By the end of the twentieth century, Fort Jackson was the army’s largest training post for new soldiers.
Established in 1917 as the Sixth National Army Cantonment and named for President Andrew Jackson, this post in Richland County was originally called Camp Jackson. Army engineers selected the site for its sandy soil and year-round temperate climate. Columbia citizens raised money to buy the initial acreage. During World War I, it served primarily as a training ground for new soldiers. Deactivated in 1922, it was transferred in 1925 to the S.C. National Guard. It also hosted recreational facilities and meeting places for civic groups. During the Great Depression, it housed homeless people and Civilian Conservation Corps workers. Reactivated in 1939, Camp Jackson was upgraded to “fort” status in 1940. Most of its surviving wooden buildings–designed to be temporary–were constructed from 1939 to 1941. The reservation meanwhile grew from 23,000 to 53,000 acres. Throughout World War II, the post was again used to train new recruits. It also provided lodging for units awaiting overseas shipment, participating in maneuvers, conducting planning, coordinating draftees, and providing support. Additionally, it served as headquarters for the state’s prisoner-of-war camps. In 1949 the Department of Defense announced that Fort Jackson would be closed. Legend holds that President Harry Truman ordered the shutdown to spite Governor Strom Thurmond. Available evidence suggests economics as the major cause.
The Korean War halted the closure. Fort Jackson continued as a training center for new soldiers and mobilized National Guardsmen. Partially because of a rapid influx of black and white draftees in 1950, the fort became one of the first army installations to undergo large-scale desegregation. Although Fort Jackson often stood at the forefront of developments in training, its existence remained tenuous. Local congressmen tried to lower the probability of another base-closing order by lobbying for construction of permanent brick buildings. These efforts began to bear fruit during the 1960s. Unusually close civilian-military ties were cemented in 1968 when the city of Columbia annexed the post. Soldiers receiving training during the 1960s included Cuban expatriates and thousands of young men who went to Vietnam. The post attracted international publicity during the 1967 court-martial of Captain Howard Levy, an antiwar army doctor. The possibility of a shutdown again loomed during the 1970s but was averted through lobbying. In 1977 pioneering experiments with gender-integrated training were conducted there. It was one of the first to implement this change in 1994. The U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard used Fort Jackson to mobilize soldiers for the Persian Gulf War. Defense cutbacks during the 1990s resulted in growth as Fort Jackson gained organizations from installations that closed.
By the end of the twentieth century, Fort Jackson was the army’s largest training post for new soldiers. Its schools graduated 42,304 people during 2000. Its permanent cadre for that year numbered 4,170, accompanied by 8,745 family members. The fort provided employment for 3,586 civilians and support for retired service members and their families totaling 117,869. Its expenditures added $573.4 million to the local economy. Although it contributed considerably to South Carolina’s modernization, its 52,321 acres are largely insulated from development and its forests have become havens for endangered wildlife.
Moore, John Hammond. Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740–1990. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
Myers, Andrew H. “Black, White, and Olive Drab: Military-Social Relations during the Civil Rights Movement at Fort Jackson and in Columbia, South Carolina.” Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1998.
United States. Army. Army Training Center, Infantry, Fort Jackson, S.C. 50th Anniversary History, 1917–1967, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. N.p., 1967.