The History of Camp Zachary Taylor — Part 2 — The Unfortunate Series of Events

The first part of the 20th Century was a time of creativity, adventure, and invention. It saw the birth of manned flight, exploration of remote parts of the world, and industrial advances that would propel the United States into becoming a power house of military might in the world.

It also saw the beginning of a European conflict that would linger for nearly four decades. It was inconceivable in 1918, that 20 years later, the “War To End All Wars”, would soon be overshadowed by another, more devastating war. Of the 4 years that World War 1 raged (1914-1918), the US was only involved for 1 1/2 of those years. It was a short conflict as far as the American’s were concerned, almost just a skirmish. The memories of the “Great War” were erased when World War 2 broke out in 1941, which consumed the entire nation for four long years.

This is an abbreviated history of the events that brought the United States into World War 1.

In 1914, a major European conflict erupted when tensions between a secret nationalist Serbian society, The Black Hand, assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were murdered while riding in their carriage in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28th 1914. 10-ferdinand

The reaction to the assassination was an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary, “that the assassins be brought to justice“. That demand was rejected by Serbia, a decision which ultimately resulted in a Declaration of War from Austria-Hungary on Serbia.

Allies to Serbia soon joined the conflict. Russia, France, Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan, joined in union with Serbia. Germany and Italy were allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, and quickly joined their side.

RMS Lusitania

RMS Lusitania

Almost a year into the war, on May 1, 1915, the RMS Lusitania, an English passenger liner, left New York City, bound for Liverpool. Unknown to the passengers, it was carrying munitions and contraband destined for the British war effort.

The Lusitania was the fastest ship afloat. Having engines that produced sixty eight thousand horsepower, it could travel at a top speed of 25 knots. It claimed that it could outrun any U-boat.

Known as the “Greyhound of the Seas”, it set the record in its day for the fastest Atlantic crossing.

On May 7th, 1915, the ocean liner was approaching the coast of Ireland, and at 2:10 in the afternoon, German U-boat 88 was waiting for the giant ship. It fired a torpedo at the ocean liner, which hit it just forward of the engine rooms.

WW1 German Submarine

WW1 German Submarine

Several minutes later, a second powerful explosion occurred in the cargo hold, which was at first believed to be a second torpedo. Some experts believe that the second blast was the contraband exploding from the fires burning on the ship.

Alfred Gwynne Canderbilt

Alfred Gwynne Canderbilt


There were 1,924 passengers and crew on board. Of those nearly two thousand passengers, 1,119 people died, including 114 Americans. Some of the more notable passengers who lost their lives that day were Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt , millionaire and son of Cornelius Vanderbilt (pictured at left), writer Justus M. Foreman, and artist and philosopher Elbert Green Hubbard. There were only 805 survivors.

Following the sinking of The Lusitania in 1915, the public outcry was enormous. The American people were calling for a declaration of war against Germany, but President Woodrow Wilson was determined to remain neutral in the conflict.

President Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson

The United States was not prepared for war when it broke out in 1914. The US military was ranked only 12th in size among the industrialized nations, behind Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. In June of 1914, America’s standing army was only 200,000 men. President Wilson needed time.

Russia had an army of nearly 6 million. Germany’s soldiers in uniform numbered 4 1/2 million. The US had little time to get prepared for the inevitable. President Wilson knew he would soon be forced into a war he had tried so hard to avoid. Even with the unrestricted German submarine attacks on the merchant marine ships and passenger liners, Wilson stood fast declaring the US’s neutrality. This position had to be held until he was able to adequately supply the US Armies, and our Allies, with the munitions and equipment necessary to fight and win a war overseas.

German attacks on American shipping continued until in the spring of 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson had enough of the merciless submarine attacks on the merchant marines. On April 2, 1917, President Wilson felt that he had amassed enough equipment and supplies, where he was able to address the congress of the United States, calling for a “Declaration of War with Germany”.

US Declaration of War with Germany, April 6, 1917

US Declaration of War with Germany, April 6, 1917

On April 6, 1917, the Congress of the United States passed the resolution to “Declare War on Imperial Germany”.

New York Times, August 11, 1918

New York Times, August 11, 1918

News arrived on August 11, 1918, about the fate of ship and crew of German U-Boat 88, the ship that sank the Lusitania three years earlier. German authorities confirmed that it had been blown up in a British mine field in September, the previous year. The sinking killed all aboard, including the Captain, Lieutenant Commander Schweiger. As reported in the NY Times article that broke the news, “There is a certain plausibility of poetic justice in his end, but if he had been human and not a German machine, he should have lived until he made away with himself; or, his mind broken with intolerable remembrances, he should have passed long years in a madhouse.

There was not a lot of sympathy for Captain Schweiger following his death. He was considered a murderer, and thought to be sub-human. Most of the German military were portrayed as evil and inhumane in many publications.

What's Coming to the Kaiser, Tench and Camp newspaper, August 26, 1918.

What’s Coming to the Kaiser, Tench and Camp newspaper, August 26, 1918.

That sentiment was widely held in America throughout the war, as in this cartoon, depicting a Victory Parade with the Kaiser being towed behind a bus of Belgian survivors, hung by his feet with a large Iron Cross tied around his neck.

The US Army had been shipping US soldiers to France for months prior to U-boat 88’s sinking. Many US soldiers had been killed by the time the news was published. The public, who vilified this man, welcomed the news of his death in the summer of 1918 as the reports of battles, allied victories, and US casualties kept coming in.

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We welcome inquiries about Camp Zachary Taylor and it’s history. We can be reached at EMail Us

copyright 2016, Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Socety

The History of Camp Zachary Taylor — Part 1

Next summer, in June of 2017, “Camp Zachary Taylor” will be celebrating it’s 100th Anniversary. The World War 1 Cantonment, and now neighborhood in Louisville KY, was built in the summer of 1917, and survived for three years until it was closed shortly after the war ended. Over the next year, and leading up to the anniversary of the Opening Day of the camp, we will be posting stories about how the camp came to be located in Louisville, Kentucky.

I will be talking about the events that led up to Louisville being selected as the location for one of the 16 new camps built in the United States. I will delve into the details of the political maneuvering, bidding and negotiating by the city leaders to win the project. We will be talking about the people who passed through it, some on their way to success, and some of the regular soldiers, who felt duty bound to fight for their country. We will look into the people who volunteered in various capacities to help keep the installation running, and many other topics related the history of Camp Zachary Taylor.

84th-div-11_10_17-550-dpi
(photo above) Review of The 84th Division at Camp Zachary Taylor, photo taken 11-10-1917 in the Maneuver Field (On the land of the Standiford’s homestead, looking north – Henry Phillips homestead house in background).

This astronomical construction project was conceived, drawn and built (and substantially complete) in 69 calendar days. It was turned over to the Construction Quartermaster 80 days after the first board was cut. The Main Camp covered nearly 4000 acres and contained 1787 buildings. The artillery range was an additional 16,000 acres. The initial cost was $7, 041,400.00. However, the army continued construction during the three years of occupation. On January 1, 1919, the total expenditures for construction topped out at over $8,800,000.00 .

Work Begun 6-23-17

(photo above) Construction of first Barracks at Camp Zachary Taylor, June 1917.

Camp Knox was originally part of Camp Taylor, and served as the training branch for the Field Artillery that was stationed at Camp Taylor. It’s existence today is due to it’s connection to Camp Taylor. We will be covering the history of this relationship later in this series. Check back as we post more stories over the next year. I also welcome inquiries about Camp Taylor, and invite anyone to submit questions to us. We can be reached at EMail Us

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copyright 2016, Camp Zachary Taylor Historical Society

General Pershing – Born on this date : September 13, 1860

One Hundred and Fifty Six years ago, September 13, 1860, the commander for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during World War 1, General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, was born in Laclede, Missouri. He graduated from West Point in 1886, and fought during the Indian Campaigns as a cavalry officer from 1886 to 1891.

EPSON scanner image

General Pershing c. 1918

From 1891 to 1898, Lt. Pershing instructed tactics at both the University of Nebraska and West Point Military Academy. During the Spanish-American War, he fought with the Tenth Cavalry and the years following the war, he became the Chief Ordinance Officer and rose to the rank of Major. Major Pershing served in the Philippines from 1903 to 1906. In that same year, Pershing was promoted to the rank of General by then President Theodore Roosevelt.

pershing General Pershing, France c. 1918

As General, he governed the Moro Provinces of the Philippines, and during that time was commander during the Battle of Bagsag, July 12, 1913.

In 1915, General Pershing was dealt a great blow to his family, with the deaths of his wife and three daughters. The fire that took them, spared his only son (Warren) who was six years old at the time.

In 1916, he led the expedition into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Later that year he was made a Major General. In 1917, he was given the command of the AEF, and in October of 1917, was made a full general.

The following link is a recording of General Pershing’s short speech to the American people, recorded in France on April 4, 1918, asking for their support in the war. This Audio is available from the National Archives. Below is the transcription of this recording.

“Three thousand miles from home, an American Army is fighting for you. Everything you hold worthwhile is at stake. Only the the hardest goals can win against the enemy we are fighting. Invoking the spirits of our forefathers, the army asks your unblinking support to the ends, that the high ideals for which America stands may endure upon the earth.”

Gen. John J. Pershing was the supreme commander of American Forces during World War 1, and at the conclusion of The Great War, General Pershing was promoted to “General of the Armies”. Although this post was previously only held by Gen. George Washington, Pershing, nor any other US General could be ranked equal to General Washington.

General Pershing retired in 1924, and passed away on June 15, 1948, at the age of 87. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.

10,000 Soldiers Spell Out Camp Zachary Taylor

Of the dozens of photographs taken at Camp Taylor, one that is somewhat popular, is photo #678, taken by Simes and Campbell, of Louisville Kentucky. This iconic photograph was taken on September 15th, 1918, and it used over 10,000 soldiers of the 159th Depot Brigade, to form the letters. This newspaper article featuring the event, has a handwritten note on it which says, “Olon was in the photo, and he helped to form the letter”C”, Keep it Please”.

newspaper-clipping-9-3-1918-250

They creatively used light and dark clothing to enhance the letters, which allowed them “stand out” from the background.

The photo was taken in an area known as “Renfro Field”. It was named after a nearby market, Renfro Station, that was located near the railroad tracks that bisected Camp Taylor. Renfro Field was also used as a makeshift airport for Curtis JN-4 (Jenny), and other small military airplanes. There were never any aircraft stationed at the Camp, but a week after this photo was taken, 20 airplanes arrived at Camp Zachary Taylor from the Wilbur Wright Field at Dayton, Ohio, to give exhibition flights. The airplanes stayed for a week, and were parked on Renfro Field.

It was noted that an “Armed Detail” would be dispatched around the clock to “Prevent curio seekers and souvenir hunters from taking away parts of the planes, as mementos of the world war.”

at-the-flying-field
Curtis JN-4 Jenny at Camp Zachary Taylor c.1918