Demobilization after the Great War

October 18, 1921

Is this the end of Fort D. A. Russell?

After The Great War, the U. S. Army demobilized, as the need for a grand army was no longer present and many longed to go home. The decrease in government personnel, in combination with the economic impact of World War I, reshaped state-side military operations, primarily in the form of Congressional funding. For Fort D. A. Russell, the downscaling of military forces appeared to presage the end of the installation, as the Fifteenth Cavalry was slotted for inactivation in 1921, and, thus, so was the post near Cheyenne.

Ensuing Germany’s surrender on November 11, 1918, Fort Russell was quickly established as one of the thirty post-war demobilization centers. Upon their return home, troops were normally assigned to installations near their home of record, where the effects of transitioning to civilian life could be potentially mitigated. The first soldiers to arrive at Fort Russell for separation arrived in March 1919. By June 22, the base was home to 1,377 personnel awaiting discharge. The Fifteenth Cavalry arrived on June 28, shortly after Fort Russell’s re-assignment as a demobilization center. Replacing the outgoing Twenty-First Infantry, the Fifteenth Cavalry’s mission was to continue processing discharges. Within nine months of demobilization, the U. S. Army processed nearly 3.25 million separations. By the end of the year, Fort Russell’s population had drastically decreased to five-hundred and ninety-two personnel. Though the base’s increased foot traffic provided the local community with multiple socioeconomic benefits, the government quickly completed the post-war military demobilization; Fort Russell’s place in the U. S. Army was called into question shortly after.

Influenced by the mass mobilization in support of The Great War, Congress passed an updated National Defense Act on June 4, 1920, which, according to the U. S. Army Center of Military History, “governed the organization and regulation of the Army until 1950 as one of the most constructive pieces of military legislation ever adopted in the United States.” The act re-organized the nation’s army to include: active-duty soldiers, reserve members, and national guardsmen. The legislation established the regular army force at 17,726 officers and 280,000 enlisted, which theoretically guaranteed that the government could meet any future war-time mobilization requirements. However, the advancing economic impact of World War I compelled Congress to quickly amend the military’s budget. In June 1921, Congress decreased the maximum authorized force of the regular army to 150,000 enlisted. The number was reduced further the following year to 125,000. The budget adjustment not only curtailed enlistments, it engendered a sweeping reduction in military units and installations as well. Amidst the list of potential candidates for deactivation was the Fifteenth Cavalry, the only regiment stationed at Fort Russell in the summer of 1921.

With the formal end of the war and subsequent large-scale demobilization, the need for an extensive military infrastructure faded, resulting in over seventy military installations facing deactivation in 1921. The impending inactivation of the Fifteenth Cavalry ultimately threatened the existence of Fort Russell, as the regiment was the only unit stationed in Cheyenne during the previous two years. On October 18, 1921, Army Headquarters deactivated the Fifteenth Cavalry; naturally, the citizens of Cheyenne began to worry about the future of Fort Russell. However, a new hope appeared on the horizon, as Army Headquarters reassigned the Thirteenth Cavalry Regiment to Fort Russell. Indeed, the post near Cheyenne would prevail, as the Thirteenth Cavalry arrived at the fort only three days later on October 21. 

In the midst of a massive force reduction, Fort Russell was selected to become home to the Thirteenth Cavalry. Even if only temporary, the arrival of the new cavalry regiment ensured the fort carried on. Fortunately, the auspicious occasion prevailed, as the Thirteenth Cavalry remained in Cheyenne for almost six years. In 1924, the Fourth Infantry joined the Thirteenth Cavalry Regiment and the Seventy-Sixth Field Artillery, who arrived two years prior on June 28, 1922. Interestingly, Fort D. A. Russell endured the post-war force reduction and was, instead, expanded to a brigade-size post.

(For further information, see American Military History, Vol. II: The United States Army in a Global Era, 1917-2003 by the U. S. Army Center of Military History.)


Kyle Brislan is the Historian for the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base. He is a prior history instructor, published author, and Air Force veteran. His historical expertise includes: military history, early-twentieth century Russian history, and labor history.