By Sherri Goudy
America declared war on April 6, 1917 but the government and its citizens were completely unprepared for the mass army that would be required. As of that date, there were about 300,000 soldiers comprising the US Army and National Guard. President Wilson directed Congress to provide $3 billion (equal to over $62 billion today) to build a million-man Army. Despite the desperation of the French and British to incorporate American soldiers into their own units, Wilson and the American government decided that this Army would be an independent fighting force, trained on American soil.
In order to make this happen, the 3 million American men who were drafted into service would need barracks and training facilities to accommodate them. To function, the camps needed roads, railroad spurs, swage, barracks, mess halls, headquarters buildings, and hospitals. These camps and cantonments were built in record times and 32 of them were located across the US to house and train hundreds of thousands of men to go to the battlefront.
In Clark County, most of the men who were drafted went to Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio. It was the third largest training cantonment in the country. In a matter of only a few months in the summer of 1917, over 2,000 buildings were erected. This article from September 1919 boasted that Camp Sherman was “a modern city [built] in record breaking time.”
As the first active and reserve members of the Ohio National Guard prepared to depart for Camp Sherman, the entire city came together for a farewell reception at Memorial Hall.
The headline on the date of their declared “Springfield’s Army of Freedom Sends Word to the Whole World: ‘We Are Coming!’”
For soldiers and their families at home, keeping up with daily happenings was critical. Journalists, including Sergeant J. George Teichmoeller serving at Camp Sherman, would write “About Our Boys in Camp” to keep everyone informed, whether about new officers, tear gas training, or recreation and morale.
The stress and psychological toll of being away from home and the impending threat of trench warfare were concerns for the leaders at Camp Sherman. This article published only a week after the first soldiers were sent to train states “there is an order to officers to be lenient with the embryo soldiers. Let them go home now and then and they won’t be homesick and depressed and disappointed and discontented…”
As the holidays approached, providing entertainment and leisure for the soldiers became a priority. Soldiers were permitted leave for Thanksgiving, and 10,000 men from Ohio and Pennsylvania went home for the holiday.
For those men too far from home to leave, this article from December 2, 1917 described Thanksgiving at Camp Sherman. The Gala event included dinner with all the fixings: “two hundred and twenty-three pounds of roast turkey, chestnut dressing containing two-gallons of oysters, thirty-two pounds of cranberries…, eighty pounds of mashed potatoes…, forty-five pumpkin pies…, and as a climax, six hundred cigarettes were passed around.” The men were also treated to the theater and a trip to Columbus to see their Camp Sherman football team play against Ohio State in a special Military Carnival benefit game.
As Christmas approached, the ads and articles in the Springfield newspaper shifted to sending packages to the troops. This cartoon states “Remember the Soldiers: Be Santa Claus to Them.”
Political cartoons urged citizens to send socks, sweaters, and comforts to “your boy or your neighbor’s boy” and an ad for Pillsbury declared that “Our boys can win” by conserving food and purchasing alternative flours.
Two days before Christmas, the Springfield News Sun published this article about the changes in society the holiday season of 1917 versus previous years. Instead of the hustle and bustle of shoppers purchasing gifts for family and lunchrooms filled with shoppers taking a break from their activities, the shopping centered around relief purchases and the lunchrooms were filled with Red Cross volunteers knitting garments for soldiers at camp and overseas. The same red and green sparkly decorations covered downtown shops and street corners, but not with the same feel as in years past. The newspaper reads “The evening lights are not quite so bright and in place of the usual Christmas greeting, the universal question is ‘How many will be absent from your Christmas table?’” Society had modified their entertainments, and the expectation was that many families would travel to camps and cantonment towns “to be with their boys as long as possible before they are called to France.”
We hope you have enjoyed our blog to enhance the Clark County WWI Anniversary Exhibit experience. Please let us know what you think. We will be taking a short break for the holidays, but in January 2018 we will once again be your source for chronological blogs to follow the involvement of Clark County in the Great War in 1918.