Army Bases

Fort Jackson, South Carolina

In 1916 the civic leaders of Columbia realized that war with the Central Powers in Europe was imminent, and that the country badly needed new, large training camps. The Chamber of Commerce leaders proposed to General Leonard Wood of New York, commander of all Army installations in the East, that the vast Estate of South Carolina great Wade Hampton would be an ideal site for a training camp. 1 reply, General Wood sent Major Charles E. Kilbourne to examine the site.

On 19 May 1917, Major Douglas MacArthur announced that one of the 16 National cantonments would be constructed near Columbia, South Carolina .

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce appointed a Cantonment Commission that solicited funds from town fathers and quickly raised the $59,000 asked by the Hampton Estate to turn the property over to the government. Columbia residents donated 1,192 acres; the Federal Government later acquired by purchase some 19,742 acres more, and by lease still other thousands.

On 2 June 1917, Congressional approval of a plan to place a training center on the site Major Kilbourne had investigated was secured by the War Department. Three days later the men of the nation registered for the draf

The War Department took bids from several contracting companies to build an Army camp on the selected site, and the contract was awarded on 11 June 1917 to the Hardaway Contracting Company of Columbus, Georgia . The contract to build the sixth National Army Cantonment at Columbia was written on a "cost-plus" basis, and neither the contractor nor anyone in the government, in their wildest estimates, came close to the actual ten million dollar cost of that contract.

Work progressed haltingly in the first few days as there was no adequate labor supply in Columbia . Estimates for the required material had been made in Washington where blueprints were being prepared, but there was no actual material on the site of the future Army Post.

There were no roads or trails, and in places the site was so thickly overgrown that a man on horseback could not proceed. Yet in two months and one week, the first thousands of draftees were scheduled to arrive for training.

On the job came two men who were to develop a camp out of the wilderness. One was Henry B. Crawford of Columbus, Georgia, Hardaway's general superintendent. The other was Major William Couper, the Army's Constructing Quartermaster, who arrived on 17 June 1917.

Company E, 1st Regiment, South Carolina Infantry, (110 men) arrived on 22 June 1917 as camp guard. A camp site for these soldiers was selected on the hillside to the east of Wild Cat Road, or on the opposite side of the road from the Negro camp, near the trestle. Captain Walker was in command.

From the outset the building program was held back by shortages of materials and labor difficulties due to the remoteness of Columbia from any manufacturing center.

By 27 June the labor force had increased from 10 to 756; on 30 June It was over 1,200, and the first two barracks were completed. By 26 August 1917, there were 9,592 men on the job, with the average wage per man per day being $3.34.

Major William Couper, Constructing Quartermaster for Camp Jackson, found that there were some condemned National Guard tents in the armory at Columbia which might be used for housing the Negro workers. Inquiry showed that these tents were under the jurisdiction of the Southeastern Department, and Major Couper telegraphed to Charleston for authority to take over the tents. Upon arrival at the armory on 19 June 1917 to get the tents, Captain Moore, who was in charge was told that the tents had been condemned and under law must he destroyed, and that they could, therefore, not be turned over for use at the Army cantonment. Major Couper telephoned Major Kilbourne, an old friend and Chief of Staff to General Leonard Wood, at Charleston, and asked him what was the proper procedure in such asinine cases during war time. Major Kilbourne replied with a question: "Why don’t you seize them in the name of the Government?" Accordingly, Major Couper gave Major Glenn, the National Guard Officer who had the tents in custody, a receipt for them on the usual invoice. The tents accommodated about 1,400 men, and although they were very old, were sufficiently serviceable for the needed purpose. Major Couper had the tents taken out to the extreme south end of the camp and set up the Negro camp. Laborers were paid $1.75 per day, and no charge was made for lodging as they were quartered in government tents. Negro laborers prepared their own food, that being the custom of the section at that time, from materials obtained at the camp commissary.

Mr. Edwin W. Robertson, Chairman of the City of Columbia Cantonment Committee, who had been instrumental in having the cantonment located at Columbia, was most helpful to Major William Couper, the Contracting Quarter master. Typical of this was in June 1917, when no telephone switchboard was available for the camp, Mr. Robertson gave up the switchboard he had just received for use in his bank until such time as the Army could get another.

Three companies of the 1st S. C. Infantry (NG) reported for guard duty at the cantonment on 12 July 1917 as follows:

Company F 105 men in command of Lieutenant Schwing

Company G 94 men in command of Captain Parks

Company H 122 men in command of Captain McFadden

According to “Instructions to Constructing Quartermaster,” 18 June 1917, the cantonment at Columbia had to provide for the following:

 

MEN

ANIMALS

One Infantry Division

35,992

10,500

In addition thereto:

 

 

One Aero Squadron

173

 

One Telegraph Battalion

225

 

One Balloon Company

101

 

One Regiment of heavy horse-drawn Artillery

1,372

1,494

One Infantry Regiment

2,784

297

Total

40,647

12,274

These were all combat troops and were supposed to move away as a Division after they had been trained. As it worked out, however, in addition to the above, there were many other troops required to remain at the camp, such as the hospital force; quartermaster or supply force; utilities force; depot brigade; etc. There was also a force to care for the operation of the Remount Station with a 6,000 animal capacity.

Camp Jackson, South Carolina, was established and named in July 1917 as a World War I training camp pursuant to General Orders No. 95, War Department, 18 July 1917. It was named in honor of Andrew Jackson, Major General of the Army, a hero in the Battle of New Orleans, and the seventh President of the United States (from 1829 to 1837). Prior to this time it was known as the 6th National Army Cantonment, or “The Cantonment.”

On 11 August 1917 the War Department authorized the construction of a Post Exchange to be ready for the first troops to arrive. By midmonth the Columbia City Trolley Company had its new line to Camp Jackson open and operating; the fare was five cents each way. Hundreds of buildings were up, the new streets were graded, and water and sewer lines were started. By 20 August construction had proceeded sufficiently to allow the entrance of the 2d Regiment of the South Carolina National Guard. This group of semi-trained personnel made ready to receive and train the draftees.

Brigadier General Charles H. Barth assumed command on 25 August 1917. On 26 August fire struck the cantonment. Uncontrollable, due to the scarcity of water, the fire raged across 85 acres unchecked. Some building supplies were lost, but none of the new barracks were touched.

The labor force recruited throughout the country by the train load hit its all-time peak on 28 August 1917 when 10,585 men lived and worked here. Twelve hundred new officers from a training camp in Georgia arrived here on 29 August to await the arrival of troops. The first draftees arrived at Camp Jackson on 5 September 1917.

As the camp filled and training progressed, the original group of South Carolina National Guard, who had performed guard and security work before the draftees arrived, was moved to Camp Sevier in Greenville, South Carolina, and incorporated into the 30th "Old Hickory" Division. When the draftees arrived on 5 September, they were fewer in number than had been expected due to the last minute postponement of orders sending Negro troops to the camp.

Early in October the first Negro draftees arrived at Camp Jackson and the troop population reached 15,305, while over 8,000 workmen still labored to house them. With time pressing for the equipment and training of men to send over seas to fight the Germans in World War I, the War Department launched a huge construction program at Camp Jackson.

The famous 81st “Wildcat” Division was organized here on 25 August 1917. By 17 September, Camp Jackson’s first Post Commander and Commanding General of the 81st, Brigadier General Charles H. Barth, moved his Division into permanent quarters. During the month more than 8,000 draftees arrived to fill the Division’s ranks. Later the Division’s infantry went to Camp Sevier, Greenville, South Carolina, before going overseas, where its members saw action in the Lorraine and Meuse-Argonne Campaigns. The “Wildcat” artillery remained at Jackson until going to Europe.

A military uniform tradition was established at Camp Jackson by the 81st Division. Men of this unit, training on the southeast corner of the reservation near Wildcat Creek, began to wear crude cloth emblems of wildcat heads on their sleeves. The emblem was designed by Corporal Dan Silverman of Company I, 321st Infantry Regiment. As the 81st "Wildcat" Division joined the American Expeditionary Force in France in August 1918, this custom found wide popularity and eventually these unique unit identification patches were worn throughout the Army.

One of the largest structures in the new camp was the Remount Station with accommodations for thousands of mules and horses. On 12 November approximately 800 of these animals stampeded at the remount corral and destroyed much of the work in progress, as well as numbers of themselves.

In the presence of the Commanding General of Camp Jackson, Major General Charles J. Bailey and staff, a number of distinguished visitors and thousands of soldiers and civilians, an impressive military ceremony took place on 1 November 1917 when for the first time the Stars and Stripes were unfurled to the breeze from the top of a white flagpole in front of the 81st Division headquarters .

On 21 November with 17,343 draftees to be trained, the contractor turned over the first portion of the completed camp to Army authorities, but millions of dollars worth of work was still to be done.

Camp Jackson had a cantonment capacity of 44,009 persons; 1,554 buildings, with a camp area of 2,737 acres, and 12,804 acres for the total reservation.

Just before Christmas of that year the contractor, Hardaway, turned over the entire camp to the Army, although he left behind hundreds of men to perform maintenance and repairs until the military engineers could take things in hand.

In six months time, Hardaway had built a city of 1,519 buildings, including theaters, stores, kitchens, barracks, officers’ quarters, training facilities, stables, warehouses, garages, an airfield, roads, bridges, railroads, a reservoir and water lines, sewers, wells, heating plants, and a laundry. He also drained the dismal and dangerous Gill Creek Swamp that covered approximately 200 acres of the area.

As of 31 December 1917, there were 1,501 officers and 40,997 other ranks, or a total military strength of 42,498 in Camp Jackson.

An audit was completed in January 1918 which showed that a total of $8,897,375 had been spent on Camp Jackson, without counting the monies paid to road-building, electric and plumbing sub-contractors. The space left for the cost of each project was left blank on the completion reports. It was impossible to determine the cost of any individual project because of the system of cost accounting used, as the system showed only the total cost of the entire project, and not the cost of any individual building under subject authorization.

On 22 October 1917, Camp Jackson’s first Base Hospital was opened. In this medical complex, more than 80 buildings covered 12 to 15 acres of land at the highest point of the cantonment. Although plans called for 32 wards to be constructed at the hospital, only six of these were ready for use during the initial days of operation.

The first commander of the facility was Major Thomas J. Leary, who was previously in command of the Base Hospital at Colon, Panama. Between these two commands, he served for a short time as Sanitary Inspector of the South eastern Division.

The working force at the Base Hospital at this time consisted of about 450 men and nurses. Fifty doctors and dentists were assigned to the group, and this number was considered adequate for the treatment of 1,000 patients, the capacity of the hospital when all the wards were completed.

Before the facility was opened, medical treatment for those who had minor ills was conducted at a field hospital. Those patients who were seriously sick and those requiring major operations, however, were treated at the Baptist Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina.

From the beginning medical personnel at the Base Hospital were con fronted with epidemics. Four days after the opening of the hospital, 60 persons became bed patients with the measles. This outbreak was coupled with a rash of pneumonia cases, and the resulting death rate was so high that Camp Jackson’s first cemetery had to be built.

On 21 November 1917, a third epidemic broke out — meningitis. By 11 December 12 persons had died from the disease and the Camp’s labor force, fearful of being infected, deserted the reservation en masse. Threatened by a total shutdown, troops from the training units worked tirelessly in subfreezing temperatures and snow to finish those jobs that had to be completed.

Relations between Camp Jackson and Columbia went from bad to worse as the meningitis spread. City newspapers pleaded for absolute quarantine of the reservation, but to no avail, for such a measure was nearly impossible to enforce.

During the meningitis scourge, Major Stewart S. Roberts, a doctor who was commissioned 5 November 1917, was assigned to the Camp to assist in the epidemic. On 26 January 1918, he became the Commanding Officer of the Base Hospital.

One of the outstanding features of Camp Jackson was Jackson Circle. All of the civic buildings, with the exception of the Red Cross buildings located in the Hospital area, were built around this little park. Directions had been received to keep a site for non-military buildings. Major William Couper, Constructing Quartermaster in charge of building Camp Jackson, conceived the establishment of a circle around which such buildings could be grouped.

Before clearing the spot it was a dense forest. The road was laid out as an exact circle, but was then changed on the ground so as to save all the larger trees. Grouped around the circle were the Knights of Columbus Hall; the house occupied by the postal clerks; the YWCA Hostess house; the YMCA Administration Building and YMCA Auditorium, with a seating capacity of 3,000; the Christian Science Building; and the Liberty Theatre. A bandstand was constructed in the center of Jackson Circle and concerts were held at intervals. Both the Telegraph and Telephone Building and the Post Office were located on the Boulevard off Jackson Circle.

The theatre would seat about 3,000 people. There were very few posts as the roof was supported by heavy trusses. The brick walls in front of the walk—up were made of surplus brick from other construction and backfilling was placed so as to prevent the necessity of using steps at the entrance - a serious fire risk. It was located on Jackson Circle and the Main Boulevard. So far as it is known, the Liberty Theatre was the only cantonment theatre which had no steps at the entrance.

During this period, men arriving at Camp Jackson were assigned directly to a division for training and retention. Division personnel accomplished the mission now being done by the United States Army Reception Station. This method of receiving personnel into the Army proved satisfactory during that period, for the technical skills required by the Army were few in number. Little thought was given to benefits for the individual soldier or to methods to ease his life.

Construction of this vast military installation, which housed more than 20,000 men and over 7,000 animals, was completed by 17 January 1918, a period of less than eight months. To complete initial construction of the cantonment, it was necessary to drain two swamps, of which Gill Creek was the larger. Other notable construction was a huge sewage system of 84,500 linear feet of pipe, and a hospital.

Training was the need of the hour in 1917, and throughout its history, Fort Jackson has provided just that. Carrier pigeons, war dogs, balloon and aircraft pilots, paratroopers, artillerymen, cavalrymen and infantrymen - all received some of their military training at Fort Jackson.

In January 1918, Camp Jackson had the distinction of having the largest government-operated laundry in the country. The laundry was in a large airy building 300x167 feet. The pigeon-hole system of a regular post office system was used to keep the pieces of laundry separated. The very efficient laundry was operated under the control of Captain Robert T. Marye and superintendent E. M. Miller of Baltimore. Obtaining the proper force of employment was most difficult, complicated by the fact that the laundry was in an armed camp, where there were few civilians. The employees, about 115 in all, were nearly all drawn from points outside the State.

On 22 February 1918, Major Wm. H. Supplee, Q.M.C., reported to this Camp as Constructing Quartermaster, with instructions to take over from the Camp Quartermaster all uncompleted work and to construct such additional work as was authorized. He was met by Mr. Harry F. Hann, the approved contractor for the additional work at Camp Jackson.

On 7 March, Captain Jos. C. Brown, Q.M.O., reported to Major Supplee as Assistant Constructing Quartermaster. Captain Brown was appointed Property Officer, having also general supervision of all construction work in the field. Major Supplee’s administration was from February to October 1918. He was succeeded by Major Walter M. Crunden, Q.M.C., whose administration was for about six weeks, when he was succeeded by Captain Jos. C. Brown, Q.M.C. The first work done at this camp by Harry F. Hann was the construction of 12 two-story Ward Barracks Buildings in the Base Hospital area. This work was completed in record time.

The camp site and vicinity had been practically all cleared originally for construction so it was not necessary to do any clearing or unusual grading, and there was little difficulty in starting the various projects which were authorized. There had been authorized during this time 107 projects, each one carrying on an average of five different units of work. There were built during this time approximately 550 buildings of the typical cantonment- type construction.

Every precaution was taken to protect the workmen from accident and sickness. Taking into consideration the number of men employed, it was remarkable that there was at no time a fatal accident to a man on the job. On 11 May 1918, an order was issued establishing the artillery training and replacement camp at Camp Jackson. This order directed a headquarters and a minimum of 12 training battalions and prescribed that “all field officers (staff corps excepted) being from the regular Army.” Later this arrangement was discontinued and the artillery training areas were moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Camp Bragg, North Carolina.

From February to October 1918 there was a daily average of about 1,683 men working. During the month of October the construction work was greatly increased by the authorization of extension of hospital facilities and a motor school, and extensive improvements to the water system. After this, there were approximately 3,133 men employed daily on the job up to the signing of the Armistice, when all construction was discontinued, with the exception of some permanent construction underway at the time, namely, the roads and extension of the water system.

One trenching machine, about 15 small concrete mixers, two power threading machines, and eight power cut-off saws were the only items of power-operated equipment used during this construction.

There were from 716 to 4,200 men employed daily on construction work from 22 February 1918 to 1 April 1919. At the time Major Crunden assumed the duties of Constructing Quartermaster 5 October 1918, the personnel of the commissioned staff increased from one to eight officers.

Prior to 1 June 1918, the Base Hospital staff treated more than 245 cases of meningitis, 1,200 cases of measles, and a high number of pneumonia victims. How the hospital force coped with these epidemics was amazing considering they were also responsible for performing many surgical procedures, the training of incoming Medical Officers, and the examination of recruits.

On 1 July 1918, a Red Cross House was officially opened under the super vision of Field Director G. P. Shingler. This organization played an important role in entertaining hospitalized persons in the various wards, as well as those patients who were able to visit the Red Cross building.

As the summer of 1918 passed by, the hospital’s physical plant continued to expand at a rapid pace, and the facility grew in staff. On 1 August 1918, Miss Mary C. McKenna became the Chief Nurse of the entire complex, and besides her other important duties, took charge of the Camp Jackson Unit of the Army School of Nursing.

In mid-September another disease struck the Camp in epidemic proportions. With no warning, 200 persons fell ill with influenza and were admitted to the Base Hospital. Soon, hundreds more became infected and the hospital was over flowing with men too ill to stand.

To properly care for the influenza patients an entire new section of the Camp had to be taken over for hospital purposes. By the time the plague of influenza ran its course, more than 5,000 persons had been treated and 300 had died from the disease.

On 27 October 1918, the Constructing Quartermaster received instructions from the Labor Bureau in Washington, D.C., that he would be furnished 1,769 Puerto Rican laborers, expected to arrive about November 7th. The contractor, to get the necessary bunk houses, mess halls, bath houses, etc., built and equipped for these men, had to take the majority of his force off regular construction work and concentrate on what was then known as the Puerto Rican area. This enabled him within five days to construct and equip with necessary water and electric light service 18 bunk houses 24x120 feet, accommodating 50 men each; four bath houses, and four latrines. These Puerto Ricans disembarked at Charleston, South Carolina, and were transferred to Camp Jackson by trains. Because they understood no English, it was very difficult to get them segregated into working gangs.

Shortly after the Puerto Ricans arrived, there was another severe epidemic of influenza in Camp Jackson. As a result, many of them died.

On the signing of the Armistice and the discontinuance of construction work, the Puerto Ricans were ordered returned to Puerto Rico, and 875 men were shipped on 12 December 1918, and 517 shipped on 12 January 1919. The only ones left at Camp Jackson were the ones in the hospital still suffering from the effects of influenza and pneumonia. Most of these recovered and were employed as common laborers, but six or eight were still in the hospital on 10 April 1919.

Tragedy struck Camp Jackson again. At 0730 hours the morning of 10 May 1918, three cars of a troop train left the tracks as it started across the trestle where the railroad entered Camp Jackson. Troops aboard were portions of the 81st Division being transferred to Camp Sevier near Greenville, South Carolina. There were nine soldiers killed and about 40 more injured in the accident.

When the "Wildcat" Division departed Camp Jackson on 18 May 1918, the 5th Division moved in. Additionally, Camp Jackson was designated as the Army’s Field Artillery Replacement Depot. Commanded by Major General Robert M. Danford, the Depot, with other units — a balloon training unit, air corps units, bakers school, etc. — brought the total men on the reservation at one time to 58,704.

Tentative plans to expand the Camp into a section known as "North Camp Jackson" were halted with the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, and in May 1919, the 30th Division came home and was deactivated here.

The signing of the Armistice brought changes to the Base Hospital, for this marked the beginning of awareness for many that civilian life was not far away. For Lieutenant Colonel Roberts, the Base Hospital Commander, civilian life quickly became a reality. On 4 December he left the Army, and was replaced, on a temporary basis, by Major Wallace Ralston of the hospital staff. On 29 December, Colonel H A. Webber assumed command of the facility.

Starting in late December, sick and wounded soldiers from overseas arrived at the Base Hospital for treatment. Such outfits as the 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, Iron, Old Hickory, Wildcat, Rainbow, Yankee, and Dixie Divisions were well represented in these numbers.

To aid the many patients who were returning to civilian life, the hospital added the Educational, Vocational Training, and Reconstruction Departments to its plant in early 1919. These Departments not only gave the soldier the occupational training he needed, but also accomplished wonders in cheering and encouraging him for the days ahead.

Major George Gibbs, QMC, Office of The Director of Operations, Construction Division, War Department, prepared a study on 5 January 1920 of the relative physical value of the National Army Cantonments. The study was made so that the War Department would know which to abandon and which to keep. It was based on climate, drainage, sanitation, and accommodations, with the highest possible score of 230. Camp Jackson placed second to Camp Lewis, Tacoma, Washington (217) with a score of 206. The table, of course, was not made use of and decisions were based on other, perhaps political, considerations.

The 5th Infantry Division trained at Camp Jackson until 4 October 1921, when it was deactivated. With this, an unaccustomed silence fell over the sand hills and pines of Camp Jackson. Nearly 2,000 buildings, including bar racks, officers’ quarters, storehouses, base hospital wards, headquarters, firehouses, exchanges and ammunition depots were sold to a wrecking company to be destroyed.

The years 1919-21 were a time of general demobilization for Camp Jackson. The Great War was over, and the Camp’s mission had been fulfilled. Gradually, the familiar faces of officers and training cadre, of devoted doctors, nurses, and attendants faded from Camp Jackson, and only nostalgic memories remained.

The leased land reverted to its owners and the original land contributed by the citizens of Columbia was returned to a Cantonment Lands Commission for educational, recreational and industrial use, subject to recapture. The American Legion established its hut on the site. The Boy Scouts established Camp Barstov on Camp Jackson property. The Girl Scouts set up another camp. The YMCA maintained a summer camp, as did the YWCA. The Camp Jackson golf course was a favorite with numerous links enthusiasts in this section of the state.

The Camp was abandoned 25 April 1922 pursuant to General Orders No. 33, War Department, 27 July 1921. The Camp Jackson roads, lacking maintenance, disintegrated, and the area grew up in pine and scrub oaks.

The wrecking company was still at work tearing out sewer and water lines when, in 1925, the War Department decided to use the Post again as a training camp for the South Carolina National Guard. One-half of the reservation was handed over to South Carolina under a revocable license and the state authorities moved in to replace sewer and water lines, and to reconstruct buildings. Thereafter, the Post was in increasing use for National Guard training.

Camp Jackson was abandoned as a regular Army reservation, but during the period 1925-1939 was used as a summer encampment by the National Guard. The Base Hospital fell into nonexistence, and the only medical facility available on the site was a small infirmary that was utilized when the National Guard trained. Once again, as before the old Base Hospital was built, Guardsmen who were seriously ill and required surgery had to be treated in civilian hospitals in Columbia.

Soon, however, National Guardsmen were coming from practically every state in the IV Corps area for two-week training periods. Certain buildings were constructed and improvements made by the National Guard Bureau through the Adjutant General of South Carolina, General James C Dozier; but for the rest of the year, Camp Jackson ’s 23,000 acres remained practically deserted.

Part 2

  • News from the web