A century ago, as America rushed to get into the Great War in Europe, communities across the country rushed to get in on the civic, patriotic and economic advantages in securing one of the 32 military training facilities needed for such a task.
City Engineer Nesbit Wingfield led Augusta’s effort and was successful in getting the government to go along with a proposed site west of town.
It was named Camp Hancock, not after well-known Founding Father John Hancock, but a more modest, yet highly respected Civil War general – Winfield Scott Hancock. The U.S. War Department selected the camp and its rising tent city to accommodate the Pennsylvania National Guard Division, training to head to France.
Construction began 100 years ago this summer and was finished by December.
According to Chronicle archives, the Pennsylvanians began rolling into town. By mid-September, Camp Hancock held 27,122 men, 1,380 animals, 72 guns, 192 caissons, seven reel carts and 57 trucks. At its peak, it contained more than 35,000 men.
The camp site took up 1,777 acres on a tract of 13,811 acres. It included more than 1,300 buildings: barracks, eating halls, hospitals, showers, latrines, storerooms, garages and office buildings. All were linked with sand and clay roads.
Wrightsboro Road and today’s Highland Avenue ran through the camp. Daniel Field was the camp parade ground.
The war ended a year later and by March 1919, the camp was essentially closed, but not before facing its biggest and most deadly challenge – the Spanish flu.
A Sept. 30, 1918, article in The Chronicle reported that 13 of 3,000 recently arrived troops appeared to have the dreaded disease, but precautions were being taken. The next day, The Chronicle reported 700 cases were reported in camps and Army officials were considering a quarantine, which they later instituted.
As the month ended, 80 deaths were reported, which The Chronicle called the “largest number of deaths ever recorded in one month in Augusta.”
The armistice was signed Nov. 11, ending the Great War, and Augusta’s war with the flu began winding down, as well.
On Nov. 15, The Chronicle reported the end of a six-week quarantine, which had closed schools, churches and theaters.
By year’s end, the newspaper counted 1,400 cases of Spanish flu reported in the city with 118 deaths.
At Camp Hancock, there had been 7,800 cases reported and 500 deaths.