World War I spurred the United States into creating camps and training grounds for troops to help the war effort. The War Department spent roughly $6,000,000 ($73,655,700 today) to create and build Camp Bragg alone. They used the funds for land purchases and buildings, creating an artillery training ground large enough to house troops for six brigades.
The camp was officially named for Braxton Bragg in 1921. Bragg had been a native North Carolinian, and before his stint as a Confederate general, he was an artillery specialist in the Mexican-American War.
In addition to the artillery grounds at the camp, an airstrip was created so pilots could monitor fires and artillery explosions in the area. This new airfield was named after Lt. Harley Pope, a pilot who died when his plane crashed into the Cape Fear River in 1919.
Even with the money spent, buildings completed and names chosen, the fate of Camp Bragg was still uncertain. The sale of most of the land had been finalized until after the armistice, and the War Department continued to spend money on the camp. Camp McClellan in Alabama began sending their artillery pieces and troops to Bragg.
A National Guard unit was set up at Camp Bragg, and in the beginning of 1921, the 13th and 17th Field Artillery Regiments began training at Camp Bragg.
However, there were those who wanted the camp to close. Instead of the six brigades of troops, 3,000 officers and Soldiers had been stationed at Camp Bragg, roughly a third of what the camp had been intended for.
World War I was over, and many camps that had been built to train troops during the war were closing; the War Department just didn’t see the need to fund so many military installations with a diminished threat of war.
The entire military was downsizing after the draft of World War I, and John W. Weeks, the Secretary of War, had been appointed by President Warren G. Harding as a competent voice in helping with the downsizing. Weeks had set his eyes on shutting down Camp Bragg. He set the closing order for Aug. 7, 1921.
But there were those who believed in the need for Camp Bragg’s existence. Among those was Brig. Gen. Albert J. Bowley.
Bowley was a United States Military Academy graduate, and had commissioned as a second lieutenant of artillery. He served during the Spanish American war and fought during the Punitive Expedition in Mexico from 1916 to 1917. In World War I, he commanded the 17th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Field Artillery Brigade and VI Corps Artillery.
In short, Bowley knew the inner workings of artillery, and fully believed in having Bragg remain open as a training ground. He was named commanding general of Camp Bragg early on in 1921.
There were many reasons to close the camp. The buildings being built were ramshackle, temporary wooden structures; they wouldn’t last and would need to be updated soon.
While the terrain was good, it would still need to be molded to create artillery ranges. To maintain a garrison the size Camp Bragg had been initially intended for would require more funds as well.
Basically, Bragg was a money pit.
But the pros could outweigh the costs associated with the camp. Artillery was becoming more advanced. The United States was behind the curve during World War I and had seen for themselves the superior technology of the German weapons.
Having a designated artillery training base would allow for research and the creation of newer weapons. It would enable a Soldier readiness in artillery that had not yet fully been developed.
Bowley knew Camp Bragg could become something special. Under the threat of the closure, he invited the Secretary of War to Camp Bragg.
Weeks bought into Bowley’s vision for the installation. The closure order was rescinded on Sept. 16, 1921. The Field Artillery Board, an agency responsible for testing and researching artillery weapons, was moved to Camp Bragg from Fort Sill, Oklahoma in February of 1922.
Bragg became a permanent military installation on Sept. 30, 1922, officially changing the name from Camp Bragg to Fort Bragg.
Bowley began changing the look of the installation — creating parade grounds as well as training and sports facilities. He had permanent structures built, including four barracks, 53 officers’ quarters, magazines, and motor and materiel sheds.
He oversaw landscaping and had trees and grass planted to create a look of a well polished military installation. Bowley worked closely with George B. Ford, the city planning advisor to the War Department, to create a cohesive flow and look to Fort Bragg.
Throughout the 1920s, Fort Bragg became what Bowley had intended: Soldiers were able to train in swamps, deep mud, heavy sands and forests. Artillery weapons were field tested at Fort Bragg.
Pope Field also played a key role in artillery testing and use as an airborne artillery training ground that would help change how future wars were fought from the skies.
Bowley moved on to his next assignment in 1928. His seven years at Bragg molded the installation into its current shape. Because of Bowley’s hard work, Bragg was able to become a permanent military installation, and went from “camp” to “fort.”