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Fort Sheridan: Training Camp


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



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Fort Sheridan was constantly praised by outsiders as being one of the top military training camps in the country during the First World War. The Chicago Daily Tribune ran articles fairly often on how effective the training camp was with their techniques that were considered new and creative at the time. An article that ran in September of 1917 discusses the use of trenches to give the officers an idea of what war is really like.

"Living in the trenches, some of then half filled with water, is no snap, according to the men who passed Monday night there, but none of them is protesting.” The article continues, “Rolling themselves in their blankets on the firing steps and in the dugouts, some manage to snatch a few hours' sleep, but so great is the glamour of trench life that most of them keep going all night just to be on hand in case anything occurs that might lead to something.

The trench warfare that was practiced at Fort Sheridan at this time would have men from certain areas of the country face off against men from other areas. “War bullets fired by the ‘Blue' and the ‘Red' armies, filled the air tonight. The ‘Blues,' composed of Michigan and Wisconsin boys, were doing their bit in the trenches, as the ‘Reds,' consisting of a battalion from the Third regiment, attacked.” The writer then states that, “Tomorrow night the trenches will be occupied by the men from Colorado, Missouri, and Kansas, comprising the First regiment.

Another newspaper article discusses the successes of Fort Sheridan during the First World War. The article recounts the visit of a Col. T.H. Goodwin of the British Army medical corp. “Step by step the United States government is making officers fit to train and lead its first army of 500,000 into the world war.” Colonel Goodwin had this to say about the training practices at the camp: “It is a remarkably suitable site. Everything seems to have been taken care of in a scientific manner. I can see readily you are avoiding many of the mistakes we made during the first year of the war. Your methods are as good as the system of instruction we are now using in the British and French training camps.  ” Clearly the British were impressed with the training methods in use at Fort Sheridan , as were the men being trained. They felt that they were getting the best training for one of the best armies in the world, and thus enrollment at the camp increased in the coming years.


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Figure 4: Photo of men in and near one of the practice trenches at Fort Sheridan. Photo taken from "The History and Achievements of the Fort Sheridan Officer's Training Camps".


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Figure 5: Artillery Practice at Fort Sheridan . Photo taken from The History and Achievements of the Fort Sheridan Officers' Training Camps".

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Figure 6: Bayonet practice at Fort Sheridan . Photo taken from The History and Achievements of the Fort Sheridan Officers' Training Camp.


In addition to the trench training, there was also training in self-defense, use of artillery, mounting and dismounting of horses, bayonet practice, and practice marching to start off the day. A more detailed description of the trench warfare practice is described, as follows,

"The spectacular culmination of the battle training took place in and opposing the labyrinth of trenches, when all was dark and those not fighting were endeavoring to study and slumber. The first shot was fired one night at about nine. A sentry in a forward observation post had seen a dim figure moving in a mist south across the ravine. He fired. The shot snapped every rifleman to attention. Nerves, formerly quivering, fairly hummed. Eyes strained. An indefinite line of figures rose in the mist. Five rifles cracked. The line abruptly faded. An officer in the trenches whispered a command—Swish! High in a tall tree a flare burst into dazzling light. The line in the field, formerly indefinite, loomed as an extensive force of prone forms. Behind lay another. The first was 200 yards away. The attackers hugged the ground in agony at the exposure of the brightness. The light quivered. Up sprang the rear line, rushing forward. Trenches crackled with fire. Down sank the moving forms. The first line, now behind, sprang up, advancing. A new flare in another tree dazzled field and sky. Trench rifles volleyed the new forward attacking line flopped to the ground and opened up with rapid flashes. Crouching figures ran haltingly back and forth along the line. Firing from both sides became intense. The attacking lines drew nearer. They were in the ravine. In the wire! Rifles spoke in humming roar. They were past the outposts! In the first line! In the—a bugle blew. The waxen warfare ceased. Grimy, muddy and dusty warriors excitedly grouped together and straggled home. One hundred verbal volleys throughout the night failed to decide which had won the honors—Reds or Blues."

The preceding excerpt taken from the History and Achievements of the Fort Sheridan Officers' Training Camps provides an incredibly vivid description of what trench warfare was like. The vast amount of difficulties associated with this type of battle are quite numerous, and difficult to plan for and rehearse. But the Fort Sheridan training camp provided as close to a real life trench warfare scenario as one can get. The men loved actually getting down in the trenches and getting muddy, because it gave them a better idea of what they could expect once deployed over seas to fight a war of that nature. While the trench warfare simulation was probably the most realistic and true to life, the other training scenarios were no less important than this one. Sighting and aiming your weapon properly was equally as important as practicing down in a trench, because it was necessary to have the aim and skill to hit what you were targeting. There was no single aspect of the training camp that was favored or viewed as more important than another. But it was the collaboration of all the parts that made it the magnificent entity that it actually was.

Staff Correspondent. “Trenches Give Future Officers a Touch of War,” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963), September 20, 1917.

“Trenches Give Future Officers a Touch of War,” article.

A Staff Correspondent, “'Magnificent' Says Briton of War Students,” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963), May 24, 1917.

Fort Sheridan Association. The History and Achievements of the Fort Sheridan Officers' Training Camps. Chicago: The Fort Sheridan Association, c1920. 208-9.