The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was created by federal legislation in 1890. Foreseeing the need in a national emergency for open land on which to train national guard units and the Army, federal legislation in 1896 permitted the national military parks to be used for such training. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Army took advantage of this authority and installed Camp Thomas which encompassed almost the entire Battlefield. After this war of 109 days, Camp Thomas was removed and the Battlefield restored. The park engineer at that time questioned the placement of an active military camp on the land which had been dedicated to the memory of those men who had fought and dies at Chickamauga. With his assistance, the War Department obtained land for a permanent post north of the battlefield park.
The Army purchased 810 acres adjacent to the northern boundary of the Chickamauga Battlefield. The new army post was first known as Chickamauga Park (New Post). From 1902-1904, a new army post was erected and officially named Fort Oglethorpe in 1904. During the life of the active post, many units were assigned here, most of them cavalry. In the earlier years, cavalry units rotated assignments overseas and here in the United States. While stationed at the Post, the cavalry units maintained their performance level by carrying out their field exercises on the grounds of the battlefield.
Fort Oglethorpe, with its impressive officers’ residences around Barnhardt Circle and rows of stables located north and east of the parade grounds, became of major military post during World War I and World War II. The Post, too small to contain all of the additional housing and necessary military training during the national emergency, continued to utilize the open spaces of the Chickamauga Battlefield.
Fort Oglethorpe became an important training center when the United States declared war on the Central Powers in 1917. As a result of this national emergency, the Post quickly expanded to meet the needs of the Allies who fought the “war to end all wars.” Three camps were established: Camp Greenleaf, Camp Forrest and Camp McLean for officers’ training. By 1918, over 1,600 post buildings were on the expanded Fort Oglethorpe and over 60,000 troops had been mobilized through the post.
At Camp Greenleaf the Army established a medical and sanitary corps. Many of the horses and men assigned to the horse drawn ambulances which brought the wounded from the battlefield to the field hospitals and the doctors who manned those field hospitals had their training at Fort Oglethorpe. Camp Forrest, engineers trained recruits in trench warfare and artillery practiced their long-distance firing. The procedures prescribed for health and safety in trench warfare and trench life were developed in the Sanitary Corps work here. Camp McLean hastened to meet the need for leadership, training officers and using college Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) members, businessmen at its core.
Fort Oglethorpe became the largest detention camp for the German prisoners of war and enemy aliens east of the Mississippi and housed over 3,400 prisoners. To the west of Barnhardt Circle was the post hospital, a state of the art facility which served the military, their dependents and local civilians.
The 1918 “Spanish” influenza arrived in March and fell many soldiers, citizens and staff in this area. Eighty-eight prisoners died from the disease and were buried together at the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Combined with the few POWs who died while held here during World War II, the Chattanooga National Cemetery is the only cemetery on American soil which holds both World War I and World War II German soldiers. Their area is marked by a monument placed there by the German government and is decorated each year in November during National Day of Remembrance celebrated by the German nation.
World War I ended. The wooden barracks and tent camps were removed from the Chickamauga Battlefield. The trenches dug in and around Snodgrass Hill were filled and, once again, the Park administration worked to restore the military park to the 1863 presence. The last of the enemy aliens were released in 1920 and the country embraced the peace. Units returned to the States and the sixth Cavalry called Fort Oglethorpe home from 1919 – 1942. During this period of peace, the men and their horse remained in fighting condition. They continued their field exercises in the area and went on frequent maneuvers to other states. Special activities which attracted local citizens were polo matches on the parade grounds at Barnhardt Circle, mock war games, horse shows, parades and other military forms of recreation.
By 1941, mechanization had become a way of life for the old horse soldiers and Fort Oglethorpe saw the addition of “Bantam Cars” to the post. With the news of the Sunday, December 7, 1941 attack Pearl Harbor, leaves were cancelled, units were called together and our servicemen here at the Post were assigned security duty, guarding the TNT Plant in Chattanooga, railroads, bridges and other vital resources in the area.
Once again, the post was enlarged to accommodate the national emergency. An induction center was established and many men and women of the grater Chattanooga area can recall their induction into army life at Fort Oglethorpe. Again, prison barracks and stockades were erected on the post, and some 400 prisoners of war, mostly from Rommel’s Afrika Corps, were held at Fort Oglethorpe. Some traces can be seen among the homes in the neighborhood within blocks of the present Post Office and Fire hall on Forrest Road.
The “Fighting 6th” left behind their horses and Fort Oglethorpe in February, 1942 for overseas duty. After time at Camp Blanding, Florida, they were to board ships to join