Although the official address of the U.S. Army's Fort Campbell reads, “Fort Campbell, Kentucky,” two-thirds of the installation by area is in Tennessee. Fort Campbell came into existence in 1941 as the United States prepared for war. In need of additional large training facilities, army planners chose an area northwest of Clarksville for a new camp. The site offered a substantial pool of local labor, good access to railroads and highways, reasonable proximity to Fort Knox, mild weather, and cheap land prices. Survey work began in August 1941. The government bought 102,000 acres of rich farmland at an average price of $39.94 per acre and dislocated approximately seven hundred families. The army named the post in honor of William Bowen Campbell, a veteran of the Creek, Seminole, and Mexican Wars and Tennessee's last Whig governor and designated it as Camp Campbell, Tennessee, reflecting its geographical location and proximity to Clarksville. The construction of the post office just over the line in Kentucky–possibly due to the influence of U.S. Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky–brought a permanent change in the official address.
Work on the post buildings began immediately; the first troops arrived in July 1942. Camp Campbell quickly emerged as one of the major armor training centers in the country, where the Eighth, Twelfth, Fourteenth, and Twentieth Armored Divisions, plus the Twenty-sixth Infantry Division, honed their combat skills. The installation also served as headquarters for the IV Armored Corps and XXII Corps. By V-J Day in 1945, 250,000 soldiers had trained at Camp Campbell. The post also housed about four thousand German prisoners.
The influx of such a large number of men in uniform (there were almost 100,000 at the installation in 1944) had an enormous effect on the surrounding area. The army poured $35 million into the project by the end of 1942, with an estimated ten thousand workers laboring on the physical plant. The size of Clarksville more than doubled in that year alone. The city instituted zoning to prevent “crazy, haphazard, and unattractive” expansion and widened Highway 41A. To provide off-duty soldiers some diversion, Clarksville built a football stadium and allowed theaters to show movies on Sundays.
With the end of the war, boom threatened to become bust. As its designation indicated, Camp Campbell had been built as a temporary training center. In the immediate aftermath of war, it served as a deployment post for troops returning home, including soldiers of the XVIII Airborne Corps and the Fifth Infantry Division.
Despite a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey that advocated retention of the post, by early 1947, fewer than 2,000 soldiers remained, and area residents feared its closure. Later that year, however, and unknown to most Tennesseans, the military established the “Clarksville Base,” a highly restricted area on the installation for the preparation of nuclear weapons. Operated by the Atomic Energy Commission (and later by the Defense Atomic Support Agency) until deactivated in 1969, the facility, with its hardened buildings, was guarded by a Marine detachment.
The status of Camp Campbell as an army facility finally seemed assured with the arrival of the Third Infantry Division in March 1948. This unit was replaced the next year by the Eleventh Airborne Division. The “Angels” stayed until 1955, solidifying the installation's association with the army's elite forces. In April 1950 the army upgraded the designation of the facility to “Fort Campbell.” When the Eleventh Airborne moved to Germany in 1956, the unit was immediately replaced by the 101st Airborne–a division that has become almost synonymous with the post.
From 1950 to 1962 Fort Campbell operated an airborne training school, which graduated nearly 30,000 paratroopers. During the Vietnam War, Fort Campbell opened a basic training course that instructed more than 200,000 soldiers. When the 101st Airborne deployed to Vietnam, the post briefly housed the Sixth Infantry Division. Following the return of the 101st (redesignated in 1974 as an air assault division), the army launched a construction program to replace World War II-era “temporary” structures with modern facilities. In 1988 the post became home to two additional elite units: the Fifth Special Forces and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.