"The transformation of the streets of Columbia on Saturday night is little short of marvelous."
-- Major William Cooper, U.S. Army supervisor, Camp Jackson construction, on workers during the weekends, August 6, 1917.
Shortly after the formal announcement of May 19, 1917 by Maj. Douglas MacArthur that Columbia had been awarded a "military cantonment," hundreds of workers began to build the camp. Although the first recruits began training in the fall, constructions of the post did not end until January, 1918.
By mid-summer, under the direction of Maj. William Couper, 10,000 men were building barracks, stables for horses, an infirmary, airfield, and even a balloon installation among other things. By the time the camp was completed, the government had spent $8.9 million, half in wages to laborers working 10 hour days, and the rest for materials that amounted to 5,748 train carloads, half of it lumber. When complete, the post had 1,554 buildings on 2,237 acres.
Such frenetic activity did not go without problems. Couper had to deal with local landowners and businessmen who thought they knew better. Frank Hampton, landowner bordering the new camp, thought Couper paid his workers too much. Before the war, most laborers had earned a dollar per day but now they could make $4 a day. At the same time, a local politician pestered Couper to increase wages. Hampton also haggled with the Army officer over rights of way and drainage of the swamps near his property. Yet as the camp neared completion in October, Couper was proud of the results; for him, Camp Jackson looked like another city that had always been there.
Training at Camp Jackson:
"When they sounded reveille the next morning, I slept right through it, and they had to yank me out of the be... [after this] I've stood out many a morning with my shoes and overcoat on and not have another darn thing on except my drawers." -- David N. Edwards recalling first days at Camp Jackson, 1918
"It's a hard life, in fact, it's a dog's life." -- W.M. Reedy, Clio, SC, Civil War veterans to his sons about army life.
The new post, named after South Carolina native and fifth President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, trained 200,000 soldiers during the war. Most of these men were civilians who had to be molded into disciplined soldiers in a few short months. American allies in France were desperate for new troops to aid in the war against Germany.
Horses still had a major role to play in World War I, so many stables with horses existed at Camp Jackson. Troops had to learn how to harness teams to wagons to pull artillery. Even though many recruits came from farms, some had difficulty working with army horses. One North Carolina recruit found it difficult to climb onto the large animals harnessed to pull artillery pieces, needing assistance to get on the large steed. When he finally got on its back, the "sharp backbones... wore off my back end."
The new recruits had to learn how to fire a weapon, drill in formation, obey orders, and eat and sleep together. One of the first divisions to be formed was the 81st, or Wildcat, Division, made up mostly of men drafted from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida. Half of this original division was transferred to the 10th Division, which trained in Greenville's Camp Sevier, but its numbers were replenished with new draftees, from both the Carolinas and Northern states. It would serve with distinction in France during the summer and fall of 1918.