Gettysburg and the Great War

On May 22, 1917, park officials were notified that Gettysburg would be the site of a U.S. Army training camp for infantry. Fully committed to the support of France and Britain in the Great War raging in Europe, the United States War Department had undertaken a rapid mobilization of men and material, so large that about every square inch of Federally-owned property had to be used for the purpose of induction and training. Gettysburg National Military Park was no exception. Established in 1895 under the administration of the United States War Department, the legislation creating the park stated its use as a training ground for National Guard units and the regular United States Army. The sight of khaki uniforms on park grounds and in the borough was not uncommon between 1900 and 1910, but most of the encampments had lasted no more than three or four weeks. This encampment would last much longer as the park’s role changed from commemoration of a great battle to that of a military post.

C-D 58th INF 1917

Companies C & D, 58th United States Infantry at Gettysburg, 1917

The first contingent of the 4th United States Infantry Regiment arrived at Gettysburg National Military Park on June 2 to begin training and re-organization for service overseas with the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F). From the core of this regiment, the 58th and 59th United States Infantry regiments were organized. Throughout June and July, train loads of inductees arrived and settled into the camp routine. Four encampments, one for each battalion, were erected on the historic Codori, Trostle and Spangler Farms, with shops and quartermaster sheds built near the historic Angle, west of Hancock Avenue. Headquarters was located on the Emmitsburg Road on the site of  the 50th Anniversary Great Camp camp headquarters.

Basic training began in earnest that summer, the new men schooled in military etiquette, discipline, equipment and weapons, marching, and a rigorous program of exercise with road marches throughout the park and over back roads of Adams County. Popular at the time were panoramic photographs taken with specially outfitted cameras with gears that allowed the camera to pivot on its tripod. These “wide angle” panoramic images like the one above were typically of cities and mountain ranges though the military found a new use for this format. Panoramic images of company-sized units and even regiments became popular during the Great War period and thousands were produced by enterprising photographers who embraced the new technology and found a high demand for their services.

C-D 58th US Infantry detailDuring the warm summer of 1917, this photo of Companies C & D, 58th United States Infantry was taken at Devil’s Den by an assistant of Gettysburg photographer William Tipton. Recently found in a flea market in the Midwest, its remarkable condition shows the summer uniform worn by these soon to be dubbed “doughboys”, posing with their brand new Model 1903 Rifles. The soldiers in this photo were among those who trained at Gettysburg until November 1917 when the regiments left for Camp Greene, North Carolina. The 58th and 59th Infantry Regiments, both activated at Gettysburg, were designated the 8th Infantry Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division (“Ivy”), which completed its organization that December. The Fourth Infantry Division embarked for France the following April and saw its first action in the offensive at St. Mihiel in September 1918, quickly followed by the Meuse-Argonne campaign and subsequent battles up to the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

What had been the U.S. Infantry Training Camp at Gettysburg National Military Park officially closed in November 1917, only to be reopened the following spring as Camp Colt, training ground of the fledgling United States Army Tank Corps under the command of Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower.  It’s obvious to historians why Camp Colt gets more attention than the infantry training camp, though the story of the latter has come to the fore as we observe the centennial of the First World War, the arrival of the A.E.F. in France and the anniversary of the first American death in that war- Private Joseph William Guyton, 126th U.S. Infantry, 32nd Infantry Division, on May 24, 1918.

As we study the faces in this photograph, we have little doubt that a number of these young Americans were among the 13,000 casualties suffered by the Fourth Infantry Division in the five severe campaigns it was engaged in 100 years ago. Like the stoic and sometimes disturbing images of Union and Confederate soldiers who died on the battlefield of Gettysburg, this photograph, taken so many years after the carnage of that battle, carries the same haunting weight.

-John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park

(A special thanks to Mr. David Finney for sharing this photograph and Mr. John Heckman for his efforts to honor the memory of Private Guyton. )

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This entry was posted in Historical Memory, Photography, U.S. Army and Gettysburg, World War I. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Gettysburg and the Great War

  1. Michael J Strong says:

    The headstone of Albert Lentz in the Gettysburg Soldier’s Cemetery states that Lentz was killed in action on April 27, 1918 prior to the May 24 date mentioned in the article. Please explain.

    • Great question! The first U.S. combat deaths in France occurred during a German trench raid on the night of November 3, 1917, while US troops were in a static position on French/U.S. held territory. Private Guyton was the first US casualty “on German-held soil” at the outset of the first major US offensive that would lead up to the battle of Cantigny, France, May 28, 1918. Private Albert Lentz,a native of Adams County, PA, was killed April 27, 1918 by artillery fire while serving in the Headquarters Company, 18th U.S. Infantry, 1st Infantry Division while the division was in a static position, the defining line being “U.S-held soil” rather than that held by the enemy.

  2. Bill Jayne says:

    The 4th Division saw extensive action in the Aisle-Marne Counter Offensive in July 1918, about two months before St. Mihiel.

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