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Fort Sheridan: The Beginnings


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



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After the Great Chicago Fire, which leaves much of the city devastated, the construction boom that occurs was immense. Citizens of the city as well as laborers alike were all equally concerned with the rebuilding of Chicago. The railroad was expanded greatly in and around the city to provide the materials necessary for such an extensive rebuilding project. This combined with the heavy labor involved created a massive increase in jobs in the area. After several years of rebuilding, those same laborers who put so much time and effort into virtually recreating a city were hung out to dry. Once the reconstruction was completed, there was essentially no work of this kind anywhere to be found. Rail workers and builders were left to fend for themselves, supporting families on little to no income. After the discontent of builders and railroad workers began, Chicago would see many other problems which all stemmed from this situation.

In 1877, the railroad riots caused a great deal of problems for citizens and the government alike. Striking workers would frequently try to stop trains for years, and, eventually, it hit a breaking point in the 1880s when groups of protestors tried stopping federal trains that had been carrying mail. It was at this time that General Sheridan headed to Chicago in an attempt to quell the rioting and protesting that was happening on a daily basis. Sheridan had been stationed out West prior to the time of this mayhem in Chicago, and was now in Missouri. His being called to Chicago was a very important piece of the Fort Sheridan puzzle. In 1886 an explosion rocks the Chicago area drawing a great deal of national attention. It was at this point that the people of Chicago decide that something needs to be done immediately.

At this time the nearest encampment of military troops was in Minneapolis, so it was decided that a new and much closer base would have to be developed in order to keep the peace. A group of people called the Commercial Club of Chicago, comprised mostly of local businessmen, decided it was in the best interest of the city to purchase and donate a 600 acre piece of land roughly twenty five miles north of Chicago for the use of a military encampment. Once the federal government accepts this offer, the first group of eighty four troops is sent to the area, and Fort Sheridan is created.  The Commercial Club of Chicago's decision to purchase and donate land to be used for military purposes was led by three men, without whom the process could not have taken place. John A. Doane was the president of the Commercial Club, and was probably the most influential force in driving the donation. C.B. Farwell and Alexander P. McClurg were a United States Senator, and Civil War Captain, respectively.  The three of them had the most influence, and were the most important men behind the creation of Fort Sheridan.

One can suggest that if it had not been for the harsh conditions in Chicago that led to the protesting and the rioting in the late nineteenth century that Fort Sheridan would have never been created. The need to restore order was essentially the primary function of the base and not for military purposes initially. The northern Midwestern section of the country did not need any more military installations in the area at that time, but once the opportunity arose for its inception, the plan went ahead with full force, ending up a very important and successful site for many years. Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding the creation of Fort Sheridan, its future would be a very significant one for the United States military. Even though the fort was not initially created as a training post, it managed to become the key training post in the Midwest for the First World War, and was used for the same purpose during World War II. The business and military personnel involved in the deal to create it made this a unique base. This is one of the only instances of which businessmen contributed to a military cause such as a fort for security and training with Fort Sheridan.

figure 9

Figure 9: Postcard image of the Infantry and Cavalry Barracks at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

Nina B. Smith. "This Bleak Situation": The Founding of Fort Sheridan, Illinois." Illinois Historical Journal 80 (1): 13.

Diana Dretske. Images of America : Fort Sheridan. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Robert Schall. The History of Fort Sheridan, Illinois , January 1, 1944 , John T. Rhett, Colonel, Infantry, Commanding. ([ Fort Sheridan ]: The Clerical School and the Visual Training Section, 1672 nd Service Unit [1944]).

Schall, 5.


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