|The following history and account of the birth and death of Camp Van Dorn,
Mississippi was researched and written by Mr. L. M. Caulfield of Centreville,
Mississippi and is republished here with the permission of Mr. Caulfield's son. The
webmaster is not in position to verify all of Mr Caulfield's entries and publishes this
history only for the information of those interested.
|For you, the researcher, or possibly you a former "GI" assigned to a unit stationed at
Camp Van Dorn and wanting to "know more", I have undertaken this project to get
something in writing, something for the record. So little is on file in our State
Department of Archives and History and the local Centreville Library concerning
Camp Van Dorn that I feel it my duty to keep alive an area, a place, an event, that
affected the lives of so many- where freindships were formed- new "buddies" were
found, hardships shared here and on the battlefields of Europe.
If you are a former soldier- back to retrace your military life at Camp Van Dorn and
reading this particular article, I hope that you have the opportunity to contact my
relatives and local friends to assist you in finding "your very own barracks, mess hall
Whether you were a "Battle Baby" wearing the Checkerboard Patch of the 99th
Infantry Division during their training period in late 1942 until depature a year later to
Camp Maxey, Texas, or as one of the "Hot Shots" of the 63rd Infantry Division
enduring the heat, cold, and chiggers- or possibly being assigned to one of the many
non-divisional units here at Van Dorn- or maybe you were part of the Station
Complement- whatever your outfit, I want personally to share this research with you.
During my research, I have managed to find quite a bit of information that will
eventually get into the files of the State Departement of Archives and History as well
as the Centreville library. You may ask the question- why are you doing it?- and the
answer is simple. One day I had a call from our Department of Archives asking me
to assist them in answering a request about Camp Van Dorn, they, through a mutual
friend finding out that I grew up in Centreville and was making such a research. I, of
course, was shocked to learn that there was very little in the file so that a serious
researcher could reconstruct events of the past concerning the building of such a
training camp, units involved, the World War II service of these major units, financial
impact on the local economy, and many other items that was of interest to me.
I immediately appointed myself a committee of "one" to get something in the files to
assist these individuals that have an interest. My quest for information has been most
rewarding --as an example-- getting to meet so many former soldiers that spent some
time here and can relate personal experiences, their thoughts and how Camp Van
Dorn may have played a part in shaping their lives.
I expect that you, a former solder, may be able to write your own story concerning
little strange and vicious creatures which we natives called "chiggers", different
customs of the Southland, strange environment and if you were married the never
ending search for places to live- choices being very limited.
Sometimes I wonder if you and thousands like you would just want to forget this part
of your lives- I think not-- and I am very positive about this after reviewing things that
have happened, The return of the 63rd Infantry Division Association to Camp Van
Dorn for their 33rd annual reunion in July of 1981. My recent trip in July 1983 to
Hershey, Pa. to attend the annual reunion of the 99th and on to Philadelphia to attend
the annual reunion of the 63rd. I have met and talked with hundreds that were
stationed here and have also met others that have returned to the area while passing
through on vacation.
Recently I had an opportunity to talk to a military organization concerning the "Birth
and Death of an Army Camp--Camp Van Dorn" and the thought occurred to me that
this information just might be of interest to you. I am aware of the fact that you were
probably here at a young age, possibly had never been away from home
before--maybe never in the South- your first thought being to get this training over
and get on with the job at hand. The how and the way Camp Van Dorn came into
being didn't enter into the picture at that time.
Forty some years later you are now back into an area that you vowed to never
return!..We are glad you are back and your presence indicates to me that your Van
Dorn experience was not so bad after all!
This article will be presented in several stages--the order in which events took place.
First starting with the rumor stage or early rumors concerning the building of a training
camp in the area. Second, the actual building and naming. Third, movement of
troops- divisional and non-divisional. Fourth, The World War II service of the major
units that trained here, the 99th and 63rd Infantry Divisions. Fifth, The closing of
Camp Van Dorn. Sixth, military reunions.
RUMOR STAGE/EARLY RUMORS:
As I reviewed microfilm of newspapers of the area about the earliest article I could
find was in the Centreville Jeffersonian, a weekly newspaper, dated 13 December
1940- "Centreville rumored site for Army Camp". Remember we had registered for
the draft on 16 October 1940; hundreds of thousands were being drafted; camps
were needed to train this influx which set the politicians/businessmen and Mayors of
the area to start thinking- Why not here? Naturally the recent depression was still
upon us; there was no industry in Wilkinson and Amite County, and man this means
dollars-- lots of 'em! At this time 10 pounds of sugar was selling for 48 cents, rooms
at the swank Walthall Hotel in Jackson could be reserved for $2.00; men's dress
shoes a $2.20 value had been reduced to $1.98; the best cut of round steak was 20
cents a pound and local delivery of a 1941 Ford V-8 was advertised at $789.25.
Remember now we had to have a place for all these National Guardsmen that had
been activated also and as mentioned above there were all of us "special ones" that
were selected by the President for a year. Also remember the folks down here in
Centreville, Gloster, Liberty, Woodville, Natchez and McComb didn't come in here
on a load of watermelons--they were trying to survive as we all were! The Woodville
Republican dated 15 Mar 1941 tells of the formation of the "Southwest Mississippi
Cantonment Association or Group". Some of the folks making up this group were
Lee B. Robinson, Mayor of Centreville; H H Crosby of Crosby; L O Crosby of
Picayune; W S Johnson, W M Webb and Oliver Emmerich of McComb to name a
few--all business and professional men--and of course do not overlook our
Representative at the time- Dan McGehee from Meadville.
This tells you something, and I might indicated just prior to the formation of the
Association in March, the month of February 1941 was a busy time.
14 February 1941: Centreville Jeffersonian(CJ): "A change in personnel of the real
estate division of the War Department has re-created interest in the proposed camp.
Mayor Robinson advised John O'Brien, the new head of the land division, that "the
people really want you to locate a camp here". Mayor Robinson offered his services
in the acquisition of the site and was ready to send representatives to Washington
"armed with all the facts".
21 February 1941: (CJ): Robinson heads a delegation to appear before a Board of
Army Officers at Camp Shelby to lay before them the advantages which this section
of the State offers as a site for an Army Training Camp.
I also noted at this time, if you had $2.50 you could make the round trip from
Centreville to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!.
28 February 1941: (CJ): Board of Army Officers from Camp Shelby visited the
area last Friday--although non-committal, the group talked favorably.
Wilkinson County's draft quota for February of 10 whites were ordered for induction
in early March. I was one of 'em and the date that I reported to Camp Shelby for
induction was 6 March 1941.
21 March 1941: (CJ): Members of the Southwest Mississippi Cantoment
Association has begun securing options for the lease or purchase out-right of
thousands of acres in the southeast corner of Wilkinson County and the southwest
section of Amite County.
April 1941: Rumors abound! Options for the sale or lease of more than 10,000
acres were presented to the War Department at this time- the Association continuing
to get commitments to sell or lease their land.
Prospects for Camp brighten- Why? A construction company now building at Camp
Polk in Louisiana has notified employees and contactors that work will begin here at
Camp Van Dorn in 30 Days..In reality it was a year later! A visit of an Engineer to
determine adequate water supply. The Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad
making plans for switch tracks to the propose site. The Highway Department is
prepared to begin construction of highways to accommodate increased traffic and
then the appearance of numerous "squatters" and all sorts of automobiles , trucks and
18 April 1941: Workers continue to arrive from Leesville, Louisiana (Camp Polk
area)--rumor, gossip and conjecture abound. Delay in actual construction is due
largely to the fact that money has not been made available by the Congress.
2 May 1941: Labor union organizations open office in Centreville and agreements
between union organizations settling the question of union jurisdiction over skilled
labor if and when a Camp is built.
9 May 1941: Now then, it appears that certain interest in Natchez, McComb,
Jackson, and Washington have given publicity to rumors uinfavorable to the
establishment of the proposed Camp near Centreville. Despite this, these facts
remained (1) lack of funds (2) area is large and sparsely settled (3) sufficient facilities
are available (4) adequate acreage is available (5) traffic congestion is nil and is near
large centers of population, highway and rail facilities (6) it was not the policy of the
War Department to reject or override recommendations of Army Survey Boards.
30 May 1941: President Roosevelt declares an unlimited national emergency and of
course again camp prospects brighten.