FORT SAM HOUSTON
FORT SAM HOUSTON. Fort Sam Houston is a major military installation in the northeast section of San Antonio. As early as 1846 the city was attempting to secure the establishment of a permanent United States military installation. During the Mexican War the United States Army established a quartermaster depot at San Antonio and a training camp at San Pedro Springs. In 1849 San Antonio was named headquarters of the United States Army Eighth Military District with forces at Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Mission and San Pedro Springs. The Alamo was taken on lease from the Catholic Church and used for storage. The Vance house, a two-story stone house where the Gunter Hotel now stands, was leased for army headquarters. The city made several offers of free land, but all were refused except for a small parcel on Flores Street, which was used for an arsenal.
A formal proposal for a permanent army post was made in 1870, but it met with political opposition in Washington. Secretary of War W. W. Belknap illegally held up funding until 1875. He resigned in 1876 rather than face impeachment, partly over his refusal to fund congressional appropriations for the San Antonio base. On June 7, 1876, construction was finally begun on ninety-three acres of city-donated land known as Government Hill. The contract was with the Edward Braden Construction Company for $83,900 and $15,247 for extras. Construction of the quadrangle included a one-story north wall 624 feet long, east and west walls 499½ feet long, and a two-story south wall with the only entry gate. Work was completed in February 1878.
In 1870 the Texas Department of the United States Army had moved to San Antonio. In 1879 the depot that had been occupying space in the Alamo moved to the new post. Almost immediately expansion began with the construction of officers' quarters, a 10,830-square-foot commander's home later named the Pershing House, and a tent hospital, which was replaced by a permanent post hospital in 1885. Between 1885 and 1891 forty-three acres and sixty buildings were added to what was to become the infantry post. In 1890 the military post at San Antonio was designated Fort Sam Houston, in honor of Gen. Sam Houston, by President Benjamin Harrison. Prominent visitors to the post included Chief Geronimo, who was held there in 1886 before his exile to Florida, and Theodore Roosevelt, who stopped with his men at the base to receive provisions before leaving for Cuba in 1898 (see FIRST UNITED STATES VOLUNTEER CAVALRY).
In 1907 the first chapel was built, with donated funds; it was nicknamed "Gift Chapel." In 1908 a new hospital was built at the artillery post. It was enlarged in 1910 and again in 1915 to provide 1,000 beds. On February 15, 1910, Lt. Benjamin Foulois brought the army's first airplane to Fort Sam Houston. There he learned to fly with instruction through correspondence with the Wright brothers. He instigated the first experimental flights in United States military aviation and gave the first public demonstration flights on March 2. There were four flights that day, and the last one crashed during landing. After the crash, experimental flights and the aviation program were temporarily suspended at the post. Foulois's airplane, United States Army Aeroplane Number One, is in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
By 1912 the military units at Fort Sam Houston included an infantry regiment, a regiment of cavalry, each with a headquarters and band, two batteries of field artillery, and signal and engineer troops. By 1917 the installation had been raised to general depot status and was supplying the Mexican frontier, including Gen. John J. Pershing's pursuit of Francisco (Pancho) Villa. The First Aero Squadron, consisting of nine airplanes and fifteen pilots, was ordered from Fort Sam to Columbus, New Mexico, to support Pershing.
During World War I an addition of 1,280 acres northeast of the fort was called Camp Travis. More than 208,000 soldiers passed through this new addition, where the epidemic of 1918 claimed 11,372 cases of influenza, resulting in 201 deaths. By the early 1920s Camp Travis was deserted and dilapidated. Most of the buildings were torn down by 1928. That year $6 million was appropriated for some 500 permanent buildings at the fort. They were built in Spanish Colonial style and still provided a Moorish atmosphere in the 1990s. By 1933 Fort Sam Houston was supporting the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1937 the largest maneuvers since World War I were held, and many of the tactical principles used during World War II were developed, including the "Triangular Division." The Eighth Corps and the Eighth Service Command were organized at Fort Sam Houston. It was headquarters for the Southern Defense Command. In 1940 the fort was the largest army post in the United States. The post served as a major internment center for prisoners of war during World War II. By 1949 Fort Sam Houston had 1,500 buildings on more than 3,300 acres of land and was headquarters for the Fourth United States Army.
Some of the great military strategists and commanders of World War II came from Fort Sam Houston. Among them were Lt. Gen Walter Krueger, United States Third Army; Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges, who took the Third Army to England; Lt. Gen. William Simpson, United States Fourth Army; and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who became the commander of Allied Forces in Europe and later president of the United States. After the war Gen. Jonathan Wainwright commanded the Fourth Army at Fort Sam Houston.
In the mid-1930s $3 million was appropriated to build a new base hospital. It opened in 1938 and was named for Gen. Roger Brooke. It had 425 beds, and an additional wing of 200 beds was added soon after. 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 conflict Fort Sam Houston became a major training center with its Medical Field Service School. In 1973 the fort acquired a major military command devoted to medical service, known as the Health Services Command.
In 1991 Fort Sam Houston comprised the headquarters of the Fifth United States Army, the Health Services Command, the Academy of Health Services, Brooke Army Medical Center, the Institute of Surgical Research, the United States Army Dental Laboratory, the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, and the Joint Military Readiness Center, among other organizations. In addition the fort hosts the real estate projects office of the Fort Worth District, United States Army Corps of Engineers, the West Point Admissions Office, and the United States Army Medical Department Museum and Fort Sam Houston Museum. The fort is the site of Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. It also supports all of the National Guard and Army Reserve units in Texas, as well as the Texas high school and college reserve officer training corps units.
Eldon Cagle, Jr., Quadrangle: The History of Fort Sam Houston (Austin: Eakin Press, 1985). Paul Ebers, San Antonio: The Metropolis and Garden Spot of Texas and Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio, 1909). Robert W. Frazer, Forts of the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965). Mary Olivia Handy, History of Sam Houston (San Antonio: Naylor, 1951). San Antonio Express, November 26, 1940. Nevin Otto Winter, Texas the Marvellous: The State of Six Flags (Boston: Page, 1916; centennial ed., Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1936).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Art Leatherwood, "FORT SAM HOUSTON," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qbf43), accessed May 23, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.