Center For Transportation Research

Historic Background


Betty J. Duggan and Noëleen McIlvenna

Camp Forrest, located on the outskirts of Tullahoma, Tennessee, was developed as a World War II military training center. Built to serve 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers at a time, at its peak occupation in 1943, Camp Forest had more than 150,000 troops trained during that year. A total of around 250,000 soldiers trained there during the war years. Today, most of Camp Forrest is contained within the Arnold Engineering Development Center, Arnold Air Station. A few Camp Forrest buildings in Tullahoma proper were readapted for community use (Bradley n.d.; Lanham 1994).

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Beginning in 1926, a 421 ha (1,040 acre) tract later contained in Camp Forrest was the site of Camp Peay, a summer training camp for the National Guard. Camp Peay was subsequently used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and then as temporary housing for displaced Mississippi flood victims in 1936. Most of the 22 buildings in Camp Peay were mess halls. Behind the rows of buildings were concrete tent pads. Showers and latrines were at the end of each company's block. Camp Peay had a garage for a few vehicles and a large hitching rack for the many National Guard units which were still horse-mounted. Most of the Camp Peay facilities were used as construction offices during the building of Camp Forrest (Bradley n.d.).

As the Germans threatened to control Europe, the United States War Department took steps to facilitate new troop mobilization, including speedy development of a large training facility at Camp Peay. In 1941, the much expanded facility was renamed Camp Forrest, in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate Lieutenant General and an area native. Forrest invented a style of military campaign that is credited as predecessor to the Blitzkrieg tactic practiced at Camp Forrest and perfected in World War II field operations (Bradley n.d.; Tullahoma Chamber of Commerce n.d.).

The bombing of Pearl Harbor and entry of the Unites States into World War II brought a heightened seriousness to troop training at Camp Forrest. In the summer of 1941, Lieutenant General Ben Lear readied the 2nd Army for war with maneuver exercises ("war games"). By that time, training facilities were available at Camp Forrest for infantry, artillery, engineering, and signal units. Divisions moved in and out of camp en route to Europe. The 80th Division was followed by, in order, the 8th Infantry, the 17th Airborne, and the 5th Armored Divisions. Many other units used Camp Forrest facilities on a more cursory basis, coming to take part in the war games initiated in 1941 which continued through 1944. Camp Forrest hosted, among others, General George Patton's 2nd Armored Division. Hospital facilities were also used by units not stationed at the camp (Bradley n.d.; Tullahoma Chamber of Commerce n.d.).

During the course of troop training at Camp Forrest, 15,000 civilians were employed in various jobs. Many hailed from surrounding towns and farms, but others, who were from more distant places like Chattanooga, commuted daily or boarded with local families. Bradley (n.d.) and the Tullahoma Chamber of Commerce (n.d.) have detailed the tremendous economic and social impact that Camp Forrest had on local and regional economies and social life, especially on Tullahoma.

Construction of the Camp Forrest facilities occurred between October 1940 and March 1941. Initial estimates of the camp size needed, necessary manpower, and costs were soon surpassed. Land acquisition occurred in several stages and eventually entailed 34,400 ha (85,000 acres). Most property acquired was farmland and associated structures. At least one community, Dixie, which had several public buildings, was incorporated into facility lands (Bradley n.d.; Tullahoma Chamber of Commerce n.d.).

When columnist Walter Winchel described Camp Forrest as "America's number one hell hole" (Bradley n.d.:52), he may have referred to the early period when construction and training occurred simultaneously. A total of 28,000 construction workers were employed during the building phase, with peak employment (22,000) reached in December 1940. Both local and union workers labored in day and night shifts. Rain, freezing weather, and heavy equipment turned ground at building sites into "liquid glue" (Bradley n.d.:21). Some new road beds crossed marshlands and required enormous quantities of crushed rock as fill. The winter of 1940-1941 was particularly bad. Workers recall men sinking waist deep into mud while it was almost impossible to move vehicles at times (Bradley n.d.; Tullahoma Chamber of Commerce n.d.). These accounts make it clear that in main construction areas, all but the most deeply buried archaeological deposits would have been disturbed.

Construction at Camp Forrest resulted in 1,300 buildings. Structures included 408 barracks, 158 mess halls, 14 officer's mess buildings, 19 guard houses, 35 warehouses, 20 administration buildings, 38 officer's quarters buildings, a bakery, an ice plant, an incinerator, a cold storage building, a laundry, a water and sewage treatment facility, a hospital, and numerous concrete tent pads. Associated transportation improvements included 16 km (10 miles) of concrete roads, 24 km (15 miles) of asphalt roads, and 8 km (5 miles) of railroad tracks (Bradley n.d.).

Structures at Camp Forrest varied from some rough unfinished wooden barracks with tarpaper roofs to a large hospital complex able to accommodate 2,000 patients. Four chaplains served 12 chapels, each capable of seating 360 worshipers. Every chapel included three altars C one each for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish services C that moved in and out of a wall on rails as needed (Bradley n.d.).

On-site housing was segregated by race and gender. African-American troops trained at Camp Forrest but little research has been done concerning them to date. They were housed in facilities separate from white soldiers. The military nurses' barracks at Camp Forrest were segregated by race and were removed from easy proximity to the male troops. Visiting wives of white soldiers stayed in several designated and segregated guest houses or tents at Camp Forrest. Those staying longer boarded in nearby towns or with local farm families (Bradley n.d.).

Camp Forrest also served as an Alien Enemy Internment Camp beginning in May 1942. Civilian aliens were first housed there but were moved to North Dakota in 1943. Subsequently, prisoners of war (POWs) representing a number of nationalities were interned at the camp. Prisoners worked on- and off-site, especially in agriculture and in pulpwood production. POW noncommissioned officers were housed separately from conscripted soldiers, as the former were promoting noncooperation with the Americans.

During 1945, most of the Camp Forrest facilities were devoted to detaining prisoners, although about 3,000 Tennessee National Guard soldiers did train at the camp that year. In January 1945, the United States government instituted an Intellectual Diversion Program for the POWs to propagate American political ideology, especially through the teaching of English language and United States history and civics courses. All of the POWs were repatriated by 1946 (Bradley n.d.).

Troop training events occurred all over the Camp Forrest property and sometimes in the surrounding towns and farms. There were designated firing ranges on camp lands, including a rifle range on the former Lem Motlow property off Cumberland Springs Road on Old Shelbyville Highway and another one on Ledford Mill Road. Small arms and mortar crews trained at both of these ranges. A cannon crew practiced for a time at an off-site range in Spencer, Tennessee. Troops also practiced river crossing and cliff-scaling skills all over the surrounding area (Bradley n.d.; Tullahoma Chamber of Commerce n.d.).

An elite Ranger School operated at Camp Forrest as well. The first mock village ever used in United States Army training was built as part of the Ranger program at Camp Forrest to prepare soldiers for street fighting (Bradley n.d.).

Site 40FR201 in Industrial Site B may represent the remains of this or a similar mock village used by the Rangers. The site includes pillboxes, mock buildings, climbing wells, and impact craters.

Despite lobbying by state and local politicians to transform Camp Forrest for post-war use, the facilities, and even water mains, were dismantled and sold as surplus after the war. Only material remains, building foundations, the physical scars of field training exercises attest to the presence of Camp Forrest today (Bradley n.d.).

This page was last updated on 20 Jan 2002.

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