Camp Devens: Home of New England’s Own

“Steam heat for the National Army what. I wish you could see the way these fellows are putting up for the winter.” -Letter from Sam Avery, 12/26/17

World War I

Named after Union General and Judge Charles Devens of the Civil War, Camp Devens was established in 1917 as the primary National Army cantonment (training center) for the Northeast Military Department. Built on a tract 7 miles long by 2 miles wide, Camp Devens covered 5000 acres of land along the Boston and Maine railway obtained from the contiguous communities of Ayer, Harvard, Shirley and Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Camp Devens, 1917

Construction started in early June, 1917, and was performed by a labor force of 5,000 workers which in just 10 weeks built a small city consisting of 1400 buildings, 20 miles of road, 400 miles of electric wiring and 60 miles of heating pipes in addition to water and sewer service. Due to the speed of its development, Camp Devens formally opened at the beginning of September, 1917. It was the first of 16 National Army cantonments to be completed in the country, processing and training more than 100,000 soldiers of the 76th and 12th Divisions from 1917-1919.

The 76th Division consisted of troops drafted from throughout New England under the Selective Service Act of 1917. The first troops arrived by 9/5/1917, and rapidly increased to a wartime population of 40,000 men. The 76th Division consisted of the following units along with the 151st Depot Brigade of 13 battalions of unattached troops:

151st Infantry Brigade

  • 301st Infantry Regiment (“Boston’s Own”)
  • 301st Machine Gun Battalion
  • 302nd Infantry Regiment
  • 302nd Machine Gun Battalion

152nd Infantry Brigade

  • 303rd Infantry Regiment
  • 303rd Machine Gun Battalion
  • 304th Infantry Regiment

151st Field Artillery Brigade

  • 301st Field Artillery Regiment {75mm}
  • 301st Ammunition Train
  • 302nd Field Artillery Regiment {4.7″}
  • 303rd Field Artillery Regiment {155mm}
  • 301st Trench Mortar Battery

Divisional Troops

  • 301st Engineer Regiment
  • 301st Engineers Train
  • 301st Sanitary Train {Field Hospitals #301, #302, #303, #304}
  • 301st Supply Train
  • 301st Signal Battalion
  • 301st Field Signal Battalion
  • 301st Headquarters Train and Military Police

The 76th Division departed for France at the beginning of July in 1918, at which time Camp Devens became home to the formation of the 12th Division which was a combined force of Regular Army and National Army troops:

23rd Infantry Brigade

  • 36th Infantry Regiment
  • 73rd Infantry Regiment
  • 35th Machine Gun Battalion

24th Infantry Brigade

  • 42nd Infantry Regiment
  • 74th Infantry Regiment
  • 36th Machine Gun Battalion

12th Artillery Brigade

  • 34th Field Artillery Regiment
  • 35th Field Artillery Regiment
  • 36th Field Artillery Regiment
  • 12th Trench Mortar Battery

Divisional Troops

  • 212th Engineers
  • 212th Field Signal Battalion
  • 212th Supply Train
  • 212th Sanitary Train
  • 212th Headquarters Train
  • 245th Field Hospital
  • 245th Ambulance Company
  • 246th Field Hospital
  • 246th Ambulance Company
  • 247th Field Hospital
  • 247th Ambulance Company

The 12th Division did not serve overseas, but did its own battle with the Spanish Flu epidemic during the Fall of 1918 and sustained heavy casualties: Approximately 14,000 men were hospitalized with influenza and pneumonia. Of these, more than 2,278 died including five nurses and two doctors.

Camp Devens, 1918

Following the Armistice in November of 1918, Camp Devens became the separation center or “demobilization camp” for more than 150,000 troops returning from France including the 26th “Yankee” Division in April, 1919. Camp Devens was then placed on inactive status, serving as a summer training area for National Guard and Army Reserve troops over the next several years.

From Camp Devens to Fort Devens

Passage of the National Defense Act of 1920 provided funds for upgrading the facilities of Camp Devens as a permanent military installation. In 1931, Camp Devens was renamed Fort Devens. Reconstruction continued at a slow pace during the 1930’s as a project of the Works Progress Administration. Today, the Fort Devens Historic District provides a well-preserved example of U.S. Army post planning and standardized building construction between 1929 and 1940. The 103 buildings surviving from this period are currently on the National Register of Historic Districts.

World War II

In 1940 following the implementation of the first peacetime draft, Fort Devens was designated as the reception center for all New England troops. An additional building project was started which constructed more than 1200 wooden buildings and an airfield.

The 1st, 32nd and 45th Infantry Divisions along with the 4th Women’s Army Corps all trained at Fort Devens during the Second World War. Additionally, Fort Devens provided training support for nurses, chaplains, cooks and bakers. It also housed a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian prisoners from 1944-1946.

After serving once more as a demobilization center following the Second World War, Fort Devens was again placed on reserve status until the start of the Korean War. For the next forty years, Fort Devens continued to serve as the training center for many smaller units sent into action overseas during the Korean, Vietnam and First Gulf Wars.

A New Direction

After 79 years of service, Fort Devens was closed in 1996 under the National Base Realignment and Closing Act. It is now evolving into a planned residential and business community renamed Devens under the authority of MassDevelopment. Although no longer an active military installation, Devens is still home to elements of the Army Reserve Command (94th Regional Readiness Command) and the Marine Corps Reserve (25th Marine Regiment).

To this day, the ghostly sound of distant artillery practice can sometimes still be heard for miles under the New England sky…

301st, 302nd, 303rd Field Artillery Helmet

Published on December 10, 2010 at 8:04 pm  Comments (15)  

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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i have a yard long photo of ww1 in an attic of an old house it is in mint shape, my pi has #S on it back of picture it has 307-2 and under that one is 136-14 the paper that protects it has #s 72701 and the inner cardboard has the same 72701 what does this mean im in lowell massachusettes and found it in westford mass i think it may be from camp devens, can you help me please thank you joe

  2. i have a picture 53″ x 9″ of the 301st infantry. it says camp Devens.mass. June 1918. there are over 200 soldiers in the picture (hard to count) can you tell me anything about it. it was signed by G.W. Lovell

  3. I have a panoramic pic 36″ x 9″ that says A Co. Military Police Camp Devens, Mass. 1918 there are about 140 men in the pic. It is in fair shape but all faces are visible and in good focuse. Would like it to go to a place where it can be restored and displayed please email me thank you Daniel R. Sherwood

  4. My grandfather was in the 303rd Machine Gun Battalion at Camp Devens, deployed to France. Would love to know if a picture of his battalion exists somewhere!

  5. reneemlatulippe i have a photo of the 303d national army in panorama of my great grand father. i will contact a historian now

  6. I have a photo of company H 304th regiment infantry national army camp devens 1917.
    I’m looking for some information on who might be in the photo. I found it in the attic of our fire house in North Canaan Ct.

  7. I have a Co.G 303rd Infantry Camp Devens Mass July 1918 photo.
    There are probably 200 men in the photo. I assume the photo belonged to my grandfather . Can anyone tell more about the photo and what can I do with it.

  8. My grandfather served in the 301st Field Artillery Regiment, Battery F. His war diary mentions arriving at Camp Devens then deploying to France. I have his Battery photo at Devens as well as his helmet, gas mask and related items. Great site!

  9. I have a photograph of Co. A 12th MP Camp Devens Mass Oct 1918. The original is in poor shape but I have had a copy restored. I am looking for information regarding the identity of the soldiers in the photograph as I am looking to determine which is my great grandfather George Fernald. Thanks for any help.

  10. […] are at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, better known as Fort Devens, but originally a temporary spot for quick training […]

  11. I have a 47″ x 7″ panoramic pic of Company A…33rd Engineers…Camp Devens, Mass. dated April 23, 1918. Photo by G.W. Lovell with Falk Photo C., Boston. It is in excellent condition (however a bit faded) and was hanging in the upstairs of the Minneapolis house I bought in 1997. I am looking for information about this pic and it’s worth.

  12. III HAVE A PANORAMIC PICTURE OF COMPANY D. 303. MCB AYERS, MA 6/ JUNE 25 1918 I AM LOOKING FOR THE NAMES OF THE SOLDIERS IN THIS PICTURE TO SEE IF ANY RELATION TO ME, THIS WAS FOUND IN MY GRANDMOTHER’S ATTIC.

  13. I have a 3 foot long photo labeled “Co. 1. 304th Regt. Infantry National Army…Camp Devens, Ayers Mass…1917″. There is some water damage and torn edges, the the body of the picture is good. If anyone has a family member who served in that unit I’d love to hear from you.

  14. My Uncle was in Comp L 325 infantry 82 division. I was wondering if anyone might have a picture they would like to share.

  15. My father was in the 301st Field Artillery Regiment that served in France during WWI. Leverett Saltonstall, later a senator, was his commanding officer. I have two pictures of him in army uniform. Would like to communicate with anyone with pictures or info about this group. Thanks.


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