Later, Fort Riley became the site of the United States Army Cavalry School, until the Cavalry was disbanded in 1943. The famous all-black 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, the soldiers of which were called "Buffalo Soldiers," were stationed at Fort Riley at various times in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During World War I, the fort was home to 50,000 soldiers, and it is sometimes identified as ground zero for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which its soldiers were said to have spread all over the world. Since the end of World War II, various infantry divisions have been assigned there. Most notably, the post was home to the famed Big Red One from 1955-1996 Between 1999 and 2006, the post was headquarters to the 24th Infantry Division and known as "America's Warfighting Center". In August 2006, the Big Red One relocated its headquarters to Fort Riley from Leighton Barracks, Germany.
Museums on post include the U. S. Cavalry Museum which houses an extensive collection detailing the history of the horse soldier from the Revolutionary War to 1950 when the branch was deactivated. The 1st Infantry Division Museum tells the history of the 1st Infantry Division from 1917 to the present. The Custer House is furnished with period pieces from the 19th century and relates the history of Army families from this period. Ironically George Armstrong Custer did not live in this house, but in another, up the street. These facilities are part of the U. S. Army's Museum system.
The post is home to the First Capitol of the Kansas Territory (1855), which has been converted into a museum dealing with Territorial Kansas. This facility is operated by a Friends group under the auspices of the Kansas State Historical Society.
Admission to the post and its museums is free and open to the public. When entering the post, the army requires photo ID, car registration and proof of insurance. There may be a vehicle inspection. The entire process normally takes just a few minutes. No military ID is needed to shop at the Post Thrift Shop in Building 267 on Stuart Avenue, next to the stables.
Fort Riley is the headquarters of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division
1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division
4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division
Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division
1st Infantry Division Band
The early history of Fort Riley is closely tied to the movement of people and trade along the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. These routes, a result of the United States perceived "manifest destiny" in the middle of the 19th century, extended American domination and interests into far reaches of a largely unsettled territory. During the 1850s, a number of military posts were established at strategic points to provide protection along these arteries of emigration and commerce.
In the fall of 1852, a surveying party under the command of Capt. Robert Chilton, lst U.S. Dragoons, selected the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers as a site for one of these forts. This location, approved by the War Department in January 1853, offered an advantageous location from which to organize, train and equip troops in protecting the overland trails.
Surveyors believed the location near the center of the United States and named the site, Camp Center. During the late spring, three companies of the 6th Infantry occupied the camp and began construction of temporary quarters. On June 27, 1853, Camp Center became Fort Riley -- named in honor of Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Riley who had led the first military escort along the Santa Fe Trail in 1829. The "fort" took shape around a broad plain that overlooked the Kansas River valley.
The fort's design followed the standard frontier post configuration: buildings were constructed of the most readily available material - in this case, native limestone. In the spring, troops were dispatched to escort mail trains and protect travel routes across the plains. At the fort, additional buildings were constructed under the supervision of Capt. Edmund Ogden.
Anticipating greater utilization of the post, Congress authorized appropriations in the spring of 1855 to provide additional quarters and stables for the Dragoons. Ogden again marshalled resources and arrived from Leavenworth in July with 56 mule teams loaded with materials, craftsmen and laborers.
Work had progressed several weeks when cholera broke out among the workers. The epidemic lasted only a few days but claimed 70 lives, including Ogden's. Work gradually resumed and buildings were readied for the arrival in October of the 2nd Dragoons.
As the fort began to take shape, an issue soon to dominate the national scene was debated during the brief territorial legislative session which met at Pawnee in the present area of Camp Whitside. The first territorial legislature met there in July 1855. Slavery was a fact of life and an issue within garrison just as it was in the rest of the country. The seeds of sectional discord were emerging that would lead to "Bleeding Kansas" and eventually, civil war.
Increased tension and bloodshed between pro and anti-slavery settlers resulted in the use of the Army to "police" the troubled territory. They also continued to guard and patrol the Santa Fe Trail in 1859 and 1860 due to increased Indian threats.
The outbreak of hostilities between the North and South in 1861 disrupted garrison life. Regular units returned east to participate in the Civil War while militia units from Kansas and other states used Riley as a base from which to launch campaigns to show the flag and offer a degree of protection to trading caravans using the Santa Fe Trail. In the early stages of the war, the fort was used to confine confederate prisoners.
The conclusion of the Civil War in 1865 witnessed Fort Riley again assuming an importance in providing protection to railroad lines being built across Kansas. Evidence of this occurred in the summer and fall of 1866 when the 7th Cavalry Regiment was mustered-in at Riley and the Union Pacific Railroad reached the fort. Brevet Major General George A. Custer arrived in December to take charge of the new regiment.
The following spring, Custer and the 7th left Fort Riley to participate in a campaign on the high plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado. The campaign proved inconclusive but resulted in Custer's court martial and suspension from the Army for one year -- in part -- for returning to Fort Riley to see his wife without permission.
As the line of settlement extended westward each spring, the fort lost some of its importance. Larger concentrations of troops were stationed at Fort's Larned and Hays, where they spent the summer months on patrol and wintered in garrison.Between 1869 and 1871, a school of light artillery was conducted at Fort Riley by the 4th Artillery Battery. Instruction was of a purely practical nature.
Regular classes were not conducted and critiques were delivered during or following the exercise. This short-lived school closed in March 1871 as the War Department imposed economy measures which included cutting a private's monthly pay from $12 to $9.
During the next decade, various regiments of the infantry and cavalry were garrisoned at Riley. The spring and summer months usually witnessed a skeletal complement at the fort while the remainder of the troops were sent to Fort Hays, Wallace and Dodge in western Kansas. With the approach of winter, these troops returned to Riley. Regiments serving here during this time included the 5th, 6th, and 9th Cavalry and the 16th Infantry Regiment.
The lessening of hostilities with the Indian tribes of the Great Plains resulted in the closing of many frontier forts. Riley escaped this fate when Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan recommended in his 1884 annual report to Congress to make the fort "Cavalry Headquarters of the Army."
Fort Riley was also used by state militia units for encampments and training exercises. The first such maneuver occurred in the fall of 1902 with subsequent ones held in 1903, 1904, 1906-1908 and 1911. These exercises gave added importance to the fort as a training facility and provided reserve units a valuable opportunity for sharpening their tactical skills.
The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments -- the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" -- have been stationed at Fort Riley several times during their history. Shortly after their formation in 1866, the 9th Cavalry passed through here enroute to permanent stations in the southwest. They returned during the early 1880s and the early part of this century before being permanently assigned as troop cadre for the Cavalry School during the 1920 and 30s.
The 10th Cavalry was stationed here in 1868 and 1913. On the eve of World War II, the 9th and 10th Cavalries became part of the Second Cavalry Division which was briefly stationed here.
The following two decades have been described as the golden age of the cavalry. Certainly it was in terms of refining the relationship between horse and rider. Army horsemen and the training they received at the Cavalry School made them among the finest mounted soldiers in the world and the School's reputation ranked with the French and Italian Cavalry Schools. Horse shows, hunts, and polo matches - long popular events on Army post - were a natural outgrowth of cavalry training.
The Cavalry School Hunt was officially organized in 1921 and provided a colorful spectacle on Sunday mornings. These activities gave rise to the perception of a special quality of life at Fort Riley that came to be known as the "Life of Riley." The technological advances demonstrated on the battlefields of Europe and World War I - most notable the tank and machine gun - raised questions in the inter-war years over the future of cavalry. By the late 1920s, the War Department directed development of a tank force by the Army. This was followed by activation of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mech) at Fort Knox in the fall of 1936 to make-up the 2nd Regiment of this brigade.
In October 1938, the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mech) marched from Fort Knox to Riley and took part in large-scale combine maneuvers of horse and mechanized units. These exercises helped prove the effectiveness of mechanical doctrine.
World War I
America's entry into World War I resulted in many changes at Fort Riley. Facilities were greatly expanded, and a cantonment named Camp Funston was built five miles east of the permanent post during the summer and fall of 1917. This training site was one of 16 across the country and could accommodate from 30,000 to 50,000 men. The first division to train at Camp Funston, the 89th, sailed for France in the spring of 1918. The 10th Division also received training at Funston but the armistice came before the unit was sent overseas.
The camp was commanded by Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood. A Military Officers Training Camp was established in the Camp Whitside area to train doctors and other medical personnel. Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, beckoned to a world made safe for democracy but also one that heralded a new day for the horse cavalry. The War Department directed service schools be created for all arms of service.
As a result, in 1919, the Mounted Service School which had ceased to function during the war, was redesignated as the Cavalry School. The change was sudden and abrupt. The new school met the need for courses both broader in scope and more general in character
World War II
Gathering war clouds in Europe and Asia during the late 1930s caused some military planners to prepare for possible U. S. involvement. This led to several important developments at Fort Riley. The first was the rebuilding of Camp Funston and the stationing of the 2nd Cavalry Division there in December 1940. Barracks were built in the area known as Republican Flats and renamed Camp Forsyth. In addition, 32,000 acres (129 km²) were added to the post for training purposes. These efforts were brought into sharp focus with America’s entry into World War II.
Over the next four years, approximately 125,000 soldiers were trained at these facilities. Notable trainees included heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, and motion picture stars such as Mickey Rooney. The post also received a presidential visit by Franklin Roosevelt on Easter Sunday 1943.
The 9th Armored Division was organized here in July 1942 and after its deployment, Camp Funston was used as a prisoner of war camp. The arrival of victory in Europe and Japan during the spring and summer of 1945, were joyous occasions. But they also spelled new realities and directions for the Army and Fort Riley.
In the aftermath of World War II, the fort experienced a period of transition. The Cavalry School ceased operation in November 1946 and the last tactical horse unit inactivated the following March. Replacing the Cavalry School was the Ground General School, which trained newly commissioned officers in basic military subjects. An officer’s candidate course was conducted along with training officers and enlisted men in intelligence techniques and methods. The 10th Infantry Division, one of ten Army training divisions, was activated at Camp Funston in August 1948. The sixteen-week basic military program conducted by this division prepared soldiers for infantry combat and duty with other infantry units.
The invasion of South Korea by North Korean forces in June 1950, once again brought attention to Fort Riley as an important training facility. Over the next few years, recruits from all over the United States came to Fort Riley and received basic training. The 37th Infantry Division, made-up of units from the Ohio National Guard, was also stationed here during the conflict. While they were not sent overseas, their presence was a continuing reinforcement of the fort’s importance as a training post.
The uneasy truce that settled on the Korean peninsula after 1953 was indicative of a cold war that had come to characterize relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. This would have an impact on Fort Riley.
In 1955, the fort’s utilization changed from training and educational center to that of being the home base for a major infantry division. In that year, the 10th Division rotated to Germany as part of “Operation Gyroscope” and was replaced by the 1st Infantry Division. Elements of the Big Red One began arriving in July 1955 and over the next five months the remaining units arrived. They initially occupied barracks located in Camp Funston.
The influx of troops and dependents placed new demands on the fort’s infrastructure. Work began on Custer Hill where new quarters, barracks and work areas were constructed. A new hospital, named in honor of Major General B. J. D. Irwin, was constructed to provide medical care.
In the decade following, 1st Infantry Division units trained to respond to any threat that might arise in Europe or other parts of the world. Construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and Cuban Missile Crisis the following year witnessed heightened alert for soldiers stationed at Fort Riley. An additional 50,000 acres (200 km²) were also acquired in 1966, which enabled the Army to have an adequate training area for the division’s two brigades.
Increased guerrilla insurgency in South Vietnam during the mid-1960s, led to the deployment of the 1st Infantry Division to Southeast Asia. The leading element, the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, left in July 1965 with the Division Headquarters arriving in South Vietnam in September. During this same year, a provisional basic combat training brigade was organized at Fort Riley and in February 1966, the 9th Infantry Division was reactivated and followed the 1st Infantry Division into combat.
Fort Riley’s use as a divisional post was maintained with the arrival of the 24th Infantry Division. The division remained in Germany until September 1968 when it redeployed two brigades to Fort Riley as part of the REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) program. One brigade was maintained in Germany.
Following nearly five years of combat in Vietnam, the 1st Infantry Division returned to Fort Riley in April 1970 and assumed the NATO commitment. The division’s 3rd Brigade was stationed in West Germany. During the 1970s and the 1980s, 1st Infantry Division soldiers were periodically deployed on REFORGER exercises.
Reserve Officer Training Corps summer camps were also held at the fort, which permitted troops to demonstrate and teach their skills to aspiring second lieutenants. The fort also hosted the model U. S. Army Correctional Brigade, housed in Camp Funston, and the 3rd ROTC Region Headquarters until their inactivation in 1992.
The Gulf War
In August 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor, Kuwait. The resulting international outcry led to the largest U. S. troop build-up and deployment overseas since the Vietnam War. In the fall of that year, Fort Riley was notified to begin mobilization of troops and equipment for deployment to the Persian Gulf. Between November 1990 and January 1991, men and equipment were deployed overseas.
In addition to the 1st Infantry Division, twenty-seven non-divisional units were deployed and twenty-four reserve components were mobilized. This amounted to 15,180 soldiers being sent overseas via 115 aircraft. Over 2,000 railcars transported 3,000 short tons of equipment which were then shipped to theater on eighteen vessels.
Once in theater, these soldiers and equipment were readied for combat. This commenced in late February 1991 and over the course of the ‘hundred hours’ combat of Operation Desert Storm, these soldiers carried out their orders and executed their missions that resulted in the crushing of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards. Later that spring, soldiers returned to Fort Riley.
The 1990s and Beyond
Following Operation Desert Storm, the 1st Infantry Division returned to Fort Riley. But the winds of change were once again blowing across the Army and affected the post. The Cold War of the past four decades was being replaced by new realities in Eastern Europe with the crumbling of the Iron Curtain. Budget cuts and revised strategic thinking resulted in troop cutbacks.
In the spring of 1995, Headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division were transferred from Fort Riley to Germany. A brigade of the Big Red One remained at the post along with a brigade of the 1st Armored Division and the 937th Engineer Group.
On June 5, 1999, Fort Riley once again became a Division Headquarters with the reactivation of the 24th Infantry Division (Mech). The 24th Infantry Division (Mech) is the Headquarters for three enhanced Separate Brigades (eSBs) of the Army National Guard. Under the integrated Active Component/Reserve Component concept, the 24th Infantry Division (Mech) consists of an active component headquarters at Fort Riley and three enhanced Separate Brigades: 30th Heavy Separate Brigade at Clinton, North Carolina, 218th Heavy Separate Brigade at Columbia, South Carolina, and the 48th Separate Infantry Brigade in Macon, Georgia. These units are on eight-year training cycles that culminate in a National Training Center rotation. They also backfill active duty units for Major Theater War contingencies and provide units for Stabilization Force rotations in Bosnia.
Soldiers from Fort Riley continue to be deployed to areas in all corners of the world. From southwest Asia to the Caribbean and the Balkans, Fort Riley soldiers have been engaged in numerous peacekeeping and nation-building missions. They continue to hone their skills by periodic deployments to the National Training Center located at Fort Irwin, California and the Joint Readiness Traning Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
On June 1, 2006, Fort Riley began training Military Transition Teams, or MiTTs. These 10-15 man teams from across the Army, Navy and Air Force train at Fort Riley's Camp Funston for 60 days. Transition Team training is focused training preparing teams to train, mentor and advise Iraqi and Afghani security forces. Training is based on core competencies – combat skills, force protection, team support processes, technical and tactical training, adviser skills, counter insurgency operations and understanding the culture.
Return of the 1st Infantry Division
As of 1 August 2006, the 1st Infantry Division has returned to Fort Riley and has replaced the 24th Infantry Division as the post's garrison formation. In October 2006, the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, assumed command and control of the Military Transition Team training mission. The entire division has taken the lead on this mission for the military.
Irwin Army Community Hospital
A year after the post was established in 1853, a temporary hospital was constructed near the present day Popst/Cavalry Museum and Patten Hall on the main post. A permanent hospital, which is now the Post/Cavalry Museum, was built in 1855 with a clock tower added in 1890. The second hospital replaced the 1855 hospital in 1888 and is now Post Headquarters. A third hospital was built in 1941 at Camp Whitside and named Cantonment Hospital, later Station Hospital. The second hospital remained as an annex until 1957. The current and fourth hospital was dedicated in 1958. The fourth and current hospital was named after Brigadier General Bernard John Dowling Irwin "The Fighting Doctor" who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry in action during an engagement with the Chiricahua Indians near Apache Pass Arizona in February 1861.
The current hospital was originally named "Irwin Army Hospital". The name was changed to Irwin Army Community Hospital in the mid 1980s.
An Early History of Fort Riley
by Frank W. Blackmar (1912)
Authorities do not agree as to the exact date when Fort Riley was founded, though it was some time in the year 1852. A circular issued by the United States surgeon-general's office in 1875 says it "was established in the spring of 1852, and was at first known as Camp Center, it being very near the geographical center of the United States." Percival G. Love, who was first sergeant of Troop B, First dragoons, at the time, says it was established late in the fall of 1852, and this statement is borne out by the fact that on July 31, 1852, Col. T. T. Fauntleroy, who had been commanding officer at Fort Leavenworth, wrote to Gen. Jesup, the quartermaster-general of the United States army, recommending the establishment of a military post somewhere near the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers.
Col. Fauntleroy's suggestion found favor with the war department, and Maj. E. A. Ogden was charged with the duty of selecting the site for such a post. Accepting Sergt. Lowe's statement, which appears to be the logical one, Maj. R. H. Chilton, with Troop B, First dragoons, escorted Maj. Ogden from Fort Leavenworth to the junction of the two rivers, where "Camp Center" was established as stated in the surgeon-generals circular. On May 17, 1853, the name was changed to "Fort Riley," in honor of Gen. Bennett C. Riley of the United States army, who guarded the Santa Fe trail and fought in the war with Mexico.
Temporary buildings were erected during the years 1853 and 1854, and in Dec., 1854, Congress made an appropriation for quarters and stables for five troops of cavalry, the buildings to be built of stone taken from the quarries in the vicinity. The post was built around a parallelogram 553 by 606 feet. The barracks for enlisted men consisted of six two-story stone buildings, each 40 by 88 feet with accommodations for one company. The officers' quarters consisted of six two-story buildings, each 40 by 60 feet.
One of these buildings was for the commanding officer, and the other five each contained two sets of quarters. All the buildings were provided with broad piazzas. As the post grew in importance other buildings were erected, including a stone hospital, an ordnance building 18 by 117 feet, five stables each 39 by 256 feet and containing over 100 stalls, a brick magazine 16 feet square, with stone foundation, and a two-story guard-house 20 by 45 feet.
The reservation as at first established included a large tract of land along the left bank of the Kansas and Republican rivers, and extended across the latter to the Smoky Hill. But on March 2, 1867, Congress reduced the size of the reservation by releasing that portion lying between the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers, which was granted to the State of Kansas to aid in the construction of a bridge over the Republican river on the highway leading to the fort, with the understanding that the state was to keep the bridge in good repair and the United States was to have the free use of it for all time to come. Before the construction of this bridge L. B. Perry operated for several years a ferry between the fort and what was known as "Whisky Point."
Gen. P. H. Sheridan, who was appointed general-in-chief of the United States army in 1883, recommended the enlargement of the post, and in 1886 the Kansas legislature adopted a resolution requesting the senators and representatives in Congress from that state to use their power and influence to secure an appropriation to carry out the ideas of the commanding general. Senators Plumb and Ingalls and Representative John A. Anderson, who represented the district in which Fort Riley is located, were especially active in behalf of the appropriation. The result of the combined efforts of the friends of the post was that in 1887 an appropriation of $200,000 was made by Congress for the purpose of establishing "a permanent school of instruction for drill and practice for the cavalry and light artillery service of the army of the United States, and which shall be the depot to which all recruits for such service shall be sent; and for the purpose of construction of such quarters, barracks and stables as may be required to carry into effect the purposes of this act."
That appropriation was the beginning of a series of improvements that amount practically to the rebuilding of the post. Among these improvements is a large cavalry riding hall, said to be one of the finest, if not actually the finest, in the country. In 1896 an appropriation of $75,000 was made to continue the construction of buildings under way; an appropriation of $30,000 was made in 1900 for additional stables; by the act of April 23, 1904, the sum of $40,000 was appropriated for a modern military hospital, and in 1905 an appropriation of $6,000 was made for a road through the reservation. On Feb. 14, 1889, Gov. Humphrey approved an act of the Kansas legislature ceding to the United States jurisdiction over the reservation, reserving to the state the right to serve civil or criminal process and to tax the property of corporations or citizens not otherwise exempt.
In the early days, owing to the fact that the well water in the vicinity of the fort was strongly tinctured with alkali, most of the water supply was obtained from large cisterns constructed for the purpose, but with other improvements at the fort a modern system of waterworks has been installed, insuring to the garrison a bountiful supply of pure water.
The camps of instruction and military maneuvers at Fort Riley in recent years have given the fort a wide and favorable reputation in military circles, and the probabilities are that this reputation will be greatly extended in the future, through better improvements and equipments, as Congress has shown no inclination to be parsimonious in its appropriations for the support and development of the post.
Maj. E. A. Ogden, the founder of the fort, was one of the victims of the cholera epidemic of 1855. The monument erected on the reservation to his memory, it is believed, marks the geographical center of the United States. On July 25, 1893, was unveiled another monument on the Fort Riley reservation, dedicated "to the soldiers who were killed in the battle with the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee and Drexel Mission, S. D., Dec. 29 and 30. 1890."