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100 years ago Camp Sevier in Greenville Played Key Role in Fighting, Ending World War I

Greenville leaders to honor legacy and impact of Camp Sevier on community

GREENVILLE, S.C. –  The 30th Infantry Division broke the Hindenburg line in 1918, which led to the end of World War I and created a lasting legacy for our local community.

The Old Hickory Division, as the 30th was known, trained at Camp Sevier in Greenville and included hundreds of local soldiers as well as men from the rest of South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

With the 100 anniversary of the end of World War I happening this year , a group of local leaders are working on a tribute to honor the community’s major impact in changing the course of the war. The Remember the Old Hickory Project is a grassroots effort to remember Camp Sevier, which was one of the largest Army bases in America during the war, said Don Koonce, who is the main organizer of the year-long celebration.

“We want everyone to remember the tremendous contribution Greenville and Camp Sevier made to the war effort,” Koonce said. “The 100th anniversary is a great opportunity to raise awareness of that unique moment in history, and what it meant both locally and on the global stage.”

Both the City of Greenville and Greenville County are working together with the Remember the Old Hickory Project to build a year-long series of celebrations to commemorate the historical significance of the long-gone camp and the sacrifices made by those who went through basic training there.

“I cannot think of a better way to honor the people of the Old Hickory Division who served our country so heroically a hundred years ago,” said Greenville Mayor Knox White. “Even as we continue to look forward, the city is always cognizant of our roots and the amazing contributions that people in this area have made to the world.”

The camp also made a lasting contribution to Greenville County, said County Councilman Butch Kirven.

“It’s impossible to know how many of those soldiers came back to this area, or who’s families or even how many families moved here because of the camp,” Kirven said. “Even though the camp was in operation for only a few years, it has had a lasting impact on the area that’s truly immeasurable. County Council is honored to be a part of this celebration, and as a veteran myself, I can’t tell you how much it means to me personally.”

While many events are being planned to honor the 30th’s legacy here and national, some of the first ones people will see are commemorative “poppy” pins being worn by City of Greenville police officers and Greenville County sheriff’s deputies as well as decal on their vehicles.

In addition, commemorative posters will soon be distributed by members of local American Legion members in various area businesses.  In addition, there will be special celebrations during the year including a special event during the Greenville Scottish Games in May, a dedication on September 29 and taking part in Veteran’s Day event in November.

Camp Sevier was one of a nationwide network of 32 camps created in 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war. Located about six miles from downtown Greenville, the camp covered some 1,900 acres in what is now the Taylors area. From 1917-18, Camp Sevier was the training site for more than 100,000 soldiers from Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

In May of 1918, the Old Hickory Division shipped out to Europe and the Western Front. Facing immense defenses that pushed back other American divisions, the Old Hickory was the first an sole American division to  break the “impenetrable” Hindenburg Line during the Battle of St. Quentin Canal on September 29, 1918 — an action that would lead to the end of the Great War. The success came at a high price. In only three months, from July through October of 1918, the 30th saw more than 1,000 officers and enlisted men killed in action with another 7,178 either injured or declared missing in action.

World War I and Camp Sevier Timeline

June 28, 2014: Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated, sparking war. President Woodrow pledges U.S. neutrality, which was favored by most Americans.

May 7, 1915: Sinking of the Lusitania without warning. 128 Americans are among the 1,201 dead.

April 1, 1917: U.S. steamer Aztec sunk, killing 28 men.

April 6, 1917, President Wilson declares war against Germany. As part of the mobilization, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker ordered the construction of 32 camps.

June 1917: Local business leaders, Alister Furman and William Sirrine, optioned 1,000 acres of land in Greenville in hopes of getting a camp here. Sirrine was a Spanish-American War veteran. He had served with Major General Leonard Wood, who was Chief of Staff of the Army in 1917. In a speech in Cleveland Park, Wood announced a camp encompassing 1,900 acres would be built in the Taylors area around the village of Paris.

July 10, 1917: First soldiers arrived. They are local soldiers.

July 18, 1917: Construction of the camp Post Office officially starts work.

September 1917: Construction of a hospital near the camp’s entrance.

April – June 1918: The soldiers trained at Camp Sevier head overseas.

August 1918: After a few short weeks of training, the 30th Division is put into action at the Fourth Battle of Ypres. While they were hit by mustard gas and suffered many losses, they gained recognition from the British high command that it was a “fighting unit.”

September 29, 1918: The 30th Division breaks the unbreaklable Hindenburg line at the town of Bellicourt in France. This push led to Armistice a few weeks later on November 11, 1918.

 

Interesting Facts

Camp Sevier was named after a Revolutionary War officer, John Sevier, who fought at the Battle of King’s Mountain and later became the first Governor of Tennessee.

The camp was 1,900 acres and the property was leased through the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

The soldiers at the camp were from South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. They chose the name Old Hickory in honor of President Andrew Jackson, who was born near the North Carolina and South Carolina line, and rose to prominence in Tennessee.

It took 25 ships to transport the soldiers overseas for combat.
More than 100,000 soldiers trained at Camp Sevier by the time it closed in April, 1919.

About the Remember the Old Hickory Project:

This non-profit organization aims to celebrate and honor the history of Camp Sevier,  one of the largest U.S. Army bases during World War I. It was the home of the 30th Infantry Division, better known as the Old Hickory. More than 100,000 soldiers came through the camp. More information can be found at www.remember1918.com.

 

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