Dakota Datebook

Camp Mills

 

Most of North Dakota’s National Guard were assigned to the 41st Division at Camp Greene in early October of 1917, and in November, the division began moving to Camp Mills, New York to be closer to their embarkation point for the trip to France. Smaller units of the guard went to the 116th Engineers or the 148th Field Artillery, and were sent to Newport News, Virginia.

Camp Mills had few amenities, reported the Weekly Times-Record from Valley City on this date in 1917.  The article stated that it was, “the meanest, nastiest, sloppiest, muckiest, foggiest, and dirtiest camp in the world.”  The soldiers were housed in rotting tents filled with holes that allowed in the rain and cold, which persisted throughout the days of the encampment.  Eight-man tents often held twelve to sixteen men.  A single camp stove per tent provided little comfort as fuel was in short supply.  Water lines froze, and showers and clean clothes were nonexistent.  On December 6th, after almost a month at Camp Mills, the 41st Division moved to the warm, wooden barracks of Camp Merritt, New Jersey.  It was a brief respite from the winter weather before they boarded the ships at Hoboken to begin their voyage to Europe.

The smaller units of the guard, now at Newport News, fared slightly better.  Unfortunately, their pay and health records had gone to Camp Mills and it wasn’t until March that the War Department bureaucracy caught up.

Meanwhile back in North Dakota, a coal shortage was being felt.  The temperature had plummeted to 28 degrees below zero with highs also below zero.  Rail car shortages had become critical.  Limited to only a ton, or even at times a half ton of Eastern hard coal, North Dakotans were forced to look elsewhere to keep warm.  New coal mines were opening all along the Northern Pacific Railway in the state.  The discovery of a significant vein of lignite a half-mile south of Stanton promised a ready supply.  The softer lignite coal, mostly ignored until the shortage, was soon finding its way to warm the homes and cook the food for North Dakotans.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

Citizens as Soldiers, A History of the North Dakota National Guard, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1986.

The Oakes Times, December 13, 1917

Grand Forks Herald, December 13, 1917

The Weekly Times-Record, Valley City, December 6, 1917

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