Berrien’s Black Doughboys: Camp Gordon Men

Camp Gordon Men from Berrien County, GA

During WWI, Berrien County sent its contingent of black soldiers to join the United States Army. While the Jim Crow Army would relegate many black soldiers to support roles, a few Berrien County men would fight in all-black combat units like the 370th Infantry “Black Devils” and the 367th Infantry “Buffalo Infantry.

Nationwide, more than 2.2 million black men were registered over the course of four draft registration calls, of which nearly 370,000 were drafted for induction into the Army. The draft was a lottery in which numbers written on pieces of paper (in red ink) were pulled from a bowl by the U.S. Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. Every number represented one registrant from each local board who would be called in for examination and if accepted, would be inducted into service.

In March of 1918, 86 black men in Berrien County received their orders of induction.  The orders instructed the men to report to the local draft board in Nashville, GA on April 2, 1918 for examination.

WWI Order of Induction P. M. G. O. Form 1028

WWI Order of Induction P. M. G. O. Form 1028

Along with the Order of Induction the men received written instructions on what to wear and what to pack. They were informed of the consequences of failing to report – a court-martial and possibly the death penalty.  Dire warnings notwithstanding, some twenty of the Berrien County men failed to report on April 2, 1918 as ordered.  According to WWI Historian Jennifer D. Keene, illiteracy prevented some men from complying with written induction orders.  “In many rural southern regions, the control that white landowners maintained over their black workforce influenced the workings of local draft boards. Some land owners withheld draft notices that arrived in the mail or refused to read them to their workers. When these workers failed to report, the government listed them as deserters. White planters subsequently gained both the advantage of their continued labor and the chance to collect a $50 reward from the government whenever they felt inclined to turn in these so-called deserters.”   A scandal over the reward for capture of deserters led to the dismissal of one Berrien County draft board member.

Form 1028A Instructions to Selected Men

Form 1028A Instructions to Selected Men

Important Notice to all Men Selected for Military Service and Ordered to
Report to a Local Board for Military Duty.

The day and hour specified on the Classification List of this Local Board, and on the order and notice of induction into military service which accompanies this notice for you to report to this Local Board for military duty, is the time that marks your actual obligation as a soldier of the United States.

Failure to report promptly at the hour and on the day named is a grave military offense, for which you may be court-martialed. Willful failure to report, with an intent to evade military service, constitutes desertion from the Army “of the United States, which in time of war is a capital offense.

Upon reporting to your Local Board, you will not need, and you should not bring with you, anything except hand baggage. You will not be permitted to take trunks or boxes with you on the train. You should take only the following articles: A pair of strong, comfortable shoes to relieve your feet from your new regulation marching shoes; not to exceed four extra suits of underclothing; not to exceed six extra pairs of socks; four face and two bath towels; a comb, a brush, a toothbrush, soap, tooth powder, razor, and shaving soap. It will add to your comfort to bring one woolen blanket, preferably of dark or neutral color. This blanket should be tightly rolled, the ends of the roll should be securely bound together, and the loop of the blanket thus formed slung from your left shoulder to your right hip.

You should wear rough, strong clothing and a flannel shirt, preferably an olive-drab shirt of the kind issued to soldiers.

Note.—Local Boards may have prepared, in the form of a rubber stamp, and stamp in below or on the back hereof any special instructions, such as a direction to request permission to eat and spend the last night at home, as it may desire to give.

On April 2, 1918 sixty-six African-American men from Berrien County, GA  reported to the draft board as ordered.  After passing examination, it appears the men were given permission to spend their last night at home.  On April 3, at Nashville, GA they boarded the Georgia & Florida train bound for Camp Gordon, near Atlanta.  The local draft board at Nashville, GA used Form 1029 PMGO, issued  by the Provost Marshall General’s Office, to document the entrainment of newly enlisted soldiers (images below). The forms include the draftee’s name, serial number, order number, date ordered to report, draft board, name of the mobilization camp, and the draftee’s occupation.

Statements from the Local Draft Board, Nashville, Berrien County, GA document African-American soldiers selected for the draft and entrained on April 3, 1918.

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1918-4-2-berrien county-ga-wwi-inductions-2

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  1. Homer Lee Fordham, Alapaha, GA
  2. Dock Moore, Milltown, GA
  3. Wesley Myers, Bannockburn, GA
  4. John W. Faison, Ray City, GA
  5. Alexander Werkerson, Alapaha, GA
  6. Titus Griffin, Milltown, GA
  7. Willie Mullins, Alapaha, GA
  8. Joe Roberson, Ray City, GA
  9. Ben Cooper, Nashville, GA
  10. Collie Simons [Charlie Simmons?], Tifton, GA
  11. King Cooper, Nashville, GA
  12. Henry Mitchell Vaughn, Nashville, GA
  13. John Cleveland, Adel, GA
  14. Frank Mills, Milltown, GA
  15. Major Wilson, Adel, GA
  16. Charles J. Boggs, Ray City, GA
  17. Mack Leroy Cusack, Nashville, GA
  18. William Clarence, Sparks, GA
  19. Leroy McKinney, Milltow, GA
  20. Hilliard Brock, Nashville, GA
  21. Sam Gaines, Milltown, GA
  22. Marvin McArdle, Milltown, GA
  23. Tarba Bennett, Milltown, GA
  24. Elihu Hooker, Milltown, GA
  25. Joseph Williams, Adel, GA
  26. Garfield Baker, Ray City, GA
  27. Rommie Adams, Alapaha, GA
  28. Will Bell, Alapaha, GA
  29. Tom Sanders, Nashville, GA
  30. Thomas Howard, Ray City, GA
  31. Noah Schofield, Adel, GA
  32. Phane Jackson, Milltown, GA
  33. Elijah Walker, Hahira, GA
  34. Sam Bob, Alapaha, GA
  35. David Genrette, Ray City, GA
  36. Caleb Cooper, Nashville, GA
  37. Ethie Melvin, Milltown, GA
  38. Robert Jones, Ray City, GA
  39. Benjamin Greer, Lenox, GA
  40. Jerry Sheppard, Adel, GA
  41. Beamon Seymore, Adel, GA
  42. Dock Gunn, Nashville, GA
  43. Cleveland Sutton, Enigma, GA
  44. Willie Hutchinson, Adel, GA
  45. James Fullard, Alapaha, GA
  46. Arthur Bradshaw, Milltown, GA
  47. Charles Richerson, Cecil, GA
  48. Frank Jones, Bannockburn, GA
  49. Mose Flournoy, Adel, GA
  50. William Eddie Scruggs, Adel, GA
  51. Charley Stanford, Alapaha, GA
  52. Yancey Cowart, Enigma, GA
  53. Lazarus Burgess, Nashville, GA
  54. John Henry Williams, Alapaha, GA
  55. Grover Cleveland, Cecil, GA
  56. John Morris, Cecil, GA
  57. Isaac Flemming, Alapaha, GA
  58. David Pigford, Adel, GA
  59. Elzie Cooper, Nashville, GA
  60. Ezekiel Lavind, Adel, GA
  61. Snow Williams, Nashville, GA
  62. Peter Jones, Alapaha, GA
  63. Sidney Todd, Milltown, GA
  64. Ed Dupree, Milltown, GA
  65. James Givens, Alapaha, GA
  66. Nathaniel McClinton, Alapaha, GA


Camp Gordon historic marker, Dekalb County, GA

Camp Gordon historic marker, Dekalb County, GA


African-American troops at Camp Gordon, GA

African-American troops at Camp Gordon, GA

Camp Gordon was named in honor of Confederate General John Brown Gordon. After the war, he was a strong opponent of Reconstruction during the late 1860s. He served as a U.S. Senator from Georgia from 1873 to 1880, and again from 1891 to 1897. He also served as the 53rd Governor of Georgia from 1886 to 1890.  Gordon is cited as a prominent member of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan.

Like all southern military camps, those in Georgia operated under the segregation laws of Jim Crow. Federal prohibitions on black troops in combat meant that African American recruits trained and served in engineer service or labor battalions under white officers. -New Georgia Encyclopedia

Of the African American men who were drafted, 89 percent served in labor battalions or as dockworkers. The 42,000 men who did serve in combat were limited to the only two all-black combat regiments, the Ninety-Second and Ninety-Third Divisions. The camps were also segregated, as were most of the YMCA “Y-huts,” which served as places for leisure activities and often had camp libraries, stocked with the help of the ALA’s Library War Service  – American Library Association


African-American training battalion with white officers at Camp Gordon, September 18, 1918

Camp Gordon, near Atlanta, was one of the largest training centers for Negro troops in the South, housing over 9,000 Georgia blacks by late 1917…Black troops there suffered the indignities common elsewhere, and the absence of any black commissioned officers increased their problems. Most black recruits were assigned to engineer or labor service battalions, where they were to perform tedious, often back-breaking tasks, loading and unloading cargo on both sides of the Atlantic. Since these battalions would have no black officer above the rank of corporal, Camp Gordon officials recruited a number of white sergeants, “specially and carefully selected as having had actual experience in charge of gangs of colored laborers.”  -John Dittmer, Historian

African-American Recruits receiving instruction from a white officer. Camp Gordon, Georgia., 03/04/1918, Image source: National Archives

African-American Recruits receiving instruction from a white officer. Camp Gordon, Georgia., 03/04/1918, Image source: National Archives

Segregation at the camp extended to recreational facilities, YMCA, library, hostess houses, and the soldiers clubs.  The War Camp Community Service Colored Soldiers’ Club of Atlanta, GA worked to bring books to African-American soldiers. The organization’s Secretary, Mr. Edward K. Nichols, writing to the American Library Association observed, “You are doubtless aware that throughout the South the public libraries are closed to the colored people. Hence every organization having in its power to extend library facilities to the colored people at large or any group of them has the opportunity of rendering a very needed and much appreciated service.” 

Colored Soldiers Club, Atlanta, GA


Camp Gordon, GA photo by E. Thompson. His title was "Negro soldier reading to boys who can't read. Camp Gordon, Ga. 1917-18" Library of Congress.

Camp Gordon, GA photo by E. Thompson. His title was “Negro soldier reading to boys who can’t read. Camp Gordon, Ga. 1917-18” Library of Congress.

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WWI Vocational Rehabilitation of Thomas J. Collins

In the census of 1910,   Thomas Jefferson Collins was enumerated as a teenager living with his family in Ray City, GA.  He was born July 14, 1894, a son of William A. Collins.  By the time of the WWI replacement draft registration of 1917, he was a young man of 22, with medium height and build, light blue eyes and light brown hair. At the time of the registration, he was living in Barretts, GA, about seven miles south of Ray City where he was employed as a farmer.

Thomas was drafted and inducted for service on June 24, 1918 at Valdosta, GA.  He served in the Army and came back to Ray City a disabled veteran.

WWI Service Record of Thomas J. Collins

WWI Service Record of Thomas J. Collins

The Army sent Collins to Auxiliary Remount Depot 316 at Camp Gordon, GA.

According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Foundation, “The principle function of the Remount Service during peacetime was to procure, process, train, and issue horses, mules, and dogs (1942-1948) for military use and to train personnel in animal management.

Army Mule. Image Source:

Army Mule. Image Source:

It was also responsible for purchase of forage for these animals. Another function of the Remount Service was that of  the Army horse breeding program designed to raise the quality of horses. The Remount Service’s principle functions during war were to supply replacement riding horses and the draft animals required to haul ammunition, water, food, and heavy artillery and to evacuate the wounded. World War I was the last major conflict which the United States Army used horses and mules in significant numbers.  The Remount Service was enlarged to meet the increased demands of the Artillery, the Cavalry and other units.  Around 571,000 horses and mules processed through the Remount system of which more than 68,000 were killed in that war.  At the close of the war the Quartermaster Corps maintained 39 remount depots with a capacity 229,200 animals.”

Auxiliary Remount Depot No. 316 at Camp Gordon, GA had a capacity for 5000 horses and mules, and quartered an average of 4015 animals.  It was staffed with 6 commissioned officers and  75 enlisted men. Collins served there as a private in the Quartermasters Corps. Listing of other depot staff  may be viewed at AUXILIARY REMOUNT DEPOT 316 ROSTER, CAMP GORDON, GEORGIA (ca. 1919).

While in Army service Thomas J. Collins was seriously injured resulting in a 50 percent disability.  He was honorably discharged on March 20, 1919 with a Service Connected Disability.  Fortunately, in 1919 Congress passed a law providing vocational rehabilitation for disabled veterans.


Red Cross Poster for WWI Wounded Warriors

Red Cross Poster for WWI Wounded Warriors

Legislation for Vocational Rehabilitation

During the summer [1919] the bill introduced into Congress by Senator Hoke Smith and Representative Wm. J. Sears, known as the Smith-Sears Bill, was passed by Congress. This Act provides for vocational rehabilitation and return to civil employment of disabled persons discharged from the military and naval forces of the United States. The bill vests the Federal Board for Vocational Education with power to pass on who may be vocationally rehabilitated, to prescribe and provide courses of vocational rehabilitation, and to provide for the placement of rehabilitated persons in suitable and gainful occupations.

The bill appropriates $1,800,000 for buildings and equipment ; preparation and salaries of instructors and supervisors; traveling expenses of disabled persons in connection with training; tuition, placement and supervision after placement of vocationally rehabilitated persons; and investigations and administrative expenses.

An investigation that has been made by the Federal Vocational Board shows that for every million men in the army 100,000 wounded men will recover. Of this 100,000 men 80,000 will need no re-education; 10,000 should have partial re-education, and 10,000 total re-education. Georgia has about   of the population of the United States, and calculating on the basis of three million men in the army we would probably have about 1,000 white soldiers in Georgia to be given re-education, owing to severe wounds. The Federal Board has divided the forms of education for these men into six groups—Agriculture, Commerce, and Professional, Navy, trades, and industries.

This action on the part of the government is indeed a noble one. An effort will be made, as in other countries, to put the crippled soldier on an independent basis of wage earning and not leave him to eke out his existence as a cripple or in a soldiers’ home, but let him feel that tho a crippled he can be a useful and self supporting citizen.

In 1919-1920 Thomas J. Collins of Ray City, GA was a “Rehabilitation Student” at the University of Georgia.

-Announcement of the University of Georgia For the Session of 1920-1021 with a register of officers and students for the session of 1919-1920, Volume 20, Issue 9 By University of Georgia. PG 287

 These courses are open only to disabled soldiers, sailors and marines who have been recommended by the Federal Board for Vocational Training.

Special courses are arranged according to the previous education and training of those recommended for vocational training, taking these courses are required to take work in English and mathematics and optional courses in general agriculture or special courses in agronomy, horticulture, animal husbandry, agricultural engineering or poultry husbandry.

The object of these courses is to give vocational training in some phase of agricultural work

The High school quarterly, Volume 7 By University of Georgia, Georgia High School Association, Georgia College Association, National High School Inspectors’ Association, Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Commission on Accredited Schools of the Southern States. PG 6

By 1930, Thomas J. Collins was living in Valdosta, GA and later moved to Hillsborough, Florida.


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Death and Repatriation of Private Gordon Williams

Photos of fallen soldiers from the Georgia State Memorial  Book, 1921, provide better images of  the sons of Berrien County, GA who served and died during the Great War – WWI.  Gordon Williams, image scanned for this post, was one of three men from Ray City, GA  who gave their lives in the conflict, the others being Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb.

PVT. GORDON WILLIAMS. Ray City, Ga. Private Williams entered service June 25th, 1918. Was attached to the 35th Company, 9th Training Battalion, 157th Depot Brigade at Camp Gordon, Atlanta, Ga. Embarked for over-seas in August, 1918, where he contracted pneumonia which resulted in his death at Base Hospital 33, September 20th, 1918.

Gordon Williams registered for the draft in Ray City, GA on June 5, 1917. The registrar was C.O. Terry.

WWI Draft Registration of Gordon Williams, Ray City, GA

WWI Draft Registration of Gordon Williams, Ray City, GA

Gordon Williams was selected for service and inducted into the Army on June 25, 1918. He was entrained for Camp Gordon along with 22 other Berrien County men, where he completed his training.  Gordon Williams’ fellow Berrien County inductees and camp mates at Camp Gordon included Owen Spivey, J. Falson Brown,Hugh Hardy, Bill Sapp, Silas Isbon Thomas, William Jesse Moore,Isom Thornton, Vaden Hughes, Flem Mitchell Gray, Melton Jackson Hinton, William E. Griffin, Archie Dunn, Luther Tyson, James Fletcher Hutto, Charlie Lawson Sirmans, Thomas Alvin Baker, Brooker Hodges, Robert C. Royals, Zollie Brown Thomas, Billie Lindsey, John Richmond Griner and Milburn Mathis.

Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA

Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA

Panoramic View of Camp Gordon, Atlanta GA, 1918.<br> Gordon Williams and other men Berrien County, GA trained at Camp Gordon.

Panoramic View of Camp Gordon, Atlanta GA, 1918.
Gordon Williams and other men Berrien County, GA trained at Camp Gordon. Library of Congress.

In June, July and August, 1918,  the troop ships transported 870,988 American soldiers to Europe to fight in WWI.   A large portion of these arriving troops, including Private Gordon, were routed through England.   Even before leaving America, these troops were fighting a war of attrition – a war against disease.    On some arriving transports, disease ravaged the troops.  Thousands of soldiers reached England already stricken with Influenza.

Private Gordon Williams was sent to Base Hospital 33 with pneumonia, a frequent complication of Influenza during WWI.  He died at the hospital on September 20, 1918.

United States Army Base Hospital No. 33, established at  Portsmouth Borough Asylum, Portsmouth, England, was one of many hospitals where the American casualties of WWI were treated. This institution had been built and maintained by the Board of Asylum Control of London. It consisted of one main building of modern brick and stone construction and of several detached villas surrounded by eight acres of farmland.  War wounded requiring surgery were returned from France to Southampton, England on hospital ships then sent on to the base hospitals via motor ambulances and hospital trains;  casualties from the front might reach Base Hospital 33 within thirty-six hours from the time they had been wounded.

It is difficult to appreciate the extent to which Influenza and other diseases depleted the roles of the arriving American troops. Just two days after the death of Gordon Williams, Base Hospital 33 received word that another  troop ship, “the S.S. Olympic,  with six thousand troops on board, the greater number of them suffering from influenza, had come to port in Southampton.   [The S.S. Olympic was the sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic.]  Sixty-six tents were immediately secured from the British to set up in the court yard of Base Hospital No. 33. Convalescent patients and members of the detachment were immediately transferred to these tents and the wards were cleared for the reception of influenza patients. Within one week seven hundred and ninety-seven cases had come to us, one hundred and forty-four of whom were nurses and female members of the Signal Corps. Both pneumonia and meningitis developed.

Base Hospital 33, Portsmouth, England.  Private Gordon Williams, of Ray City, GA died at the hospital on September 20, 1918.

Base Hospital 33, Portsmouth, England.  Private Gordon Williams, of Ray City, GA died at the hospital on September 20, 1918.

For three years, the remains of Gordon Williams were interred in England. The Atlanta Constitution reported the return of his body to U.S. soil,  Jan 13, 1922.

Atlanta Constitution, Jan 13, 1922

Services were held yesterday over the bodies of eight southern soldiers, including one Atlantan, colored, who lost their lives overseas during the world war. The bodies arrived at 11:30 o’clock at the Terminal station.

The soldiers and their destinations were: Private Victor LeBlanc, Convington, La.; Private Mayberry Smith, Lucien, Miss.,; Private Gordon Williams, Ray City, Ga.; Private Alfred Lindsey, Ward, Ala.; Private Aquilla Calhoun, Aiken, S.C.; Private Ike Thomas, Prichard, Ala.; Jesse Ellor, Trion, Ga., and Private Thomas Reese, colored, Atlanta

Gordon Williams was re-interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Gordon Williams. Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County, GA. Image source: Charles T. Zeigler

Grave of Gordon Williams. Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County, GA. Image source: Charles T. Zeigler

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