Fort Brown was a military post of the United States Army in Texas during the later half of 19th century and the early part of the 20th century
In 1845, the U.S. Army began construction of a new fort (then known as “Fort Texas”) on the northern side of the Rio Grande. The next year, the fort played a role during the opening of the Mexican-American War. During the Siege of Fort Texas, two Americans were killed, including Major Jacob Brown. In honor of the fallen major, General Zachary Taylor renamed the post Fort Brown. In 1849, the city of Brownsville, Texas, was established not far from the fort’s grounds.
In 1861 Confederate Col. John “Rip” Ford occupied the fort until 1863 when they were finally driven out by Union forces under General Nathaniel P. Banks, who then camped in tents erected at the fort site. This ended in 1864 when Confederate forces under General J. S. Slaughter and Colonel Ford reoccupied the area. They would hold the post until the end of the war.
From 1867–1869, a permanent fort was constructed under the supervision of Capt. William A. Wainwright.
William C. Gorgas
In 1882, Dr. William Crawford Gorgas was assigned to the hospital at Fort Brown during the height of the yellow fever outbreak. Using Fort Brown as his base of operations, Gorgas studied the disease for several years until he was sent to Cuba during the Spanish-American war.
On August 13 and 14, 1906, unknown persons “raided” Brownsville, indiscriminately shooting bystanders, wounded one man and killing a towns person named Frank Natus. The townspeople of Brownsville quickly blamed the black soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Brown and, as such, the Army investigated the matter and concluded that the black soldiers were indeed guilty. William H. Taft, then President Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of War and soon to be President himself, discharged all 168 black soldiers “without honor”. Sixty years later, another investigation was held and the black soldiers had their honor restored. However, by then, only 2 of the original 168 men were still alive. Recent theories have come out regarding who shot up Brownsville. The History Channel‘s program “History’s Mysteries” attributed it to Brownsvillians shooting up the town with rifles using the same caliber ammunition as the soldiers and then framing the soldiers. (Three books have since been written devoted wholly to or partially to the Brownsville Raid, The Brownsville Raid and The Senator and the Sharecropper’s Son by John D. Weaver and Racial Borders: Black Soldiers along the Rio Grande by James Leiker.)
First airplane to be attacked by hostile fire
On April 20, 1915, U.S. Signal Corps Officers Byron Q. Jones and Thomas Millings flew a Martin T.O. Curtiss over the fort to spot movements of Mexican Revolutionary leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa. The plane reached an altitude of 2,600 ft. and was up for 20 minutes. It did not cross the border into Mexico, although it was fired upon by machine guns and small arms. These frequent patrols lasted for a period of 6 weeks and were used more effectively in 1916.
The troopers stationed at Fort Brown from 1929-45 were from the 124th Cavalry Regiment, Texas National Guard, which became one of the last mounted cavalry regiments in the United States Army. On November 18, 1940, they went into active military training. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the division served with distinction, dismounted, in the China Burma India Theater, where a member of the unit from Fort Brown earned the theater’s only Medal of Honor (awarded to Jack L. Knight, commanding F Troop).
United States Army Air Force use
Fort Brown was transferred to the USAAF Training Command on 7 July 1943. The USAAF Gulf Coast Training Center (later Central Flying Training Command) used the fort for flexible gunnery training until the fort was inactivated on 1 February 1946.
On 1 Feb 1946 Fort Brown was decommissioned. Turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers on 25 April 1946. It was acquired by the City of Brownsville and Texas Southmost College in 1948.