Camp Sherman versus the Mound City Earthworks
By Paul LaRue, Ohio WWI Centennial Committee
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site
The Scioto Valley in South Central Ohio is home to numerous important Pre-Contact American Indian earthworks. The visible heritage of Ohio's Pre-Contact American Indians are the mounds and earthworks that dot the landscape in Southern Ohio.
One of the most important Pre-Contact earthworks is the Mound City Earthworks, part of the Hopewell Cultural National Historical Park near Chillicothe, Ohio. The Mound City Earthworks had been explored and documented as early as the 1840's. In 2017, USA Today selected the Hopewell Cultural National Historical Park as one of its top ten sites in the country in an article titled Ten Great Places to Honor the Original Americans. Ohio fourth grade students learn of these Pre-Contact American Indians, who were the state's first inhabitants. One hundred years ago, the Mound City Earthworks were partially destroyed by Camp Sherman, a World War I cantonment.
In 1917, after the declaration of war, the United States Government leased 9700 acres of land outside Chillicothe, Ohio. Two thousand buildings would be constructed on the leased land, making Camp Sherman the third largest cantonment in the country. More than 120,000 men from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, and West Virginia would train at Camp Sherman. Some of the 9700 acres of Camp Sherman were adjacent, and on top of, the Mound City Earthworks.
The roads, barracks, and latrines of Camp Sherman encroached upon the thirteen-acre Mound City Earthworks with its more than twenty mounds. Some mounds, such as the large mound #7, were spared. Others, like mounds #13 and #23, were "cut down" to accommodate barracks (though the barracks were built over and did not intrude into the mound). Unfortunately for the earthworks, World War I temporarily overshadowed their historical significance.
After Armistice, the Ohio Historical Society, along with local activists, lobbied the United States Government to restore and preserve the important Mound City Earthworks. In 1923, President Warren G. Harding designated the Mound City Earthworks a National Monument. Today, the Hopewell Cultural National Historical Park is a National Park Service site open to the public. Ironically, Camp Sherman, whose sprawl nearly destroyed the Earthworks, is no longer visible. One lone building stands from the more than 2,000 structures that was once a bustling Camp Sherman.
The one remaining Camp Sherman structure does not sit on the grounds of the Hopewell Cultural National Historical Park. Visitors to the Hopewell Cultural Historical Park can walk amongst the sacred Pre-Contact American Indian Earthworks and not be aware it was also the site of one of World War I's largest training facilities.
The Ohio World War I Centennial Committee, the Ohio History Connection, and the National Park Service have partnered to offer a free lesson plan on the Mound City Earthworks and their relationship with Camp Sherman. The lesson plan has just been released at this link: