Jefferson Barracks: A History
By Suzanne Vanderhoef
Most people who know anything about Jefferson Barracks know it only as a cemetery on the far south side of St. Louis. But the barracks originally opened in June of 1826, initially as the 1st Infantry School of Practice – a fancy way of saying “boot camp” –and went on to send troops to every war the United States was involved in from the Blackhawk War in 1832 to National Guard troops in Afghanistan.
“It’s an important post because of the equipment, materials and men that transferred through here. Westward expansion really emanates from where you’re standing,” says Thomas Hoff, Curator of Jefferson Barracks Museums. “Everything the US Army was using was shipping from here to points west.”
In addition, Jefferson Barracks is often regarded as the birthplace of the American Calvary. In fact, everyone who enlisted in the calvary in the late 1870s until October 1894 came through the facility.
During the Civil War, Jefferson Barracks was turned into a hospital, and continued as a working medical facility through World War II.
Another important point in the history of Jefferson Barracks is our role in the creation of the so-called Buffalo Soldiers. There were some integrated units in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, but for the most part, the United States Army was segregated until the time of the Civil War when African-Americans are serving in volunteer formations known as the US Colored Troops.
“After the war, it’s decided to create four regimens of African American Troops – two of cavalry, two of infantry,” explains Hoff. “Three of those regimes: the 24th Infantry and the 9th and 10th Calvary, were organized here at Jefferson Barracks. The 9th and 10th Calvary have got a dramatic history. They’re the ones known as the Buffalo Soldiers.”
And, among the more obscure pieces of military history: The site of the first successful parachute jump from an airplane took place on the parade grounds of Jefferson Barracks in March or 1912.