Winnebago County, Illinois
Camp Grant was a U.S. Army facility located in the southern outskirts of Rockford, Illinois named in honor of General Ulysses S. Grant.
Camp Grant, which at one point consisted of over 18,000 acres, was in operation from 1917 to the late 1940s.
One of sixteen National Army Training Camps established in 1917 to train World War I draftees. Camp Grant was established in 18 Jul 1917 under the supervision of construction quartermaster Major D. H. Sawyer on a site of about 3,338 acres of land near Rockford, Winnebago County, Illinois. The camp was an infantry replacement and training post for National Army draftees and others. The cantonment had some 1,515 temporary World War I type buildings and a capacity for 63,000 troops at an eventual cost of $ 18,000,000.
The first commander of the camp was Major General Thomas H. Barry (Cullum 2679), who organized the 86th Infantry Division on 25 Aug 1917 and began troop training. The 86th arrived in September 1917 and departed for France on starting on 28 Oct 1918. The division was immediately skeletonized leaving token numbers in the 86th units with the majority of troops going to other divisions as replacements. The 86th returned to the U.S. and was demobilized in January 1919.
At the end of the war the post became a demobilization center for returning troops on 3 Dec 1918.
In 1924 the camp was turned over to the Illinois National Guard.
Between World War I and World War II the camp was used by the Illinois National Guard for training and as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp.
Camp Grant Days
A History of Camp Grant from its beginning to 1941
(Compiled By Workers Of The Writer's Program Of The Work Projects Administration In The State Of Illinois--1941)
World War I found Rockford a quiet, neighborly town, with cast iron hitching posts bordering the courthouse lawn and wooden Indians extending greeting to patrons of the tobacco shops along State Street. It was a town which moved to the temp of such leisure-time activities as canoe and driving clubs, "trolley rides", ten-cent movies, and Sunday afternoon steam boat excursions on Rock River.
Lifted out of the mild depression of 1912 by the industrial boom caused by the war, Rockford was prosperous. It was, of course, war conscious. War phraseology from foreign new dispatches had been neatly adapted to civilian uses. There was much talk of "slackers" so casual in civic pride as to fail to "do their bit" to put a local charity drive "over the top". The Red Cross, Belgian refugees and French war orphans offered a romantic foreign interest to philanthropically inclined clubs and social service groups. A military influence from abroad was beginning to creep into fashions for woman and trench coats were being worn by men. One of the popular songs of the day, nevertheless, was "I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier".
When the United States entered the War, Rockford’s atmosphere changed overnight from quiet neighborliness to regimented militancy. On April 7 a parade down State Street proclaimed in almost frenzied terms Rockford’s support of the United States’ entry into the war. "This is Rockford’s loyalty day," recorded the Register-Gazette of that afternoon. "Thousands of sons and daughters of the Forest City of Illinois paraded the street this afternoon in a patriotic demonstration of a magnitude not seen here on any other occasion since the Civil War…Under the folds of the greatest and brightest of emblems, men, women, and children, head upright, braving the drear April wind, stepped vigorously to the enlivening rattle of fife and drum and the quickening marches blared by brass bands."
Within a few days, "liberty" fried potatoes has replaced the familiar old German fries on the menu of virtually every restaurant in the city and sauerkraut had gone into general disrepute. Soon the study of the German language was to be banned in the public schools, the name of Berlin Avenue was to be changed to Rockford Avenue, and to speak with a Teutonic accent was to arouse popular suspicion.
By the first of May, forty-two Rockford men had enlisted in the regular army, in addition to those previously recruited by Company K, Rockford units of the Illinois National Guard, which having been recalled from the Mexican border late in January, had in March again been drawn into federal service.
Almost simultaneously with the declaration of war came the announcement of government plans for the establishment of sixteen large national army training camps, one of which was to be in Illinois. Alert Rockford business men and civic leaders requested War Department officials to consider a stretch of rolling farmland near the city as a camp site. On June 2, army men inspected the tract and found it suitable. A delegation of Rockford men, head by John H. Camlin, immediate journeyed to Washington, D.C., where on June 7 Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War, assured them that the site would be accepted. Other members of the committee included E.H. Keeler, William Sparks, Roscoe S. Chapman, W.H. Barnes, Benjamin J. Harris, Ross P. Beckstrom, Adam Gschwindt, J.V. Riley, Alex Hammerberg, Harry M. Johnson, and Gus Boehland, representing the railroads and other utilities, Rockford newspapers and general business.
The land chosen was bounded roughly by Rockford on the north, farm lands on the east, the Kishwaukee River on the south and the timber-lined Rock River on the west. Comprising scores of some of the finest farms adjacent to Rockford, its natural beauty, drainage, and healthful surroundings recommended itself highly to War Department officials.
In the meantime, Rockford had plunged seriously and strenuously into the war-time activities that were domination American life. The old tolerance of opposition to the war began swiftly to evaporate. On the day after draft registration, June 5, 1917, several hundred persons marched through State Street to the county jail carrying a banner proclaiming, "All for One and One for All, Peace--Not War." A riot appeared imminent, but at the jail the marchers announced that they merely wished to surrender themselves to the law for failing to register. They were taken into custody and 137 of them, including several members of the local I.W.W. organization who had incited the demonstration, were tried in Freeport before Judge K.M. Landis. In July Judge Landis sentenced 118 of them to a year and a day at hard labor in the Chicago Bridewell.
A camp committee was organized in Rockford to lease approximately 4,000 acres for the cantonment at rentals ranging from $8 to $20 an acre. Simultaneously a campaign was launched to raise a guarantee fund of $100,000 required from the city to insure farmers against crop losses and to finance highway improvements demanded by the war department. As evidence of good faith the committee immediately deposited $25,000 in a local bank and at the first public subscription meeting a fund of $47,000 was subscribed in pledges ranging from $500 to $5,000.
It was estimated that the camp would swell the volume of business in Rockford $1,000,000 a month. To meet these new demands, Mayor Robert Rew, the city council, the Chamber of Commerce and other civic groups made provisions to maintain public safety, control prices, and prevent profiteering; to supply accommodations for visitors and new residents, and to afford ample entertainment for the military population. Local merchants organized a "fair play" league pledged to observe a fair price schedule. Eleventh Street and Kishwaukee Street were improved in record time to insure fast arteries of traffic into the camp.
Almost simultaneously with the selection of the camp site, thousands of carpenters and their helpers were put to work transforming the grain fields into training grounds. Even before the government had secured complete control of the site, tens of thousands of feet of lumber, roofing, and other building materials had been shipped into the city.. On June 24 work on the construction camp was begun and on June 30 first actual work on Camp Grant was started by the Bates and Rogers Construction Company of Chicago, under supervision of Major Donald H. Sawyer, construction quartermaster. Within a little more than two months, 1,100 buildings had been erected. By the time it was finished, the camp had consumed more than 48,000,000 feet of lumber, 300 miles of electric wiring, thirty miles of water pipe, 1,000 tons of nails, 150 acres of roofing felt and 170 carloads of plumbing equipment. Eight wells to supply fresh water were sunk; a 250,000-gallon water tank was erected and a 300,000-gallon reservoir built to supplement the elevated tank. Twenty-two miles of macadam and concrete roads were laid. Remnants of some of these roads are still to be found, stretching from Eleventh Street across cornfields.
By mid-July endless trains of camp equipment and supplies began to be unloaded at the long line of new warehouses or were shunted down the spur lines that veined the camp. Sometimes more than one hundred cars of supplies reached the camp in a single day. Two-story barrack buildings were being erected by the hundreds. Each building was equipped to house about two hundred and fifty men; each contained a large mess hall, a kitchen, a supply room, and an orderly room for the company clerk and company officers. All were heated by steam conducted through thirty-two miles of heavily insulated overhead pipe lines connected with centrally located heating plants. At the rear of each barrack was a heated bathhouse equipped with laundry tubs and shower baths.
In addition, the camp included hundreds of miscellaneous buildings: officer’ quarters and mess halls, a base hospital with accommodations for 1,300 patients, and stables and corrals for hundreds of horses and mules. Recreational buildings were erected by the Y.M.C.A., B’nai B’rith, Knights of Columbus, Salvation Army, Red Cross, American Library Association, and others. A Liberty theater, seating 4.500 was built by the War Department and turned over to the War Camp Community Service Commission to offer motion pictures, big time vaudeville and musical comedies at popular prices.
A parade ground one mile long and 1,000 feet wide was laid out and just east of New Milford a huge rifle range was constructed
On July 2 the first soldiers arrived--Company A of the First Illinois Engineers of Chicago. They soon were followed by the First Illinois Infantry Regiment. Assigned to guard duty, these troops occupied a tented camp on the river bank until the first barracks were ready for occupancy.
From the beginning, the life of the camp was reflected vividly in Rockford. As the mushroom soldier city grew, its demands upon the town increased. Although many of the first workmen at the cantonment lived in a construction camp nearby, hundreds thronged into Rockford. They were soon followed by thousands of job-seekers and the workers’ families. There was a steadily increasing demand for carpenters, painter, metal workers, steam fitters, plumbers, electricians, and other skilled workers in the building trades. By late August, when work was being pushed to complete a section of the camp for the first of the drafted personnel, over 7,600 workmen were employed. Estimates very over the total number of men employed in building camp from 25,000 to 50,000, the turn-over being heavy. Little Sunday or night work was found necessary and labor trouble almost nil.
On July 15 it was officially announced at Washington that the Illinois cantonment would be known as Camp Grant in honor of President Ulysses S. Grant, who joined the Union forces while a resident of Galena, Illinois.
On August 23-34 more than 1,000 commissioned officers arrived from Fort Sheridan. In equipping their quarters at camp they bought every available sheet, pillow case, mattress and blanket they could use to be found in local stores. The first recruits under the draft law to depart from Rockford and Winnebago County numbered 28, and they assembled at Rockford on September 5. Before entraining for Camp Grant, where they were to form part of the first four hundred of the new National Army to arrive there, they were given a send-off by the populace, being accompanied by bands as they marched from the old City Hall building down to the Burlington station, there to be addressed by Mayor Rew. This was to become standard procedure as subsequent units departed from Rockford. When the "40 percenters," as they were called, representing forty percent of the first draft quota, departed on September 22, one of the bands brought forth copious tears as it rendered "The Vacant Chair."
"we shall meet, be we shall miss him, There will be one vacant chair, At our fireside, sad and lonely, Often will the bosom swell, At remembrance of the story, How our noble Willie fell."
On September 1 over 500 cooks and bakers, many from prominent hotels in the Midwest, arrived to make preparations for a cooking school to train cooks for the army. Within three weeks 18,000 draft men arrived from Illinois and Wisconsin. From that point until the next year the camp population never exceeded 25,000 by as many men were transferred to fill incompleted divisions in training in the south. The peak of the camp’s population was reached in July, 1918, when there were a few more than 50,000 officers and men. Among the first to arrive some remained to form a base for the 86th Division, which was establish by Major-General Thomas H. Barry, first commandant at Camp Grant
On September 13 Companies H and K of the Illinois National Guard left Rockford for Camp Logan at Houston, Texas, there to receive intensive training for overseas service. Together they totaled 347 officers and men. Some of the men who had served with these two companies during the Mexican border campaign, left just before these units were sworn into federal service, to enroll in officers’ training schools. Before sailing for France the two companies became part of the 129th Infantry Regiment of the 33rd (Prairie) Division.
Soon after the Illinois National Guard was mustered into federal service for duration of the World War, a new state militia, designed purely for home emergency purposes, was organized. Of this the Rockford unit was company I of the Tenth Illinois Infantry Regiment, under command of Captain George M. Hodge.
As the camp became solidly establish, it became a focal point of interest to the whole Midwest. Newspapers of Chicago maintained special correspondents at the camp. Among these were Richard Henry Little, Russell Palmer, and Rothwell S. Gregg of the Chicago Record-Herald; Parke Brown, John J. Jenkins and Hap Floberg of the Chicago Tribune; Con Rourke of the Chicago Daily News; Paul Jeans, representing the Hearst papers; M.E. Newman, army editor, and many more. Mr. Brown accompanied the Division to France. Ring Lardner, then on the staff of the Tribune, was a frequent visitor and made Camp Grant the background of a series of comic articles in the Saturday Evening Post.
Business boomed mightily. New stores and restaurants sprang up over night. Hotels and lodging houses overflowed, with dwelling houses and apartments at a premium. Many new buildings were erected. At the urging of the Chamber of Commerce, many families rented "spare rooms" to the newcomers.
Overnight the leisurely pace of downtown Rockford gave way to feverish hurly-burly. At all hours of the day and night, taxicabs, now numbering 500, flashed madly through the streets, and newsboys, some of them veterans of Chicago’s Loop, shouted their extras bellicosely from almost every corner. Theaters were crowded nightly.. Restaurants had queues extending onto the sidewalks, while the weekend crowds of visitors, numbering between thirty and forty thousand, literally ate the restaurants bare. On one Sunday even the gasoline stations sold their tanks dry. Barber shops issues numbers in the forenoon to entitle patrons to service in the afternoon.
With thousands of soldiers flocking to it by foot, by trolley, or by the steamer "Illinois," Harlem Park reached the zenith of its glory. Rockford itself by no means neglected its local Coney Island, particularly after the park management adopted the practice of giving away a Saxon cyclecar or a Model T Ford to the holder of a lucky ticket on certain days. In the old Chautauqua building free motion pictures were shown. It was at once the heyday and the swan song of the park. Shortly after the war it was abandoned. Central Park, another amusement center, was built during the war and flourished for a while. Today, it is only a ghost of its wartime self. The old Grand Opera House, which shocked the more sedate by becoming a part of the Colombia burlesque wheel, fell by the wayside after the close of the war and was torn down.
After Sunday church services, soldiers by the thousands accepted invitations to dinner in Rockford homes or for Sunday afternoon automobile rides. On the windshields of Rockford cars appeared stickers announcing the driver was anxious to give a soldier a "lift.’ At the soldier clubs maintained in downtown Rockford and operated by the Rockford War Camp Community Service, the soldiers met Rockford young women at carefully chaperoned receptions and dances. Many returned to settle down in Rockford at the close of the war because of friendships started in these clubs. That the stranger to Rockford might know where to find his favorite club, lodge, church or other amusement, the Rev. Charles Parker Connolly, publicity agent for the War Camp Community Service Commission, prepared a shirt-pocket handbook for soldiers, price five cents.
Everywhere were the military police, distinguished by the blue band with a white MP upon their sleeve. It was their province to enforce the regulations laid down by the army to safeguard the health and morals of soldiers within the five mile zone of military jurisdiction established around all camps. Among other things these regulations provided for inspection and policing of placed of entertainment, enforcement of the ban on the sale of liquor to soldiers and suppression of vice and the sale of narcotics. Rockford legally was a dry town, but the civil authorities, army police and the local agency of the department of justice were kept busy suppressing a traffic in contraband liquor.
Life at camp was a serious, even grim business. Many hours each day were spent at drilling, in bayonet practice, and in mimic battles fought in Camp Grant’s twelve miles of trenches. The trench system, laid out under the supervision of French and English officers, covered 100 acres and included dug-outs, bombproof shelters and a "Y" recreation hut which was ten feet underground. In what was known as "Martin’s Garden," a secondary trench system on the rifle range, recruits learned to explode hand grenades and occupied trenches while machine gun bullets whistled overhead. There was instruction in the use of gas masks, including periods spent in chambers filled with tear gas. Lectures by French and English officers, fresh from the war zone, gave a fillip to military instruction.
The commissary assumed breath-taking proportions. Tons of food were prepared and distributed daily by almost 1,000 mess sergeants, cooks, and kitchen police. At one period a day’s supply of food approximated, roughly, 225 quarters of beef or 800 pounds of chicken, 30,000 to 50,000 eggs and a similar number of ears of corn, and tons of bread, biscuits, cookies, pies, and cakes. A hundred pounds of bean would vanish at a single meal. Several carloads of oranges and lemons and at least one of preserves, jellies, and canned fruits were consumed each month.
To conserve national resources, Rockford, like the rest of the county, became used to "Meatless Days," "Heatless Days," and "Lightless Nights" when store windows and electric signs were darkened to conserve the coal used to furnish them electric energy. Streetcars stopped at every other corner for the same purpose. Winthrop Ingersoll, president of the Ingersoll Milling Machine Company, was Rockford’s fuel administrator, and Henry S. Whipple, manager of the Rockford Light, Gas & Coke Company, food administrator.
Rockford was busily engaged in the manufacture of munitions, and therefore was exempt from the more rigid coal regulations. However, In January, 1918, at the zenith of the fuel campaign, all of the city’s major industrial plants were closed because of snowbound conditions which held op freight trains.
The chief concern of the food administration soon came to be the conservation of sugar, white flour, and meat. To prevent profiteering, food prices on certain staples were regulated by the food administrator. In restaurants sugar bowls were replaced by tiny envelopes of sugar, and at grocery stores individual purchases were limited to a few pounds a week, depending on the size of the family.
Throughout the fall and winter of 1917-18 Camp Grant was visited by a steady stream of celebrities. Former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and Governor Frank O. Lowden were among the earliest visitors. Among the many notables to visit the camp at one time or another were Major General John J. Pershing, Ignace Jan Paderewski and Sarah Bernhardt.
On July 4, 1918, Rockford had a tremendous military pageant, with the 86th Division, consisting of approximately 28,000 men, marching through city in a farewell parade. It has been estimated at least 100,000 visitors, mostly friends and relatives, witnessed the review. Secretary of War Baker arrived at Camp Grant, but not in time to formally review the troops. Rodeos, band concerts and stunting airplanes entertained the visitors while others watched the boxing matches in the new arena, which had just been completed by the one hundred German prisoners who had been interned upon America’s entry into the war, and brought to Camp Grant on June 12.
With the departure of the division on August 16, Camp Grant became an infantry replacement center and one of the principal training camps for infantry officers. Hundreds of students from Midwestern universities were enrolled in the school. The 161st Depot Brigade grew to about 30,000 officers and men at the time the Armistice was signed.
The first Rockford man to lose his life in military service was Herman Johnson, who had enlisted in the regular army in the spring of 1917, soon after the declaration of war, and who died in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 15, 1917. His body was brought to Rockford for burial. The first Rockford citizen to lose his life in action was Walter R. Craig, who fell in France on August 18, 1918.
In mid-September an influenza epidemic, which had appeared on the eastern seaboard a few weeks previously, swept into the camp, bringing such tragedy as Rockford never had known. Between September 21 and September 23 over 400 cases were reported. On September 25 two deaths were reported. By the end of the month 4,000 men had been stricken.
In Rockford the disease spread like wildfire among civilians. Schools, churches, theaters and in some instances, business houses were closed and every resource of the city was marshaled to combat the plague. Emergency hospitals were established in the newly completed Rockford Boy’s Club, the Lincoln (now Franklin) School and the Knights of Columbus Club. A garage at 206-212 on North Church Street was converted into a morgue. Hundreds of men and women volunteered their aid to the Camp Grant base hospital as well as the improvised city hospitals, the regular hospitals and at the morgue in receiving sorrowing friends and relatives of the dead. Still others drove cars day and night conveying the parents of dying soldiers from the various soldier clubs to the Camp and back, many taking those without funds into their homes to await the outcome of their illness.
In early October the death rate had risen to more than one hundred per day at camp. On October 6, overwhelmed by the spectacle of mounting tragedy in the camp, Colonel Charles B. Hagadorn, acting camp commander, ended his life with a bullet from his army pistol. He had been unable to obtain any rest since the epidemic broke out due to worry over a condition about which he had no control.
By the end of October the epidemic had expended itself after causing the death of more than 1,000 men at the camp and 323 residents of Rockford, ending the most disastrous epidemic in the city’s history.
Early on the morning of November 11, Rockford was awakened by the din of steam whistles signaling that an armistice had been signed between Germany and the Allied powers. Soon the streets were alive with exulting, boisterous crowds--men, women, and children, laughing, shouting, even weeping in the hysteria of their joy and relief. Automobile horns, bells and factory whistles added to the general din. Pots and pans, wash tubs and boilers, garbage cans, tin horns, and every metallic object that could be converted into a noisemaker were pressed into service to increased the tumult. Bonfires spotted the city. Traffic became hopelessly snarled, but nobody tried to interfere with the most spontaneous carnival of joy and thanksgiving the city had ever known.
In the afternoon, a more formal celebration was held with all the city’s bands, two military bands from the camp, civic and patriotic organizations and 5,000 men representing the camp, participating. Schools and factories were closed, as thousands cheered the ending of the war.
Almost immediately, Camp Grant was selected as a demobilization center for thirteen Midwestern states. Army records show that more than 250,000 soldiers, including the 86th Division, receive their discharges there. Demobilization activities continued well into 1919.
When the final accounting was taken, Rockford’s economic benefit from Camp Grant proved to have been great. The price paid for the camp site alone was over $835,000. The total cost of installation of utilities, general construction and the land has been set at $13,500,00. In addition to this were farm rents before the government actually bought the lands. An article in the Register-Gazette cited the city’s retail sales figures for the month of August, 1918, as typical of the effect of Camp Grant on Rockford’s commercial life: $169,043 worth of merchandise was officially bought over the counter from Rockford stores by the camp. In addition there were huge unestimated expenditures by individual soldiers, camp workmen and the many thousands of visitors attracted to the city by the camp.
From 1924 until December 7, 1940, when the camp again reverted to the federal government, Camp Grant was used as a training grounds for the Illinois National Guard. From time to time new buildings and other improvements were added by the state. The Civilian Conservation Corps, six companies of which were stationed at the camp for nine months in 1933, and one company from April, 1934, to November, 1935, did much to enhance the appearance of the grounds. The banks of the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers were improved. One hundred thousand trees were transplanted and extensive landscaping undertaken. Cabins, shelters, and picnic areas were constructed. In 1936 some 250 resident members of a Works Progress Administration transient center then located in the camp, continued the work of the C.C.C.
With the inauguration of national compulsory military training in 1940 Camp Grant was designated by the War department as a recruit reception center and as the location of one of several medial replacement centers. In November John Griffiths & Sons Construction Company, Chicago, began work on 365 new buildings under federal control. The state had erected 176 buildings, a pistol and machine gun range and a 37 millimeter range for the use of the 7,000 to 9,000 national guardsmen who annually trained for two weeks at Camp Grant. The guardsmen live in tents.
Camp Grant now (1941) is designated as the largest reception center of the new army. Recruits are received, examined and outfitted and their branch of service determined before they are shifted on to the other military camps. The reception center, located in the area east of Kishwaukee Street, is equipped to house 2,500 men at one time, the turn-over is at an approximate rate of 12,000 men per month. The recruit averages about four days at Camp Grant.
The medical replacement center, in the south end of the camp, is equipped to train 7,500 troops at one time. A permanent staff of 2,500 officers and men are stations at the camp. A hospital center occupies the sire of the 1917-18 base hospital area.
The camp of 1941 covers 3,281.32 acres. The estimated cost of the new buildings and roads is $8,000,000. Each barrack has its own heating system and is said to be of a more permanent construction than the barracks of the first World War days. The buildings themselves are smaller. Visitors have been barred from the reservation except on rare occasions as a precaution against possible sabotage. Like its predecessor, the camp is a self-contained institution, with a base hospital , fire department, water plant. There is a wireless station for communication with other military centers. Recreation halls are being built and four churches with electric organs are under construction for use by this peace time army.
(Compiled By Workers Of The Writer's Program Of The Work Projects Administration In The State Of Illinois--1941)
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