In 1918, the Chief of Field Artillery General William J. Snow, seeking an area with suitable terrain, adequate water, rail facilities, access to a port (via Lower Little River) , low population density and a climate for year-round training, decided the area now known as Fort Liberty met all the desired criteria.
Consequently, Camp Bragg came into existence on Sept. 4, 1918 as an artillery training center. Camp Bragg was named for a native North Carolinian Gen. Braxton Bragg for his artillery actions during the Mexican-American War in 1847. Prior to its establishment as a military reservation, the area was a thinly populated region with scatter farmsteads and mills. Huge forests of Longleaf and Loblolly pines covered the sandy area. These pine forests were utilized for naval stores industry, the top economic endeavor in the Sandhills.
By the mid-1750s immigrant settlers from the Highlands and western islands of Scotland moved into the area and set about farming and working the pine forests. They also established hamlet communities, several with churches, cemeteries, commissaries, post offices, schools, and networks of backroads. Long Street Presbyterian Church (established 1765, later building 1847) and Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church (1854) stand today as the oldest extant buildings on Fort Liberty, as witnesses to the early settlement history. .
At the beginning of World War I, only seven percent of the land was occupied. The population consisted of approximately 170 landowners and several hundred tenant farmers. The War Department began purchasing the lands in 1918 and continued until 1923, for the initial 50,000 acres. Some lands were leased prior to purchasing. During the first year of its existence, $6 million was spent in purchasing land, and any structures on the parcels, and erecting cantonments for six artillery brigades.
Although cessation of hostilities came in November 1918, construction work on the camp continued. However, since demobilization had begun, the War Department decided to reduce the size of the camp from the planned six to a two-brigade cantonment providing a garrison for regular Army units and a training center for National Guard artillery units. Military personnel then took over the work at the camp, a large part of which had been done by wartime civilian employees. The camp was completed soon afterwards on Feb. 1, 1919.
At the end of World War I, the artillery personnel and material from Camp McClellan, Alabama, were transferred to Camp Bragg to accommodate testing the new long-range weapons developed during the war.
A large tract of land on the reservation had been set aside as a landing field to be used in connection with observation of Field Artillery firing. Here were stationed various aircraft and balloon detachments to carry mail, spot for artillery and forest fires, serve in support of the Field Artillery Board and photograph terrain for mapping. Now one of the oldest airfields serving the Air Force, in its early days, pilots were required to make one or two low passes over the landing strip to clear it of deer before they could land.
On April 1, 1919, the War Department officially established Pope Field, naming the landing field in honor of First Lieutenant Harley H Pope and his crewman, Sergeant Walter W. Flemming. Both were killed when their Curtiss JN-4 Jenny airplane crashed in the Cape Fear River while mapping a U.S. airmail route between Emerson Field, Camp Jackson, South Carolina and Newport News, Virginia Jan. 7, 1919.
The year 1920 saw little military training taking place at the camp.
Early in 1921 the 13th and 17th Field Artillery Brigades began training at the camp. However, due to postwar cutbacks, the War Department decided to abandon Camp Bragg on Aug. 23, 1921. The closure was averted thanks to the determined efforts of the Installation Commanding General Albert J. Bowley, various civic organizations in the nearby city of Fayetteville, and a personal inspection by the Secretary of War. The abandonment order was rescinded on Sept. 16, 1921.
Soon afterwards, Camp Bragg started the process to become a permanent Army post. Under the direction of General Bowley, development of the camp progressed rapidly. Parade grounds, training facilities, baseball diamonds and other athletic facilities were constructed to lend a permanent air to Camp Bragg.
Because the camp was the only reservation in the United States with sufficient space to test the latest in long range artillery weapons, the Field Artillery Board was transferred here from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on Feb. 1, 1922. With the increased personnel and facilities, Camp Bragg was redesignated to Fort Bragg on Sept. 30, 1922.
From 1923 to 1926, field artillery regiments made considerable progress in learning how to operate in deep sand, heavy mud, swamps, streams, and forests. There was a unit stationed on the installation for each type of field artillery weapon. This diversity made it a field artillery laboratory where equipment could be given a practical field test. Pope Field also served a role in the development of tactics, which would prove critically important in shortening World War II.
From 1923 through 1927, several construction projects were executed across the fort. Four brick artillery barracks, 53 officers' quarters, 40 noncommissioned officers’ quarters, storage sheds, streets and sidewalks were built. With the planting of lawns, shrubs and trees, Fort Bragg began to take on the appearance of one of the finest Army posts.
One of the construction projects included a new highway connecting the center of the post with the limits of the reservation. The highway allowed the fort to become more accessible to the outside world and was an acknowledgement of the need for friendly relations between the military personnel and the surrounding civilian population.
The year 1932 saw the construction of the Post Hospital, as well as additional barracks. The additional barracks were needed due to the arrival of the 4th Field Artillery from Camp Robinson, Arkansas on June 9, 1931. Fort Bragg also served as a training site for units with the National Reserve Officers Training Corps, Officers Reserve Corps and Citizens Military Training Corps.
During this timeframe, the fort also became the headquarters for District A of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which supervised the work and administration of approximately 33 camps in the two Carolinas during the Depression.
The fort continued to grow slowly and, in the summer of 1940, reached a total of 5,400 Soldiers. During this year, paved runways replaced dirt and open fields, although, much of the parking ramp space remained unpaved until after World War II.
The fort faced a rapid change after the summer of 1940 due to the threat of World War II and the passage of the Selective Service Act. In response to these events, a reception station was built, and the post exploded to a population of 67,000 Soldiers within a year.
In March 1942, the Army created the Airborne Command here with native North Carolinian, then Brig. Gen. William C. Lee as the commanding general. In 1940, he had been assigned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to develop airborne forces at Fort Benning. His efforts there resulted in the first tactical parachute battalion. From there, based on his recommendations, the Army created airborne divisions as units of more than 10,000 Soldiers complete with artillery, engineers, and support elements.
In August 1942, Lee was promoted to Major General and given command of the 101st Airborne Division. Both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions moved to Fort Bragg in the fall of 1942. The base served as the airborne training center for these first airborne units.
Gen. George C. Marshall, then Chief of Staff of the Army, visited the fort to review training and the troops. In 1944, the Marshalls bought a cottage in Pinehurst they called Liscombe Lodge. They often spent the winter at their Pinehurst home, and it was here they later retired.
To augment activities at the fort, the Army began construction in the spring of 1942 at then, Camp Hoffman. By early 1943, an airfield was completed along with 1,750 buildings. The camp was renamed Camp Mackall in honor of Pvt. John Thomas Mackall, who was one of the first paratroopers killed in combat during a parachute assault on Algiers in North Africa in November 1942.
Before the war's end, all five World War II airborne divisions—the 82nd, 101st, 11th, 13th, and 17th—along with a host of independent units, including the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the Army's first black parachute unit, trained at the fort. These units filled the air with parachutes, troop transports and gliders.
The installation, whose population exceeded 100,000 personnel by mid-1943, continued to grow as new inductees were received by the thousands throughout the war years. Tens of thousands of artillerymen were trained on the post's extensive ranges. The 9th and 100th Infantry Divisions trained here, as did the famous 2nd Armored Division.
Upon its return from Europe, the 82nd Airborne Division was permanently assigned to Fort Bragg. In 1951, the XVIII Airborne Corps was reactivated here, and the post became widely known as the "Home of the Airborne."
The Psychological Warfare Center (now U.S. Army Special Operations Command) was established here in 1952. Fort Bragg became the headquarters for Special Forces Soldiers. More than 200,000 young men underwent basic combat training here during 1966-70.
In April 1965, the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to the Dominican Republic in support of Operation Power Pack. In 1966, division elements deployed to Vietnam.
At the peak of the Vietnam War in 1968, the post's military population rose to 57,840.
On July 1, 1973, the fort came under the newly established U.S. Army Forces Command headquartered at Fort McPherson, Georgia.
In 1983, the 82nd Airborne Division successfully supported the no-notice deployment of two brigade-sized elements to Grenada. The units assigned to the installation were instrumental in rescuing American citizens and defeating Communist aggression in the Caribbean.
In 1986, the 5th Special Forces Group relocated to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, while the 7th Special Forces Group moved into new quarters off Yadkin Road in 1989.
By 1989, the fort would employ 40,000 Soldiers and more than 8,000 civilians on its 140,618 acres. It is during this era that Fort Bragg earned its reputation as one of the Army's premier power projection platforms.
With so many of its troops on constant deployment, the post was never idle. Adapting to its heightened role and importance, the post picked up the pace of construction to make the Soldiers and their Families proud to be stationed here.
In December 1989, the fort once again threw itself whole heartedly into deploying the 82d Airborne Division to Panama for Operation Just Cause. It was with justifiable pride the post learned of the division's successful combat jump into Panama—its first since World War II.
The last decade of the twentieth century found the Soldiers engaged in repeated power projection efforts. To counter Iraqi aggression in Southwest Asia, the installation worked around the clock to deploy the XVIII Airborne Corps. The August 1990 success of rapidly deploying the Corps troops to Saudi Arabia to "draw the line in the sand" in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm was bittersweet as it emptied the installation. With minimum personnel left behind, the post and neighboring Fayetteville assumed an eerie ghost town appearance.
With the changing mission of the U. S. Army, the post concentrated on improving the quality of life for its Soldiers and Families, serving as an environmental steward for its increased acreage and serving as the premier power projection platform for America's elite Soldiers.
The post underwent significant change in the 1990s. The fort removed wooden barracks, constructed new facilities, renovated buildings, and expanded training areas into the newly purchased Northern Training Area (formerly part of the Overhills Estate).
In the waning years of the 1990s, Fort Bragg devoted significant efforts to transition to the twenty-first century. Soldiers deployed to provide humanitarian support for Hurricane Andrew, Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti, Operations Safe Haven, and Safe Passage to safeguard Cuban refugees, Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia, and Operations Allied Force/Joint Guardian/Rapid Guardian in Albania and Kosovo.
At the start of the new century, Fort Bragg Soldiers continued to participate in combat and humanitarian operations in countries around the world. The post provided support to those impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The post served a vital role in the War on Terror, deploying and supporting more troops than any other post, in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
A new headquarters building, Marshall Hall, was constructed on Knox and R. Miller Streets for the U.S. Army Forces Command and the U.S. Army Reserve Command. These two major commands moved to the post in 2011 when Fort McPherson, Georgia, was closed under the Base Realignment and Closure legislation. BRAC moves also resulted in the relocation of the 7th Special Forces Group to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. And Pope Air Force Base reverted to an Army airfield.
In 2021, Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) stating that the Department of Defense shall remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honors any person affiliated with the Confederate States of America (CSA). The Congressional Naming Commission is formed.
In 2022, Fort Bragg leadership, along with community partners, submits the name Fort Liberty as their top choice, this selection is then approved by the Congressional Naming Commission and the redesignation process begins on the base to be completed by 2 June 2023..
Today, Fort Liberty, "the Home of the Airborne and Special Operations," with approximately 57,000 military personnel, 11,000 civilian employees and 23,000 family members is one of the largest military complexes in the world