The history of human activity within Fort Knox and the surrounding region of Kentucky and Indiana spans several thousand years. The earliest groups to leave a definitive material record of their presence were early Paleoindians who entered the region during the Late Pleistocene glacial epoch more than 10,000 years ago. Their descendants and the descendants of other Native American groups who migrated to the region lived in the Falls of the Ohio area and the lower Ohio River valley for the next 10 millennia. This long prehistoric era lasted until the arrival of the first European explorers and settlers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the beginning of the historic period.
While cultural change is a slow and continuous process, archaeologists and other researchers divide the human history of this region into distinct cultural periods. These periods are demarcated by identifiable changes in the material record (e.g., artifacts left behind) of early groups. Changes in material culture are often the result of environmental and climatic changes, as well as presumed demographic shifts. Archaeologists and historians recognize four broadly defined prehistoric periods in the lower Ohio River valley. These include the Paleoindian (ca. 9500–8000 Before the Common Era [BCE]), Archaic (8000–1000 BCE), Woodland, (1000 BCE–900 Common Era [CE]), and Mississippian or Late Prehistoric (900–ca. 1700 CE) periods. The Contact and Historic Periods began with the arrival of the first European explorers and colonists into the region and the subsequent displacement of Native Americans.
The Contact Period covers the era when native cultures met those of European descent and can be divided into two parts, the Protohistoric Period (1540-1730 CE) and the Historic Indian Period (1730-1795 CE). The term Protohistoric frequently refers to the native culture of North America during the span of time following the first influence of European cultures (principally through trade goods or disease) and, later, when the native cultures were recorded and described by the encroaching Euro-American cultures. Typically, during this period the native cultures underwent acculturation—a virtual breakdown of their former way of life through replacement by or approximation of the cultural norms of the dominant culture.
During the Protohistoric period native inhabitants of the region probably consisted of diverse groups speaking Algonquian or Iroquoian languages who based their economies on a combination of horticulture, fishing, hunting, and gathering. During this period, access to the region by Europeans was almost exclusively from the south by the Spanish in Florida (which extended into present-day Georgia and Alabama), and later from the north by the French, who wrote of the Shawnee living on the Ohio.
Early Europeans contact with Native Americans in what is now Kentucky may have been indirect, with European trade goods and information about Europeans spread through the existing exchange systems. The earliest European exploration of what was to become Kentucky has not been established, but some historians argue that Hernando de Soto crossed western Kentucky traveling north from the Clarksville, Tennessee, area to Henderson, Kentucky, in early summer of 1541. De Soto then crossed the Ohio River in June 1541 and traveled north toward Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1673, it is recorded that Marquette and Joliet passed by the mouth of the Ohio, in western Kentucky, during their exploration of the Mississippi River. Other French, English, and Spanish traders and explorers may have passed through the territory in the late seventeenth century to mid-eighteenth century as well.
Disease increasingly reduced native populations all over the central and eastern parts of the continent during the Protohistoric period. In this region, epidemics are documented from the last decades of the 1500s and into the mid-1600s. Also, the so-called “Beaver Wars,” wars over fur trade competition, enveloped most inhabitants during the mid-1600s, and the Iroquois Confederacy overwhelmed many lesser groups. With the introduction of European diseases and Iroquois pressures in the Ohio Valley, depopulation of the area appears evident. However, few archaeological site data from this period have been investigated, making this claim difficult to assess. From historical accounts, small groups of Shawnees were in the Ohio Valley in the late Protohistoric period
The last 65-year segment of the Contact period is called the Historic Indian Period (ca. 1730-1795 CE). The division between the Protohistoric period and the Historic Indian period is marked by a resurgence of Native American populations, but by peoples not originally from this area. The Miami and Wyandot from the north established villages on the Ohio River. Some Shawnee and Delaware were pushed in from English-controlled areas to the northeast and east, and small groups of Mingo, probably a branch of the Seneca, mingled into established villages. In 1768, at the treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois, who claimed Kentucky by conquest, signed over the land south of the Ohio River to the British. This action forced the Shawnee and Mingo to wage war on the British, and later Americans, for the next 20 years. They claimed Kentucky as their hunting grounds and refused to recognize the treaty.
Throughout the Historic Period, the Native Americans’ hold on their land proved untenable as they resisted white settlement first by siding with the French in the French and Indian War (1754–1763) and then siding with the English in the American Revolution. Attacks against settlers continued after the Revolution until the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, when a confederation of tribes was defeated. The ensuing Greenville Treaty (1795) ceded all Native American lands north of the Ohio River and east of the Miami River to the United States and displaced Native American populations to the north and west.
The historic summary provided here is derived from archival research undertaken as part of past architectural and archaeological investigations at Fort Knox.
Early European Exploration and Settlement
Precisely when the first European explorers arrived in the Ohio Valley is uncertain. It is possible that some French trappers, traders, and priests traversed parts of the region during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but the first successful English expedition did not occur until 1742, when Virginians John Peter Salley and John Howard sailed down the Ohio to the Mississippi, where they were captured by the French and imprisoned at New Orleans. They escaped in October 1744 and made their way back to Virginia the following May. By the time they returned, the speculative drive for western land had reached a fever pitch. Despite opposition from the British crown, more than 2.5 million acres of land were granted to various speculators between the spring of 1745 and May 1754. Many of the grantees were closely associated with members of the Virginia General Assembly and the royal governors, whose personal interests generally ran counter to those of the crown (Clark 1960:20-22; Harrison 1992:203-14).
One of the largest recipients of western lands was the Loyal Company, which received 80,000 acres in Kentucky. In March 1750, it dispatched a surveying crew headed by Dr. Thomas Walker, a politically well-connected Albemarle County physician, to survey its claim. The following month Walker led his party through Cave Gap, which he renamed for the Duke of Cumberland. Upon completing its mission, Walker’s party returned to Virginia with information about the geography and potential riches of the Cumberland Mountains that further excited interest in Kentucky. After Walker returned, his employer’s chief rival, the powerful Ohio Company, sent a surveying team headed by Christopher Gist down the Ohio to lay out a 200,000-acre claim near the Falls of the Ohio. His mission was disrupted, however, when he was warned by friendly Shawnee that native tribes aligned with the French were camped at the falls and that to continue would involve great risk. Gist returned to Virginia without completing his assignment. Outbreak of the French and Indian War in January 1754 squelched further exploration and settlement efforts until after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 passed control of the Ohio Valley to the British (Channing 1977:8; Clark 1960:23).
Even after the treaty was signed, the British crown attempted to restrain land-hungry colonists from moving west. The primary motive for this policy was a desire to avoid the cost of providing troops to protect settlers from Indian attacks instigated by the French, who continued to maintain a presence in the region. During the mid-1760s General Thomas Gage, the British commander in North America, sent a succession of military and diplomatic expeditions down the Ohio River to treat with tribes in the Wabash River region. In 1768, the English signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix with the Iroquois and the Treaty of Hard Labor with the Cherokees, under which both tribes relinquished their claims to Kentucky (Clark 1960:28-29; Downes 1940). However, Shawnee tribes were excluded from these treaties. These treaties were signed to create a buffer between colonists and native groups (Downes 1940). These documents were not necessarily intended to open the way for settlement, but they stimulated colonists’ appetites for western land and occasional private incursions into the Ohio Valley. Indeed, as early as 1766, Colonel John Smith ventured into the Fort Knox area while on a hunting trip, marking the first recorded exploration of the area.
Colonists’ desires for western land were heightened during the early 1770s when Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia, supported land surveys in Kentucky. In 1773, George Washington expressed interest in having land surveyed near the Falls of the Ohio for himself. Therefore, in 1774 a survey expedition left Virginia to survey lands not only for George Washington but also for other notable men such as Patrick Henry, Dr. Hugh Mercer, Colonel William Christian, Colonel William Preston, and Dr. John Connolly. Even with the constant warnings from Shawnee braves to stay out of Kentucky, John Floyd led a survey party down the Ohio for the prominent men of Virginia. These land surveys were the source of tension that forced the conflict between Shawnees and white settlers, known as Dunmore’s War. Later in 1774, the Shawnees signed the Treaty of Camp Charlotte, in which they yielded their hunting rights in Kentucky to the British (Downes 1940:152-177).
The earliest Anglo-American exploration in the Fort Knox vicinity occurred in 1775 when Thomas Denton led a surveying party into the Salt River country. The first documented settlement effort began in July 1776, when a party of Virginia surveyors representing Shane, Sweeney, and Company, led by Samuel Pearman, traveled by flatboat to the mouth of Salt River. Pearman and his associates staked out several thousand acres along the Ohio and Salt rivers and built a small log cabin at the junction of the Salt and Rolling Fork rivers. Indian attacks forced Pearman’s party to abandon its effort and to return to Virginia, but others soon followed. Meanwhile, George Rogers Clark led a regiment down the Ohio in the spring of 1778 and landed in late May at Corn Island at the Falls of the Ohio. A month later the regiment departed for the Illinois country, where over the next year Clark captured the British forts of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. While Clark was away, the Corn Island settlers moved to the Kentucky mainland and established the town of Louisville.
Exploration and settlement activity in the Ohio and Salt River valleys accelerated substantially after Clark’s expedition, often in the face of native opposition. Squire Boone, Daniel Boone’s brother, explored the vicinity on several occasions during the late 1770s, and in 1778, he discovered Doe Run, which flows west of Fort Knox in present-day Meade County. The following year, Henry Crist began salt-making operations at Bullitt’s Lick, located near the junction of Salt River and the Rolling Fork River in present-day Bullitt County. Discovered in 1773 by Captain Thomas Bullitt while engaged in his surveying expedition at the Falls of the Ohio, Bullitt’s Lick was for a time the only place near the Falls of the Ohio where pioneers could find salt. The year 1779 also witnessed establishment of Brashear’s Station, also known as Froman’s Station and Salt River Garrison, nearby at the mouth of Floyd’s Fork. Native raids caused the closing of salt-making operations for a time, but production resumed in 1780, under the protection of Mud Garrison, a small fort constructed of a double row of piles filled with dirt and gravel, located on the north bank of Salt River about half a mile above the mouth of Bullitt’s Lick Run. Additional security was added the same year with construction of Dowdell’s Station on the north bank of Salt River near present-day Shepherdsville (Kleber 1992:404; Pack, cited in Kleber 1992:140-41).
The first permanent settlement in the vicinity began in 1780 when Colonel Andrew Hynes, Captain Thomas Helm, and Samuel Haycraft built small forts within a mile of each other in Severns Valley near present-day Elizabethtown. Severns Valley had been surveyed shortly before by John Severns. Each fort attracted a small group of settlers, some of whom returned to Virginia during the severe winter that followed. By 1781, however, the settlement had attracted some 17 families who came together that year to organize Severn’s Valley Baptist Church. While the settlement now had some roots, the surrounding area was still a favored hunting ground for the Indians, who came in the spring to plant corn and returned in the fall to hunt and harvest their crop. Conflict between settlers and the native inhabitants erupted in 1792, when a band of 15 Indians attacked the settlement and killed two women and five children, burned several cabins, and slaughtered livestock. About 15 men led by Patrick Brown pursued the attackers and killed all but one. It was the last serious confrontation between whites and Indians in the area (Kleber 1992:40).
Settlement accelerated during the 1780s, especially after the end of the American Revolution in 1783. In the area that would become Bullitt County, Clear’s Station was established between 1780 and 1783, and three more salt licks were opened: Long Lick and Dry Lick in 1785 and Mann’s Lick in 1787. About 1785, Jacob Froman built Fort Nonsense at a ford of the Salt River below the mouth of Bullitt’s Lick Run. It was popularly known as Froman’s Folly, probably because Froman mistakenly built the fort on William Farmer’s claim. The error resulted in a lawsuit in which Farmer’s claim was held superior, and Froman lost the fort to him.
In 1786, Squire Boone claimed title to the land around Doe Run, in present-day Meade County, which he had discovered eight years earlier. There he established the village community named Little York. Other settlements were established in Hill Grove, Stith’s Valley, and along Doe Run and Otter Creek about 1784. Most of these were small forts or stations to protect small family groups. Beginning about 1789 and continuing into the 1790s, Revolutionary War veterans with land grants began developing the settlement of West Point at the confluence of the Ohio and Salt rivers. Among these early settlers were Thomas and Samuel Pearman, Henry Ditto, George Bell, Isaac Vertrees, Joseph Enlan, William Withers, John Hay, Thomas Barbour, and John Campbell. The town was formally platted in 1796.
Communities in the Mill Creek and Cedar Creek valleys were also settled during this period. Local Baptists built a church in the Mill Creek vicinity in 1783. Abraham Lincoln, our nation’s president during the Civil War, has a connection to the land now occupied by Fort Knox. His grandmother, Bathsheba, along with her son Thomas (the president’s father), her youngest daughter, Nancy Ann, and her husband, William Brumfield, moved to what was then known as Mill Creek from Washington County, Kentucky. Bathsheba died in 1833 and was buried in what is now called Lincoln Memorial Cemetery on Fort Knox. Her son Thomas lived on Knob Creek in LaRue County from 1807 to 1816, when his family moved to Indiana. The Cedar Creek area supported a modest population from the early nineteenth century until the Army purchased it in the early 1940s.
Several other communities were established during the 1790s on major rivers or streams. Williamsville was laid out in 1792 on the east bank of the Salt River near the mouth of the Ohio River, a location that created strong economic ties with nearby West Point. Numerous sources suggest that Garnettsville was founded the same year on Otter Creek by James Garnett, but no documentary evidence can be located to confirm this. However, some settlers had already located in the area. Shepherdsville, laid out by Adam Shepherd, was officially incorporated in 1793 and would become the county seat of Bullitt County. About 1793, the settlement of Bealsburg was established at the junction of the Salt and Rolling Fork rivers.
Formation of the Counties
Kentucky was part of Virginia until 1792. With the advent of statehood, political life in Kentucky, including the Fort Knox vicinity, became much more organized. Hardin County, the state’s fifteenth county, was created in 1792 from portions of Nelson County. It is named for Colonel John Hardin, a notable Nelson County pioneer and Indian fighter. Originally some 140 miles long and 60 miles wide, it now measures 616 square miles and is the fourth-largest county in the state. Currently it is bounded on the north by the Ohio River and Bullitt and Meade counties; on the east by Bullitt, Nelson, and Larue counties; on the south by Larue, Hart, and Grayson counties; and on the west by Breckinridge, Grayson, and Meade counties (Kleber 1992:404).
Designated the county seat was the Severns Valley settlement, which was named Elizabethtown in 1797 in honor of the wife of Colonel Andrew Hynes, one of its founders. The first session of Hardin County Court was held on July 22, 1793, at the home of Isaac Hynes. At that session, Colonel Andrew Hynes set aside 30 acres for county buildings, dividing the tract into 51 lots with streets and alleys (Kleber 1992:290).
Bullitt’s Lick and other surrounding settlements were organized into Bullitt County in December 1796, making it the Commonwealth’s twentieth county in order of formation. It was carved out of Jefferson and Nelson counties and named for Alexander Scott Bullitt, Kentucky’s first lieutenant governor and nephew of Captain Thomas Bullitt. Bordered today by Jefferson, Nelson, Spencer, and Hardin counties, it has an area of about 300 square miles. Selected as the county seat was Shepherdsville, located in the central part of the county where the western leg of the Wilderness Road crossed the Salt River. It had been founded three years earlier by Adam Shepherd, who owned the land on which the town was founded. He owned 600 acres on the south side of the falls of the Salt River and 900 acres on the north side of the falls, which provided the best place to cross the river (Pack, cited in Kleber 2000:812).
The third and last county that includes part of Fort Knox is Meade County. It was organized in December 1823 and was the seventy-sixth in order of formation. It is named in honor of Captain James Meade of Woodford County, who fought in the Battle of Tippecanoe and was killed at the Battle of the River Raisin in Canada in 1813. Currently the county encompasses 305 square miles and is bordered by the Ohio River and Breckinridge and Hardin counties. Its first seat of government was Little York, Squire Boone’s settlement on Doe Run. Within two years, however, that honor had been transferred to Brandenburg, an Ohio River port town named for Solomon Brandenburg, a prominent landowner who operated a popular tavern in the community (Bryant, cited in Kleber 1992:113, 622-23).
The Impact of Transportation
By the turn of the nineteenth century, hundreds of pioneers had planted themselves in more than a score of settlements in and around the vicinity that would become Fort Knox. Over the next six decades, struggling pioneer settlements would grow into thriving villages and towns that provided a variety of marketing, manufacturing, and trade services to nearby farmers. Facilitating these economic activities would be a succession of transportation improvements, such as ferries, roads and turnpikes, steamboats, and railroads, which would carry local goods from the farm to local and regional markets and exchange them for manufactured goods and other products from distant markets. In the long term, as improvements such as the railroad made it possible for consumers to obtain goods of a superior quality at a lower cost from more distant markets, some towns began to decline, even before they were absorbed into the growing military facility that became Fort Knox.
For early pioneers, rivers and streams combined with old buffalo and Indian roads provided primary arteries for travel and trade. Many traveled down the Ohio and then made their way inland by way of the Salt River, Rolling Fork River, Otter Creek, and Doe Run. Others arrived in the region by taking the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap to Lexington and then following either the Falls of the Ohio–Lexington Road or the Harrodsburg Trail to Louisville, where they picked up the Cumberland–Falls of the Ohio Trail, which had been surveyed through Severns’ Valley by John Severns. Places where streams and roads intersected often became town sites, not only because multiple transportation routes created an opportunity to reach multiple markets, but also because such conditions sometimes created the need to unload and reload goods to complete passage or to change the mode of conveyance.
Particularly important were points where streams intersected a road or trail. In an era when public funding for bridges was unavailable, the transportation problem was frequently solved by landowners who established ferry operations to help overland travelers and shippers cross the stream. Two ferrying operations were located at West Point, one of which crossed the Ohio River and the other crossed Salt River. Other ferries on the Salt River included Key’s Ferry, located six miles upstream from West Point, and the Dowdell and Druin ferries at Pitts Point, where the Salt River meets the Rolling Fork River. The former crossed the Rolling Fork while the latter crossed the Salt River. The Wooldridge Ferry and possibly the Atherton Ferry, located farther upstream, also served travelers crossing the Rolling Fork (Louisville Corps of Engineers “Analytical/Environmental Report–Fort Knox, Kentucky” 1987, cited in Kempf 1999:21-22).
A major advance in river transportation was the advent of the steamboat, which spurred development of river towns such as West Point, located at the junction of the Ohio and Salt rivers, and Pitts Point, at the confluence of the Salt and Rolling Fork rivers. Steamboating on the Salt River was also the source of a famous saying in Kentucky politics. In 1832, when Henry Clay was campaigning against Andrew Jackson for president of the United States, Clay boarded a steamboat at Pitts Point en route to a speech in Louisville. However, a Jackson partisan supposedly bribed the vessel’s captain to take Clay upriver instead of downriver to the Ohio and on to Louisville. As a result, Clay missed his speech and lost the election, giving rise to the phrase “up Salt River” in reference to political defeat (Briggs 1955; Walters, cited in Kleber 1992:794-95).
For towns that relied primarily on overland transportation, construction of the Louisville and Nashville Turnpike was even more important than the steamboat. More properly known as the Louisville, West Point, and Elizabethtown Turnpike, the road reflected the contemporary political movement to construct a network of internal improvements, particularly roads, to foster economic growth in Kentucky. The turnpike was first chartered by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1829 as the Louisville, West Point, and Elizabethtown Turnpike Road Company, with an authorized capital stock of $100,000. Appointed company commissioners from the vicinity of West Point and Elizabethtown were James Young, Henry Ditto, John Stockman, Horatio G. Wintersmith, and James Crutcher. When the company failed to raise the necessary capital, it was chartered for a second time in 1833, this time with a capital stock of $500,000, and it was extended in 1837, with authorization to build a road from Louisville in the direction of Nashville by way of the mouth of Salt River (West Point), Elizabethtown, Munfordville, and Bowling Green. Construction began in 1837, and 12 years later the state Board of Internal Improvements reported that nearly 106 miles had been completed. Its original charter specified that the road was to be “artificial” and that it was to be surfaced with “gravel, pounded stone, or small, hard substance.” Later charters substituted the term “McAdam” for “artificial,” reflecting the construction method developed by Scottish engineer John McAdam (Briggs 1955; Kleber 2000:530-31).
The Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Turnpike, a forerunner to present-day Dixie Highway, remained a major carrier of both freight and passenger traffic in the region until 1859, when the Louisville and Nashville Railroad was completed between the terminal cities. Construction of the L&N Railroad began at Louisville in early 1853, and by mid-decade it reached Muldraugh Hill, where builders encountered their first serious obstacle. To overcome this natural barrier, contractors built a series of trestles and blasted a tunnel 1,986 feet long and 135 feet below the summit. The railroad finally reached Elizabethtown in 1858. The L&N Railroad not only captured most of the freight traffic between communities such as West Point, Stithton, and Elizabethtown, but also it spurred the creation of new towns such as Brooks Station, Hubers, Gap in Knob, Salt River, Bardstown Junction, Lebanon Junction, Clermont, and Hobbs, which sprang up in Bullitt County along the main line to Nashville and the branch lines to Bardstown and Lebanon. The coming of the railroad also dealt a severe blow to steamboat commerce at Pitts Point (Castner, cited in Kleber 2000:528; Kleber 1992:660; Klein 1972:8-9; Pack, cited in Kleber 1992:140).
An important effect of the development of a multimodal transportation network during the decades before the Civil War was to promote the growth of existing towns and the development of new ones, and occasionally the decline of towns that lost their transportation advantages to a new mode. During the early nineteenth century, communities such as West Point, Garnettsville, and Elizabethtown played prominent roles, serving as marketing, political, and gathering points for surrounding family farmsteads, especially when the danger of Indian attacks still prevailed. After this danger ended, farmsteads became larger and more widely scattered, but farm families still needed ties to a larger town for specialized goods and services. In some cases, this function was served by nuclear settlements, such as the Mill Creek, Cedar Creek, Smith’s Valley, Doe Run, and Otter Creek settlements.
Historic Towns on or Near Fort Knox
Through the nineteenth century, more towns grew up in response to population growth, and the need increased for goods and services that could not be produced on the farm. Such towns often developed around an early store, church, or school. Examples of such communities in the Fort Knox vicinity included Pleasant View (Wigginton), Easy Gap, Dorrett’s Run, and Stithton in Hardin County; Belmont and Cupio in Bullitt County; and Grahamton and Muldraugh in Meade County (Kempf 1999:23, 33-35). Such communities typically included one or more general stores, tradesmen such as blacksmiths and carpenters, a gristmill and/or sawmill, professionals such as physicians and lawyers, and churches representing major denominations such as Baptist and Methodist.
These smaller towns, which usually were unincorporated, were linked to larger regional markets through somewhat larger interior trading centers. Particularly important in the Fort Knox vicinity were Pitts Point in Bullitt County and Vine Grove and Stithton in Hardin County. The former was founded in 1831 by brothers James G. and John S. Pitts, who had purchased the 600-acre site from Abraham and Hannah Froman in August of that year. The town was initially named Pittstown in the brothers’ honor. Located at the junction of the Salt and Rolling Fork rivers, its name was later changed to Pitts Point (Kempf 1999:274).
Pitts Point obtained its first post office in 1842, which was followed about six years later by the town’s first free public school; it was sold in 1864 and converted to a Roman Catholic church. The town flourished in its early years because of its position as a steamboat docking point, and by 1860, its population had grown to about 300. Local businesses on the eve of the Civil War included the Franklin Hotel; J.V. Froman’s steam flouring mill; Goldsmith & Son and Levy & Bro., merchants; Hark Raney’s chair factory; Hardy & Warren, beef and pork packers; and Haltsclaw & Cunsales, dealers in stoves and tinware. Professionals and tradespeople included physicians, carpenters, bakers, saddle and harness makers, a fish dealer, a minister, a blacksmith, a mason, a painter, a tailor, a dentist, and teachers. The town also had Baptist and Catholic congregations, which also administered and maintained their own cemeteries. As noted earlier, Pitts Point was also the location of ferryboat services operated by Dowdell and Druin across the Salt and Rolling Fork rivers (Kempf 1999:274-275).
Vine Grove, located in northern Hardin County at the intersection of present-day KY 144 and the Paducah and Louisville Railroad (formerly the Illinois Central), is approximately 12 miles northwest of Elizabethtown and contiguous to the present city of Radcliff on the east. The first settlers arrived in the area in 1850 and called the settlement Vine Grove because of the many wild grapevines in the vicinity. The town was originally built on Otter Creek, but after the Civil War the inhabitants decided to relocate it to a new site about one mile east to exploit advantages created by construction of the Elizabethtown and Paducah Railroad, a predecessor of the Illinois Central Railroad, through northern Hardin County in the late 1860s (Cantrell, cited in Kleber 1992:921; Dew, cited in Kleber 1992:451).
The earliest references to Garnettsville are contained in Meade County court records regarding construction of a road from the town to the mouth of Salt River on May 27, 1833. Earlier documents refer to Garnett’s Mill, and subsequent records document both the town and the mill. Garnettsville was named for William Garnett, who was born about 1777 in Virginia to Thomas and Susan Garnett. He had arrived in Hardin County by 1812, the year he took over operation of a mill on Otter Creek operated by Christopher Grable, who had been a tenant on the site. The site was part of a larger tract granted by the Commonwealth of Virginia to Philip Barbour in December 1785. In July 1812 Barbour’s son and heir, Philip C.S. Barbour, sold the tract that included Grable’s Mill to William Vertrees, who in turn sold it to Garnett in October 1822. Garnett now owned the land on which his mill was located.
Garnett made a success of the mill and soon became a man of affairs in the community. When Meade County was organized in December 1823, he became one of its first justices of the peace and sheriffs early the following year. He also served in the 103rd Regiment of the Kentucky militia. The success of Garnett’s Mill made Garnettsville a magnet for settlers as well as other businesses, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s. Located on the east side of Otter Creek and to the northeast of Garnett’s Mill, the town attracted other mills, taverns, mercantile stores, blacksmith shops, churches, and a school, as well as a physician, a tailor, a millwright, and other trades and professions.
Agriculture. Agriculture was the primary economic pursuit of most residents of Hardin, Bullitt, and Meade counties during most of the nineteenth century, with salt making, milling, timber cutting, and assorted other industrial activities developing at various times and places. Most residents were small-scale farmers who lived in a single- or double-pen log cabin, which was enlarged or replaced over time, or a small wood-frame house. Located nearby were simple wood outbuildings such as barns, corncribs, hog pens, root cellars, springhouses, and utility sheds. The most common crop was corn, but most farmers also raised some tobacco, wheat, and hay along with vegetables and a few head of livestock. Some farmers in Bullitt County also grew barley. Small farmers owned few if any slaves. Less common were large-scale farmers, or planters, who cultivated hundreds or even thousands of acres of bottomland along the Salt, Rolling Fork, and Ohio rivers. These operations were similar in scale to the plantations of the Deep South and accounted for most of the slaves in this section of Kentucky. Large farmers grew much the same crops as their smaller neighbors, but the stress was on a cash crop, particularly tobacco, for sale at the market. Large-scale landowners usually had much larger and more elaborate houses. Particularly popular was the I-house, usually of frame and/or brick construction on stone foundations. Outbuildings were more numerous and better built than those on small farms, often with stone foundations or retaining walls. These structures also tended to serve more specialized functions, particularly tobacco barns, which varied in construction from those that housed livestock and other agricultural functions. Some farms were located near streams where the topography was favorable for the construction of springhouses. These were specialized buildings erected in a spring bed, allowing water to flow through the floor and cool the interior for the storage of perishables.
Salt Making. As suggested earlier, salt making was a very important early industrial enterprise, particularly in Bullitt County. Used primarily as a preservative for game and butchered livestock, salt was a very necessary and valuable commodity. The Revolutionary War cut off normal sources of salt, and the mountains were a barrier to practical, efficient transport of salt to the frontier. Established in 1779 by Henry Crist, Bullitt’s Lick was Kentucky’s first commercial saltworks and the only one west of the Alleghenies during the balance of the war. Life at pioneer salt licks was fraught with danger, particularly from Indian attacks. In 1788, Crist and 12 other settlers were navigating a boatload of salt kettles up the Salt River when Indians attacked them. Ten members of the party died outright, a woman was captured, another man escaped, and Crist was badly wounded. He eventually recovered and went on to become a prominent politician, serving in the US House of Representatives from 1809 to 1811. After the Revolution, other saltworks were established at Long Lick, Dry Lick, and Parakeet Lick, all in Bullitt County. These operations provided the area with its main source of salt until the 1820s, when transportation improvements made it possible to ship salt from distant markets at lower cost (Pack, cited in Kleber 1992:140).
The salt-making process involved digging wells of 30 to 40 feet deep and boiling water in trench- like furnaces lined with slate and mortared with clay. Large kettles were set in the furnaces, often as many as 50 at a time. Fires heated the furnaces with the aid of a stone chimney that provided the draft to feed the fires. Salt making was a very difficult, labor-intensive process of boiling and cooling. To meet the demand for water, pipes made of hollowed-out gum or sassafras logs were sometimes used to create pipeline systems to transport water from a nearby stream. One example was a string of pipes that followed the general route of Pitts Point Road to a furnace within the present boundaries of Fort Knox (Clark, cited in Kleber 1992:794).
One particularly notable Bullitt County salt maker was Ezekial Field. Born to Abraham and Betty Field in Culpepper County in 1773, Ezekial moved with his parents to present-day Jefferson County, Kentucky, in 1784. In 1790, Abraham Field purchased a 200-acre farm on Pond Creek in the Knobs area of southwestern Jefferson County. The Field farm was near Bullitt’s Lick and Mann’s Lick, both in Bullitt County, and in the early nineteenth century, Ezekial bought a one-fifth interest in Bullitt’s Lick. It is very likely that he was involved in the business as early as 1802 or 1803 and that he employed two of his younger brothers, Joseph and Reubin, in producing salt. This possibility is significant because in October 1803 Joseph and Reubin joined Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Corps of Discovery, which set out that month to explore the Louisiana Purchase territory (Kleber 1992; Yater and Denton 1992).
Milling. As in most other pioneer agricultural communities where facilities for the processing of grain, timber, and fiber are essential, milling quickly became a primary industrial activity. No comprehensive statistics on milling are available until 1820, when the first census of manufacturing was conducted. However, the census counted only Bullitt County, and it was not repeated until 1850, after which it was conducted on a decennial basis. Other records, however, indicate that at least one mill was operating before the beginning of the nineteenth century, and that perhaps as many as 10 were in business by 1820. Most mills were located on the Salt River, Rolling Fork River, Otter Creek, Doe Run, and Mill Creek and their various tributaries. Samuel Haycraft Sr. built Hardin County’s first gristmill in 1796, with assistance from Thomas Lincoln, the father of Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Smith petitioned the Bullitt County Court for permission to establish a water-powered gristmill, probably on Cedar Creek, in February 1798. He died in December 1800, and there is no apparent evidence that he built the mill. However, the 1820 census indicates that a mill had been erected on the Smith property, possibly by a Philip Smith.
Another very early mill was the Coleman or Doe Run Mill, built about 1800. Garnettsville had several mills at various times, including Crabb’s Mill, built about 1804; Overton’s Mill, a saw- and gristmill; and Grable’s Mill, erected about 1805. John Overton Jr. apparently also built the first flour mill on Otter Creek about 1813, and the town of Plain Dealing grew up around it. David Brandenburg, son of Solomon Brandenburg, the namesake of the Meade County seat, also built a mill in 1813 at what became Grahamton in 1835. Mills were erected on Mill Creek by a Mr. Tull and a Mr. Bunger. In 1820, Bullitt County had four gristmills, all located on Cedar Creek. Nathan Harris, whose mill processed twice as much wheat as the other three, owned the largest. The others appear to have been owned by Benjamin Summers, who may have commenced business about 1808; Michael Troutman, who was in business in 1814; and Samuel Simmons, whose mill was operating by 1820.
One of the area’s more prominent gristmills was Garnett’s Mill on Otter Creek. As noted earlier, it was established as early as 1806 by Christopher Grable on land owned by Philip Barbour. While Grable identified himself as the mill’s proprietor, it appears from early Hardin County tax and land records that Grable may have been a squatter, and that he may not even have known whose land he was occupying. William Garnett took over the operation in 1812, the same year Barbour’s son sold it to William Vertrees. Despite the change in operator, some residents called it Grable’s Mill as late as 1817. Garnett operated the mill first as a tenant and later as the mill’s owner when he purchased it from Vertrees in 1822. Garnett appears to have operated the mill quite successfully through the 1830s. Since tax records indicate that he owned several slaves, he likely used bondsmen to operate the facility. However, by 1842 he had run up a debt of $5,000 to one George Howard, who in turn had obligations to a William B. Jones. When he was unable to collect, Jones sued both Howard and Garnett, forcing Garnett to sell the mill to Howard for $2,500, which satisfied half his debt. Meanwhile, Howard mortgaged the mill tract and other properties to Jones as security for his debt to the latter. While other details about Garnett’s mill are scarce, the mortgage describes it as “a large water [powered] grist and saw mill”.
While settling Jones’s lawsuit against himself and Howard, Garnett purchased four tracts of land in a July 1842 sheriff’s sale, including the tract on which his mill stood. While the sale was not recorded until July 1846, control of the mill passed back into Garnett’s hands. According to case documents, the mill site also included a distillery. After regaining title to the land, Garnett operated the mill for nearly five more years, until April 1851, when he sold it to James A. Withers, who owned and operated it until his death about 1886. During this period, the mill operated as J. A. Withers & Son. The 1870 federal census of manufactures indicates that Withers’ operation had a daily sawmilling capacity of 600 feet of sawed lumber and a daily gristmill capacity of 25 barrels of meal. Annual production is listed as 60,000 feet of lumber and 1,000 barrels of meal.
Garnett’s connection with milling did not end with his own mill. He and his wife, Lucy, had a large family, and their daughter Nancy married Isaac W. Overton, who in 1825 became owner of Overton’s Mill, which had been erected 12 years earlier by his uncle, John Overton Jr. The younger Overton acquired the property from Charles Fishback, who had purchased a half-interest in the site from John Overton eight years earlier. It is not clear if Fishback had an actual operating interest in the mill, but he did use his ownership of the property as collateral for loans. What is notable is that the deed transferring ownership from Fishback to Isaac Overton twice refers to “mills” rather than “mill.” Precisely what this means is not clear. Use of the plural form could mean that Overton was operating two mills. However, in the context of the milling operation of the time, it also could mean that the same structure provided both grist/flour milling and sawmilling services. It is also possible that, given the mill’s position between two tributaries of Otter Creek, more than one mill or wheel was erected. Again, that is not known. Whatever its configuration, Overton’s Mill served as the center of the community of Plain Dealing and produced flour and meal, sawn lumber, and wood rolls.
Overton operated the mill until 1842, when he sold it to Samuel P. Sterrett, an experienced miller and former supervisor at Grahamton Mill, who recently had owned a small interest in that firm. During the next several years, Sterrett made several operational changes, including suspension of sawmilling, possibly because Isaac Overton established a sawmill in the vicinity, and the addition of steam power as a supplement to waterpower. Between 1860 and 1870, Sterrett diversified the mill’s operations by milling rolled wool in addition to his flour- and grist-milling activities. Sterrett continued to operate the mill with his son Calvin until 1884, when he sold it to Virgil S. Long.
More important for its association than its industrial significance was Ezekial Field’s mill near the L&N Turnpike at Poplar Springs. Field’s mill was located within the present boundaries of Fort Knox. Notably, the owner was the same Ezekial Field whose brothers were Reubin and Joseph Field, key members of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Corps of Discovery that explored the Louisiana Purchase territory. Ezekial Field died in 1858 at the age of 85.
While most early mills were either grist- or sawmills, with some serving both functions, there were exceptions. The area’s most famous and most successful milling operation was probably the textile mill at Grahamton. The textile mill’s roots in Meade County date to October 21, 1835, when Robert Graham & Company of Louisville purchased 175 acres from David Brandenburg, including the Falls of Otter Creek and Brandenburg’s Mill, which the seller had established at that location about two decades earlier. The Louisville firm purchased the land to relocate its steam-powered cotton and woolen mill to a more desirable water-powered mill site. Graham’s firm, which included his associates John S. Snead and James Anderson, had been organized in 1829 as the Jefferson Cotton Factory, located on the north side of Main Street between Preston and Jackson streets, east of downtown. The firm proved quite successful, but the gradual introduction of cheaper goods by eastern competitors prompted the owners to look for a cheaper location in Meade County. Between late 1835 and 1837, the company shipped its equipment, much of which had been purchased just two or three years earlier, to the new site where it was installed to create Grahamton Mill. The first dam and mill race were built of wood but replaced by stone in the early 1850s.
The company’s growth over the next two decades proved the wisdom of its decision to relocate. Within a short time, it began producing a variety of goods, including cotton and wool yarns, linens, cottonades, jeans, and a special cloth known as “Otter Creek Stripe.” During the Mexican War, the mill supplied the Army with canvas for tents. By 1850, the mill employed 75 male and female employees (possibly excluding children and slaves). A decade later, an average of 55 employees operated 1,692 spindles and 70 looms. During the 1860s, possibly 1864 or 1865, a new stone flour mill was added to the complex. It operated for several years, but it eventually declined, and it was converted to a warehouse.
By 1850, the three-county area had at least 19 mills, which employed at least 46 men. This is not a comprehensive list, however, because the census did not include operations that showed an annual production value of less than $500. Hardin County had the largest number of mills, with 11, followed by Bullitt with five and Meade with three. Many of the mills operating in 1850 were “merchant” mills, which specialized in grinding and shipping grain and grain products for the commercial market, as opposed to “custom” mills, which served local customers who brought their grain to the mill and picked it up when the job was completed. Water remained the primary power source for milling at mid-century, but several steam-powered mills were already in operation. Two mills had both grist and sawing operations, and a third complex ground grain, distilled liquors, and provided blacksmithing services.
Figures reported in the 1860 census of manufacturing suggest a significant decline in milling operations as the number of mills in Bullitt, Hardin, and Meade counties dropped to 12. However, examination of other data suggests that this apparent decline is more a result of undercounting than a large reduction in milling operations. Several other trends are evident in the numbers, such as the proportion of mills offering more than one service. In several cases, gristmill operators concentrated on grain processing during the summer and fall and then sawed lumber during the fall and winter. Since increases in value for both processed grain and lumber were substantial during this period, keeping one’s mill in operation throughout the year could increase profits significantly. In addition, mills appear to have increased in size and capacity, with an accompanying increase in labor force requirements, as the number of individuals who reported milling-related increased to 120. Most mills continued to use water as their primary source of power, with only three using steam. One mill used waterpower to grind wheat, steam to grind corn, and horsepower to grind rye and buckwheat.
Iron Industry. The iron industry in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries grew rapidly in Kentucky. Prior to the 1780s, early settlers noticed the iron ore located at rock outcroppings in eastern and central Kentucky, where the first ironworks of the state appeared. Later, ironworks spread to the western part of Kentucky. In 1782, Jacob Myers bought land along a branch of Licking River in Bath County and began the construction of a small furnace for smelting iron (Connelley and Coulter 1922). Myers manufactured 10-gallon iron kettles for sugar and salt making along with other items required by the Kentuckians. His iron operation reduced the need for settlers to order iron products from as far away as Virginia and Pennsylvania. This ironworks existed for nearly 50 years and played a significant role in the development of the iron industry in Kentucky. By 1830, Kentucky’s iron production trailed only that of Pennsylvania and New York (Enoch 1997).
The settlers found that Kentucky had all the natural resources required for iron production. Iron ore, limestone, wood, and water for power were all necessary for a successful ironworks. First, the furnaces and accessory structures had to be constructed from cut limestone. Then trees needed to be cut and burned to make charcoal. Next, the iron ore had to be removed from the ground and cleaned. Once the furnace was burning, it had to be tended day and night by an ironmaster. Once the iron became molten, it was channeled to a casting house, where it was directed into sand trenches to form clay molds. From here, the iron was formed into kettles, plowshares, and other items. Finally, the slag waste had to be hauled away (Enoch 1997). Henry G. Enoch explains, “Mining, woodcutting, hauling, charcoal making, furnace charging, and casting went on continuously as long as the furnace was in blast” (1997:39). An iron operation often depleted the surrounding forest within a few years. Consequently, new hauling roads to new stands of trees had to be built. The ironworks process never stopped until a furnace fire was extinguished (Enoch 1997).
While there are few reports of iron mining occurring in this region, it has been reported that iron was mined from Iron Mountain, currently on Fort Knox, in the mid-nineteenth century. The closest iron ore furnace to Iron Mountain was in Belmont, just east of the Fort Knox boundary. This ironworks was in operation from the 1830s to 1860s (Collins 1874:101). The iron ore mined at Iron Mountain may have been hauled to Belmont for smelting.
Mineral Springs. Numerous mineral springs, the nineteenth-century counterpart to today’s health spas, were located near springs and several salt licks. Regionally, the most well-known “watering places” of the nineteenth and early twentieth century include Breckinridge Tar & Sulphur Springs, Doe Run Springs, Paroquet Springs, Rock Springs, Rough Creek Springs, Hardin Springs, and White Mills Springs (Coleman 1942; 1955). Among these, Paroquet Springs was well-known for its mineral water. Initially developed for the manufacture of salt circa 1803, it was reopened in 1838 as a watering place, under the ownership of John D. Colmesnil, a prominent Louisville merchant. The spa flourished through the Civil War years, and in 1871 a group of Louisville businessmen purchased it from the aging Colmesnil and built a large, two- story hotel that had two wings and a three-story octagon in its center front, all of which was surrounded by verandas on both levels. The new facility could accommodate 500 guests. However, on May 16, 1879, the new hotel burned to the ground, and Paroquet Springs went into decline (Kleber 2001:694).
Located within Fort Knox, Tioga Springs (also spelled ‘Tiouga’) served as a local vacation and recreational destination during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The spring around which the hotel was built is situated atop the Muldraugh Hill escarpment approximately 3 miles southwest of the town West Point, Kentucky. Local oral tradition states that the hotel was established prior to the Civil War, however, the earliest identified historic reference to the site as a hotel appeared in the Breckenridge News in 1893. In a trail brochure produced by the US Army Armor Center and Fort Knox, the antebellum patrons of the hotel are described as “wealthy Mississippi and Louisiana planters” who sent their families (accompanied by their slaves) north to escape the malarial threat of summer. Gary Kempf and C. Leslie Dawson have published similar descriptions of the site and its patrons in articles for Ancestral News, a local historical newsletter (Kempf and Dawson 2009a; Kempf 2010; also cited in Kempf 1999:25, 259). Archaeological investigations conducted at the Tioga Springs Site suggest that it was occupied as early as the 1830s. It is unclear now, however, if the site was being operated as a hotel prior to the onset of the Civil War.
The Civil War
By the mid-1850s, the area encompassed by Hardin, Bullitt, and Meade counties had grown quite prosperous, with a healthy mix of agriculture, commerce, and industry in communities such as Elizabethtown, West Point, Garnettsville, Grahamton, and Stithton. When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, the Kentucky General Assembly voted to remain neutral. Caught between the northern Union and southern Confederacy, Kentucky supplied approximately 90,000 men to the Union Army and up to 40,000 for the Confederate cause. Hardin County, along with the surrounding counties, often saw Union and Confederate armies pass through the area and periodically occupy it. Both sides used the L&N Turnpike as a main thoroughfare. The sentiments of citizens in Hardin, Bullitt, and Meade counties, where large landholders owned a considerable number of slaves, tended in favor of the Confederacy, but Union forces controlled the area militarily. No major battles were fought in this area; however, at times Union and Confederate guerrillas attacked those who were not loyal to their cause. Several small communities with businesses loyal to the Union were attacked by rebels hoping to discourage their support for the North (Kempf 1999; McClure 1979).
Union forces constructed several earthen forts on Muldraugh Hill along the L&N Railroad. This railroad was a major line of supply for Union troops occupying the South and therefore remained extremely vulnerable to attacks from General John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry and rebel partisans. The locations of these forts remain outside the present-day Fort Knox border (Jones 1995; Kempf 1999).
The most notable fort constructed in this area is Fort Duffield, which overlooks West Point and the Ohio River. In October 1861, General William Tecumseh Sherman established a supply base at West Point. West Point was a natural choice due to its location near the river and the L&N Turnpike. General Sherman chose a hill overlooking West Point, known as Pearman Hill, to fortify his position. He ordered five regiments to construct earthworks on the hill. The 9th Michigan Infantry was placed in charge of the construction, and they named it Fort Duffield in honor of their regimental commander. Once the fort was complete, several companies remained at the fort while the other regiments moved southward. Labeled by the Louisville newspaper as the “Key to Louisville,” the fort saw no action against Confederate forces. General Morgan avoided the fort due to its great defenses. Sixty-one men of the garrison died of disease and were buried in a cemetery beside the fort in 1918, the US Army purchased the land on which Fort Duffield had been built. In 1978 Fort Duffield was given to the town of West Point by the US Army, and it is now open to the public as a community park (Briggs 1955; Kempf 1999).
During the time of the Civil War, the armies of both the North and South were known to use the L&N Turnpike. A portion of the tollgate record books kept by George Fisher was published and shows the presence of Union activity on Fort Knox’s section of the L&N Turnpike in the early years of the war. The 37th Indiana Volunteer Infantry is recorded as passing through on their way from West Point to Bacon Creek with 43 wagons on November 16, 1861, and 107 more wagons on December 9. In December 1862, more entries were made for military movements on the turnpike by unknown regiments. Other December 1862 entries included 800 cavalry and 22 horse ambulances passing through on December 9, 600 cavalry on December 11, and 1,600 cavalry on December 14 (Kempf 1999:251).
In 1862, Confederate General Braxton Bragg led an offensive to drive the Union forces from Kentucky. Many thought he would attempt to take the city of Louisville, an assembly point for the Union Army, to drive the Union troops onto Northern soil. The city prepared for the attack, building up fortifications and evacuating citizens. During this time the Confederates won a victory at Munfordville, 80 miles to the south, resulting in the surrender of the Union forces in that area on September 17, 1862. General Don Carlos Buell’s Union forces hurried from Nashville to Louisville to stop the possible attack on that city by General Bragg. They arrived well in advance of the Confederates by way of the L&N Turnpike. General Bragg intended to continue north in the direction of Louisville and Cincinnati, perhaps considering the L&N Turnpike as a possible route through present-day Fort Knox. However, with General Buell in Louisville, the Confederates had no choice but to abandon their plans of capturing Louisville. Instead, General Bragg chose to reinforce his Army and then turned toward Bardstown (Harper’s Weekly 1862 article reprinted in Jones 1995; McClure 1979).
The two armies finally met at Perryville, Kentucky. When General Bragg’s Army raced to Louisville, two reporters from Ohio were witness to the mass movement of Union troops from Nashville to Louisville on what is now Fort Knox. In a September 30 article from the Cincinnati Commercial Courier, a reporter noted the numbers of soldiers marching: “And now commenced the living stream that flowed incessantly by for two days and half. In cities, people think a regiment of soldiers interminable, but what would the citizens of Cincinnati say, to more than 10 miles of soldiers, on the march—infantry, artillery, and cavalry—filing past, regiment after regiment” (Cincinnati Commercial Courier, September 30, 1862, reprinted in Jones 1995). Around Bloomington (New Stithton), the reporters could go no farther due to the number of soldiers and wagons blocking the road. The reporters took a new route to get around the mass of troops heading to Louisville. There was the danger of encountering guerrilla activity away from the troops, but the reporters took the risk and traveled to Garnettsville and north to West Point (Cincinnati Commercial Courier, September 30, 1862, reprinted in Jones 1995).
On December 26, 1862, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his raiders approached Elizabethtown and burned two L&N Railroad bridges. The following day Morgan and his troops surrounded the town, placed artillery on Cemetery Hill, and opened fire on the Illinois Infantry regiment stationed in the town. Outnumbered and underequipped, the Federal troops finally waved the white flag of surrender. On December 28, General Morgan vacated Elizabethtown and destroyed the L&N trestle at Muldraugh Hill, disabling it for several months. Later General Morgan made another foray through the area, in July 1863. His route took him across the Rolling Fork River past Stithton and Pleasant View to an overnight camp at Garnettsville before he reached the Ohio River at Brandenburg. Using two captured steamboats, the John T. Combs and the Alice Dean, he ferried his troops across the river and led them on an extended raid across southeast Indiana into Ohio (Kleber 1992:290, 623, 660; Sturgeon, cited in Kleber 2000:310).
Union forces controlled this area for the remainder of the war, and there was little further conflict between regular Union and Confederate forces in the vicinity. However, Confederate sympathizers formed underground guerrilla units that sometimes wreaked havoc on Union sympathizers and businesses that supplied Federal troops. Other bands sought to represent the Northern cause, but in either case, most simply were bandits who preyed on the local populace (Jones 1995).
The Post-Civil War Decline
During the decades between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the twentieth century, the area that would become Fort Knox fell into a general state of economic decline, especially in relation to the states to the north and northwest. In part, this condition was reflected throughout Kentucky, because the state was left behind in a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization. Individual sections of the state had their own problems, and Hardin, Bullitt, and Meade counties were no exception. A major problem was land characteristics that severely limited long-term agricultural expansion. Much of Bullitt County and some of Hardin County, especially in the Fort Knox area, are characterized by a highly dissected topography with limited arable land. Nearly all of Meade County and much of Hardin is characterized by karstic topography, including underground drainage, moderate to severe erosion, and only moderate crop yield (Whitaker and Waters 1986).
Compounding the region’s limited agricultural potential was a shortage of mineral deposits and other resources suitable for industrial development. During the early 1890s, several natural gas wells were sunk near Wither’s Landing and Rock Haven in northern Meade County near the Ohio River, but apparently not enough gas was present to spur a significant rush to develop this resource. Because of such conditions, large numbers of residents left the area during the closing years of the nineteenth century in pursuit of new opportunities. Many moved to Elizabethtown and Louisville, particularly the latter, which was experiencing a significant industrial expansion. This tendency was aggravated by external forces such as the burgeoning growth of large-scale textile plants in the East and South that captured markets once supplied by mill companies of this region. While the Civil War had a major economic and social impact in freeing the slaves, the area avoided the physical destruction dealt to most of the states that had seceded from the Union. However, because Kentucky’s economy was so tightly interwoven with that of the Deep South, the Commonwealth suffered significantly, if indirectly, from the postwar poverty that retarded the development of its southern markets. Communities in Hardin, Bullitt, and Meade counties were no more immune to this impact than the rest of the state (Harrison and Klotter 1997:249-71).
Towns of the Area
Patterns of daily life in the postwar years continued much as they had before the war. Because of generally adverse economic conditions, few communities grew significantly; but neither did many experience serious losses in population and business, except those by-passed by the expanded railroad network. Most notable among the latter was Pitts Point, which for decades had been a major shipping point on Salt River. As late as 1859, a Kentucky business gazetteer estimated the town’s population at 300, and the town still had a broad range of business enterprises. A couple of new subdivisions were added during the 1860s, and lot sales were brisk. By 1865, the population had grown to an estimated 350. Pitts Point Male and Female Academy, one of the area’s best- known educational institutions, opened in 1866. Though commonly referred to as the “College,” its curriculum probably was more closely akin to that of a junior high or high school level. Nevertheless, it served as the major center of learning for much of the surrounding area for several decades.
By the beginning of the 1870s, however, it was apparent to many observers that Pitts Point’s heyday had passed. Economic conditions, especially in agriculture, were such that the town’s prospects as a river shipping point were bleak. In February 1872, the Elizabethtown News reported that citizens were petitioning to have a planned extension of a local railroad to run through Pitts Point. “If they could get the road they would be once again in the world, and one of the best sections of our county, now shut out almost entirely from the market, would be open to trade,” the News observed. The petitioners supported their plea with a promise of $75,000 in private subscriptions to help build the line. This was to no avail. During the waning years of the century, trade increasingly bypassed Pitts Point, and a growing number of residents sought their fortunes elsewhere. By 1887, the population had fallen to about 150, and in 1896, it was down to about 100, with only a handful of businesses remaining. The town continued to lose population during the early twentieth century, and the remaining families bought up lots as they became available. By the time the War Department bought Pitts Point for the expansion of Fort Knox during World War II, all lots were owned by seven families and two churches (Kempf 1999:279-280).
Although never as large as Pitts Point, the Bullitt County communities of Belmont and Cupio were more successful in sustaining their population and economic base during the late nineteenth century. Belmont, situated seven miles south of Shepherdsville on the Cincinnati, Louisville, and New Orleans branch of the L&N Railroad, had only about 35 residents in 1883, but it served a vital role as a shipping and express station for hay, fruit, and livestock producers on nearby farms. Like other small rural villages, it also provided vital services such as blacksmith shops, general stores, carpenters, and a wagon and spoke maker. It also boasted a Baptist church and a Union church. Belmont grew steadily through the 1880s and into the 1890s, and by 1891, its population stood at 75. The population remained static during the years that followed, though by 1896 its business and professional directory had expanded to include a drugstore, a flour mill and sawmill, and a lawyer (Kempf 1999:265-267).
The fortunes of Cupio, located in western Bullitt County, about 12 miles west of Shepherdsville, are a bit more difficult to track because the 1879–80 Kentucky Gazetteer and Business Directory does not include the town’s population. Working against Cupio’s long-term interests was the fact that it was not located on a railroad line. Nevertheless, the village supported three physicians, a lawyer, two sawmills, two livestock dealers, two wagon makers, a lumber dealer, a minister, and two plasterers, along with a blacksmith, a nurseryman, and an artist. By 1891, Cupio appears to have lost some of its businesses, and several others had changed hands. However, the population stood at 50, and five years later it had reached approximately 100, even though only eight businesses, professionals, and tradespeople remained, including a physician, a lawyer, two blacksmiths, two storekeepers, a livestock dealer, and a wagon maker. Only J. W. Croan, the lawyer, and R. B. Stowers, the wagon maker, had been in business in 1879 (Kempf 1999:564-566).
Even harder to trace are developments in the Hardin County communities of Tip Top, Easy Gap, and Wigginton. Tip Top, located about 18 miles north of Elizabethtown on the Chesapeake, Ohio, and Southwestern Railroad, acquired a post office in April 1878. It served primarily as a shipping point for local dairy farmers, who sent milk to dairies in Louisville. At its peak, the local depot served three trains daily. In 1896, the only year it is recorded in the Kentucky Gazetteer and Business Directory, Tip Top had an estimated population of 60. Much like Cupio and Belmont in Bullitt County, Tip Top had numerous businesses that served nearby farmers, including two sawmills, one owned by carpenter George Elliott and the other by G. C. Scheible, who also owned a bone-dust factory, served as postmaster, and co-owned a general store. Other agriculture-related businesses included W. G. Anderson & Company, cotton and flour mill; A. M. Curtis, nurseryman; J. M. Faris, produce dealer; William Fisher and Silas Hart, livestock dealers; L. Kindall, meat dealer; and W. B. Jones, lumber dealer (Kempf 1999:240, 242).
Easy Gap, a stop on Collis Huntington’s Newport News and Mississippi Valley Railroad line, about 20 miles north of Elizabethtown, had a post office in 1891, thus earning it a place in the Kentucky Gazetteer. However, its only enterprises were a general store owned by H. H. Carr, who was also the postmaster, and sawmills owned by John McGrew and C. Pirle. Its population is not listed in the directory. Wigginton, also known as Pleasant View, was located about 19 miles north of Elizabethtown and 4.5 miles south of West Point, midway between the Illinois Central Railroad and Salt River. The town was named for Benjamin Wigginton, the Civil War guerrilla leader, a dry-goods merchant and grocer who became the town’s first postmaster in 1890. In 1891 Wigginton had all the earmarks of a small country village, with a population of about 50 people and such businesses as a meat market, two cattle dealers, a gristmill, a sawmill, and two dry-goods stores, along with two carpenters and a blacksmith. The center of community life was Pleasant View Baptist Church, which was founded in 1858 with 22 charter members and at one time the largest congregation in Hardin County. In 1891, its pastor was the Rev. W. S. Hill (Kempf 1999:240-242, 394-395, 470).
The economic hardships of the postwar period appear to have had the least damaging impact on the Meade County communities of Garnettsville, Grahamton, Muldraugh, and Bartles. Garnettsville, which served as a stagecoach stop on the road between Hardinsburg and Louisville, not only remained a thriving community but experienced substantial growth during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Without a railroad line, it played an important role as a center of transportation, offering daily stagecoaches to Muldraugh, Bewleyville, and Brandenburg. Garnettsville’s population in 1887 was an estimated 200, and by 1891, it had increased to about 375. During this period, the town’s business enterprises included the usual mix of services required by surrounding farmers, including three flour mills, a sawmill, two livestock dealers, two general stores, and a druggist. Tradesmen and professionals included three carpenters, two blacksmiths, a physician, a miller, and two shoemakers. Although Brandenburg was the county seat, Garnettsville apparently served as well as a local seat of justice, with residents including a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, and two justices of the peace (Kentucky Gazetteer and Business Directory 1887– 88, 1891–92, cited in Kempf 1999:382-83).
Garnettsville was also a center of religious, social, and cultural life in southeastern Meade County, and the postwar years were a period of new development in these aspects of life. Otter Creek Baptist Church, organized in 1813, replaced its 1842 frame structure in 1877 with a simple brick structure that had strong Greek Revival motifs. Meanwhile, a Methodist church was organized in 1870. It met in a stone building located next to the present Garnettsville Cemetery on Highway 1638 between Muldraugh and Brandenburg. The community also had a Masonic hall, built in 1853. Garnettsville School, a one- room frame structure, served children in grades one through eight; in 1898 it had an enrollment of 70 pupils (Kempf 1999:385, 395, 408, 506).
The most ambitious undertaking in Garnettsville after the Civil War was the formation of Salem College by leaders of the Salem Association of Kentucky Baptists in 1866. Opened in 1867 under the leadership of President W. H. Hayward, the institution operated for about a decade. The school’s charter authorized it to grant Bachelor of Arts degrees. Freshmen were offered what the school’s informational brochure called “the Preparatory Course for College,” a frank admission that most incoming students were not academically prepared for what commonly passed for a college education (Kempf 1999:387- 394).
After the Civil War, the development of Grahamton was slow. Records from the 1870s indicate that the only businesses at the time were the mill and a company store. By the 1890s, several new commercial enterprises were noted within the community. These additional businesses consisted of a shoemaker, a blacksmith, and the company-owned general store. The population then was listed at 275 inhabitants. During the nineteenth century, the town of Grahamton was located primarily along the western bank of Otter Creek, near the mills.
Although it started from a smaller base than either Garnettsville or Grahamton, Muldraugh’s fortunes increased substantially during the years after the Civil War. Its roots date to the early years of settlement in Meade County, but it remained little more than a tiny agricultural settlement, known primarily for its proximity to Muldraugh Hill, where it served as a stop on the L&N Turnpike. Its situation began to improve about 1874, when a post office was established, with Thomas W. Summers as the first postmaster. For years thereafter, Muldraugh served as the central post office for Kentucky towns as far west as Hardinsburg in Breckinridge County. An even more important stimulus for growth came in 1882 when Muldraugh became a depot on Collis Huntington’s new Chesapeake, Ohio, and Southwestern Railroad line between Louisville and Memphis. It was a division of his Newport News and Mississippi Valley Railroad, which was intended to be part of a true transcontinental system that interconnected with Jay Gould’s Texas & Pacific and St. Louis, Iron Mountain, & Southern railroads and the Southern Pacific (Kempf 1999:575, 587; Kleber 1992:660).
Five years after the railroad depot opened, Muldraugh was a flourishing village with approximately 60 residents. Daily stagecoaches carried local passengers to Hardinsburg and Brandenburg, and the railroad carried passengers and cargo to Louisville and more distant markets. To facilitate the shipment of livestock, a large stockyard was built on the east side of the railroad tracks. Postmaster D. P. Anshutz operated a general store, as did Hezekiah Reesor, who also served as postmaster between late 1893 and early 1895. A. Q. Settles operated an express office and served as telegraph operator. Small business industries engaged in agricultural-related activities included blacksmiths A. Boneyville and J. Rosenborger, livestock dealer Daniel Brooks, distiller W. T. Fitch, and corn- and sawmill operator Isaac Stephens. The town also had a livery stable, a hotel, and a wagon maker. By 1896, most of these businesses were gone, with only the general stores, express office, and distillery remaining. However, the population had increased to about 75 (Kempf 1999:575, 587; Kentucky Gazetteer and Business Directory 1887–88 and 1896, cited in Kempf 1999:576-577). Insufficient evidence is available to account for these contradictory trends. However, it is entirely possible that several businesses failed because of the severe depression that hit the United States in 1893, while at the same time many economically pinched farmers moved to urban areas.
Fort Knox History
War Department Established Kentucky Site for World War I Artillery Training
The United States entry into the First World War in 1917 necessitated the establishment of new military installations. Camp Zachary Taylor, in Louisville, Kentucky, was the first of sixteen new Army cantonments completed to mobilize and train soldiers. In December, the old 1903 military maneuver grounds at nearby West Point became the site for a new artillery range for troops stationed at Camp Taylor. The following spring a tented cantonment was established at that site and the first field artillery unit from the 84th Division moved there on April 1, 1918. Additional field artillery units followed to utilize the expanding ranges. According to the Louisville Courier, "The West Point range would become the artillery training center of the Army." That summer the War Department selected Stithton, a small farming community south of West Point, to establishment a Field Artillery Brigade Firing Center Cantonment for six brigades (45,000 men). Construction of buildings was organized under Constructing Quartermaster Major W. H. Radcliffe.
The land at Stithton was soon acquisitioned by the Army and more land was acquired from Bullitt and Meade Counties. Many of the houses in the town of Stithton were utilized for the Army’s purposes. Modest Victorian architecture once occupied by Stithton residents became homes used by Army officers and their families. St. Patrick's Catholic Church was utilized as a church and other purposes. (Today, it is the Main Post Chapel and the oldest building on post). Barracks and warehouses were built to accommodate and support the growing population of Soldiers arriving by train. Standardized plans were used to build most of these World War I mobilization buildings and identical buildings could be found on most other installations around the country. In this era and locality of the country, horse drawn equipment was still regularly used along with automobiles. Chief of Artillery, Major General William J. Snow established the Field Artillery Central Officers Training School (FACOTS) at Camp Knox. In August Snow announced that the official name of the cantonment at Stithton would be known as Camp Knox, in honor of General Henry Knox who served as the Continental Army’s Chief of Artillery during the Revolutionary War and first Secretary of War.
It was decided to permanently move the artillery camp in West Point to Stithton in September 1918. The following month the Camp Knox News was founded as the post’s first newspaper. That October, Camp Knox’s Godman Field became the first airfield in Kentucky when it was built for the 29th Aero Squadron. On November 11, 1918, America celebrated the armistice that ended fighting in World War I and construction at Stithton slowed down dramatically. Later that month the first troops were transferred from West Point. Near the end of December, most of the troops there had been moved to the permanent camp at Stithton and the maximum number of troops on post reached a high of 9,000. Troops mobilized for the war and many returning from overseas were brought to Camp Knox to be discharged from the service over the next year.
Camp Knox continued to be used as the tactical training site for the FACOTS in 1919. In addition, units demobilize at the camp following their service during the First World War. That August, the Knights of Columbus open their Visitor’s House. Today this historic building, Building 4248, contains offices for Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR).
In 1921 it was announced that Camp Knox would be used as an active training center for the Reserve Officer Training Camp (ROTC) for artillery and infantry students in the Fourth and Fifth Corps Areas, the Citizens’ Military Training Camp (CMTC), and by the National Guard. Among those who attended the Field Artillery Summer Camp of the ROTC at Camp Knox that summer was a young University of Wisconsin student named Charles Lindbergh, who would become world famous for his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.
Camp Knox had reportedly become the second largest Army training center in the United States by 1922. That summer, however, the artillery officers’ “basic school” at Camp Knox moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and it was deemed necessary to close the post as a permanent installation that year. Although closed as a permanent installation, Camp Knox remained an active training center by the 5th Corps Area for the Army. For a brief time, during 1925 to 1928, the area was designated as “Camp Henry Knox National Forest” until the executive order for the establishment of the forest was rescinded and the designation came to a close.
Mechanized Cavalry Headquartered at Camp Knox in 1931
The War Department created the Mechanized Force in 1930. Upon the recommendation of Lieutenant Colonel Adna R. Chaffee Jr. and Colonel Daniel Van Voorhis, Camp Knox was chosen to be the new headquarters for the Mechanized Cavalry in 1931. The size and terrain of Camp Knox made this a suitable area for such training.
In January 1932, Camp Knox was made a permanent installation and has been known as Fort Knox since. As the primary site for the development and practice of armored warfare for the U.S. Cavalry, it played a critical role in training military personnel in the use of mechanized cavalry during the inter-war period and World War II. In February Brigadier General Julian R. Lindsey succeeded Van Voorhis as post commander. In 1933 the 1st Cavalry Regiment arrived at Fort Knox in their armored combat cars. In May Anti-Aircraft Artillery and Air Corps (AA-AC) Exercises occurred. Testing an air defense warning system proposed by Captain Claire Lee Chennault, the AA-AC Exercises pitted new modern bombers against older and much slower biplanes.
This growth of mechanized cavalry in the 1930s created the need to construct support facilities and housing. Two phases of permanent construction occurred in the 1930s. Most of these buildings were designed in a Georgian Colonial Revival style and are primarily constructed with bricks and built from standardized plans created by the Army Quartermaster Corps. An Art Deco water treatment plant was also included. The constructing quartermaster at Fort Knox during the first phase of permanent construction in the early 1930s was Captain John A. Gilman. Gilman previously supervised other notable construction projects, including: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its approach at Arlington Cemetery and the Kitty Hawk Memorial in North Carolina. As Fort Knox was constructed, Mechanized Cavalry established the early doctrine of armored warfare. Maneuvers were also carried out. In early 1937 the 1st Cavalry Regiment (Mechanized) was called upon to guard gold moving into the Treasury Department’s new depository and assisted during the Ohio River flood that ravaged the area.
During the 1930s, Fort Knox was an induction center for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees. Train loads of young men were sent to Fort Knox from West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. They spent about two weeks at Fort Knox where they received their shots, clothing and were trained. After this induction period was completed, the men were put on trains and sent to camps at various locations around the country. A number of camps remained at Fort Knox. These camps were assigned such tasks as improving forests, constructing fire breaks, building roads, working in the stone quarry, soil conservation, pest control, cooking, cleaning, and working in the motor pool as mechanics. As Fort Knox grew as an installation, additional infrastructure was required to accommodate all the new personnel and equipment. Both the CCC and the WPA (Works Progress Administration), another work relief program, assisted Fort Knox in this development.
Armored Force Headquartered at Fort Knox for WWII
With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the American Army prepared with the creation of the Armored Force and headquartered it at Fort Knox in the summer of 1940. It was responsible for establishing armored formations, doctrine, and training in the use of armored vehicles. Selective Service was implemented and thousands of citizen soldiers were ordered to Fort Knox and introduced to the tank. The post was required to undergo a massive building boom and acquisition of land to support these troops.
In October 1940, the Armored Force School and Armored Force Replacement Center were established, training Soldiers in specific areas such as armor tactics, tank gunnery, communications, and maintenance. The United States was thrown into World War II on December 7, 1941 and the Armored Force experienced their first battle fatality the following day, Private First Class Robert H. Brooks. On December 23, 1941 the main parade ground at Fort Knox was memorialized to Private First Class Brooks. The memorialization was highly significant at the time since Brooks was an African-American serving in the all-white 192nd Tank Battalion during a time of racial segregation of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Fort Knox served as the location of an important testing location for the Navy during the spring and summer of 1942. At that time an all-wood mock-up of the Landing Ship Tank (LST) well deck was duplicated to allow naval architects to track airflow and test ventilation systems capable of removing poisonous gases created by running tanks and vehicles enclosed in the well deck. A solution was found and the go-ahead was given for contractors to complete construction on actual LSTs. In all, more than 1,050 such vessels were built during the war. Today the building, located at 1538 Eisenhower Ave., is one of the few World War II wooden structures remaining on Fort Knox and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
During World War II, armor made great advancements through the development of new tanks, organization, and training. Equipment and Soldiers benefitted from findings made by the Armored Board and Armored Medical Research Laboratory. In 1943 the Armored Force was re-designated the “Armored Command” and within a year was changed to the “Armored Center.”
On April 28, 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Fort Knox during his second wartime inspection tour. Another renaming occurred that year; the Armored Force Replacement Training Center officially became the Armored Replacement Training Center (ARTC). Here Soldiers received a 17-week course which included instruction in various arms, big tank guns, tank driving and maintenance, chemical warfare and many other subjects. They were introduced to hills named “Misery,” “Agony” and ”Heartbreak” before graduating and then sent to divisions, additional schooling, or straight into the various theaters of war.
WW II Prisoner of War Camp Established at Fort Knox
Fort Knox was site of a main Prisoner of War (POW) camp between February 1944 and June 1946. The first POWs to arrive were Italian. In May 1944 they received an opportunity to volunteer for special service units to aid the American Army. While still classified as POWs, they were on an honor system and given more opportunities. German POWs arrived that same month and had a routine camp life which included work, rules, and recreation. Outdoor and indoor work details were assigned, on and off-post and many times alongside civilian employees. Many civilians and prisoners got along well with one another and some became friends. The German POW camp at Fort Knox has since been demolished. It was located in the vicinity of Scott Intermediate School. The former camp soccer field is the only remaining feature of that camp and is now used for American football by students. One Italian and 17 German prisoners are buried in the post cemetery.
Tuskegee Airmen at Godman Field
The 477th Bombardment Group, a black Army Air Force unit, was stationed at Godman Army Airfield at various times during World War II. During their service, airmen serving in the unit were regularly subjected to racial discrimination. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. took command of the 477th at Godman Army Airfield on June 21, 1945, implementing a positive change in command and a moral boost for the unit. Soon after, on July 1, Colonel Davis took command of Godman Field and all the tenant units there. Davis was one out of five black officers to earn their wings from the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field and led successful missions with the 99th Pursuit Squadron before commanding the 332d Fighter Group in Italy in 1943. Davis returned to the U.S. to take command of the 477th Bombardment Group, redesignated the 477th Composite Group the following day. The war ended before they could be deployed. Other units stationed at Godman Field during World War II included the 387th and 391st Bombardment Groups.
Fort Knox Development Post-WWII
At the close of the war there were 16 combat tested armored divisions and approximately sixty-five tank battalions. Armored units had participated in every major theater of operations that Americans had participated in. The Armored Center was inactivated in October 1945, but reestablished over a year later.
Fort Knox Commanding General, Major General Hugh J. Gaffey was killed in a B-25 crash as it attempted to land at Godman Airfield in June 1946. He is the highest ranking officer buried in the post cemetery.
In 1947 Army recruits from the Universal Military Training Experimental Unit arrived at Fort Knox to participate in a short-lived experimental program (UMT) that offered extended basic training combined with civilian supervision and discipline. Also that year the 3rd Armored Division was reactivated at Fort Knox and assumed command of the ARTC, which was placed on an inactive status. They would train more than 300,000 Soldiers during their time at Fort Knox.
The Patton Museum was dedicated on May 30, 1949, showcasing armored vehicles and items associated with General George S. Patton, Jr. Under the Army Organization Act of 1950 armor and cavalry were combined to form the Armor Branch. When the Korean War starts that year, armored trainers formed the 72nd Tank Battalion and fought with distinction in Korea. Other armored units serve in the war until its end in 1953. An audience of nearly 10,000 people was on hand to welcome President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Fort Knox on April 23, 1954.
In 1955 the ARTC was activated to resume training and the following year the 3rd Armored Division was shipped to Europe. The ARTC was given the new name U.S. Army Training Center (USATCA), Armor, and comprised approximately half of the population at Fort Knox. Soon after the Armored Center and Armored School were officially designated the “Armor Center” and “Armor School.” In 1957 it became the US Army Armor Center.
One Millionth Graduate at USATCA
U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam, gradually increased over a period of years that began with non-combatant military advisors for the South Vietnamese army and phased into the introduction of regular combat troops in 1965. That year ROTC Basic Camp opened at Fort Knox. In 1968, more than one million trainees had completed one or more training programs in the Fort Knox Training Center since its inception in 1940. The Cold War helped secure the Armor Branch’s role in the Army and the Armor Center continued to fulfill the role of producing capable and highly trained armor personnel.
In 1980 the M1 "Abrams" tank was fielded. Later that year Columbia Pictures arrived at Fort Knox to film the hit military comedy, "Stripes." In 1981 the Armor Center contributed to the development of the Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine, which took advantage of new weaponry to assume an offensive role in Central Europe.
Operation Desert Shield commenced after Iraq’s hostile invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Continental United States (CONUS) Replacement Center was activated at Fort Knox to support Operation Desert Shield; designed to send replacements to warfighting commanders in the theater of operations. In 1991, Operation Desert Storm began after coalition forces initiate the AirLand Battle doctrine in an offensive against the Iraqi Army to liberate Kuwait. The M1 Abrams and M2/M3 Bradley prove themselves to be effective armored vehicles in combat. During this conflict, Fort Knox served as a mobilization center and provided combat ready Soldiers.
In 1992 the U.S. Army Recruiting Command Headquarters relocated to Fort Knox, a mission responsible for worldwide recruiting and provides the command, control and staff to support the recruiting force as the Army now recruits over 75,000 new Soldiers annually.
The last original M1 Abrams tank retired from active Army and a ceremony at Fort Knox marked the occasion in 1996. In 1999, Platform Performance Demonstration began at Fort Knox. This event explored suitability of tactical vehicles for possible use in the medium weight brigades intended by the Army Chief of Staff as part of the Army’s on-going transformation efforts.
In July 2000 the Armor Center Commander was directed to create a Blue Ribbon Panel to develop organizational and operational concepts and a related transformation strategy for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. The Army announced selection of an Interim Armored Vehicle, known as the Stryker, intended to equip the interim brigade combat teams desired by the Army Chief of Staff. When the Stryker is later fielded, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment became the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.
On September 11, America was attacked by terrorists, killing 2, 996 people. On October 7, the United States assaulted militants in Afghanistan, beginning Operation Enduring Freedom.
Digital technology dictated another transformation in how armor would conduct itself on the battlefield and a Future Combat System was developed. To assist in this endeavor, the Unit of Action Maneuver Battle Lab was established in 2002. Military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq prompted changes and termination of the program at Fort Knox. However, to support Armor activities, a battle lab was retained.
In 2003 the United States began Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, capturing Baghdad on April 9. The Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle went through extensive testing at Fort Knox during this time. Fort Knox continued to provide the United States Army with trained Soldiers in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terror.
2005 BRAC Announcement Sets Stage for Fort Knox Transition
The most recent era of transformation began in 2005 with the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission. The Armor Center and School relocated to Fort Benning to merge with the Infantry Center and form the Maneuver Center of Excellence. Relocating to Fort Knox was Human Resources Command, Army Accessions Command and Cadet Command to join Recruiting Command in formation of the Human Resource Command Center of Excellence. An Infantry Brigade Combat Team also was established at Fort Knox with the relocation of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division. Additional units relocating to Fort Knox included the 84th Army Reserve Readiness Training Center and the 100th Division Institutional Training headquarters.
In 2012 Accessions Command inactivated and turned over command of Fort Knox to the U.S. Army Cadet Command. In 2013 All ROTC Cadet Summer Training was consolidated at Fort Knox. Approximately 10,000 cadets train each summer in the Army’s largest annual training event. In October 2020 Fifth Corps (V Corps), the Army’s fourth corps headquarters, uncased their colors and was activated at Fort Knox.
After its beginnings as an artillery training center to nearly eighty years as the “Home of Cavalry and Armor” to now embracing its new array of missions brought about by the BRAC transformations and other recent changes. Fort Knox uniquely boasts the sole responsibility for all Soldier career management, from swearing in to departing service. Its senior-most units include U.S. Army V Corps, U.S. Army Cadet Command, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, First U.S. Army Division East and 84th Training Command, U.S. Army Reserve Aviation Command and 100th Division. Combined with other mission partners ranging from U.S. Army Medical Department Activity organization to U.S. Army Forces Command units to Reserve component training units, Fort Knox is one of the most multifunctional installations in the United States Army.
1992 Kentucky’s Road to Statehood. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington.