Mar 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

New commission on renaming Army bases gets early makeover

Photo illustration of Confederate General Braxton Bragg casting a shadow holding a Confederate flag.

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

A new commission created to relabel U.S. Army bases named for Confederate leaders has quietly undergone a major shakeup as the Biden administration has replaced last-minute Trump appointees with a diverse panel.

Driving the news: The eight-member commission established in a bill last year, after George Floyd's death brought attention to systemic racism, will include the first African American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship and a retired West Point historian who has compared the Confederacy to treason.

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first Black American to hold the position, last month replaced four appointees assigned by the Trump administration. The new members are expected to approach the task with a critical eye toward the past and an emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity.
  • The law that authorized the commission tasked House and Senate Democrats and Republicans with appointing half the members, and the Department of Defense with designating the other half.

The details: The Biden administration's selections include Michelle Howard, the highest-ranking African American and woman in U.S. Navy history, and Ty Seidule, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and historian.

  • Austin also appointed retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general Robert Neller and Kori Schake, director of Foreign and Defense Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
  • House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) named American G.I. Forum national commander Lawrence Romo, who is Latino, to the commission.

What they're saying: "The Confederates killed more U.S. Army soldiers than anybody else in our history," Seidule said in an interview. "I don't like our enemies. I like Americans."

The big picture: An Axios review of U.S. history shows how several of the men for whom bases are named held white supremacist views and had poor military track records.

Fort Bragg in North Carolina, named after Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, today is the Army's largest military installation with nearly 50,000 soldiers.

  • Bragg owned an enslaved labor farm in Louisiana and told Irish journalist William Howard Russell that "the only mode of making the Black race work was to hold them in conditions of involuntary servitude."
  • The West Point graduate lost most of his battles as a Confederate general. "None of Bragg's soldiers ever loved him. They have no faith in his ability," Private Sam Watkins wrote.

Fort Benning in Georgia is named after Confederate Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning, a slave owner who warned that if slavery ended, the nation would see "Black governors, Black legislatures, Black jurors, Black everything."

  • "(The white race) will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left to the possession of the Blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa," he once said.

Camp Beauregard in Louisiana is named after Confederate Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard, who was fired as West Point's superintendent for encouraging cadets to commit treason and protect slavery.

  • He fathered children with an enslaved woman who couldn't legally refuse sex with a slave owner.
  • Beauregard later became the Confederacy's first general and led forces that fired upon the U.S. Army to start the Civil War.

Fort Hood in Texas is named after Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood, who lost nearly 20,000 men in one battle.

  • "My hope is that the commission will honor Latino service members by naming at least one base after a Latino soldier who contributed greatly to the defense of our nation," Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) told Axios.
  • Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, wants Fort Hood changed to honor Roy P. Benavidez, a Medal of Honor recipient during the Vietnam War.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to remove a claim that Fort Hood is located in El Paso. The fort is located in Fort Hood, Texas, between Waco and Austin.

Go deeper