Fort Lesley J. McNair
Washington, DC

By:  Marv Rodney, ENDEAVOR, January 2012 

View from the Potomac of Ft. Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DCFor over 200 years Washington,DC has shared with the American military a long and rich history.  Forts, bases, installations, and offices surround the nation’s capital.  These bases contain beautiful period architecture and  have been home to scores of famous personages; while world changing decisions took place.

Fort McNair is a United States Army Post located on the peninsula tip known as Greenleaf Point.   It lies at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers in Washington, D.C.  More specifically, it is located at 4th and P Streets, SW, near the Waterfront Marina.  It has been an Army post for more than 200 years, third only to West Point and Carlisle Barracks in length of service.

This Post was established in 1791 and, at that time, was considered a major site and arsenal for the defense of the capital which, unfortunately, did not halt the invading British in 1814.  The arsenal facilities were rebuilt after the war and additional land was purchased north of the arsenal in 1826 for the first federal penitentiary.  The conspirators accused of assassinating President Abraham Lincoln were imprisoned there and, after being found guilty, four were hanged including Mary Surratt, the first woman ever executed under federal orders.

A hospital was built next to the penitentiary in 1857, and Civil War wounded were treated at what was then called the Washington Arsenal.  The arsenal was closed in 1881, and the post transferred to the Quartermaster Corps.  A general hospital, predecessor to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was located at the post from 1898 until 1909.  Major Walter Reed researched the causes of yellow fever in the marshlands around the post since, unlike Congress who adjourned for the month of August and any local citizen who had the means abandoned DC for the seaside or mountains that month as well, serving military were stuck in DC for the duration. This was a time prior to window screens or mosquito netting, and with open sewage running down the gutters of the streets, Washington was ripe with disease in August.

In 1901, with the birth of the Army War College, the post, now called Washington Barracks, became the Army’s center for the education and training of senior officers to lead and direct large numbers of troops. Renamed and reorganized during the 40’s  it finally became known as the National Defense University (NDU) in 1976.  A second college, founded in 1924 and called the Army Industrial College was established at McNair to prepare officers for high level posts in Army supply organizations and to study industrial mobilization.  It has since evolved into the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. July 7, 1865:  Execution of Lincoln Conspirators at Ft. McNair

The post was renamed in 1948 to honor Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, commander of Army ground forces during World War II, who was headquartered at the post and was killed during Operation Cobra near Saint-Lo, France, July 25, 1944, in an infamous friendly fire incident.  He is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery in France.  Fort McNair became the headquarters of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington in 1966 with the NDU, the Inter-American Defense College, and the U.S. Army Center of Military History as tenants.  More recently, Fort McNair became part of the Myer-Henderson Hall Military Joint Base Community by virtue of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process in 2005.  There are currently 460 active duty and 820 civilian personnel assigned to Fort McNair to provide support to the base and its three tenants.  Fort McNair has the feel and look of history.  About 90% of the present buildings on the post’s 100 acres were built, reconstructed or remodeled by 1908.


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