The U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center
By Frank Iannamico

If you are ever traveling through central Pennsylvania, there is a little-known military facility, just three miles from the PA Turnpike exit 226 at Carlisle. Located there is the U.S. Army War College, which has a relatively new museum, outdoor military display and a research center for serious students of military history; The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.

A work in progress, the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center has the outdoor exhibits on the Heritage trail, Ridgway Hall and the Visitor and Education Center currently open to the public.

The Army Heritage Trail

The Heritage Trail is a one-mile walking tour of outdoor exhibits and markers on various eras in U.S. Army history. Just a few of the many exhibits on the trail include a replica American Revolutionary War redoubt from the 1781 Siege of Yorktown, and cabins built to resemble those of French and Indian War and American Civil War encampments. A World War I trench system provides a look at life in no man’s land, with shell holes and a German pillbox. There are several replica U.S. camp buildings from World War II that include a mess hall, barracks, and training room. A Sherman tank is displayed facing off with a rare German 88mm PAK 43/41 antitank gun. A heavily sand-bagged Vietnam era firebase complete with artillery pieces stands ready to provide fire support; standing by are Huey and Cobra helicopters and an M60 tank. The trail is open to the public year-round during daylight hours. The trail hosts a few large living history events during the year and re-enactors also spend time on the trail on most weekends adding a touch of realism to the displays.

Ridgway Hall

The U.S. Army Military History Institute formally resided in Upton Hall, at the Carlisle Barracks, from 1967 to 2004. Secretary of the Army, Thomas E. White, formally established the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center and approved the construction of a new facility, the present-day Ridgway Hall, in 2001. The center, including the holdings of the institute, relocated from Upton Hall to Ridgway Hall in 2004, officially opening on 24 September 2004. Ridgway Hall is named in honor of the former Army Chief of Staff, General Matthew B. Ridgway, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II and United Nations forces during the Korean War. The U.S. Army Military History Institute at Ridgway Hall is a research library and archives for the personal papers of soldiers and their families. The Institute’s research library holds over 11 million items to include books, periodicals, manuscripts, photographs, and military publications related to U.S. Army history, including the largest American Civil War photograph collection in the world. The general public may access the collection in the reading room. Also located in Ridgway Hall are several small exhibit areas that display artifacts and photographs from USAHEC holdings; including the Omar Bradley exhibit that includes many personal and military items, such as the 1911 pistol carried by the General during most of his military service. Other weapons in the display include an M1A1 carbine, and an engraved 1911A1 pistol given to the General by Elvis Presley as a Christmas present. Also on display is a chrome-plated Russian Tokarev pistol, presented to General Bradley by Marshal Ivan Konev, commander of the 1st Ukrainian Division during World War II.

The Visitor and Education Center

Recently opened to the public is the Visitor Center, which currently has exhibits from the Civil War, and a gift shop.

Future Projects

The Army Heritage Center Foundation, in cooperation with the U.S. Army, serves as the lead agency supporting the development and expansion of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. The Foundation through donations funds and constructs the public components of the Army Heritage and Education Center; the Visitor and Education Center and the Army Heritage Museum. Once the construction program is complete, the Foundation will transfer the facilities to the Army to operate and maintain as part of the Army Heritage and Education Center.

The Conservation Center is a facility to meet the Army’s obligation to preserve and conserve documents and artifacts entrusted to its care. The Conservation Center, currently under construction, is slated to open in late 2011. The facility will improve paper and object conservation of USAHEC collections and will include conservation and analytical laboratories, artifact storage, conservation science research, and public educational opportunities. The building will not be generally open to the public. Funding for this project was included in the federal FY 09 Defense budget.

Phase Two of the Visitor and Education Center will include an additional gallery, two additional multipurpose rooms, and expanded food service capability. The Army Heritage Center Foundation will construct the facility with private funds as soon as they are raised. Programmed cost of the expansion is $10 million.

The 40,000-square-foot Army Heritage Center is a future construction effort that will occur after the Foundation completes Phase Two of the Visitor and Education Center. The facility is expected to cost between $20 and 25 million to construct. When completed, the Army Heritage Museum staff will use the facility to exhibit many of the 50,000 plus artifacts relating to the service of individual soldiers in the U.S. Army.

A Brief History of Carlisle Barracks

Carlisle Barracks was established over 200 years ago, at the intersection of the Indian trails along Letort Creek in central Pennsylvania. During 1756, an encampment at Carlisle preceded the more permanent settlement in May 1757. From 1783 to 1837, Carlisle Barracks became the forefront of pioneering military education. The location became frontier gateway for traders and settlers heading over the Allegheny Mountains on their way west.

During 1794, George Washington visited Carlisle Barracks to review a large contingent of troops preparing to face the “whiskey rebellion,” a situation that began when farmers in southwestern Pennsylvania refused to pay a tax on the commercial whiskey they distilled from their corn crops. After visiting Carlisle, President Washington later recommended the location as the site for a federal military academy, but in an ensuing political battle, Carlisle lost to the state of New York. The military academy that was eventually established in 1802 was West Point.

In 1838, Carlisle Barracks hosted the School of Cavalry Practice; the Army’s elite horse mounted force. Another mounted organization, the Horse-Drawn Light Artillery, also established a school at Carlisle.

During the Civil War, the garrison at Carlisle became a central supply center for ordnance stores, horses, and quartermaster supplies. Regular Army units were sent to the Barracks to refit before being deployed to the battle front. On 27 June 1863, Confederate Brigadier General Albert Jenkins’ cavalry entered Carlisle. The General “procured” food for his men and forage for their horses. Three North Carolina brigades occupied Carlisle Barracks; the troops camped on the parade grounds. In July, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry division approached Carlisle from the east. Stuart hoped to find desperately needed provisions at Carlisle, unaware that other Confederate units had already taken all of Carlisle’s supplies. Stuart sent a demand for surrender of the federal forces under the command of Union General William F. Smith. When his demand was refused, Stuart initiated a short bombardment. When a second demand was refused, Stuart ordered his troops to shell the town, and burn Carlisle Barracks.

After the Civil War ended, the Barracks returned to its pre-war mission of receiving, training and forwarding recruits destined for the Indian-fighting Army. But, as Army operations moved west, the War Department saw the wisdom of moving the function to St. Louis Arsenal in Missouri. On 20 April 1871, Carlisle Barracks was closed as a depot for the Mounted Recruit Service.

In 1879, the War Department passed control of the post to the Department of the Interior for the Indian School program. Commanding General of the Army, William T. Sherman consented to the requests of Richard Pratt for an Indian School, where the Natives could receive an education apart from the reservations, and live among white men and women. Pratt hoped to transform the Indian youth into productive American citizens who could sustain themselves in a modern society.

On 1 September 1918, Carlisle Barracks reverted back to the War Department. General Hospital No. 31 was a rehabilitation center established at the end of World War I. During its brief two-year existence, the hospital provided medical treatment and mental care for more than 4,000 soldiers returning from service with the American Expeditionary Forces in France.

In the fall of 1920, the Medical Field Service School was established at Carlisle. The school developed medical equipment and doctrine suitable for future battlefields; training in the care and handling of casualties and disease prevention. More than 30,000 officers and NCOs passed through the school during its 26-year tenure at Carlisle Barracks.

In 1946, the Medical Field Service School was relocated to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. From 1946 through 1951, six different Army schools were established at Carlisle Barracks; the Army Information School, the School for Governing Occupied Areas, and the Adjutant General’s School. In 1947, the Chaplain School and the Military Police School were established. During 1949, the Army Security Agency School began its highly classified operations until closing down during 1951.

The U.S. Army War College, the senior educational institution of the U.S. Army, relocated from Washington, D.C. to Carlisle Barracks in the spring of 1951. Originally established in 1903, the college had functioned as part of the General Staff during its early years, preparing selected officers for high command. Distinguished graduates of that period included John J. Pershing, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar N. Bradley. Classes were suspended in 1940 during the preparedness mobilization for World War II, after the war ended, the classes at the War College resumed. At Carlisle, the Army War College grew steadily preparing U.S. Army officers for leadership at the highest levels. The college soon outgrew its main academic building (the current Upton Hall) and transferred to the newly constructed Root Hall in 1967. Two specialized agencies evolved into integral parts of the Army War College: the Strategic Studies Institute, first formed in 1954, and the Military History Institute, established in 1967. The Center for Strategic Leadership, a state-of-the-art war gaming complex that opened in 1994, contributed another unique dimension to the college and to Carlisle Barracks’ history as a distinctive U.S. Army campus.

Current Hours of Operation of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center are:
  • Ridgway Hall open Monday through Saturday: 9am - 4:45pm, closed Sundays.
  • Visitor and Education Center, closed Mondays: Open Tuesday through Saturday: 9am - 5pm.
  • The both Ridgeway Hall and the Visitor and Education Center will be open for the following Federal Holidays from 9am - 5pm Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Veteran’s Day. The facility will be closed for all other Federal holidays.

The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center
950 Soldiers Drive
Carlisle, PA 17013-5021

Driving Directions

The Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle is at the intersection of three major highways: Interstate 81, the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76) and U.S. Rt. 11.

Air Travel

The nearest commercial airport is Harrisburg International Airport (HIA), located south of Harrisburg adjacent to the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76). It is approximately 28 miles from Carlisle.

The Army Heritage and Education Center website has a lot of information about the facility; including an online research catalog. http://www.USAHEC.org. Information by phone (717) 245-3972

Special thanks to Director John F. Giblin, and Curators Brandon Wiegand and Paul Miller

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V16N1 (March 2012)
and was posted online on January 22, 2012


Comments have not been generated for this article.