There was a period in US history when military merit was not deemed extraordinary and recognition was seen as anti-republican so forts had geographical name. Kaskaskia Illinois was the site of Fort Kaskaskia, for example. So was Fort Michilimackinak in Michigan.
However, early on forts were named for heroes. Forts Steuben on the Ohio, and Knox on the Wabash were named for notables prior to 1792.
Notwithstanding, many retained non-personal names. Fort Sabine in Louisiana and Fort Huachuca in Arizona for example. The famous Fort Apache is another example. Cantonements seem to have had geographical names also; Glendive and Tongue River in Montana are examples.
Many camps, built in WW I later became forts named after local heroes. What was Fort Devens in Massachusetts (now an industrial site named Devens) was named for a local Civil War general. Many in the South were named after rebel generals; Bragg in NC, and Hood in TX.
During the War of the Rebellion, fortifications were named often for soldiers who had distinguished themselves. Many of the batteries and forts around Richmond were named for men who had been distinguished in combat. The practice long continued. Fort McKinley in Portland, ME harbor (named after the slain President) contains many batteries, including Battery Carpenter, named after an officer of the 19th US Infantry slain at Stone’s River.
After the war, it became commonplace to name a fort after a distinguished soldier. Fort Phil Kearny on the Bozeman Trail and Fort C. F. Smith on the Bighorn spring to mind. Barracks like Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and Lafayette Barracks in Baltimore are good examples. The practice continued into the Cold War. Pond Barracks, south of Nurnberg, was named for an officer of the 90th Division who won the DSC in WW II. To the locals it was Mohle Kasene, named after the Ritter von Mohle who won the “Pour Le Merite” in WW I.
The French had a dual system. In the Fortress Metz complex is Fort Jeanne d’Arc while at Verdun, Fort Douamont is named for a small nearby town.
James B. Ronan II
To Join the Company of Military Historians click here