Camp Sherman

Soldiers standing at attention in front of camp buildings
Soldiers in formation on the grounds of Camp Sherman, in front of barracks.

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Davis & Squier
Dr. Edwin Davis (left) & Ephraim Squier (right)

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1812 to 1917
The lands in and around the the prehistoric earthen Indian mounds known as the Mound City Group have been the host to multiple military encampments in addition to being fertile farm land. During the war of 1812, land near Mound City would be used by the military for prisoners of war and was referred to as Camp Bull. These prisoners were captured during fighting that went on across the river from Detroit, Michigan. For the most part, the grounds of Mound City were largely ignored as farmers thought the mounds were a nuisance as they cleared and plowed the adjacent lands methodically and efficiently year after year. In the 1840's, two surveyors by the names of Edwin Davis and Ephraim Squier began an epic partnership that would document hundreds of Hopewellian earthwork sites in detail, including Mound City. Together, these men would conduct surveys and limited excavations throughout the region and at Mound City in an effort to learn about the mysterious people of the Hopewell Culture. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, local militia utilized the land for drilling and training and referred to it as Camp Logan. After the Civil War, the lands of Mound City and those surrounding it would revert back to farming until the early part of the 20th century.
James M. Flagg, "I want You"
James M. Flagg's famous "Uncle Sam" recruitment poster

Library of Congress

Declaration of War

April 6, 1917. A date that bears significance for the city of Chillicothe, as well as the nation. Congress formally declared war on Germany and thrust the United States into the first World War. As a result, rapid mobilization was required to get ordinary men trained into battle-ready soldiers as war was already raging in Europe, and had been since 1914. Since Chillicothe had already been host to previous military facilities such as Camp Logan during the Civil War and Camp Bull during the War of 1812, it was an obvious choice to host another such facility. This time though, the area would be host to an establishment that would swell the local population from 16,000 to 60,000 in just a matter of a few months. While farmers initially resisted the War Department's efforts to build an Army Cantonment, local businessmen saw the promise of increased revenue and contributed to the government's offer which raised it to $20 per acre. Not all were persuaded by this tempting price, but eminent domain was exercised and landowners relinquished, albeit begrudgingly. In June of 1917 the War Department officially announced that Chillicothe would become home to one of the new Army cantonments. It would become known as Camp Sherman, named after the famed Union Army Civil War General, William Tecumseh Sherman.

Camp construction
Construction of Camp Sherman

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Construction Begins

Since war was already underway in Europe, time was of the essence to get Camp Sherman built as quickly as possible. Two thousand buildings would be erected between June of 1917 and September of 1917 on nearly two thousand acres of land that the War Department had purchased. Included in that tract was the isolated parcel of land containing the Mound City Group. Construction crews of up to five thousand men would race to build these buildings which included two-story wooden barracks that would be situated throughout the area, including on top of the Mound City Group. So efficient were these crews that they would often complete a building in twenty minutes. Had it not been for the insightful intervention of the Ohio Historical Society's Henry Shetrone, William Mills and a local Chillcothean amatuer Archeologist named Albert C. Spetnagel, the mounds of Mound City Group may have become victim to the reckless efficiency of the construction crews. Shetrone and his friends convinced the Army to construct their barracks in a way that would not cause irreperrable harm to the mounds and the site. After meeting with Army officials, an agreement was struck that would have one barrack turned perpendicular in relation to all of the other barracks so as to not completely destroy the great Central Mound, the largest mound of the group. Even though the Army agreed to do as little harm to the area as they could, some smaller mounds were severely damaged or destroyed by pipelines, roads and/or railroad lines. After three months of construction in the two thousand acres of newly acquired federal land, the first draftees would arrive to begin their transformation from civilian to soldier.

1st recruit @ Camp Sherman
The first recruits arrive at Camp Sherman

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Doughboys in Chillicothe

On September 5th, 1917, the first draftees arrived at Camp Sherman to begin their makeover from civilian to "Doughboys." U.S. soldiers during WW1 were often referred to as "Doughboys." The exact origins of the name are unclear, but it is believed to have originated as early as the U.S.'s involvement in the Mexican-American war in the mid-1800's. Soldiers may have picked up the name based on a type of baked doughy flour/rice concoction that they prepared and consumed. Another theory opines that it derives from the look soldiers had after marching through the Mexican desert in which dust would cling to their uniforms and give them an appearance similar to that of adobe buildings. Initially, the term was used in a disparaging way to describe soldiers of the infantry. However, upon U.S. entry into WWI, it became a term of endearment that reflected favorably on all U.S. soldiers.

One of several YMCA's on the grounds of Camp Sherman
One of the several YMCA's on the grounds of Camp Sherman

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Training, Grounds & Facilities
Over one hundred and twenty thousand men would pass through the gates of Camp Sherman by the time of its decommissioning in 1921. It was home to two divisions of the Army, the 83rd and the 95th Divisions. Under the command of Major General Edwin Glenn, the 83rd Division would be the first to ship out to Europe, leaving Camp Sherman on June 5th, 1918 and arriving in Europe on June 19th, 1918. The 83rd Division would become known as the Sherman Bayonet Division. The last division to train at Camp Sherman, the 95th, never did receive their extensive war training due to the end of hostilities in late 1918. As a result, the 95th was demobilized in December of 1918. Parts of the 84th Division would reside at Camp Sherman as well. Some units of the 84th were sent from Camp Taylor, Kentucky to finish their training at Camp Sherman and then reunited with the rest of the division in Europe. After the war, some division units of the 84th were also demobilized at Camp Sherman during the first half of 1919. Camp Sherman provided facilities and grounds for extensive drilling and marching, areas for trench warfare, small arms and heavy artillery firing ranges and stables for the nearly 12,000 horses and mules which were also a part of the U.S. war machine.

With the influx of personnel, Chillicothe's population grew almost overnight from 16,000 to 60,000. As a result, Chillicothe added personnel to their police departments, businesses that would provide goods and services for the cantonment also hired additional people to keep up with the demand that the camp brought. Within the confines of Camp Sherman, numerous buildings were erected to tend to the needs of the new soldiers. A camp library was built and provided an array of books from fiction to technical trade skills. Unlike many places on the cantonment, and in society in general, the camp library was a place where all were welcome to come and relax, regardless of their color. There were 11 YMCA's built for the soldiers across the camp grounds which provided food and entertainment. While there was one YMCA constructed specifically for the African American soldiers, all YMCA's were open to everyone, regardless of color. Theaters were also constructed on base to provide much-needed acting entertainment to the troops. A Prisoner of War detention facility housed hundreds of German soldiers captured during the war. Most arrived to Camp Sherman in July and November of 1918, just a few months and days before the end of the war on November 11th, 1918. Even though the war was over by the end of 1918, these German soldiers were still held as POW's until their release in September of 1919.
Camp Sherman vs OSU, football Program
Camp Sherman vs The Ohio State University, football program

Click photo to view complete program booklet


While most days consisted of countless hours of drilling and training in preparation for war, Camp Sherman soldiers also were afforded a small number of hours where they could recreate on base or head into Chillicothe to enjoy activities and company from the citizens of the town. Soldiers would also fill their hours by playing sports and games, reading books and writing letters home. Soldiers could gather at the many YMCAs, YWCAs, community houses, camp exchanges, theaters, and churches built at Camp Sherman. There they could play games, watch a show, listen to the victorola, or just lounge around.

One physical activity that was highly encouraged was playing football. Many of the men would participate in playing the game and on one occasion, an official Camp Sherman football team was organized to play the Buckeyes of The Ohio State University. On Thanksgiving day, November 29th, 1917, The Camp Sherman Stars played the Buckeyes. Many members of the Camp Sherman squad were collegiate players at notable Universities, such as Indiana, Brown, Notre Dame and Yale to name a few. One notable Buckeyes who took to the gridiron that day was the legendary All-American, "Chic" Harley. In 1918, Harley would join the U.S. Army Air Corp and serve through the war until his discharge in July 1919. Even though the Camp Sherman Stars boasted talent from the collegiate ranks, they were no match for the Buckeyes as they were defeated by a score of 28 – 0. Click on the photo above to view a pdf copy of the official program for the game between the Buckeyes and the Camp Sherman Stars.

Soldiers in town post-flu
Soldiers in town readying to return to Camp Sherman after recuperating from the flu.

NPS Photo

The Spanish Influenza Pandemic

While the allies battled an enemy in the fields and trenches of Europe in 1918, the entire world would have to engage and fight a seemingly invisible enemy that wasn't isolated to war combatants on the field of battle. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918 would tally a greater mortality rate than that of all who were killed during combat in WWI. No one is quite sure where exactly the Influenza originated, but once it began to spread there was no hiding from this silent and deadly disease. Over 20 million people, almost 5% of the world population, died as this disease spread with ruthless efficiency. 43,000 U.S. soldiers, around half of those who died in Europe during the war, were killed by the influenza virus and not by a mortal enemy in combat. In the U.S. alone, over a quarter of the population would become infected and nearly 700,000 would die as a result of the disease. Conditions around the globe would mimic that of the Black Death Bubonic Plague in the 14th century. However, this strain of influenza would kill more people in one year than what the Bubonic Plague did in four total years.

In Chillicothe and at Camp Sherman, the disease spread just as quickly as it did everywhere else. Thousands of residents and soldiers were infected in a very short time. Approximately 5,686 cases of influenza were documented among Camp Sherman soldiers in 1918. 1,777 of them were unable to ward off the disease and died. Statewide in Ohio, hundreds of thousands of people became infected and tens of thousands died. During one week alone in the fall of 1918, 1,541 people were confirmed to have died throughout the state.

With the high mortality rate at Camp Sherman, The Majestic Theater on 2nd Street in Chillicothe became a temporary morgue. Bodies would be "stacked like cordwood" at the theater while it was operated as a morgue. Body fluids that were drained during the embalming process ran off into the alley next to the theater giving it the dubious nickname of "Blood Alley." Once victims' bodies completed the embalming process, they would be transported by wagon back to the camp so they could be sent back to their hometowns by railway. As these wagons made their way through Chillicothe, funeral hymns were played to reflect the somber mood. As with all public places in the U.S., meeting places, bars and theaters were closed to try to prevent further spread of the disease. All personnel at Camp Sherman were quarantined from Chillicothe as well.

By summer of 1919, the pandemic would come to an end as the influenza ran its course and the world's population built up an immunity towards it. This was a pandemic that the world had never seen the likes before and hasn't seen the likes since. While other strains of influenza have popped up through the years since 1919, the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918 remains the most devastating and deadliest disease that the world has ever seen.

Armistice train
The allied representatives at the signing of the armistice. Ferdinand Foch, second from right, seen outside his railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne.

Click photo for larger version

At the 11th hour...

By 1918, war had been raging in Europe for four years. Thankfully, the end of 1918 would also mark the end of the war. In a railway car in the middle of the Compiègne forest. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, Allied representatives met with German representatives and signed the Armistice that would end the war and mark the defeat of the German Army. The U.S. would suffer nearly 100,000 killed servicemen while the Allies racked up a colossal death toll of nearly 6 million servicemen killed. All told, the war accounted for a staggering estimated total of nearly 20 million killed.

The end of the war meant the imminent end of military cantonments in the U.S., including Camp Sherman. The Army wasted little time in deactivating soldiers upon war's end. Five days after the Armistice, it was announced that 12,000 men would be discharged from Camp Sherman. Saturday, November 30th was proclaimed Chillicothe Day and residents and soldiers celebrated the end of the war and honored service members for their service during the Great War. By December 4th, men were leaving Camp Sherman at the rate of 1,500 per day. With the exception of the injured and sick who remained at the hospital, all discharges were complete by July 16th, 1920.

Even though the soldiers of Camp Sherman were gone by the end of 1920, the buildings remained. The War Department began dismantling buildings and selling the wood as surplus. Many homes in Chillicothe were built from this surplus wood and still stand today. Some of the land remained federally-owned with a portion being the grounds of the Chillicothe Veteran's Hospital Group and a small portion appropriated as Mound City Group National Monument (now Hopewell Culture National Historical Park). The only building remaining from the nearly 2,000 that comprised Camp Sherman is the Library. Visitors to Hopewell Culture can clearly see the building as it is marked "ODRC FARM" on the side, located just off of State Route 104 and Moundsville Road. The physical remnants of Camp Sherman are all but gone, but the legacy and contribution from Camp Sherman remain and live on.

Several large buildings in the foreground with large hills in the background
A panoramic photograph of Camp Sherman, September 1917.  Click the photo for a larger, expanded panorama photo.

Library of Congress


Last updated: November 6, 2017

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Mailing Address:

16062 State Route 104
Chillicothe, OH 45601


(740) 774-1126

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