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A Training Ground for the Armed Forces

"Recruits had to pull up the corn to clear the drill field."
            Archie C. Ingram, 30th Division recruit, arriving at Camp Sevier, early fall, 1917

Construction at Ft. JacksonAs the fever mounted in late 1916 and early 1917, city leaders and businessmen across the state saw the opportunity to bring prosperity to their communities by attracting military posts. The thousands of troops that would come to these facilities could pump millions of dollars into communities. In Columbia city fathers began lobbying Washington and the military to establish a base in the Midlands. In May 1917, helped by their Congressional delegation, city fathers were elated when the Army announced that a post would be built on the eastern edge of the city. It became known as Camp Jackson, after the seventh President of the United States (who had also been a South Carolina native). During the same period two smaller Army posts were announced for the upstate. One was on the edge of Greenville, christened Camp Sevier (after the Tennessee leader and Revolutionary War commander, John Sevier) and outside Spartanburg, another camp named Camp Wadsworth, also was announced. Since the first unit to train here was the 27th Division, a former New York National Guard unit, US Army authorities thought this name appropriate. Wadsworth, a New York native and Union general during the Civil War, had commanded an Army corps until he was mortally wounded in the 1864 Wilderness campaign.

Booklet coverThese camps needed thousands of laborers to build the roads, mess halls, barracks, and related structures needed on major military installations. Camp Jackson became the largest, training nearly 200,000 men during the war. Sevier and Wadsworth were smaller installations but still extensive in size. They each trained about 100,000 troops during the conflict. Unlike Camp Jackson, most troops who trained in the upstate camps were billeted in tents erected on wooden platforms.

On the coast two installations that had existed before the war received new life and significant expansion. In Port Royal Sound, near Beaufort, the fledgling Marine recruit training base on Parris Island had recently been established (1915). Once a U.S. Navy Yard, the small facility had become the Marine's first exclusive training center for new Marines. After April 1917, the main training center on the north side of the island was supplemented by another training ground on the south end, known as the Maneuver Grounds. Here another tent city with mess halls and an infirmary was erected by late 1917. The third training ground was the rifle range. Recruits had to reach the island by boat during World War I and once there were given intensive instruction in combat ranging from drill, bayonet practice to marksmanship and hand-to-hand fighting. At times, recruits were also used to help build the roads, carrying crushed oyster shells to pave the roads. About 46,000 new Marines were trained to fight in the trenches of France before the Armistice of November 1918.

Camp and men practicing rifle and grenade techniques

About 70 miles north, just a few miles inland from Charleston, the Charleston Navy Yard had been established in 1901. Located on the Cooper River, the Navy Yard had been slow to develop into a viable shipyard. This quickly changed once war was declared. It built or repaired medium and smaller ships, including the construction of 13 new ones and repair or refitting of over 200 others, both American and Allied vessels. The labor force grew to more than 5,000 men while handling this work. In addition it had a uniform factory on base that at the peak of the war employed 1,000 women. They produced 2.7 million garments in 1918 alone. Nearby the Yard a facility for new sailors took shape. By the war’s end 25,000 new sailors had received training.

Parris Island, men washing clothes, and leaving on ships for the Western Front

CAPTIONS: Laborers working on the site of Camp Jackson, fall 1917; Cover of Camp Wadsworth Souvenir booklet. This image was used for all the camps, only the name of the post was changed, Special Collections, Spartanburg County Library, Spartanburg, SC; Detention Camp or Quarantine, Parris Island, c. 1918, Collection of the Parris Island Museum, Marine Recruit Depot, USMC; Bayonet drill demonstration and troops learning the proper technique in throwing grenades, Camp Wadsworth, Collection of the Spartanburg Regional Museum, Spartanburg, SC, originals at the National Archives; Panorama of one of the three training sections on Parris Island, c. 1917, Marines washing their clothes, c. 1918, and new Marines leaving Parris Island for duty, probably on the Western Front, 1918, all Collection of the Parris Island Museum, Marine Recruits Depot, USMC
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