Military history of Fort Drum and local area
Nearly a century before Fort Drum came into existence, there had been an active military presence in the local area, which would later play a role in an Army installation being established in northern New York. To fully understand Fort Drum’s history, one must first look to the nearby village of Sackets Harbor on the shore of Lake Ontario.
Sackets Harbor and Madison Barracks
Sackets Harbor was founded in 1801 by Augustus Sackett, who saw the commercial advantages of the vast lumber resources and the deep natural harbor of the Black River Bay. The village became a major shipping and shipbuilding center due to its location to Canada across Lake Ontario. This meant profitable trade with Canada and England.
War of 1812
With the declaration of war against England in 1812, Sackets Harbor became the headquarters of the U.S. military for the northern frontier. The village was now a major military outpost and shipbuilding center with the sudden swarm of troops and ship carpenters. Hastily prepared earthen works named Fort Volunteer were established at the start of the War of 1812 to defend the northeast end of Sackets Harbor. A new set of breastworks and a blockhouse named Fort Pike was constructed adjacent to Fort Volunteer; these two forts would later form the core of Madison Barracks. Another string of defensive land forts followed. These were Forts Kentucky, Virginia, Chauncey, and Stark. On Lake Ontario at the land’s end of Navy Point was Fort Tompkins.
British forces led by Lt. Gen. Sir George Provost, who was also the British governor general of Canada, began moving towards Sackets Harbor on May 27, 1813. As the British forces neared the harbor, they spotted ships at a distance, and Provost feared these were American ships. Thinking they were American ships, he withdrew, which allowed the Americans time to strengthen their defenses. The Americans received 500 more militiamen as reinforcements who were added to the force of 500 regulars and 250 militiamen commanded by Lt. Col. Electus Backus. On May 29, the British finally attacked and attempted to land south of the town, but with American defenses being too strong, they were forced instead to land on the north side of town. The Americans were initially pushed back, but they rallied and succeeded in stopping the British advance. Provost called off the attack and withdrew when his forces failed to dislodge the Americans.
Post-War of 1812
After the War of 1812, the U.S. saw the importance of trained troops, which led to the building of Madison Barracks at a cost of $85,000. It became a substantial link in Sackets Harbor’s chain of defense. Named for President James Madison, the barracks was operated by the U.S. Army until after World War II. It was continuously enlarged and improved throughout its existence to accommodate the military’s needs at the given time.
During its use, Madison Barracks was considered one of the nation’s best military posts. A few well-known leaders who spent time at Sackets Harbor were Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. Mark Clark, Gen. Jacob Brown, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and President Martin Van Buren.
Of all of the Soldiers and units stationed at Sackets Harbor, the 9th Infantry Regiment was probably the most well-known. In 1892, the 9th Infantry Regiment was stationed at Madison Barracks at the end of the Indian Campaigns. Here their military training continued with long marches, inspections, and marksmanship training.
During its stay at Madison Barracks, the 9th Infantry Regiment was involved with the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the Boxer Rebellion in China. During the battle to capture Tientsin in China, the 9th Infantry Regiment was engaged in deadly combat. The regiment commander, Col. Emerson H. Liscom, was fatally wounded while recovering the colors from the wounded color bearer of the regiment. Before Liscom died, he handed off the colors to the adjutant with his final command to the Soldiers: “Keep up the Fire!” The fighting continued, and the regiment was successful in its attack.
When service in the Pacific was over, the 9th Infantry Regiment returned to Madison Barracks. Affixed to the water tower, one of the most prominent landmarks on the military post, is a large plaque on which are listed the names of Soldiers of the 9th Infantry Regiment who lost their lives in service in Cuba, the Philippines and China between 1898 and 1907.
During action in these locales, five Soldiers of the 9th Infantry Regiment earned the Medal of Honor:
Second Lt. Ira C. Welborn, Santiago, Cuba, July 2,1898:
Second Lt. George W. Wallace, Tinuba, Luzan, Philippine Islands, March 4, 1900;
Pvt. Robert H. Von Schlick, Tientsin, China, July 13, 1900, (posthumous);
First Lt. Louis B. Lawton, Tientsin, China, July 13, 1900, and
Capt. Andre W. Brewster, Tientsin, China, July 13, 1900.
Fort Drum and its predecessors
Col. Philip Reade, as regimental commander of the 23rd U.S. Infantry at Madison Barracks, was a driving force behind Camp Hughes’ selection and success. Col. Reade realized that developments in modern military weapons such as bolt action rifles, machine guns, and rapid firing artillery pieces had exceeded the capability of the U.S. Army to train at Sackets Harbor. He then coordinated with local North Country leaders and the Watertown Chamber of Commerce to look for a new training area. The area in Felts Mills, immediately north of the Black River, was chosen.
Between Aug. 31 and Sept. 7, 1907, the New York National Guard established a temporary tent encampment, which they called Camp Hughes. It was named for Charles E. Hughes, who was then the governor of New York. Since that summer, U.S. Army Soldiers have trained annually at that site.
The following year in 1908, Brig. Gen. Frederick Dent Grant, the oldest son of President Ulysses S. Grant, led thousands of Soldiers back to the area north of Black River, known locally as Pine Plains. Brig. Gen. Grant commanded 2,000 Regular Army Soldiers and 8,000 militia men from throughout the Northeast. He found Pine Plains to be an ideal place to train troops. Money was allocated to purchase the land, and summer training continued there through the years. The camp at Pine Plains formally opened on June 11, 1908, and training continued throughout the summer.
The camp's first introduction to the national spotlight came in 1935 when the largest peacetime maneuvers were held on Pine Plains and surrounding farmlands. Thirty-six thousand five hundred Soldiers came from throughout the Northeast to take part in the exercise. Some Soldiers travelled by trains, which arrived in town every 15 minutes, coming from as far away as Buffalo and New York City.
For 36 hours, young men from offices, factories, and farms marched, attacked and defended in tactical exercises on the 100-mile stretch of land the Army had leased for its war games. The maneuvers were judged to be most successful, and the War Department purchased another 9,000 acres of land.
Pine Camp Cantonment - World War II
With the outbreak of World War II, the area then known as Pine Camp was selected for a major expansion when an additional 75,000 acres of land were purchased. With that purchase, 525 local families were displaced. Five entire villages were eliminated, while others were reduced from one-third to one-half their size. By Labor Day 1941, 100 tracts of land were taken over. Three thousand buildings, including 24 schools, six churches and a post office, were abandoned.
Contractors then went to work, and in a period of 10 months at a cost of $20 million, an entire city was built to house the divisions scheduled to train here. Eight hundred buildings were constructed: 240 barracks, 84 mess halls, 86 storehouses, 58 warehouses, 27 officers' quarters, 22 headquarters buildings, and 99 recreational buildings as well as guardhouses and a hospital. Construction workers paid the price, as the winter of 1941-42 was one of the coldest in North Country history.
The three divisions to train at Pine Camp were Gen. George S. Patton's 4th Armored Division (Gen. Creighton Abrams was a battalion commander here at the time), the 45th Infantry Division and the 5th Armored Division, along with the 754th Tank Battalion, which went on to fight in the jungles of the Pacific.
The post also served as a prisoner of war camp. Of those prisoners who died here, one Italian and six Germans are buried in the cemetery along Route 26 between the 45th Infantry Division Gate and the Oneida Gate.
Fort Drum: 1945 to 1984
In 1951, Pine Camp became Camp Drum -- named after Lt. Gen. Hugh A. Drum, who commanded the First Army during World War II. During and after the Korean Conflict, a number of units were stationed and trained here to take advantage of the terrain and climate. Since its earliest existence, the post has been a major annual training site for Northeastern National Guard and Reserve forces. Throughout Camp Drum’s existence, it was still considered a temporary training facility for the U.S. Army, and Soldiers continued to be quartered in World War II temporary barracks during summer drills.
The post was designated Fort Drum in 1974, and a permanent garrison was assigned. In April 1980, B Company, 76th Engineer Battalion (Combat Heavy) was reassigned here from Fort Meade, Md. It was followed by the rest of the battalion, less D Company, three years later.
Fort Drum has served as a major training center for reserve component forces, and units of the New York Army National Guard rank among the post’s most frequent customers. The nearly 12,000-member New York Army National Guard is composed of state headquarters and three major commands: Headquarters, 42nd Infantry Division (Mechanized); Headquarters, 53rd Troop Command, and the 27th Separate Infantry Brigade (Enhanced). Battalions, companies and detachments of these commands are distributed among more than 60 armories across the state from Niagara Falls to the tip of Long Island. These units regularly come to Fort Drum for weekend inactive duty training and annual training during the year. Fort Drum’s ranges, training areas and facilities are essential to the New York Army National Guard to meet readiness objectives and federal training requirements.
In January 1984, the Department of the Army announced it was studying selected Army posts to house a new light infantry division. On Sept. 11, 1984, the announcement was made that Fort Drum would be the new home of the 10th Light Infantry Division. The first division troops arrived at Fort Drum on Dec. 3, 1984. Between 1986 and 1992, 130 new buildings, 35 miles of roads, and 4,272 sets of family housing units were built at a cost of $1.3 billion.
10th Mountain Division reactivated: 1985
On Feb. 13, 1985, the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) was officially reactivated at Fort Drum. It was the first division of any kind formed by the Army since 1975 and the first based in the Northeast since World War II. Since then, it has been one of the most deployed units in the U.S. Army. The division commander after reactivation was Brig. Gen. William S. Carpenter.
The 10th Mountain Division (LI) was designed to meet a wide range of worldwide infantry-intensive contingency missions. Equipment design was oriented toward reduced size and weight for reasons of both strategic and tactical mobility.
Fort Drum: 1985 to present
Today, Fort Drum consists of 107,265 acres. Its mission includes commanding active component units assigned to the installation, providing administrative and logical support to tenant units, providing support to tenant units, providing support to active and reserve units from all services in training at Fort Drum, and planning and providing support for mobilization and training of almost 80,000 troops annually.
(Last updated: July 2018)