Answering the Call to Serve: Camp Logan, Houston, Texas 1917–1919
It has been over 100 years since Germany invaded Belgium and Europe went to war. When the United States entered the global conflict on April 6, 1917, the country was unprepared for modern warfare. After the government passed the Selective Service Act, over nine million men registered for the draft. General John J. Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Force, insisted that the troops be properly trained before going off to fight in France. To mobilize the men for battle, the country needed temporary facilities or camps to organize and train the recruits. The construction division of the army was created in May 1917 to build sixteen National Guard camps in locations across the nation. On June 14, 1917 it was announced that Houston had been awarded a camp site for a division of the Illinois National Guard.
The government leased an area from the Hogg family that was situated on Buffalo Bayou, west of the Houston city limits. The facility was to be named Camp Logan, for Major General John A. Logan, a veteran of the Civil War and U.S. Congressman who in 1868 helped found Memorial Day as a national holiday. Few Houstonians today realize just how extensive the camp was. The developed area of Camp Logan was 3,002 acres within a tract of 9,560 acres. Cantonments like Camp Logan were designed to house approximately 40,000 troops. Workers transformed a massive forest into a working training facility complete with a hospital, post office, tents to house the soldiers, a YMCA auditorium, a bakery, mess halls, artillery ranges, stables and more. The construction proceeded at an astonishing pace. Within just thirteen days, hundreds of local laborers had completed the basic infrastructure of the camp. The rapid pace continued, and by mid-August most of the 1,329 buildings had been completed.
On August 23, 1917 the intense activity at Camp Logan was interrupted by one of the most tragic events in Houston’s history. The 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, composed of African-American soldiers and white officers, had come to Houston to guard the construction of Camp Logan. Houston was a southern city governed by Jim Crow laws, and the weeks of harsh treatment by locals and the Police Department directly affected the morale of the soldiers. The boiling point occurred with the arrest of an African-American soldier, followed by the false rumor of his death at the hands of the police. Over one hundred mutinous soldiers took their rifles and headed to the police station. They marched from their camp site near Washington Ave. at Reinerman through the Brunner subdivision, across the bridge at Shepherd’s Dam and then down today’s West Dallas Ave. The city of Houston was placed under martial law on August 24th as a mob of white Houstonians gathered in response to the mutiny. In all, eleven citizens lost their lives, five police officers were killed in the line of duty, and thirty citizens suffered severe wounds. Four mutinous soldiers died, with two accidentally killed by their own men and one soldier shot by a citizen. Sergeant Vida Henry, one of the leaders of the riot, died by his own hand.
The next day the entire battalion of the 24th Infantry was place on a train out of town, where they would be court martialed. The soldiers from Illinois who arrived at Camp Logan early in September 1917 were largely unaffected by the tragic and violent events that had just taken place. These men were there to train for combat. The War Department did decide to send the 8th Illinois Infantry, an African-American unit, to train at Logan, despite what had happened with the 24th Infantry. Most of the soldiers who trained at Logan went on to fight in France. Some lost their lives and many were awarded for their valor. After Armistice Day in 1919, the camp was shut down and quickly dismantled.
In 1923, Catherine M. Emmott wrote a letter to the Chronicle suggesting that the former training facility be made into a park dedicated to the troops who served in the war. Today, Memorial Park encompasses most of Camp Logan. Although there have been many changes to the landscape, local archeologists Louis Aulbach and Linda Gorski have found some remaining footprints of the structures from the camp.