Fort Lee is located in America's Historic Heartland in Virginia, 25 miles south of Richmond and very near the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers.
For thousands of years Native Americans hunted the woods, fished the rivers, built their villages and raised their crops in the vicinity of today's Fort Lee. Here was centered the Powhatan Confederation, whose tribes met the first European settlers upon their arrival at Jamestown in 1607.
Those who followed in the wake of Captain John Smith and company soon established thriving plantations along the James River and deep into the interior. The land hereabouts provided 17th and 18th century farmers with a rich harvest of tobacco, corn, beans, root plants, vegetables and more. By the time of the American Revolution, Virginia's population had grown to nearly 200,000.
In April 1781 British troops under Major General William Phillips landed at Old City Point on the banks of the James River (at present-day Hopewell) and marched through Fort Lee property to defeat a much smaller patriot force defending Petersburg. In October that same year Washington and Rochambeau’s combined forces captured Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown – less than two hours’ drive from Fort Lee – and thus secured America’s independence.
Eight decades later another army crossed Fort Lee. This time it was Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Strategically located on the banks of the Appomattox River, 23 miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond, the town of Petersburg served as a major road and rail center throughout the Civil War. In the spring of 1864 a combined force of more than 100,000 Yankees marched across Fort Lee in a surprise effort to cut off Confederate General Robert E. Lee from his supply base. The nine-and-a-half month siege that followed was the longest in U.S. history. Four historic markers today trace the route of the United States Military Railroad that crossed Fort Lee bringing supplies to troops along the siege line.
The First Camp Lee
Within weeks after the United States declared war on Germany in the spring of 1917, the War Department acquired a vast tract of farmland in Prince George County, Va. (between Petersburg and Hopewell) for the purpose of building here one of 32 military cantonments. Construction of Camp Lee began in June. By September more than 1,500 buildings and over 15 miles of on-post roads had been completed. Soon members of the 80th “Blue Ridge” Division – made up of troops from Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia – began arriving for training.
Before long Camp Lee became one of the largest “cities” in Virginia. More than 60,000 doughboys trained here prior to their departure for the Western Front, and fighting in France and Germany. Included among the many facilities here was a large camp hospital situated on 58 acres of land. One of the more trying times for the hospital staff was when the worldwide influenza epidemic reached Camp Lee in the fall of 1918. An estimated 10,000 Soldiers were stricken by flu. Nearly 700 of them died in the course of a couple of weeks.
Camp Lee continued to function as an out-processing center in 1919-20 following the First World War. In 1921 the camp was formally closed and its buildings were torn down, all save one – the so-called “White House.” During the war, this two-story frame structure served as 80th Division Headquarters and as temporary residence for its Commander, Major General Adelbert Cronkhite. Years later it became known as the “Davis House” in honor of the family that lived there in the 1930s and 40s.
Except for the Davis House (which is still in use today) and a handful of overgrown training trenches, there are no other visible signs of all the training and other activities that took place here during World War I. During the interwar years the property reverted to the Commonwealth of Virginia and was used mainly as a game preserve. The only evidence of persons in uniform was the Civilian Conservation Corps camp that opened at nearby Petersburg National Battlefield in the 1930s era Great Depression.
The Second Camp Lee
With storm clouds again rising in Europe, Congress approved the call-up of nearly 300,000 Guardsmen and Reservists in late August 1940, In September Congress passed a Selective Service Act that allowed the drafting of up to 900,000 more men for a year. And in October the War Department issued orders for the rebuilding of Camp Lee, on the same site as before. Overnight the area became a beehive of activity as thousands of civilian laborers swarmed into the Petersburg-Hopewell area and began building at a furious pace.
Even before the first barracks were constructed, raw recruits for the Quartermaster Replacement Training Center moved into tents in the heart of Camp Lee to begin training. In October 1941 (two months before Pearl Harbor) the Quartermaster School moved from Philadelphia to Camp Lee to begin training officers and noncommissioned officers in the art of military supply and service.
Over the course of the war Camp Lee’s population continued to mushroom until it became in effect the third largest “city” in Virginia, after Norfolk and Richmond. More than 50,000 officers attended Quartermaster Officer Candidate School. Over 300,000 Quartermaster Soldiers trained here during the war. There was a Regional Hospital with scores of pavilions and literally miles of interlocking corridors capable of housing over 2,000 patients at a time. Here too was located the Army Services Forces Training Center, the Quartermaster (Research & Development) Board, a large contingent of Women’s Army Corps Soldiers, and for a while a prisoner of war camp and the Medical Replacement Training Center. Camp Lee enjoyed a reputation as one of the most effective and best-run military installations in the country.
Following V-J Day in 1945 troop strength rapidly decreased, but Camp Lee continued to serve as the major Quartermaster field installation and as an out-processing center for those leaving the military.
The Post-World War II Era
Unlike at the end of World War I, there was no immediate decision to dismantle the second Camp Lee. The Quartermaster School continued operation, and in 1947 the Adjutant General’s School moved here as well (where it remained until 1951). The Women’s Army Corps likewise established its premier Training Center here from 1948 to 1954. Also, in 1948, the first permanent brick and mortar structure – the Post Theater – was constructed.
On April 15, 1950 the War Department reached the critical decision to keep Camp Lee as a permanent facility, while renaming it Fort Lee. At nearly the same time the Quartermaster School picked up from the Infantry School at Fort Benning the “supply by sky” mission, and began training airborne riggers here at Fort Lee. Then in June 1950, war again broke out … in Korea. Once again the installation quickly sprang to life as tens of thousands of Soldiers arrived between 1950 and 1953, to receive logistics training for what would later be called the “Forgotten War.”
The 1950s and 60s witnessed almost nonstop modernization efforts as one by one Fort Lee’s temporary wooden barracks, training facilities and housing units began giving way to permanent brick and cinderblock structures. New multi-storied brick barracks were built in the mid-50s, along with whole communities of Capehart housing for permanent party. The new three-story Quartermaster School Classroom Building, Mifflin Hall, was dedicated in May 1961. Kenner Army Hospital opened in 1962, replacing the remnants of the old WWII era facility; and the privately-funded, new brick Quartermaster Museum opened its doors in 1963. Some years have seen far more change than others, but the overall process of modernization has continued ever since.
The rapid logistics buildup in Vietnam after 1965 signaled an urgent need for many more Quartermaster Soldiers. Fort Lee responded by going into overdrive. For a time the School maintained three shifts, and round-the-clock training. A Quartermaster Officer Candidate School opened in 1966, for the first time since World War II. A mock Vietnamese “village” was created on post to familiarize trainees with guerrilla tactics and the conditions they could expect fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Part of the sixties-era Quartermaster training program also saw the first widespread local use of automated data processing equipment.
Fort Lee at the Turn of the Century
As Vietnam – “America’s longest war” – wound down in the early- to mid-1970s, the Army went through a period of reorganization, also introduced new doctrine, weapons and equipment, and unveiled new training and leader development techniques. In 1973, the Continental Army Command (CONARC) headquarters at Fort Monroe was replaced by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Here at Fort Lee the U.S. Army Logistics Center was created to serve as an “integrating center” for the Quartermaster, Transportation, Ordnance, and Missile and Munitions centers and schools – the traditional combat service support branches. There was a post reorganization and realignment in 1990. The Logistics Center, which heretofore had been a tenant activity, was redesignated the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), and the CASCOM Commander became the Installation Commander as well.
Since World War II, the Fort Lee installation has hosted a growing number of tenant activities, such as: the Army Logistics Management Center (ALMC), Readiness Group Lee, Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, Gerow U.S. Army Reserve Center, Defense Commissary Agency (DECA), USAR 80th Division, and several other Department of Army and Department of Defense activities. During the 1990s the Enlisted Supply and Subsistence and Food Service departments moved into modern training facilities. New petroleum and water field training cites were constructed. A whole new three-story wing was added to ALMC. Also the Quartermaster NCO Academy and barracks complex was completed, as well new on-post child care and physical fitness centers. Throughout this period the Quartermaster School routinely graduated 20-25,000 students annually, and ALMC another 10-12,000.
Two other QM School academic departments – Petroleum and Water, and Aerial Delivery and Field Services – each received all new, state-of-the-art headquarters and training facilities after 2000. In May 2001, the Army Women’s Museum also opened at Fort Lee, with more than 13,000 feet of gallery space and thousands of artifacts used to tell the long, proud history of women in the Army.
Two historical forces in particular left their mark on the shape and direction of Fort Lee at the dawn of the 21st Century: first, the Army’s increased involvement in contingency type operations at home and abroad; and second, events surrounding the aftermath of 9/11, the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Center. Fort Lee has frequently been the site of tailored logistics training, immediate processing and rapid deployment of specialized logistics units and personnel – for operations such Just Cause, Desert Storm, Restore Hope, and many others. That process continues to the present with operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Also, in the wake of 9/11, Fort Lee, like all other military installations across the country, has had to institute new policies and procedures to help protect against any future terrorist attacks. A new fence was erected to completely enclose the fort. The main gates can no longer go unmanned. Protective barriers have been placed around key buildings. And now all newly constructed facilities must abide by DOD and Homeland Security rules and regulations aimed at averting another 9/11 type disaster.
BRAC 2005, Centennial Celebration and the Future of Fort Lee
The long-term physical improvements that proceeded at a steady pace at Fort Lee over the last half century received a major boost when Congress passed Base Realignment and Closure legislation in 2005. The installation was given an important new mission – establish a Sustainment Center of Excellence that would serve as a focused training base for military supply, services, maintenance, munitions and transportation. The decision ignited a whole new building boom as the fort had to prepare for the arrival of the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and the headquarters of the U.S. Army Transportation Center and School from Fort Eustis, Va. Also incoming was the Air Force and Navy Culinary Schools and the Defense Contract Management Agency.
Planning began for the construction of new classroom buildings, headquarters admin areas, fitness and dining facilities, outdoor training sites, barracks for students and government housing for military families. Among the centerpieces of the overall project was the $50 million Sustainment Center of Excellence headquarters building. In the summer of 2007, there was a ground-breaking ceremony on Sergeant Seay Field, the site of the new facility. To help make way for the structure, the First Logistical Command Memorial – which had been located on that site since 1974 – was carefully unmoored and moved to a more prominent spot facing the main entrance to Fort Lee.
The SCoE headquarters took 18 months to build and was formally dedicated in January 2009. It now houses the Combined Arms Support Command, logistics training and combat doctrine developers, and command groups for the Quartermaster, Ordnance and Transportation Corps. During a ceremony on July 30, 2010, the old CASCOM headquarters was officially retired and the SCoE was proudly rededicated as “Mifflin Hall.”
Other recent milestones include the opening of the Army Logistics University in July 2009. The 400,000-square-foot building now offers more than 200 courses and trains upwards of 2,300 military and civilian students daily.
The colors of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps were uncased at Fort Lee on Sept. 11, 2009. A subsequent ceremony two years later – Sept. 15, 2011 – heralded the completion of the all-new Ordnance Campus on the north side of Fort Lee. Its buildings reflect the Army’s vision of ultra-modern training and living facilities for 21st century sustainers. Having reached full operational status, the Ordnance Campus will have an average daily population of 5,000, including students, faculty and administrative personnel.
Fort Lee officially marked the arrival of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps and School on Aug. 18, 2010. The transition was bittersweet, given the corps’ long-time connection with Fort Eustis, known as the “Home of Army Transportation,” but its new role under the Sustainment Center of Excellence will be vital to an Army that’s undergoing massive modernization to prepare for the challenges of current and future missions in an “urbanized warfare” setting.
As a result of the combined BRAC construction projects completed in 2011, the installation acquired 6.5 million square feet of new facilities and about 70,000 troops now train at Fort Lee each year.
In 2017, Fort Lee marked its Centennial with a year-long celebration themed "A Century of Support to the Nation."
Already proud of its illustrious past, Fort Lee looks forward to its next 100 years of service as the third largest training center in the Army.