One of the first national military parks in the United States, Gettysburg was administered by the U.S War Department and had long been a training ground for National Guard units and officer training prior to America’s entry into World War I. As far back as the summer of 1913 then Army Chief of Staff Major General Leonard Wood initiated camps of instruction for qualified undergraduate college students destined for Army service. Gettysburg National Military Park was selected to host the first-of-its-kind camp for students on the east coast. That summer, 159 students representing sixty three colleges and universities spent two weeks at the park studying the tactics of Lee and Meade and walking the ground still trod by a handful of Civil War veterans. That same summer was the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, highlighted by the Great Reunion of Union and Confederate veterans. The hundreds of monuments and memorials on the park served not only the curious visitor with an understanding of the battle but offered soldiers a blackboard to understand tactical advantages of ground cover, defense, the importance of supporting arms, and infantry tactics.
The United States’ formal entry into the war on April 6, 1917, set in motion a massive mobilization effort all across the nation. But where would America organize and train the troops necessary to fight a world war? There were simply not enough military forts and camps in the United States to house and train an Army that would grow from 200,000 to nearly 3 million by the spring of 1918. Gettysburg was one of the first national military parks to host an infantry training camp and within weeks of the declaration of war, tent cities and warehouses had appeared on park land, including a portion of the field best known as the site of “Pickett’s Charge.” Troop trains rolled into Gettysburg in early June and training on the historic battleground began. By the fall of 1917 four fully organized units- the 58th, 59th, 60th and 61st United States Infantry regiments were ready for assignment to newly formed infantry divisions. Though it was predicted on November 4 that it would “take better than a month to get the 12,000 or 15,000 men out of here,” the last trainload of soldiers and baggage left Gettysburg two weeks later, with only a small garrison remaining to guard the camp and quartermaster stores.