Jefferson Barracks

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Jefferson Barracks (1826-1946) - established in 1826 as the country’s first “Infantry School of Practice,” served as a major military installation until 1946. Named in honor of President Thomas Jefferson, the post played an important role in westward expansion. Also known as Camp Adams, Cantonment Adams, Cantonment Miller and Camp Miller.

Jefferson Barracks 1851 Stable Housed four Horses and two wagons
Jefferson Baracks Old Hospital
Jefferson Barracks 1851 Ordnance Room
Jefferson Barracks 1908 Hospital
Jefferson Barracks 1893-1902 Red Brick Barracks Buildings

Building the Barracks

In Jul 1826, the construction of barracks for two infantry regiments began, despite the fact that title to the approximately 1,800 acres of land was not obtained from the local farmers until August. A battalion of the 1st U.S. Infantry Regiment, under the command of Maj. Stephen Watts Kearny, and the 3rd U.S. Infantry, commanded by Col. Henry Leavenworth, were the first occupants. The initial plan consisted of five buildings in the shape of a parallelogram, including two enlisted men's barracks and three officers' quarters. The front of each building faced the parade ground on the interior of the parallelogram. The enlisted men's barracks were each 640 feet long, one story high in the front and two stories high in the rear. At the east end of each barracks and the west end of the parallelogram were smaller buildings, 37 feet by 90 feet, to house the officers. The front of each officer's quarters was two stories high, while the backs were three stories. The exterior of the buildings was of brick and stone, with interiors and framing of wood.

The enlisted men were originally slated to construct the fort, but the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment arrived too late to complete their barracks before winter, and the quartermaster contracted their part of the work to civilians for $3,000. The Army supplied the contractor with stone from quarries on post, and bricks manufactured in a kiln built by the 1st U.S. Infantry. On 23 Oct 1826, the Adjutant General named the post Jefferson Barracks in honor of Thomas Jefferson, who had died on the 4 Jul 1826.

Construction expenses totaled $18,783.44 by November 1826, with storehouses, guardhouses and a hospital yet to be built. In addition, the size of the enlisted men's barracks was expanded to accommodate 22 companies instead of the original 16, making the garrison's capacity 1,200 men, excluding officers. The initial construction of Jefferson Barracks ended in the fall of 1830. A good relationship with the city of St. Louis was forged through the purchase of large amounts of supplies and the use of civilian craftsmen.

Black Hawk War

The first major test of the new "Corps de Reserve" system was the Black Hawk War of 1832. When the Sac and Fox chief Black Hawk led his small tribe against white settlers in Iowa, Gen. Henry Atkinson's expeditionary force left from Jefferson Barracks to neutralize the Indian forces. Atkinson's troops included six companies of the 6th U.S. Infantry under the command of Lt. Col. Daniel Baker, with lieutenants Albert Sidney Johnston and Jefferson Davis, and several companies of volunteers, including an Illinois company commanded by a young Abraham Lincoln. When hostilities concluded, the troops returned to Jefferson Barracks with Black Hawk as a prisoner. Washington Irving wrote of the captives, "They are a forlorn crew, emaciated and dejected; the redoubtable chieftain himself a meager old man upwards of seventy...." George Catlin, who visited Jefferson Barracks to paint the famous leader, noted the Indian people were more grieved by their shackles than by their defeat and captivity.

The Dragoons

The cost in men and money of the Black Hawk War convinced the War Department that a mounted regiment was required in the West. In 1833 the 1st U.S. Dragoons (light cavalry) was organized at Jefferson Barracks. Shortly before President Van Buren was inaugurated in 1837, mounted Missourians, "frontiersmen pure and simple renowned for their fighting qualities," were outfitted at Jefferson Barracks, and sent to Florida to fight the Seminoles. By 1843, Jefferson Barracks had become the largest military garrison in the United States, with a reputation for the best-drilled troops in the Army. In September of 1843, Ulysses S. Grant reported to Gen. Philip Kearny at Jefferson Barracks for his first assignment after graduating from West Point.

Mexican War

Jefferson Barracks was the recruiting center for outfitting and training most of the regiments organized for the Mexican War in 1846, and upon the return of the triumphant U.S. forces in 1848, many were sent to Jefferson Barracks due to its strategic location and healthful situation.

In 1853, newly-elected President Franklin Pierce, who had served as a brigadier general during the Mexican War, appointed Jefferson Davis as his Secretary of War. At Jefferson Barracks, Davis soon organized the 2nd U.S. Dragoons, known derisively as "Jeff Davis's Pets," because the commissioned personnel assigned to them were the best in the Army. Albert Sidney Johnston served as colonel and Robert E. Lee as lieutenant colonel. A list of the officers of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons includes some of the ablest commanders of the U.S. Civil War.

U.S. Civil War

When the U.S. Civil War began, the central location of Jefferson Barracks made it a prime location for forming and training regiments. During the war, Confederate prisoners, including those who were wounded, were sent there. Jefferson Barracks also became a convalescence center for the many wounded Union soldiers, and numerous temporary buildings were erected to serve as hospitals, maintained by the Sanitary Commission. The post burial grounds, begun in 1827, were enlarged to approximately 50 acres, enclosed by a stone wall, and established as a National Cemetery in 1863. The cemetery remains the third largest National Cemetery to this day, and includes over 1,000 Confederate gravesites, one of the largest concentrations of Confederate dead in the country.

Post Civil War

After the U.S. Civil War, Jefferson Barracks was no longer as strategically important as it had been for its first 40 years, and was virtually abandoned for a short time. Small units garrisoned the post, with many changes in jurisdiction. In 1867, it was turned over to the army's Engineer Department to be used as depot and was garrisoned by just one company of the Engineer Battalion. In 1871 the War Department transferred the St. Louis Arsenal (with facilities on lower Broadway, near the Anheuser-Busch brewery) to Jefferson Barracks and designated it as the St. Louis Depot. What had been the Arsenal site became the recruiting depot for the cavalry. Then in 1878, the cavalry recruiting depot was transferred back to Jefferson Barracks. Except for the ordnance powder depot, which remained under the Ordnance Department, the entire installation at Jefferson Barracks was placed under the command of the cavalry depot.

The army of the late 19th century constituted a tough existence, with sometimes brutal punishments, deplorable living conditions, food of bad quality and poor sanitary and medical conditions. In the summer of 1889, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter named Frank Woodward enlisted in the army to investigate conditions at Jefferson Barracks. In this early instance of "investigative journalism," Woodward reported the poor conditions which caused a desertion rate of over 10% nationwide. His revelations shocked the nation, and public opinion demanded an investigation by the Secretary of War, which mandated new practices toward enlisted personnel and new attitudes toward health and safety throughout the army.

These changes may have prompted the new construction at Jefferson Barracks, which began in 1891 and continued for the next ten years. The new buildings were built of brick, and the stone from the old buildings was recycled for retaining walls, pavement, and other uses. Conditions at the post were vastly improved, and with the extra space, Jefferson Barracks was selected as the new home for the 38th U.S. Infantry and 49th U.S. Infantry regiments. In addition, in 1894 the War Department designated Jefferson Barracks as a military post of the Department of Missouri to be garrisoned by line troops.

Spanish American War

With the declaration of the Spanish American War in 1898, many regular army and volunteer regiments were, once again, formed and outfitted at Camp Adams and other temporary camps at Jefferson Barracks.

Volunteer Units Mustered at Camps at Jefferson Barracks

Jefferson Barracks was permanently designated as a recruiting depot in 1906, despite the fact that it had been used as such intermittently throughout its history. A little-known fact about Jefferson Barracks involves its place in world aviation history. On 1 Mar 1912, Albert Berry became the first person to ever successfully parachute from an airplane, which was being flown by Anthony Jannus over the field.

World Wars

During both World Wars, Jefferson Barracks provided valuable service as one of the largest recruiting centers in the Midwest, and during World War II was the largest Army Air Force technical training center in the nation, as well as serving as a detention camp for Italian and German prisoners of war.

On June 30, 1946, the Defense Department retired Jefferson Barracks from active service. After a period of neglect and decay, a portion of Jefferson Barracks containing the oldest surviving buildings was given to St. Louis County for development as a historical park. Today, only three structures remain from the frontier period: a laborer's house built in 1851, stables constructed in 1851, and the powder magazine, which was erected in 1857, all maintained within Jefferson Barracks County Park, dedicated in 1960. Most of the former area of Jefferson Barracks is off-limits to civilians, however, and is used by various National Guard units.

Jefferson Barracks served as a gathering point for troops and supplies bound for service in the Mexican War, U.S. Civil War, various Indian conflicts, Spanish American War, Philippine War, World War I and World War II. Jefferson Barracks also served as the first Army Air Corps basic training site. Stephen Watts Kearny, Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant , William T. Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan were a few of the famous Americans to serve at Jefferson Barracks.

Current Status


Location: Telegraph Road exit off of I-270 north to Kingston to South Broadway in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Lat: 38.50278 Long: -90.28028

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Visited: 29 Jun 2010

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