Saturday, June 24, 2017

Camp Zachary Taylor Opens for Business (from the print edition of "Winning World War I," Issue No. 02 (May 2017))

(The following texts were originally published in the May 2017 issue of the Harrison Heritage News, the monthly newsletter of the Harrison County (Ky,) Historical Society, in a special supplement entitled "Winning World War I").  Here the texts are presented with some slight revisions and additions to the original)

Forts, bases, camps, and postsWhatever you call them, military installations have followed the American frontiersman, settler, and soldier from the earliest days of colonization on the Eastern Seaboard to the far western limits of settlement and statehood on the Pacific Coast.  Usually strategic considerations led to their placement along important migration routes or on the naton’s everchanging borders.  Many, if not most, became rather permanent fixtures, if not the hubs, of new settlements wherever they were situated.

Having been with the Army when my father was in the Army for 26 years, I have lived, gone to school or worked on many in this country and abroad.  They served not only as a workplace for the solider but as a family home away from home.  West Point, one of the oldest, was one such home for me and it seems it will be around for some time to come.

With the end of the Cold War, many military bases, which spanned two if not three centuries of service in the United States, have been closed down.  Some such as Ft. Sheridan north of Chicago and Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis have been closed down, yet they and others still operate in new civilian capacities, with the old buildings still standing as reminders of more turbulent and uncertain times.

With America’s entry in to World War I, the U.S. government determined that the country’s established military sites weren’t enough to process and train the hundreds of thousands of men who would be drafted or signing up to be trained as soldiers, sailors, or marines, who would afterwards be sent abroad to the Western Front in France with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) or supporting the efforts of the AEF.

And so communities throughout the nation were asked to compete for a total of sixteen new military camps.  On June 11, 1917 Louisville’s bid beat out ten cities in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, partly due to the city’s proximity to a Civil War-era, 16,000-acre artillery range (later known as Ft. Knox).

An “outpost on the web,”, is a source for basic information about National Army (NA) and National Guard (NG) training camps, Regular Army (RA) posts, and embarkation camps.  It lists Camp Taylor among the sixteen which seemed to literally “spring up” all across the county in 1917.  They were:

     Camp Custer, Mi.
     Camp Devens, Ma.
     Camp Dix, N.J.
     Camp Dodge, Ia.
     Camp Funston, Ks.
     Camp Gordon, Ga.
     Camp Grant, Il.
     Camp Jackson, S.C.
     Camp Lee, Va.
     Camp Lewis, Wa.
     Camp Meade, Md.
     Camp Pike, Ar.
     Camp Sherman, Oh.
     Camp Travis, Tx.
     Camp Upton, N.Y.

And last, but not least ... Camp Zachary Taylor, Ky.

An Outpost in Time—Today, little physical evidence remains of the old encampment itself except for as placename on a map.  A search of the Kentucky Marker Database (KHS) tells us that a historical marker has been placed at 4016 Poplar Level Rd. in Louisville.  It records that “[n]ear this site at Taylor Ave. and Poplar Level Rd. was headquarters of Camp Zachary Taylor. The WW I training camp … became one of 16 national army camps in the U.S. Begun in June 1917 and built in 90 days on 2,730 acres, the camp contained some 1,700 buildings and housed over 40,000 troops. The first troops arrived in Sept. 1917” and that “[o]ver 125,000 men were trained here.”

In the spring of 1917 events were moving at a rapid pace across the nation.  The first registration for the national draft had already taken place on June 5, and on June 21 the Cynthiana Democrat published what they called “Harrison County’s Roll of Honor … a complete list of the Harrison [1,218] county men, between the ages of 21 and 30 inclusive, who registered for military service.”  Many who ended up answering Uncle Sam’s call might not have heard where they would report for duty until the Cynthiana Democrat of  July 19, 1917 (p. 10, col. 5) reported that “Louisville's national army cantonment will be known as Camp Taylor … in honor of Maj. Gen. Zachary Taylor,” who was an early settler of Louisville, a Mexican War general known as “Old Rough & Ready, and 12th President of the United States.

“Camp Taylor Ready”—So reported the Democrat on August 23, 1917 ( p. 1, col. 6) with the news that “[a]ll soldier’s barracks, officers’ quarters and lavatories at Camp Taylor near Louisville, will be completed next Saturday and turned over to the Government.  The work will have taken exactly nine weeks and that camp will be the first of the sixteen great training camps to be completed.  Some stables, hospital buildings and recreation buildings are yet to be completed.  Government Quartermasters already are buying huge quantities of supplies for the soldiers who will be stationed at the camp.  692 buildings will have been completed in 9 weeks.  10,092 men have been working on the job, and the pay roll last Friday was $256,000.”

The First Recruits Arrive—A souvenir booklet entitled Camp Zachary Taylor Souvenir, prepared by Maurice Dunne, who was then the chief correspondent and editor for the Courier-Journal at Camp Taylor recorded the following:
This military city for the soldiers has been a center of great activity and Uncle Sam has spent close to $6,000,000 in constructing it. The number of employe[e]s working on it one week-jumped to 10,000 men and special trains were required to carry the men to and from the camp to their homes in the city.     After ninety days of hard work, including Sundays, the first lots of drafted men reported for military duty on September 5, 1917 … [and one of the] first drafted men from the three states [served by Camp Zachary Taylor was] Lester C. Monk, a twenty-two-year-old farmer from Jersey County, Illinois. It was just 9:03 o'clock on that September morning when this young son of democracy became a member of the camp. Next came Ward H. McCormack, a Shriner from Bedford, Ind., the first Indianian to report, and soon afterwards came John Lee Herbert of 1717 Payne street, Louisville, and the first Louisville and Kentucky man to report for military service under the selective service law.
     These men were pleased with their reception and commented on how the stretches and surroundings of Camp Zachary Taylor impressed them. On that day these soldiers ate their first food in military life. The menu was palatable to all and consisted of sirloin steak with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, stewed tomatoes, peach roll, bread and butter and ice tea. That was the food the government served the selected man on that day.
The First from Harrison Arrive—It wouldn’t be until September 27th that the Democrat could report that “Forty-seven young men of Harrison county left here Saturday morning on a special coach attached to the rear of the 7 o’clock train, for Camp Zachary Taylor, near Louisville, to go into training to become a part of the great army which is being raised for service in the war with Germany.”

Others from Harrison may have arrived at Camp Taylor before this article was published, but, as far as can be told based on the general war reporting by the Democrat, this appears to be the first large contingent of young men from the county to got to the camp.

The Democrat reported that that “Saturday morning, a crowd estimated at from one to two thousand gathered at the depot.  Farewells were spoken, the boys boarded the car and were on their way to Camp Taylor, followed by the cheers and good wishes of those left behind.”

The forty-seven were:  Hervey Webster, Cynthiana; Wm. Ziegler, Berry; Clarence Dennis, Cynthiana[,] R. 3; Walter D. Lemons, Sadieville, R. 2; Cren Giles, Sadieville, R.D. 2; Nim A Turner, Cynthiana, R.D. 2; Wm. Henry Heck, Lair; Omer Mastin, Cynthiana, R.D. 2; J.P Denniston, Leesburg; Paul B. Lail, Cynthiana; Geo. F. Tucker, Kentontown; Otis Nickell, Cynthiana, R.D. 2; Herbert L. Bell, Boyd; Harry D. Whitaker, Cynthiana; Frank New, Berry, R.D. 3; Joe W. Minor, Cynthiana[,] R.D. 1; W. Rolah Williams, Cynthiana, 3; Felix A. Barney, Cynthiana; Jno. Goodnight, Cynthiana, R. 1; Swinfred Lemons, Cynthiana; Jos. B. Ross, Cynthiana, R.D. 8; John T. Feix, Cynthiana, R.D. 3; Omer C. Faulkner, Leesburg; Lora Batson Rankin, Cynthiana, 9; Calvin Wright, Cynthiana, R.D. 9; John Coy, Sunrise; John Hudgins, Cynthiana; Frank J. Ross, Cynthiana, R.D. 8; K.C. Smith, Cynthiana; Archie M. Batte, Mt. Olivet, R. 1; Jesse White, Cynthiana, R.D. 4; Ray Terry, Berry, R.D. 3; Estill P. Wiggins, Cynthiana, R. 3; Atwell Pope, Cynthiana, R.D. 8; Chas. Williams, Cynthiana, R.D. 8; Joe Frederick, Cynthiana, R.D. 8; H.R. Wiglesworth, Cynthiana; Sidney Berry, Cynthiana, R.D. 6; J.L. Scott, Jr., Lair; Forrest McDowell, Cynthiana, 2; Clemence Waxman, Cynthiana, 9; H.C. Cleveland, Cynthiana, R. 3; Frank Puccini, Milford, Ky; Henry L. Ewing, Cynthiana; Mike King, Cynthiana, R.D. 2; Clarence Florence, Cynthiana; and Wm. Shingleton, Cynthiana.

Do You Want to Learn More?—There isn’t enough space in this modest newsletter to go into the entire history of Camp Zachary Taylor, despite its brief existence.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the camp there are a few “outposts on the web” which offer information about a place so many from Harrison County saw as a temporary home away from home, as much as any training camp could be.

I recommend …

  •  “The history of Camp Taylor — from WWI military camp to working-class neighborhood” at was published a year ago upon the 99th anniversary of the establishment and construction of the camp.  It offers up a fine history of the camp, noting what has become of the buildings and land that were used to train and house so many from Harrison County and the midwest.
  • The Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Society at has had a presence on the web in various forms for some time now; the format is now that of a blog and its first post was in 2012.  There is a lot to look at and a lot to learn about as you scroll through past posts.
  • not only has a link to information about Camp Taylor, but can help lead you to information about other military installations that are of interest to you.  Not all from Harrison went to Camp Zachary Taylor.  Camp Chase, Oh., Ft. Harrison, In., and Ft. Thomas, Ky. are among the many others which the men from Harrison County might have trained or just passed through.
  • Camp Zachary Taylor Souvenir by Maurice Dunn is an interesting booklet produced during the war.  It is chockful of pictures and offers maybe a few too many details about what life was like at the WWI camp.  Images and texts can be found at the Kentucky Digital Library (click on the title above), or just do a Google search to find transcriptions that you may use to cut and paste for your own use.  One such transcription appears at HarrisonCountyKy.US.  Just follow the links to Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky (Information about other camps and bases appears at this site; just follow the links from the WWI homepage).

In the next post to this blog is something  for your viewing pleasure—a few images of postcards showing what life was like at Camp Zachary Taylor which have yet to be added to the website.  Such images bring the past alive in a way nothing else can.  It is almost, but not quite, like you were there.


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