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History of Training Camp
Camp Shelby, Mississippi - from an old post card.
has a long history as a basic training facility for soldiers during
WW2, and all wars up to Desert Storm. It is still used by the
National Guard. It is located in southern Mississippi, just south
of Hattisburg. Recently a new $35M facility was opened that
the Armed Forces Museum, which some say rivals the D-Day Museum in New
Orleans. This is a short history of this camp.
Origin in the Great War
Camp Shelby was originally activated in 1917 as a training camp for World War I troops. It was the training facility for elements of the 37th Division, Ohio National Guard, were stationed at Camp Shelby, as well as the famed 38th"Cyclone Division" of Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Local area businessmen and civic leaders in 1917 petitioned the U.S. Army to build a training site in the DeSoto National Forest.
After its approval by the Secretary of the Army, work started on the new camp in July 1917. More than 4,500 civilian contractors were hired; and they built 1206 buildings, including a hospital and warehouse. The soldiers were housed in tents. When World War I ended in 1918, Camp Shelby was deactivated and all but four of the buildings were demolished. Today one of these remains; Building 6981; an ammunition storage magazine, still stands just across from the MATES facility on Warehouse Road.
The first troops to arrive at the new camp were 6,000 National Guardsmen from Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. They formed the 38th Division, which later saw action in France. These troops named the new camp in honor of Isaac Shelby, an Indian fighter, Revolutionary War hero and first governor of Kentucky. Shelby was a militia-man and he distinguished himself in battle against the Chickamouga Indians. During the American Revolution he commanded an expedition that defeated a superior British force at the Battle of King’s Mountain. He later moved to Kentucky where he was elected Kentucky’s first governor in 1792. During the War of 1812, Shelby was recalled from retirement, and at the age of 63 he organized and led in person 4,000 Kentucky volunteers in an attack against British regulars at the Battle of the Thames.
This photo seems to be a close-up of the photo at the top of this page but is rotated 180 degrees. In the top photo, you can just barely read "145TH INFANTRY" printed along a road on the left and the same photographer's identity.
These photos only represent a small portion of the living quarters of this training base. By 1943, the tents were replaced by barracks and covered much larger area.
(Photo from Cole's collection)
World War II
In 1934, the State of Mississippi acquired the site for use as a summer camp by the National Guard. Camp Shelby proved ideal for U.S. Army maneuvers in 1938, and in 1940 the Mississippi Congressional delegation was successful in reopening the Camp as a federal installation.
World War II saw an army of civilians numbering 17,000 construct more than 1,800 new buildings and 250 miles of roads at a cost of $24 million dollars. Soldiers still slept mostly in the 14,000 tents, and at one time the population exceeded 100,000 people. At its World War II peak, over 1,000 square miles were in use for training. The 38th Division returned; and the 37th Division from Ohio was joined by the 31st (Dixie) Division, the 43rd, 65th, 69th Division and the famed 442 Regimental Combat Team made up of loyal Japanese-Americans who became the most highly decorated unit in the European Theatre. Shelby was also host to units of the Women’s Army Corp, (WAC), a large convalescent hospital and prisoner of war camp, which initially housed some of Rommel’s German Africa Corps. At one time during those early years, the population exceeded 100,000 troops, making Camp Shelby the largest training center in the world.
The Camp Shelby of World War II contained 360,000 acres with an additional 400,000 acres leased for maneuver space. In all, over a thousand square miles were in use for training. Initially, troops using Camp Shelby were housed in tents (over 14,000), forming the largest tent city in the world. Construction workers (17,000), and Army engineer units constructed 1,800 buildings and 250 miles of improved roads at a cost of 24 million dollars.
and Infantry Battalions received training at Camp Shelby
(listed in numerical order with a date of when the unit was activated):
31st “Dixie” Infantry Division - 22 Sep 1942 - August 1943
37th “Buckeye” Infantry Division - 20 Oct 1940
38th “Cyclone” Infantry Division - 17 January 1941
65th “Halberd” Infantry Division - 6 Aug 1943
69th “Fighting” Infantry Division - 15 May 1943
85th “Custer” Infantry Division - 15 April 1942
442nd Regimental Combat Team (Nisei) - 1943
100th Battalion (parent unit of the 442nd RCT) - February 1943 transferred from Camp McCoy
773rd Tank Destroyer Battalion - July 1941
also trained there; such as, Tank Destroyer unit, medical and supply
Some of the specific units included the following:
43d Replacement Battalion (later the 510th Personnel Service Battalion) Activated 15 Augut 1943
1488th Engineer Maintenance Company
[later redesignated as 84th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy)]
232nd Combat Engineer Company- attached to the 442nd but also an independent unit.
244th Quartermaster Battalion (Service)
73rd Field Artillery Brigade, consisting of 141st FA (Washington Artillery of New Orleans)
166th FA, and 190th FA (155 mm gun) - 1941
2nd Field Artillery Battalion, consisting of 274th, 275th, & 276th Field Artillery Regiments
57th Quartermaster Regiment (Heavy Maintenance)
[ later 47th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Regiment & 194th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Battalion]
118th Military Police Battalion (part of 43rd Infantry Division)
71st Chemical Mortar Battalion (formed from part of 479th AAA Btln)
781st Tank Battalion (Late 1943, reorganized as a medium tank battalion and moved to Camp Shelby)
The 20th Engineer Combat and the 42nd Combat Engineer Regiments helped in the construction of Camp Shelby, Mississippi and Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. Several more divisions and assorted units were officially de-activated at Camp Shelby as they returned home.
Post World War II
After World War II, the post was again closed. The War Assets Administration sold the federally owned property. Even the water pipes were dug up and sold, most of them going to Oklahoma City, where some are still in use.
During the Korean Conflict, Camp Shelby was developed as an Emergency Railhead Facility, and $3 million was spent to restore rail, water, and electric services. In the summer of 1954, non-divisional National Guard units trained at the post and in 1956, the Continental Army Command designed Camp Shelby as a Permanent Training Site, under the direction of the Third Army Headquarters
Again in the 1950’s troops performing annual training at Camp Shelby were housed in tents. Then in 1958 Congress allocated money for the first of the permanent-type, cinder block barracks. In 1959 the Department of the Army approved the overall Camp Shelby plan and adopted it as the model for future construction at all field training sites.
By the 1990’s, more than 120,000 National Guard, Reserve and active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines made use of Camp Shelby. Today it encompasses more than 134,820 acres, Camp Shelby, Mississippi is the largest state-owned and operated field training site in the United States. It can accomodate up to battalion level maneuver training, Gunnery Table 8-12, excellent FA Firing Points and a wide range of support facilities.
National Archives Records
When I ordered copies of the Operational Report of the 328th Field Artillery Battalion, I also received about 150 pages of memos issued by the 328th FA. Most of the memos are orders for awards and citations. Several of the earlier memos deal with life at Camp Shelby. Included in it is instructions for Guard Duty and a sketch of the 328th FA barracks. The sketch showed the layout of the barracks and the march route for the guards. In 2002, a copy of this material was given to the library at the Armed Forces Musuem on Camp Shelby.
See Desert Warfare Center for examples of the different levels and types of training.
More Trivia: a special
Reference: Paul Schultz's book "The 85th Division in WW2"
"Early one morning in September 1942, orders were passed down to the 85th Division to begin an immediate police-up and check the neatness of the entire camp. A review of the troops were scheduled in the afternoon. Something big was about to happen. Obviously someone of importance was coming.
"After lunch, the entire 31st "Dixie" Division plus IV Corps and Third Army troops began to line both sides of Shelby's Highway 24, with men stationed every 5 paces apart and facing away from the road. The officer in charge of th 339th Regiment's Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon was ordered to place a guard around the 339th Regiment's parade ground.
"By 1315, troops began marching onto the parade ground as the entire 85th Division assembled with the 337th and 338th Regiments marching from other parts of the camp. Even General Haslip arrived---wearing leggings! That in itself was significant.
"A long, black limosine arrived and stopped next to General Haslip. President F. D. Roosevelt stepped out, as the General saluted his Commander-in-Chief. Then General Haslip accompanied the President as they reviewed the troops in the limo. The President had stopped by during one of his "secret" tours of the nation and the industrial plants."
Views of the Barracks
Cecil Walker, Company K, 338th Infantry Regiment, training on a 37mm gun in front of their barracks. A good view of the layout and construction of the barracks, as seen in other photos of Camp Shelby.
Jack Whalen (4th from left) posing with members of 2nd Platoon, Company F, 338th Infantry Regiment in front of their barracks, about 4 July 1942. It appears that the platoon has just completed drill training with their Model 03 Springfield rifles. The photo is said to have been taken during the preparation for the visit by the President (see above text).
Photo contributed by Dan Whalen, son of S/Sgt Jack Whalen.
A close-up of the window of the barracks and details of the braced shudders.
Newton F. Cole,
328th Field Artillery Battalion, is shown wearing a pistol while
to stand Guard Duty.
Sgt NF Cole's
Photo contributed by
Bruce Genewich, son-in-law of Private Leising.
Soldiers clowning around outside their barracks at Camp Shelby.
Left-to-Right: Jack Boutell, Yelch, and Clarence Mills, of the 328th FA.
Private Anthony Leising and his buddies clowning around with their Model 1903 Rifles.
Private Anthony Leising and his buddies of the 338th Infantry Regiment pose for a group photo outside their barracks.
So what is the occasion for the ties? More drill or a pass in to Hattiesburg?
Photo of Private Leising contributed by Bruce Genewich, son-in-law of Private Leising.
American Red Cross Building at Camp Shelby.
A post card of one of the more permanent structures.
Home of the Armed Forces Museum
The Armed Forces Museum is located in Building 850, Camp Shelby Training Site, 12 miles south of Hattiesburg,
Vintage WW2 Post Cards of Camp Shelby
| One artillery officer that served at Camp
Shelby was a Lt. Shelby Foote.
This photo was his class photo while at OCS at Fort Sill, OK. He
is S.D. Foote, #19,
in this photo. Lt. Dempsey(#12
in this photo) of the 328FA had met Lt. Foote while they were in
training at Camp Shelby. Several other officers from
this class were assigned to Camp Shelby and the 328 Field Artillery, 85
Division: Brehm, Goodwin.
Shelby Foote was assigned to the 50 Field Artillery Battalion and sent to France. After the war, Foote became a writer and resided in Memphis, TN. He wrote a 3-volume history of the Civil War and was featured on the PBS-TV documentary by Ken Burns.
SOURCE: Interview with Mr. Foote.
Go to Camp Shelby Armed Forces Museum (external link) website for a tour of the exhibits.
Go to Photo of 310th Engr Battalion for a large group photo of Company C taken at Camp Shelby in February 1943.
See Desert Warfare Center where divisions were sent for desert combat training in Southern California.
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