huge parade with Columbus marked the event on December 12. At the head of the parade speak Anna Caroline Benning, who hoisted an American flag to the top of the 102-foot pole, a symbolic reconciliation of pro-Confederate white Southerners come the federal government—on the Southerners’ terms. The urgent needs of the military during WWI play a function in the Army’s decision. “The Army’s do the efforts to uncover a way to gain local populations onboard with putting a basic in and also using eminent domain, right, they’re taking large amounts that property, right? therefore letting them name it is one means to perform that,” Domby, the Charleston historian, told me. Yet the army was also “trying to obtain local citizens ready to enlist themselves” through “appeals to whatever the local sense the patriotism .” and to the influential white citizen of Columbus, Henry L. Benning to be “a splendid example of patriotic citizenship.”

Base namings favor Benning’s “were tied to white supremacy, and they were tied to essentially signaling to white Southerners … that they’d been accepted back in” by the federal government, Domby said—but more than that, the Confederate base names additionally demonstrated the the army “was willing to allow African americans to it is in treated as second-class citizens.”

That was the cheap that we live through today. “The fact that white Northerners ready to surname bases after Confederate generals says a lot around white Northerners’ willingness to expropriate this variation of the previous that many of their fathers would’ve adamantly i dont agree with,” stated the university of Virginia’s Janney.

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On face, the Lost reason reasoning is much less famous today. Public assistance for removed Confederate monuments has sharply risen—a Quinnipiac university poll exit June 17 reflects that 53 percent that Americans now support removal, an increase of 19 percent since previous polling in 2017. The poll reflects Americans evenly break-up on the worry of Confederate base names, but those number may transition further in assistance of renaming in the future. One factor is the big increase in awareness the the issue—until the recent protests, plenty of Americans merely did not know the scale of the Army’s Confederate commemorations, if they to be even conscious of their existence. Other branches the the military have responded promptly to this month’s calls for racial justice: The Air force is launching an examination into how racial injustice affects the health of Black service members. The naval Corps simply banned Confederate imagery across the whole force, and the navy promptly followed suit.

The Army, however, has been much an ext ambiguous. Together late as February, the company was not interested in changing any basic names. Even the June 10 army statement signaling Esper’s and McCarthy’s openness to name changes additionally stressed, versus all the available evidence, the the installations’ “historic names represent individuals, not reasons or ideologies.” and nowhere go McCarthy to speak what lot of military experts are currently saying: that he could change the surname of any Army surroundings today, by himself, v the stroke of a pen, and also yet he hasn’t. That has a lot of to execute with the fact that McCarthy’s boss, the mercurial commander in chief, has vowed on social media that “my administration will no even think about the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled army Installations.”

Which means that, until Trump leaves office or transforms his mind, the U.S. Army’s latent homage to its previous Confederate adversaries will persist—and through it, a hold of American contradictions. “Given the number of African Americans who serve in our military and train at these bases, it is, ns think, problematic for us to not have bases called after world who space admirable and people who didn’t hit to save them enslaved,” said Domby.

Janney was even more direct. “Everyone,” she told me, “is implicit in this white supremacy.”

J. Davis Winkie is one officer in the phibìc Carolina army National Guard and a historian of U.S. War memory and also racial violence.