Training Camps & Schools

 

Camp Hancock

 

The Declaration of War and the Selective Service Act

 

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, thereby entering World War I. For about two years, Georgia's newspapers had been writing against the war because of its negative impact on the state's economy. Yet almost overnight the media changed their tune, becoming anti-German and strongly patriotic.

 

Federal Installations and War Camps

 

The state had five major federal military installations when the United States entered the war in 1917. The oldest garrison was Fort McPherson, located south of Atlanta, which opened in 1889; the newest was Fort Oglethorpe, constructed near the Tennessee border just a few years after the Spanish-American War in 1898. Fort Screven, a large coastal artillery station on Tybee Island, guarded the entrance to the Savannah River. Augusta housed both the South's oldest federal arsenal, the Arsenal at Augusta, and the army's second military airfield, Camp Hancock.

 

Georgia had many war-training camps as well. The large national army cantonment at Camp Gordon, which opened in July 1917, was located in Chamblee, northeast of Atlanta, and was the training site of the famous Eighty-second All-American Division. The division included men from several different states, but Georgians made up almost half its number. National Guard training camps were based in Augusta and Macon; Augusta's Camp Hancock was home to the Twenty-eighth Keystone Division, while Camp Wheeler in Macon hosted the Thirty-first Dixie Division, which was entered by almost all of Georgia's National Guard. Eventually more than 12,000 Georgians were active in the Thirty-first. Specialist camps, such as Camp Greenleaf for military medical staff, Camp Forrest for engineers, and Camp Jesup for Transport Corps troops, were scattered around the state. At Souther Field, located northeast of Americus, a flight school trained almost 2,000 military pilots for combat in the skies over France.
 

The Otranto Disaster

On the morning of September 25, 1918, about 690 doughboys (infantrymen), mostly Georgians from Fort Screven, boarded the old British liner Otranto, which set sail with a large Allied convoy bound for England. The Otranto was a medium-sized, prewar passenger liner that, like so many others, had been pressed into military service by the British Royal Navy. As the convoy entered the Irish Sea on October 6, still a day from port, the storm became worse, with gale-force winds. A tremendous wave struck the Kashmir, a converted troopship within the convoy, causing it to break ranks and veer hard. It rammed at full steam into the unsuspecting Otranto and caused severe damage to the liner. With a gaping hole in her side and a loss of power, the Otranto was helpless against the strong, storm-driven current, and she began to drift toward the nearby Scottish island of Islay and its rocky coast. The Otranto began to sink slowly before a huge wave pushed the ship onto Islay's rocks. The ship broke apart and quickly sank. Approximately 370 men were killed, an estimated 130 of whom were Georgians.
 
Influenza

In late September 1918, new draftee replacements for the Fort Screven Coast Artillery units began reporting to the infirmary seriously ill. Within a few days, it became clear that the men had contracted the dreaded Spanish influenza. On October 1 the number of ill at Augusta's Camp Hancock jumped from 2 to 716 in just a few hours. The next day, Camp Gordon near Atlanta reported that 138 soldiers had contracted the virus. On October 5 Camp Hancock was quarantined with 3,000 cases of flu, but the quarantine came too late, as 47 cases had already reached the nearby city; by evening, more than 50 soldiers were dead, while many more had contracted pneumonia. Though seriously affected by the Spanish flu epidemic, Georgia escaped the massive numbers of sick and dying counted in other states along the East Coast.
 
Remembering the War

World War I officially ended on November 11, 1918, known as Armistice Day. Most Americans wanted to remember the war and the sacrifice of the men who had fought in it. This spirit of remembrance led to Armistice Day being recognized as a new national holiday. The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto had stunned many Georgia communities, perhaps none more than the small town of Nashville. The seat of a sparsely populated and agricultural Berrien County, Nashville lost twenty residents in the Otranto sinking and another twenty-seven young men to combat or disease. At the war's end, the citizens of Nashville decided to erect a monument honoring the community's fallen heroes.

 

In 1922 two of America's war dead received special recognition and a large memorial site in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. These fallen young men represented America's Unknown and Known Soldiers, comprising the nation's unknown or missing dead and all of the known troops killed during World War I. Congress chose Rome's Charles Graves, who had been killed in combat at the age of eighteen and buried with full military honors in France, to be America's Known Soldier, and plans were made to create a monument and coordinate his reburial in Arlington. Graves's mother, however, wanted him buried at the family cemetery near Rome. Congress honored the mother's wishes and sent the body to Georgia. The following year, Graves was buried once again, this time in a more prominent memorial at Rome's Myrtle Hill Cemetery. Later, three World War I machine guns were placed around the site to "guard" Charles Graves for eternity. The city planted thirty-four magnolia trees around the cemetery to honor each of Floyd County's lost lives.

 

Suggested Reading

Bert E. Boss, The Georgia State Memorial Book (N.P.: [American Memorial], 1921).

Milton R. Ready, "Georgia's Entry into World War I," Georgia Historical Quarterly 52 (September 1968): 256-64.

Gerald E. Shenk, "Race, Manhood, and Manpower: Mobilizing Rural Georgia for World War I," Georgia Historical Quarterly 81 (fall 1997): 622-62.

Joseph M. Toomey, Georgia's Participation in the World War and the History of the Department of Georgia, the American Legion  (Macon, Ga.: J. W. Burke, 1936).


 

Todd Womack, Wiregrass Historical Society

 

~ source: The New George Encylopedia