Fort Pickett to become the first Army base to drop its Confederate namesake

Welcome to Fort Barfoot.
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Employees with the Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett’s Directorate of Public Works make signs using the “Fort Barfoot” name to replace existing “Fort Pickett” signs on the installation March 6, 2023, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

Fort Pickett in Virginia will this week officially become Fort Barfoot, making it the first of nine Army installations slated to change their names from ones honoring officers of the Confederate States of America following recommendations from the Defense Department’s Naming Commission. 

“It is such a tremendous honor to name an installation where military forces train to defend our freedoms in honor of Col. Van T. Barfoot,” Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the adjutant general of Virginia, said in a statement last month.

“His magnificent military career was marked by heroism and decades of selfless service to our nation, and his legacy will serve as an inspiration for current and future generations of service members.”

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Spread across roughly 45,000 acres near the town of Blackstone in central Virginia, the base was first established as Camp Pickett in 1942, serving as a training camp for thousands of soldiers during World War II. It was named for Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, a Virginia native and Confederate officer whose division led the disastrous frontal assault across roughly one mile of open terrain against Union Army positions during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. It continued on as a training installation, receiving the “Fort” designation in 1974 and eventually being transferred to the Virginia Army National Guard in 1997. 

The base’s new namesake is Medal of Honor recipient Van T. Barfoot. Born in Mississippi in 1919, Barfoot enlisted in the Army in 1940. Four years later, as a Tech. Sgt. with the 45th Infantry Division in Italy, Barfoot led an assault on a German machine gun nest. Crawling alone, he knocked out one and then another with grenades. A third position then surrendered to Barfoot, some of the 17 soldiers he captured that day. 

Hours later, during a German counterattack, Barfoot took up an exposed position within 75 yards of a German tank and disabled it with a bazooka. His “Herculean efforts” not over, he “continued onward into enemy terrain and destroyed a recently abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge placed in the breech,” all while assisting other wounded soldiers, according to his award citation. 

Barfoot later continued to serve during the Korean War and as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, retiring as a colonel after 34 years in uniform. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 92. 

The Naming Commission was established in 2021 to review Department of Defense assets – from military bases to Navy warships to street names – that honored notable members of the Confederacy. The commission’s recommendations were delivered in May 2022, including the redesignation of Fort Pickett and eight other Army installations, among them Fort Benning in Georgia and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. 

At the beginning of this year, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that those renaming recommendations had been accepted, and would be fully implemented by the end of 2023. Fort Pickett – soon to be Fort Barlow – is the first installation to make the change. An official dedication ceremony will be held on March 24. 

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