History of Jefferson Barracks

Established 1826

One hundred and eighty years of American history are woven deeply into the story of Jefferson Barracks.  Jefferson Barracks, named in honor President Thomas Jefferson, is located approximately ten miles south of St. Louis, Missouri.  Its place in history represents a focal point for the westward expansion of this nation.  Originally created to provide military protection from Indians for those pioneers seeking new homes, frontiersmen exploring the wilderness, and adventurers in quest of wealth and excitement.  These new lands, opened for settlement by the Louisiana Purchase, provided the impetus and requirement for establishment of the first permanent military base west of the Mississippi River.

During the summer of 1826, at a cost of a five-dollar gold piece, this 1702 acre parcel of land became the property of the U.S. Army.  In a few short years, in the 1840’s, Jefferson Barracks became the largest military post in the United States.  It very quickly became more than just a base camp for the troops fighting the Indian Wars.  Throughout its history, it served as an ordinance depot, engineer base, a cavalry post, a general hospital, an induction and separation center, and a basic training center.  In addition, nearly every major military figure in early American history has, at one time, passed through its gates.

Jefferson Barracks has hosted a constant procession of men who have played important roles in American history.  Jefferson Davis, Henry Dodge, Ulysses S. Grant, Zachary Taylor, Robert E. Lee, William T. Sherman, Henry Leavenworth, James Longstreet, Joseph Johnson, and Braxton Bragg to name a few.  More recently, two famous World War II officers were also associated with Jefferson Barracks, Generals Walter Krueger and Walter Short.  Even General Dwight D. Eisenhower began his military career at Jefferson Barracks in 1911 leaving this post as a cadet for West Point.

New methods of mobility for the young U.S. Army were initiated at Jefferson Barracks.  In 1833, the First Regiment of Dragoons, later to become the First U.S. Cavalry, was born.  Among its first officers were Henry Dodge, William J. Hardee, Nathanial Boone and Jefferson Davis.  Many of these early cavalry units became the parent organization of the armored units in today’s modern Army.  This installation reached such prominence that, at one point, it was suggested that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point be quartered here.

Military campaigns that originated from Jefferson Barracks include the Black Hawk Indian War and the Mexican Punitive Expedition (in pursuit of Pancho Villa) commanded by General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing.  Additional deployments also occurred in support of the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II.

30 June 1946, after World War II and the general demobilization of the nations military that followed, Jefferson Barracks was considered excess and converted to a National Guard installation.  Since that time, it has served as the home of several diverse Air and Army National Guard, Reserve and National Guard Bureau organizations.

Chronological History Of Jefferson Barracks


1826–July 8th Deed was signed to transfer 1702 acres of the Commons of the Village of Carondelet to the U.S. for the purpose of establishing a permanent military reservation to replace Fort Bellefontaine.  Token payment was made in the form of a $5.00 gold coin.

–July 10th Major Stephen Watts Kearny with four companies of the 1st Infantry set up camp there, starting the post.

–October 23rd the order of the Adjutant General No. 66 named the new post “The Jefferson Barracks” to honor the memory of Thomas Jefferson who had died on July 4th.  It also designated the site as the first basic training center (“Infantry School of Practice”) for the U.S. Army.

1827–January 18th the first military ball was held at JB, in the barely completed mess hall.  Illumination was provided with candles stuck in musket muzzles.  Guests came from as far a Louisville, KY.   Over time such a strong force was maintained at JB that the military became an important and formative element in the society of St. Louis.

–The 6th infantry began its long history at JB when ten companies were transferred to JB from Fort Atkinson, which was abandoned.

–Colonel Leavenworth and 3rd Infantry regiment depart for the Kansas Territory and establish Fort Leavenworth.

1828–2nd Lt. Jefferson Davis, who came to JB in the previous year straight out of West Point, is sent to direct soldier work parties in gathering materials to build Fort Winnebago at the Portage of the Wisconsin and Fox rivers.

–Troops from JB become increasingly involved in Indian problems and protecting traders between western Missouri and Santa Fe.

1829–Troops from JB provide the first armed escort for a merchant caravan on the Santa Fe Trail.

1832–U.S. and Missouri Militia troops depart for the Fox and Sac Indian War in the Northern Territories.

–Zachary Taylor led regular troops from JB with volunteers from Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois to fight a group of about 1,000 Indians led by Chief Black Hawk.  Capt. Abraham Lincoln led some of the Illinois militia.  The Indians were decisively defeated in the battle of Bad Axe River.

–Chief Black Hawk and several other warriors were returned to JB in leg irons under the guard of Lt. Jefferson Davis.  While in prison at Jefferson Barracks, Washington Irving interviewed the Chief and George Catlin painted portraits of the Chief and the other Indian captives.
1833–The 1st Regiment of Dragoons (later the 1st US Cavalry) was organized at JB by Col. Henry Dodge.  There were soon five companies at JB.  Col. Thronton Grimsley, saddle manufacturer in St. Louis, invented and patented the ‘Dragoon Saddle’ favored by the Army for many years.

1835–Dr. William Beaumont, proclaimed one of the six great heroes of ‘American Medical Scientists’, began a five year tour as Surgeon General for the post.

1836–Missouri volunteers and US troops depart for service in Florida against the Seminole Indians.

1837–Dr. John Emerson reports for duty with his slave named Dred Scott.  (Scott’s famous court trials led to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.)

–1st Lt Robert E. Lee resided at JB while he was in charge of engineering work to control the channel of the Mississippi River at St. Louis.

1841–The sundial, one of the oldest landmarks on the post, is installed.  For years it was the official post chronometer.

1843–2nd Lt. Ulysses S. Grant comes to JB for his first assignment after West Point

–LTC Ethan Allen Hitchcock brings the 3rd Infantry to JB.  With this addition JB becomes for a time the largest military establishment, including all or part of every army regiment.

1844–4th US Infantry and Missouri volunteers under General Zachary Taylor depart in a build up caused by the tensions with Mexico over their claim to the Republic of Texas (Texas had applied for admission to the Union).  JB serves as a staging post for the campaigns of the Mexican War.

–2nd Lt. Scott Hancock was assigned to the 6th Infantry at JB, thus beginning his brilliant career.

1846–On 13 May Congress declared war on Mexico after General Taylor’s troops clashed with Mexican forces at Palo Alto resulting in American casualties.

–In a couple of weeks time 11 companies were formed from both volunteers and three companies of the 64th Missouri Militia.  They were shipped to New Orleans and organized into a regiment designated as the “St. Louis Legion”.

–Congress substituted the name “Cavalry” for “Dragoons”.  The two existing regiments were numbered in order of their formation.  80% of the new 3rd Cavalry was organized at JB.
–Lt. Braxton Bragg arrived with Batteries B and C of the 3rd Artillery.  He left shortly after to join Gen. Zachary Taylor and became on outstanding hero in the Mexican war.

–General Stephen Watts Kearney, now commander of the Northern Wing, Army of the west, left for the southwest via the Santa Fe Trail with 1,528 troops.  This expedition resulted in the annexation of the territory now know as New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California.

1847–On 14 September Mexico City fell and the war ended.  The prestige of the US grew and 30 million square miles of land was added to its territory.  JB could stand proudly as the place where the outstanding leaders and troops of this victory received their training and seasoning.

1848–Many of the troops who fought in the Mexican War returned to JB and were mustered out.

–1Lt U.S. Grant married Julia Dent, daughter of Col. Frederick Dent.  Capt. James Longstreet was his best man.

1849-50–An epidemic of Asiatic cholera in St. Louis and at JB claimed many lives.  Included were Col. W. J. Worth and Brevet BGen Richard B. Mason.

1851—A stone Ordnance Room, Laborer’s House and Barn are erected in the north end of JB.

1852–The St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad petitioned Congress for a right-of-way through JB.  The Army opposed this.  The proposed path was close to the ordnance magazines in the Northeast part of the post.  The army wished the steam engines to be shut down and the trains pulled through by mules.  The right-of -way was granted in 1853 without that restriction.

1854–The Missouri Compromise is repealed.  With ensuing controversy over the admittance of Kansas and Nebraska to the Union, the importance of JB steadily increases.

1855–The 6th Infantry leaves to join an expedition against the Sioux Indians.  The expedition saw hard service in the West and Northwest for the next few years.  It escorted emigrants on the “Oregon Trail”, experienced difficulties with the Mormons in Utah, and was always involved with Indian uprisings.

1857–A second stone Powder Magazine is constructed.

1860—Brig Gen. William Selby Harney returned to Missouri and assumed command of JB.

–There is much unrest in Missouri and St. Louis.  Sympathies between the North and South were very closely divided.  The governor and his faction had definite leanings toward the South.  On the other hand there were the federal institutions such as Jefferson Barracks and the Arsenal dedicated to the maintenance of the Union.

1861–State Guard forces of Governor Jackson of Missouri planned the erection of batteries on the hills around the Arsenal and facing it from a river island.  The state militia also assembled at Camp Jackson in St. Louis.  On 8 May Capt. Nathaniel Lyon and his friend William Tecumseh Sherman (then out of the Army) discovered a clandestine shipment of arms to Camp Jackson.  On 10 May Capt. Lyon led troops to surround the Camp, which was forced to surrender.  This same day Sherman applied for a commission in the Army.

–Ulysses S. Grant was at the Barracks at various times during the summer in consultation with the commanding officers there.  He was then a Colonel commanding the 21st Illinois Regiment.  Sherman was commissioned a Colonel in the 13th Infantry which was to be organized at the Barracks.

–Lyon is promoted to General and given command of the Department of the West.

–Brig Gen. Lyon ordered the state militia to be disbanded.  Governor Jackson responded with a call for 50,000 state guards.  Lyon determined to break this organization and left the Barracks for the state capitol with a detachment of federal troops from the 2nd Infantry.  The Governor and his staff fled the capitol.

–On 17 June a unit of the governor’s guard en route to join the Confederates was overtaken and defeated near Booneville.  The war had come to Missouri.

–In a six-hour battle fought near Springfield on 10 August, Brig Gen. Lyon lost his life leading a final charge.

1862–JB is designated for use by the Federal Army’s Medical Department.  John Field Randolph was promoted to Major Surgeon and put in charge of the project.  The Barracks becomes the largest and most important military hospital in the country.

–Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) had joined the Confederates that Grant had chased out of the region of Hannibal, Missouri.  He served only two weeks “being incapacitated through continual retreating”.  He did have a thrill when on a steamboat attempting to run the blockade past Jefferson Barracks.  A battery had been mounted near the spot where the old Spanish cannon now stands at the rear of the Headquarters.  It opened fire and two holes were blown through the smokestacks of the vessel.

1863–The post cemetery is expanded and an executive order initiates the process of making it a National Cemetery. It now ranks as the 4th most active of our countries National Cemeteries.

1864–In September Confederate General Sterling Price (commanded Missouri Militia in 1861) again invaded Missouri.  Major Gen. Andrew J. Smith, who was moving down the river with three brigades of the Iowa volunteers, landed at JB.  JB was an assembly point for the defense of St. Louis.  Smith led some of his troops out when word was received of Confederates reaching DeSoto, Missouri.  A final engagement near Kansas City ended any large-scale Confederate threat in Missouri.

1866—Buffalo soldier units (38th Infantry, 9th and 10th Calvary were begun at JB.

1867–JB is designated as US Army Engineer Depot.

1871–The St. Louis Arsenal is closed and all the ordnance stored there is moved to the Barracks.

1878–The Calvary Depot is moved back to the Barracks and its commander, Col Gregg, is designated as the Post commander.

1889–General John J. Pershing visited the post looking for cavalry recruits for his regiment in the Apache country.

1892–A new building program gets underway.  The stone buildings are razed and replaced with red brick barracks and officer quarters along the north and south side of a much enlarged parade ground.  Many of these structures remain to this day.  Most construction was complete in 1900.  As a result, JB assumed the position of one of the best equipped military posts as well as one of the most important.

1898–The Barracks is designated as a rendezvous point for Regulars and Volunteers of the Spanish-American War.  Missouri was called upon to provide five regiments of infantry and one battery of light artillery.  Battery A, which had been training on the outskirts of St. Louis, was the first of these units to arrive.  The 1st Missouri was among the others that followed.

–Many of the troops recruited at JB distinguished themselves in the war.  The 3rd Calvary performed very well in the Battle of Santiago, and the 11th Infantry won an important battle at San German in Puerto Rico.

1899–In August Jefferson Barracks was presented with a highly treasured trophy of the Spanish American War.  This is the cannon that overlooks the Mississippi at the rear of Headquarters.  It was recovered from the Spanish battleship Oquenda that was sunk in Santiago Bay on 3 July 1898.

–Troops were mobilized and sent out from the Barracks for the hostilities in the Philippines.  A new rifle range for JB was established near Arcadia, MO.  Troops E and G of the 3rd Calvary were the first to use the Arcadia setup as preparation for departure for Manila.

1900–Building 1, the present Headquarters, was constructed during this year.

1903–Soldiers from JB took an active part in the dedication ceremonies of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World’s Fair) on 30 April.  Famous army personalities gathered from all parts of the country and saw a military parade reportedly never before equaled in grandeur and impressiveness.

1911–Lt. Dwight D. Eisenhower begins his military career at the Barracks.

1912–On 2 March the first parachute jump from an airplane took place at JB.  A civilian, Albert Berry, was the man who made the successful landing as hundreds of soldiers and officers watched.

1917-18–Jefferson Barracks becomes the largest US induction and demobilization center for troops in World War I.

1920–General Leonard Wood paid a brief visit to the Barracks during his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for President.
1922–JB becomes the site for the first Citizens’ Military Training Camp.
–170 acres are transferred to the Veterans’ Bureau for construction of a hospital.

1933–The Civilian Conservation Corps is established at JB.  20,000 enrollees were handled during the summer and fall of ’33.

1939–Post Commander, Col. Joseph Atkins, was ordered to take command of National Guard instruction in the 8th Corps area.

–Congressional Military Committee headed by Senator Thomas visits the Barracks.  Consideration is given to using the Barracks to support the Army Air Corps.  At this time JB had barracks capable of housing 1,550 soldiers, a training camp for another 1,500, and comparable support facilities (including a hospital with 151 beds).

1940—Major Gen. Hap Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Corps, requested space to house approximately 6,000 recruits to be enlisted in the Air Corps.  The 11th school squadron arrives from Scott Field and JB is converted to an Air Corps Replacement and Training Base; the first in the country selected for that purpose.

1941-45–During World War II the Barracks serves as an induction and separation center, basic training camp, and the largest technical training school for the Army Air Corps.  There is a population that is a tenfold increase over the capacity in 1939.  A detention camp is formed to house Axis prisoner of war.

1942—Maj. Howard A Rusk, MD comes to JB Hospital after leaving his St. Louis medical practice and volunteering to join the Army.  He developed the idea of comprehensive rehabilitation at the JB hospital.  Subsequently his ideas were adopted by the entire Army, Navy, and VA hospitals.  After the war he brought his ideas to the civilian world.

1946–Jefferson Barracks is declared surplus by the War Department.  The main post area (135 acres) becomes a Missouri Air National Guard Station.  The 131st Tactical Control Squadron moves in.  This unit was the ancestor to the 157th Air Operations Group and the 121st  Air Control Squadron at JB.

1950–Air Guard Units are activated for the Korean War.

–500 acres are taken over by the St. Louis County Parks, most going to Jefferson Barracks Historic Park.

–250 acres are added to the National Cemetery.

1951–The 607th Signal Light Construction Company (Aviation) moved from Lambert  Field to Jefferson Barracks.  This unit was the ancestor to the 218th Engineering  Installation Squadron at JB.

1970–All Missouri Army National Guard units in St. Louis are moved to JB.

1990–Naval Reserve Units move on base.

1991–1137th MP Company, Army National Guard, is activated for Desert Shield/Storm.

–Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit (112), Naval Reserves, is activated for Desert Shield/Storm.

1994–US Army Reserve Units move onto JB.

1995-98–Personnel from HHC 10th PsyOps, 307th and 318th PsyOps Companies (Army Reserves) are activated for the 1st, 3rd, and 5th rotations of Joint Endeavor/Guard in Bosnia.  By the 5th rotation all troops deployed by PsyOps from around the country were mobilized at JB.

2001-Present—Members of the Air National Guard (218 EIS & 157 AOG), members of the Army Guard (Engineers, MPs, Artillery, and Maintenance), and members of the Army Reserve (PsyOps) have been mobilized and deployed in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.  These deployments are ongoing.

2008—Ground breaking for construction of $25M Joint Reserve Forces Training Facility, now completed.

2011—Growth of the Air National Guard as the new mission, 121st Air Control Squadron is becoming operational.