The Fort Hamilton Streets Named For American Traitors

The US Army base at Fort Hamilton has two streets named after generals that took part in an armed, four-year insurrection against the US Army.
The US Army base at Fort Hamilton has two streets named after generals that took part in an armed, four-year insurrection against the US Army, a rebellion intended to protect the enslavement of human beings.

[May 2017 update] With the removal of a statue of P.G.T. Beauregard on Wednesday morning, New Orleans has now removed three monuments to Confederate leaders in the past four weeks. The monument at Lee Circle is next. Other American cities are considering similar action. At Fort Hamilton, the military doesn’t even have any statues or columns to take down, it just has to change some street signs. How much longer will it take?

[Original June 2015 article] There are only three crimes defined by the Constitution of the United States, with treason – levying war against the United States – being the most serious.

So it seems kind of weird that the U.S. Army – the service one fights against when committing treason – would ever put the names of leading rebel military figures on the streets that run through its bases. But the Army did it anyway, quite a long time ago, too.

In its garrison at Fort Hamilton, the main thoroughfare is named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and a shorter strip through the residential section of the base is named for General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Lee and Jackson at Fort Hamilton

It isn’t a random connection. Both Lee and Jackson were stationed for a time at Fort Hamilton – Lee, before the war with Mexico, and Jackson, after.

Then Captain Lee’s role in the development of Fort Hamilton was significant. Stationed at Fort Hamilton in 1842 when the base was barely over ten years old, Lee was the post’s engineer, with primary responsibility to “strengthen and waterproof the defensive works at the Narrows” and enable Fort Hamilton to supplement the artillery located offshore at Fort Lafayette (which is now the site of the Brooklyn-side tower of the Verrazano Bridge).

Lee’s demeanor had left an indelible impression on the residents of the village of Fort Hamilton, as described in the 1912 oral history Reminiscences of Old New Utrecht and Gowanus by Charlotte Rebecca “Bleecker” Bangs. Two of Lee’s sons lived with him, and were playmates of the children of the Town of New Utrecht’s leading families. Lee’s neighbors thought of him as “courteous man and honorable soldier,” and upon reassignment to Winfield Scott’s expedition force in the Mexican-American War, “his departure was deeply regretted, for he had quite won the hearts of the townspeople by his uniform courtesy and lovable disposition.”

Major Thomas Jackson, who first met Lee in Mexico, came to Fort Hamilton after the war with the First Artillery. The eccentricities that he would become known for as a rebel general in the Civil War were also noted by local residents while he was garrisoned at Fort Hamilton, including strict rituals of chopping wood every day and keeping the same bedtime every night. Jackson was known to be a finicky eater that preferred soft foods, and carried his own cheese and crackers to official functions. He was perhaps best known as a very pious man, earning an obsessive reputation as an “earnest churchgoer.”

Imprisonment Of Lee’s Son At Fort Lafayette

The goodwill felt by local residents towards both men was not diminished by their decision to take part in an armed insurrection against the United States in order to preserve their home states’ authority to allow and enforce the legal enslavement of human beings.

During the American Civil War, Lee’s second-oldest son, William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, was taken prisoner by Union forces in July 1863 shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, and was detained in Fort Lafayette for nearly a year before a prisoner exchange. In that time, some of the Fort Hamilton residents that remembered the Lees with fondness sought to ease the conditions of his captivity, including one childhood friend who “every day sent delicacies” to the younger Lee.

A National Reconciliation With A Heavy Dose Of Apartheid

I wasn’t able to find any information on when and why the garrison’s main thoroughfare was named for the most famous rebel leader, though a 2000 study by the Army Corps of Engineers (PDF) indicates that the Avenue bore Lee’s name as early as 1899.

From one point of view, this shouldn’t be surprising. In the post-war years, Robert Lee was a leading Southern proponent of rapprochement with the North, and given his highly-revered status in the South, encouraged others – Northerners and Southerners alike – to do the same. This could help explain why the Army would eventually ignore his role in the insurrection and name a major road in a Northern base after him.

But unfortunately, that view disregards the fact that the national reconciliation that took place during and after the Reconstruction years was largely a white one. Through either obstinance or naiveté, Lee also helped frustrate efforts to advance civil rights for newly-freed slaves. In 1868, Lee signed onto a letter endorsing Ulysses S. Grant’s opponent for President that stated, “the idea that the Southern people are hostile to the negroes and would oppress them, if it were in their power to do so, is entirely unfounded. They have grown up in our midst, and we have been accustomed from childhood to look upon them with kindness.”

Of course, white oppression of blacks is precisely what happened – the North’s willingness to reconcile with the white South was done at the cost of turning a blind eye to 100 years of Jim Crow, segregation, voting booth discrimination, and a host of other legal oppressions we would now describe as apartheid.

In addition to the street naming, Lee’s house on the grounds of the base is also maintained by the Army.

Stonewall Jackson was killed by friendly fire during the war in 1863, so he never had the chance to take even half-hearted steps to redeem his decision to fight on the side of slavery. So the Army’s decision to name a street after him is somewhat more baffling.

Charleston, Al Sharpton, and the Modern Backlash Against Confederate Idolatry

This hasn’t been an issue with significant traction until this week, as part of the rapid backlash against the pervasiveness of Confederate symbols in mainstream American culture in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting. As several Southern state governments traditionally sympathetic to the display of the Confederate army battle flag on official grounds have reversed course, attention has recently focused on other Confederate symbols, like streets named after rebel military leaders.

It was in this context that Business Insider writers Hunter Walker and Armin Rosen brought Fort Hamilton’s General Lee Avenue to the fore of the local conversation. This led to Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries to immediately call for the road’s renaming, telling Business Insider that “there is no good reason for a street to be named after an individual who led the Confederate Army in the fight to keep slavery and racial subjugation alive in America.”

Reverend Al Sharpton of the National Action Network has also called for the renaming of the street, and plans to hold a vigil outside of the garrison’s main gate at 101st Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway tomorrow (June 27, 2015) in remembrance of the Charleston shooting victims.

While most street namings are within the purview of the City Council to act upon, the naming of the streets on the base are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army, which indicated to Kristina Wong of The Hill that there are no discussions taking place to rename any facility or street named for rebel leaders.

A spokesman for Councilmember Vincent Gentile – who would typically have the most input on Council-named streets in his own district – told Hey Ridge by e-mail that Gentile believes that “we should be emulating the type of love and forgiveness being displayed by those directly affected by this horrific tragedy at this time.”

23 comments on “The Fort Hamilton Streets Named For American Traitors

  1. I would like to suggest to the good Reverend and his National Action Network to begin in Charleston and strive to rename (John C.) Calhoun Street. A street which passes by the front of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

    1. What does that have to do with the fact that you are supporting streets named after men who fought for the OTHER side. And lost. Easy to just change the subject to Al Sharpton, but why not explain how you justify that. You want to rename Ridge Blvd to Goebels Lane? How about Shore Road becomes Hitler Avenue. Who cares if these guys were stationed there? You can make this a race thing, but it’s not. It’s about streets named inside a US military facility (a Union one) after the enemy. That’s ridiculous. My father, a retired Lt. Colonel in the US Army reserves, would be spinning in his grave if he knew those names were still used.

      1. Way to leech onto your FATHER’s service, reserves though it be. YOU undoubtedly have never carried a rifle for your country. Care to impress me with your grandfather’s deeds? Or maybe his grandfather’s?

        1. Don’t get your Depends all soiled. Make some actual, valid points. I provided you a bunch of substantial links to real, factual analysis of the motivations of the war. Yet you ignore it. I’m not leeching onto my father’s service. I don’t care to impress a narrow minded old man with outdated opinions sad to see his neighborhood changing around him.

          1. You have zero clue as to my age, but I know you have never served, You have to leech onto your old man’s reserve weekends for legitimacy. That is stunningly weak.

          2. Your old man is more impressive in his grave each day than anything you accomplish. Just another poorly educated, politically correct little White eunuch.

  2. Robert E. Lee was stationed at Fort Hamilton; that’s why there is a street named after him.

  3. Fort Hamilton is owned by the Federal Government or Dept. of Defense, not the City of New York. I wonder how this will play out.

    1. Regardless of whether they were stationed here, they were prominent members of the enemy force. An enemy force whose motivations (whether you choose to believe or not, it’s fact) was a war over slavery. In what universe is this okay? This has nothing to do with Al Sharpton and everything to do with the ignorance and hypocrisy of New Yorkers who’d otherwise wear their Yankee jerseys with pride.

      1. Your knowledge of the civil war, the multiple issues dividing the country, and the average citizens view AT THAT TIME of their sense of self as a Virginian, a Kentuckian, etc, is lacking. What you feel is “fact”, based on your political views, feelings, and a freshman level history course, is of no interest to me, I am a scholar on the war and the period.

        1. Apparently it is not I who has an issue with fact. Your racist myopia clouds your objectivity. But why

          take it from me. How about from a West Point historian himself who will lay it out very clearly for you to soak it in. Your layman’s expertise and daily reading of Fox news blogs hardly makes you a scholar on the subject. If you truly are, then you’d recognize how truly wrong (and bigoted) your perspective is.

          Here is another link:

          And another:

          How about one more:

          Oh, wait, here’s another:

          And lest you accuse me of simply posting links from the evil “liberal media” (which is horseshit for another comment thread) here’s one from a conservative outlet:*

          *Note I never said it was the ONLY cause of the Civil War.

          But if you still insist on polluting the Internet with your revisionist history, go for it. Perhaps 9/11 was a conspiracy. And perhaps we never landed on the moon. You are free to believe what you want, but expect the Internet to respond. And please, humor me as to how those men are not the enemy for seceding from the Union. You are an enemy sympathizer and I wonder how you live with that.

          1. Typical Lib, lose an argument, throw the race card. Pathetic but typical. You set the record for folding so quickly. Point to me, oh lightweight, Specifically the racist thing I said.

          2. You folded quicker than the cane you need to walk three feet. I’m still waiting for your facts. You say you are an expert? Then how about a salient point? How about a meaty fact. Instead you redirect the conversation away from fact. I am neither a liberal nor conservative. But that shouldn’t matter in a debate regardless. All I’m hoping for is some sensible response to the many links I provided you. Yet nothing but ire. Hope you took your blood pressure meds.

          3. You really ought to get a refund on your sh1tty education. You were not taught to think, reason, or debate… just to regurgitate politically correct pablum on any issue, and then call the other racist, sexist, homophobe, etc when you, without fail, lose the argument on such weak material, weak education, and weak mind.

          4. I’m still waiting for you to even offer up a single jab, let alone an uppercut or hook. You’ve provided NOTHING. No data. No fact. Keep outing yourself as an ignorant conservative. I’ll be here waiting when you provide something of substance. Until then, go cry in your marinara over being labeled a racist, sexist homophobe. The plight of the rapidly irrelevant middle aged white man.

          5. Also, how dare I accuse someone who comments “I suggest it be re-named “Tawana Brawley Hoax Highway…..” as a racist. Such a baseless, illegitimate claim. Mic drop.

          6. Your buddy Sharpton perpetrated a rape hoax and profited handsomely from it. Fact. Live with that. He is the racist.

        2. Also, WTF does “and the average citizens view AT THAT TIME of their sense of self as a Virginian, a Kentuckian” have to do with a street name in 2015? That’s the most obtuse, practically insane justification I’ve read in forever (not to mention an incredible bastardization of the English language.)

          1. it has to do with their motivations, loyalties and issues that led to the war, and also why they were not largely punished at it’s conclusion. It was not all about slavery, it was much deeper and more complex than that, not that you would have a clue.

          2. Where can I get the keys to your time machine? You seem to have quite a bit of knowledge about the personal motivations of the soldiers. I’ve read quite a bit on the topic myself — although differing opinions don’t seem to interest you in the spirit of healthy debate — and provided you a number of links from both liberal and conservative media which you readily ignored. I ask, yet again, why we should name streets after the names of people who were on the losing side of the war. Yet you have no response. Typical old man condescending to someone he perceives as uninformed. Your bilious responses, while comical, all lack any actual fact. Pathetic.

          3. “I’ve read quite a bit on the topic myself” lame. Certainly you have never been one.

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