Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Camp Lincoln: A 1909 military invasion of Chariton

Back in 1909, as July advanced, Chariton was preparing to open its arms to military invasion during August --- an Iowa National Guard encampment designated Camp Lincoln that would draw more than 700 troops and thousands of tourists to town for 10 days.

This was not an event that today's Iowa National Guard, a highly disciplined and professional organization, would recognize. Although drills and training exercises certainly were a major part of the program, it was in many ways a huge public relations undertaking by the Guard --- and a giant party to which all of Lucas County --- and southern Iowa --- was invited.

It also provided a major economic boost for the community --- all the the food and other non-military supplies needed to feed and attend to the men were purchased locally. Thousands of civilians flocked to Chariton to enjoy events related to the encampment, including a carnival atmosphere on the square. It was, in short, a major tourism coup.

These were far different times. Although some of the troops involved in the encampment had served during the 1898 Spanish American War, a relatively minor adventure, memories of Civil War horrors had receded and World War I was in the future. It was in many ways a time of great innocence.

Five postcard views of the encampment are passing this week from the files of the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission to the Lucas County Historical Society. I had them here overnight, so decided to scan them here, then take both the cards and the scans out to the office this morning. Two of the postcards are panoramas --- you'll need to right click and open in a new window to see them clearly.


Chariton pioneer and attorney Warren S. Dungan, while serving as Iowa lieutenant governor during 1893, had managed to pull the right strings and land a National Guard company for Chariton --- Company H of the 55th Infantry Regiment. During 1895, an Armory was constructed for the unit two blocks south of the square, at what now is the intersection of South Main Street and Armory Avenue.

Company H was activated for service during the Spanish American War, but sustained no fatalities, and during the years after, hosted two regional encampments --- Camp Lincoln during 1909 and Camp Castle, during 1913. In 1915, the unit was dissolved and the Armory converted to civilian use. It was serving as a vehicle repair garage when it burned during 1943.


Camp Lincoln was situated on Chariton's west edge, in open fields just to the west of the C.B.&Q. reservoir, now known as Crystal Lake and surrounded by the country club and related housing developments. The railroad still owned the property then --- and had built the reservoir to assure a consistent supply of water for its steam locomotives.

Preparations, superintended by Chariton's Company H and a committee of local civilians, began during mid-July and accelerated as August approached.

On Sunday, Aug. 1, the 140 professionals of E Troop and H Troop, U.S. Second Cavalry, arrived in town by train and set up camp --- with their mules, horses and related equipment --- on the east side of the reservoir, dubbed "Cavalry Hill," opposite the main encampment. These troops would provide professional training and support for the Guard units as well as engaging in public relations work of their own.

The various companies of the 55th Regiment, Iowa National Guard, arrived on Thursday, Aug. 5, and the tent city on the west side of the lake came to life. In addition to Chariton's Company H, other companies arrived from Des Moines, Villisca, Ames, Knoxville, Shenandoah, Winterset, Creston, Corning, Council Bluffs and Red Oak. The regimental band, headquartered in Clarinda, also was on hand.


Camp Lincoln was not, as might be thought now, named to honor Abraham Lincoln, but instead Brigadier General James Rush Lincoln, who had mobilized the Iowa National Guard for Spanish American War service and, during 1909, was its statewide commander. 

Lincoln, his "lady" and their "two soldier sons" established headquarters at Camp Lincoln, too, and remained in residence throughout.

Lincoln, largely forgotten now, was one of Iowa's more interesting characters. A native of Maryland, he was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and had enlisted for Confederate service during the Civil War, serving in the Confederate cavalry under Jeb Stuart.

He arrived in Iowa during 1868 as superintendent of a coal mining company headquartered in Boone, was elected Boone mayor and became prominent in city affairs, then during 1883 joined the staff of what now is Iowa State University in nearby Ames. He served as professor of military tactics there until 1919 as well as teaching mining engineering. He joined the Iowa Guard soon after arriving in the state and advanced in its ranks as the years passed from captain to brigadier general.

Much to his disappointment, he was too old and infirm to go to the front during World War I but remained active in Iowa training recruits, then died at Ames not long after that great war ended --- on Aug. 4, 1922. He is buried in the Iowa State University Cemetery.


Although there certainly were drills, training sessions, mock battles and other military exercises, Camp Lincoln was principally a huge public relations effort by the Iowa National Guard --- and something of a prolonged party for all --- save perhaps the regular troops of the Second Cavalry --- of the troops involved.

Camp Lincoln was open at all time to guests, who were encouraged to visit. Many of the events were geared as much for the public as for the participants.

In addition to sham battles, there were track and field competitions (two silver cups awarded) as well as boxing and wrestling tournaments --- the larger the audiences the better.

On Sunday, Aug. 8, a crowd estimated in excess of 5,000 flocked to Camp Lincoln for a 3:30 p.m. concert by the Regimental Band, followed at 4:30 p.m. by a grand parade.

On Monday evening, Aug. 9, a big vaudeville program was staged on the grounds to showcase acts developed by each of the encamped companies.

The biggest crowds, however, arrived on Thursday, Aug. 12, which was Governor's Day. Here's a paragraph about the event from The Patriot of Aug. 19: "Last Thursday saw one of the largest crowds of people in Chariton that ever visited the town. The occasion was Governor's Day and the people came by train and in buggies and carriages from all directions to view the grand review of the troops by Governor (Beryl F.) Carroll and inspect the soldiers' camp. The road to the camp was filled by a continuous procession of vehicles from morning until night."

The regular Army troops of the Second Cavalry helped do their bit that evening, when the enlisted men of Troops E and H staged a dancing party for the public at the big Pythian Temple on the square, an event the younger people of Chariton reportedly were anticipating --- and enjoyed.

When not drilling or entertaining, "the boys have enjoyed bathing, fishing and boating to their heart's content," The Chariton Herald reported.

By the weekend, however, the great event had ended. Guardsmen broke camp at 9 a.m. on Saturday, the 14th, and boarded special trains bound for home at 2 o'clock that afternoon. The Second Cavalry detachment boarded another special train on Sunday afternoon, bound for another Iowa Guard encampment, this one of the 56th Regiment at Lake Okoboji.

As a public relations gesture, Camp Lincoln was a resounding success. The Chariton Herald's editor concluded, concerning the Second Cavalry detachment, that "the people of Chariton and vicinity have formed an entirely different opinion of the regulars since their advent at Camp Lincoln than that obtained reading the Des Moines papers."

Regarding the guardsmen of the 55th, the Herald continued, "the boys of the Fifty-fifth regiment, composed in the main of the best elements of the communities of southern and central Iowa, are maintaining the reputation for decency, sobriety and gentlemanly conduct that has followed the Iowa civilian soldier wherever duty or inclination has placed him." 

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