TENT AND TRENCH
Chapter 3
Building A City From Scratch: Constructing Camp Wadsworth
 

The War Department selected a tract of land around three miles west of Spartanburg for the new camp.  The property, owned by local resident Frank Hodges, was leased to the city of Spartanburg on July 4, 1917.  Two days later, Mayor Floyd signed the approximately 2000 acres of land over to the Federal Government.1  The land chosen for the camp was a large plateau characterized by rolling hills and a few small creeks.  At the time, it was an extremely rural area populated by only a small number of African-American cotton farmers.  Though some of the designated camp area was under cotton cultivation, much of it remained undeveloped and heavily wooded.  On its west side, the camp area was bordered by the historic Blackstock Road.  The Piedmont & Northern electric railroad ran through the northern section of the property, and was to serve as the camp's primary rail line.  To the south, the camp area was bordered by a small stream known as Holston's Creek.  Fairforest Creek, the largest stream nearby, flowed just east of the camp area.2  Spartanburg learned on July 13 that the New York National Guard would be stationed at the new camp.  That same month, it was announced that the installation was to be named Camp Wadsworth in honor of the Union Brigadier General James S. Wadsworth.  The name was no coincidence.  Brigadier General Wadsworth was a New Yorker, and had primarily led New York troops until his death in the Wilderness Campaign of 1864.3          

            The construction of Camp Wadsworth was carried out at a feverish pace.  The Fiske-Carter Construction Company won the government contract to build Camp Wadsworth.  Thousands of laborers were required to clear woods, lay pipes, and construct the hundreds of wooden structures necessary for the camp's operation.  Lieutenant Colonel John D. Kilpatrick of the New York National Guard Quartermaster Corps arrived to coordinate and oversee construction on July 17.  The task assigned to Fiske-Carter and the workers at Camp Wadsworth was daunting.  779 bath houses, mess shacks, and warehouses had to be ready for the large scale arrival of troops in less than two months.  Fate would have it that the first body of soldiers to be stationed at Camp Wadsworth was not from New York, but North Carolina.  The First Battalion of the Second Regiment North Carolina Engineers entered Camp Wadsworth on July 27, 1917, to assist with the camp's construction.  The end of July found some 700 men working on the camp and 64 buildings partially completed.4  

            On August 3rd, 1917, Company D of the 22nd New York Engineers detrained in Spartanburg.  Led by Colonel Cornelius Vanderbilt, the 162 men of the company marched down Main Street midst the cheers and applause of the city's residents.  After refreshing themselves at the Spartanburg YMCA, Company D pitched tents between Union Street and Marion Avenue.  Christened Camp Floyd after Spartanburg's mayor, this temporary settlement was to serve as the company's home until quarters could be arranged at Camp Wadsworth.  Spartanburg's citizens were dumbstruck by the transportation requirements of this small unit.  The three box cars, two flat cars, one stock car, one baggage car, and four tourist sleepers gave the town a better idea of the massive scale of the project upon which it had embarked.  By the time Company D entered Camp Wadsworth; over 800 building were in various stages of construction.  After setting up their tents, the unit joined the civilian workers in hard-surfacing roads between Camp Wadsworth's ten large warehouses and the railroad terminals.5

            The plans for Camp Wadsworth called for a total of 915 wooden buildings.  The majority of these were mess shacks, bath houses, and latrines.  Regiments were to be allotted rectangular blocks of land of varying size.  Each infantry regiment was given a reservation measuring approximately 1000x750 feet.  Mess shacks stood at the head of what would eventually be company streets.  Bath houses and latrines were erected at the other end of the lot.  Since Camp Wadsworth was a National Guard facility, barracks were not provided for the vast majority of troops.  Each infantry regiment was to be housed in 416 large eight man pyramidal tents.  No tents were set up for the troops prior to their arrival at Camp Wadsworth, and the vast majority of what would soon become a canvas city remained covered with tree stumps, brush, and cotton.6 

            Work at Camp Wadsworth continued at an impressive rate through August 1917.  By the end of the month 1000 buildings had been constructed, 37 miles of pipe installed, and 18,000 electric lights put in place.  Good roads had been built around the camp's warehouses and quartermaster areas.  The majority of the roads in and around the camp, however, remained poor.  The huge number of workers at the site caused payday to become a major spectacle.  Four guarded cars would transport the workers' salary to the camp site.  The laborers would be formed up into eight long lines to collect long lines to collect their wages.7  For the week ending August 11, 1917, approximately 3000 workmen drew a pay of over $75,000 at Camp Wadsworth.8  By the end of August, the number of civilians working at the site had reached 4500.9  Local resident Stan Mosley was one of the many local men aiding in the construction of Camp Wadsworth.  In a June 17, 1992 interview with Mr. Wes Hope, Mosley recalled:

"[We] had shovels and picks trying to dig ditches to put that pipe in the ground… I was there when they started building the camp, when they throwed the first shovelful of dirt.  I stayed there till the camp was built… If buildings were done in the county, Fiske-Carter done it.  They were the only people.  They could build you a bridge, a house; they could do anything… There was no roads but what we built… The government appointed Fiske-Carter to build Camp Wadsworth; gave  him 10 cents on the dollar to build the camp.  I built sewer lines, barracks, hospital[s], T-sewer lines.  The head was a Yankee.  [He would] tell the men I want a hospital right there.  I want you to dig a ditch right there for the sewer line.  The government was looking for Fiske-Carter to get the job done absolute business.  He built a good camp."10 

            In September of 1917, the socialist organization known as the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) attempted to undermine the ongoing construction work at Camp Wadsworth.  The agitators claimed that camp and city officials planned to begin 'a great war on the blacks.'  This caused many African-American laborers at the site to flee.  When the I.W.W. threatened to poison Spartanburg's water supply, local authorities took swift action.  After spending 18 months in jail, the I.W.W. representatives were promptly shipped out of the county and state.  No further disputes over labor occurred at Camp Wadsworth, and the installation continued to expand until the end of the war in 1918.11

For Notes please see Appendix C - Bibliography



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