Camp (Fort) Knox was Born 100 Years Ago Today, July 26, 1918

Camp Knox, Ky – November 16, 1918 – Spelled out using men from the 170th Field Artillery Brigade. (The photo was actually taken at the West Point Firing Range)

Camp Knox is located about 30 miles southwest of Louisville, Ky, near what is now the City of  Radcliff . It was built directly over the town of Stithton, Ky, and it covers parts of Hardin, Meade and Bullitt counties. It was approximately 36,330 acres at the time of construction. Built to replace the smaller artillery firing range at West Point, Ky, the new firing range had a seven mile long firing zone, which was much greater than the range at West Point. The West Point camp had a few structures, but all of the soldiers lived under canvas the entire time they were there.

West Point Tent Encampment for Field Artillery, circa July-1918

Constructing Quartermaster, Major W. H. Radcliffe, arrived at the newly selected site on July 26th, 1918, and immediately made arrangements with Lieutenant Van F. Pruitt, the Constructing Quartermaster at Camp Zachary Taylor, to take control of the surveying party as they had already performed some preliminary topographical work on the site. No mapping of the site had been preformed, and that was the most important next step in the process. The Camp Planner arrived the next day from Camp Taylor, and the final site selection for the structures were chosen. The city of Radcliff was named after Major Radcliffe.

John Griffiths & Son Co. Construction Office – October 30, 1918

Major W. H. Radcliffe – Constructing Quartermaster at Camp Knox

Five hundred train cars full of material were shipped to the location shortly thereafter, however the train siding at Stithton could not hold more than eleven cars at one time. Additional track was quickly laid to accommodate more train cars. The General Contractor (John Griffiths & Son, Chicago) arrived on August 5th, and buildings started to take shape about 10 days later.

Civil Engineers at Camp Knox, c. Aug. 1918

Stithton and the surrounding area was void of any hotels or boarding houses, so several barns and tobacco warehouses were commandeered and set up as bunk houses. The labor pool in the area was very thin, and finding qualified workers became a problem. The General Contractor was put on overtime, working seven days a week, from sun up to sun down, to keep up with the schedule.

Material was shipped in by the train car load. Some of that material delivered to the site were: 1.5 million bricks, 75,000 barrels of cement, 54 million board feet of lumber, 25,000 kegs of nails, 2,000 gallons of paint, 111,800 rolls of roofing, and 3.5 million square ft of wall board. There were 16,216 men employed over the duration of the construction.

Turnover of workers was very high due to it’s rural location and lack of access to stores and entertainment.

Construction continued until November 11th when the armistice was signed. After that date, all overtime was stopped, and construction ceased completely on December 21, 1918.

Construction started again on February 1, 1919, but stopped on July 7, 1919 when all funds for the project ran out. Congress appropriated additional funds on August 18, 1919 which was to pay for the work that was already in progress and needed to be completed, but no new structures were started. The original plan was for Camp Knox to be capable of housing 60,000 men, and 27.000 animals. After the signing of the armistice, the camp size was reduced to house 27,000 men.

Caissons rolling thru Camp Knox, circa 1919

The 325th, 326th and 327th Regiment of Field Artillery of the 84th Division had been training at West Point since April 1918. These regiments completed their training in September 1918, and shipped out.

The 170th Brigade Field Artillery, composed of the 67th, 68th and 69th Regiments took their place. In addition, the 24th Brigade Field Artillery, the 24th Trench Mortar Battery were also shipped there. The 29th Aero Squadron and 31st Balloon Company were organized at West Point prior to the construction of Camp Knox. These troops were transferred to from West Point to Camp Knox on November 24, 1918. The last of the transfers were complete by December 26, 1918.

Soldiers and Transport Truck at Camp Knox. circa 1919

Camp Knox became one of the US Army’s Field Artillery ranges, second to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. It remained in operation as one of the Field Artillery Central Officers Training Schools, which had started at Camp Zachary Taylor in August 1918. In 1921, the 10th and 11th Infantry Brigades arrived, along with 40,000 National Guardsmen and ROTC students. The fate of Camp Knox was in doubt since the end of WW1. The army was making plans to downsize, and close camps across the US. It was not until June 9, 1922 when it was announced that Camp Knox would remain open.

Soldiers inspecting M1917 Tank at Camp Knox, circa 1919

Artillery pieces of all types along with tanks were delivered to Camp Knox during that time period because of the large firing range that was available there. .

One of the Mess Halls at Camp Knox, circa 1919

However the good news did not last long. With pressure to downsize the military, along with the demobilization of hundreds of thousands soldiers, Camp Knox was close to being shuttered. By October of 1922, Camp Knox was reassigned as a training camp for the Fifth Corps. The manpower was slashed to 300 soldiers, who were kept to maintain the camp, and provide security.

A baseball game at Camp Knox, circa 1920

Soldiers clowning around the barracks at Camp Knox, circa 1920

In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge signed an executive order reducing the once second largest military camp in the US to “National Forest” status. This lasted for two years until the value of the camp was re-assessed, and two companies from the 10th and 11th Infantries were again stationed at Camp Knox.

The camp stayed in operation for four years where it filled a need in the mid-west as a training facility. In 1931, Camp Knox was upgraded to a permanent base, and renamed “Fort Knox”, which it remains today.