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, American Indians hunted the woods, fished the rivers, built villages and raised 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 the command of Major General William Phillips landed at Old City Point on the banks of the James River (present-day Hopewell) and marched through forests and farmland 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 a little over 70 miles to the east, and thus secured America’s independence.
Eight decades later, the future site of Fort Lee was again at the center of American history. This time it was General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Armies of the Potomac and James. 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. In the summer of 1864, General Grant attempted to quickly capture Petersburg in an effort to draw Confederate General Robert E. Lee out into open field combat and capture the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Following the unsuccessful initial attack, Grant did not relent and began a nine-and-a-half month campaign to achieve his objective. When Grant was finally effective in encircling the city in April 1865, Lee would evacuate Petersburg and Richmond, with Grant in pursuit. The Civil War ended a week later at Appomattox Court House. During the Petersburg Campaign, the property on which Fort Lee lies witnessed extensive fighting. In all of American military history, no other site of a future U.S. Army post had witnessed as much combat on such a scale as this one did in 1864-1865.
The First Camp Lee
Within weeks after the U.S. declared war on Germany in the spring of 1917, the War Department acquired a vast tract of farmland in Prince George County, (between Petersburg and Hopewell) for the purpose of building 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 from 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 wood-framed structure served as 80th Division Headquarters and as temporary residence for its Commander, Maj. Gen. 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), the road network and a handful of WWI training trenches, there are no other visible signs of all the training and other activities that took place here during the camp’s initial existence. Through 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 during the Great Depression.
The Second Camp Lee
With storm clouds again rising in Europe, Congress approved the mobilization of nearly 300,000 Guardsmen and Reservists in late August 1940. In September, lawmakers 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. 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 Women’s Army Corps training center, 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 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 (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 and renamed it Fort Lee. At nearly the same time, the Quartermaster School picked up the “supply by sky” mission from the Infantry School at Fort Benning and began training airborne riggers here. 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.
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 barracks were built in the mid-50s, along with whole communities of Capehart housing for permanent party. In May 1961, the new three-story Quartermaster School, Mifflin Hall, was dedicated. Kenner Army Hospital opened in 1962, replacing the remnants of the old WWII-era facility, and the privately-funded 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 in which they could expect to fight 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, 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.
As the Army’s warfare doctrine continued to evolve in the years following Vietnam, the Quartermaster School continued to expand. The Enlisted Supply and Subsistence and Food Service departments moved into modern training facilities. New petroleum and water field training sites were constructed. A 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. Two other QM School academic departments – Petroleum and Water, and Aerial Delivery and Field Services – each received state-of-the-art headquarters buildings and training facilities after 2000. Throughout this period, the Quartermaster School routinely graduated 20-25,000 students annually, and ALMC another 10-12,000.
Again in 1990, there was a post reorganization and restructuring and the U.S Army Logistics Center was re-designated the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), and the CASCOM Commander became the Fort Lee Installation Commander as well.
In May 2001, the U.S. Army Women’s Museum (AWM) opened at Fort Lee. It offered more than 13,000 feet of gallery space and thousands of artifacts used to tell the long, proud history of women in the Army. Additionally, the installation hosted a growing number of tenant activities such as the Army Logistics Management Center (ALMC), Readiness Group Lee, Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, the General Leonard T. Gerow U.S. Army Reserve Center, the Defense Commissary Agency (DECA), USAR 80th Division, and several other Department of Army and Department of Defense activities.
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 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 gained even further notoriety as the site of tailored logistics training, immediate processing and rapid deployment of specialized logistics units and personnel as it supported operations such as Just Cause, Desert Storm, Restore Hope and many others. That process continued 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 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 and the Centennial Celebration
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 the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act. The installation was given an important new mission – establish a Sustainment Center of Excellence (SCoE) that would serve as a focused, centralized training base for the U.S. Army Quartermaster, Ordnance and Transportation branches. The decision ignited a new building boom as the post had to prepare for the arrival of the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and Redstone Arsenal, Ala.; and the headquarters of the U.S. Army Transportation Center and School from Fort Eustis. Also incoming were Air Force and Navy training units 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.
One of the principal parts of BRAC was the $50 million Sustainment Center of Excellence headquarters building project. In the summer of 2007, there was a ground-breaking ceremony on Sergeant Seay Field, the site of the new facility. The SCoE headquarters took 18 months to build and was formally dedicated in January 2009. It now houses the Combined Arms Support Command 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 new building was proudly rededicated as “Mifflin Hall.” 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 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 has 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 addition, a new U.S. Army Logistics University was built and opened in July 2009 to centralize basic and advanced NCO, warrant officer, commissioned officer and government civilian leadership training for all Army sustainment branches. The 400,000-square-foot building now offers more than 200 courses and trains upward of 2,300 military and civilian students daily. Its International Studies program is attended by military personnel from more than 30 allied countries.
Fort Lee emerged as the center of logistics and sustainment for the U.S. Army. With the completion of the BRAC construction projects, the installation acquired 6.5 million square feet of new facilities and about 70,000 troops now train here each year. In 2017, Fort Lee marked its Centennial with a year-long celebration themed "A Century of Support to the Nation."
Reshaping Fort Lee for the Future
Much like the early days of Fort Lee, modernization efforts continue to ensure it will meet the needs of a future Army. A new wing of the Army Women’s Museum opened Nov. 8, 2018. As a result of the $3 million project, the exhibit space more than doubled from 5,000-to-11,000 square feet. The new layout includes five teaching galleries that cover contributions from 1775 to the present.
In the past few years, Fort Lee also has re-shaped its' installation training areas to meet the Army’s directive to grow operationally ready and combat-capable Soldiers. The goal of the improvements were to reinforce skills learned during basic combat training and get Soldiers ready to “perform their missions on day one of arrival” at follow-on assignments. This included a hand grenade familiarization range and qualification course for Ordnance students that opened in June 2019. A land navigation course was added, as was the creation of an Ordnance brigade culmination exercise area. In addition, training areas were enhanced for the Quartermaster School, making it ready to host three-night, four-day field training exercises weekly for hundreds of Soldiers – more than 20,000 total annually. In addition to those improvements, the garrison added a second grenade practice range located on the western side of the post.
A year later, near the Lee Gate, the Ordnance Training Support Facility opened in March 2020. The trove of ordnance hardware on display there for trainees, including hundreds of training aids ranging from rifles to railguns, came from the old Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. While the schoolhouses and training units moved into new facilities on what is now the Ordnance Campus as a result of BRAC 2005, the artifacts were without a home and temporarily placed in warehouses and outdoor locations throughout the installation until the TSF opened.
Across Route 36 from the Lee Avenue Gate, work began in August 2020 on a planned $50 million project to upgrade military family housing across the garrison, starting with Jackson Circle homes. It is part of a 10-year revitalization plan that will subsequently include Harrison Villa, Madison Park and Monroe Manor. In all, more than 750 homes in four Fort Lee communities will be upgraded over the next six years.
With these improvements to its museums, training facilities and Soldier quality of life, Fort Lee will continue to serve and grow in its role as one of the principal centers of logistics for the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense well into its second century.