Camp Sherman – Chillicothe, Ohio

The United States was ill-prepared when it entered into the European war on April 6, 1917.  The standing army amounted to less than 100,000 men, about half of which were stationed overseas.  Although President Wilson ran on keeping America out of the conflict, as time went on, it became more apparent that this would not be possible, and that the number of men needed to fight such a war would have to be increased.

Following the break in relations with Germany, Congress approved The Selective Service Act of 1917, requiring men to register for draft conscription.  The three “National Registration Days” resulted in the registration of almost 24 million men. Just under 3 million men were actually selected in the draft lotteries, which began on July 20, 1917.

The infrastructure and facilities needed to process the the numbers of men being called up were lacking, so earlier that spring, the government authorized the construction of seventeen National Army cantonments to be located across the country, one of which would become Camp Sherman, in Chillicothe, Ohio.

The hastily-built camps were of wood frame construction and consisted of barracks, kitchens, and mess halls.  Tents with wooden floors were also utilized.  By fall, many of these camps were housing troops.

Interestingly, the area of Chillicothe selected for the Camp Sherman site had been used during the War of 1812 as a detention camp for British soldiers.  During the Civil War, the area served as a camp for the 73rd regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  It was also the site of Hopewell American Indian mounds.  Camp Sherman would be constructed over these mounds.

The 83rd Infantry Division was activated at Camp Sherman in September, 1917, and designated a Depot Division.  In the 83rd, Private Brigner would be assigned to Company 14, 4th Training Battalion, 158th Depot Brigade.

The Depot Brigades were established for the sole purpose of receiving and organizing the influx of volunteer and conscripted men, and to distribute uniforms and equipment.  Basic military training was also provided, prior to shipping them out to the front lines of France.

At the height of operation, Camp Sherman was the third-largest of the Army cantonments, and processed men from Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania.  The complex included not just the main camp, but also had its own power and ice plants, laundry facilities, bakery, a hospital area, a camp extension, a detention camp, maneuvering grounds, and artillery and rifle ranges.  In addition, there were twelve warehouses, a community house, library, theater, horse and mule corrals, and several facilities operated by the Red Cross and YMCA.  It was a vast complex, with over one thousand buildings.

There is a fair amount of online information pertaining to Camp Sherman.  The Ohio History Central website maintains a brief overview of the Camp, as does the National Park Service, as part of its Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.  In 2016, the Ohio Department of Transportation sponsored an archeological dig for that part of the camp through which an extension of Industrial Drive is planned.  There is a good article from the Chillicothe Gazette on this, as well as a short video.

However, I feel that the  definitive reference work for Camp Sherman is the document entitled Camp Sherman, Ohio: History of a World War I Training Camp.  It was published in 2015 by the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory of the Army Corp of Engineers, and is a very detailed report on the history of the camp and its construction, and includes many references, images, maps and photographs.

Camp Sherman Days

A WORLD WAR I CENTENNIAL EVENT

From July 1 – 9, 2017, Chillicothe, Ohio hosted Camp Sherman Days, with many special events and exhibits held throughout the city.  A Living History Encampment was the main event, which took place the weekend of July 7 – 9.

The Camp Sherman Days website is still active, but has not been updated since the 2017 event. It is unknown whether any future events are planned.