Early Fort History
By 1870, Chicago was a growing commercial center of about 300,000 in population. Because of its central location, it was viewed as a gateway to the west. The subsequent development of Fort Sheridan in the late 1880’s became intertwined with the social and cultural history of Chicago. Fort Sheridan was established to protect the city’s commercial interests and was intended to be a permanent military post to keep the peace and ensure that labor skirmishes would not disrupt the city’s activities. General Philip H. Sheridan, the great Union Civil War military leader, was assigned to command an army division from Missouri at the site.
On October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed 18,000 buildings and left thousands of Chicagoans homeless. General Sheridan was called upon and placed in charge by Chicago Mayor Roswell B. Mason who had declared martial law in an aftermath of chaos from looters and pillagers following the Fire. General Sheridan organized extensive relief efforts for the homeless and needy, and succeeded in maintaining order, thus allowing martial law to end on October 23rd.
In the decades of 1870 and 1880, the City of Chicago suffered from labor unrest that climaxed in the infamous Haymarket Riots of May 1886. U.S. troops were employed to quell the uprisings. Finally in 1886, Marshall Field, a prominent Chicago entrepreneur, led a petition by area businessman to the Secretary of War to set aside area land for a military installation. The Fort Sheridan area was selected as the 632 acre site and plans were put together for Fort Sheridan’s development.