Located along US Highway 49 just outside of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Camp Shelby is the largest training site owned by a state in the US. It’s one of the largest mobilization stations of the US Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), and it’s also the biggest reserve training facility. Since 1917, Camp Shelby has been an important support and training site that has continuously remained open. The US Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have all trained at Camp Shelby at one time or another. Today the camp is the yearly training spot for the National Guard and Army Reserve units stationed in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
History of Camp Shelby
Camp Shelby’s history dates back to before World War I. It started as a basic training facility for soldiers headed off to the front lines. Activated in 1917, Camp Shelby immediately started training for the 37th Division, which was the Ohio National Guard, and 38th “Cyclone” Division, which included troops from Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana. The local community wanted the camp to be built in the DeSoto National Forest. Approval came from the Secretary of the Army and work started in July of 1917. More than 4,500 workers helped to build the camp, which included 1,206 buildings. Soldiers were housed in tents, but the facilities included a hospital and several warehouses.
The first to arrive in 1917 were the 6,000 National Guardsmen from Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia. They made up the 38th Division, which were shipped to France. These troops were also responsible for naming the camp after Isaac Shelby, who was an American Native Indian warrior, American Revolutionary war hero and the first governor of Kentucky. He was distinguished among the Chickamouga Indians for his militia style of battle. He commanded the expedition in the American Revolution that conquered a much larger British force known as the Battle of King’s Mountain. He would again lead an attack at the age of 63 of 4,000 Kentucky volunteers against British regulars at the Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812.
Camp Shelby was deactivated in 1918 after the end of World War I. Most of the buildings were demolished. Only one of the original facilities still remains. Building 6981, which is an ammunition storage unit is still standing next to the MATES facility along Warehouse Road.
The camp was partially reopened in 1934 so that Mississippi state could use it as a summer camp for the National Guard. It was the best location for US Army maneuvers at the time, and in 1940, the Mississippi Congressional delegation completely reopened the camp as World War II loomed on the horizon. The camp underwent new construction that involved 17,000 workers and built 1,800 new builders. There were 250 miles of newly paved roads. In total, it cost $24 million to renovate the camp. However, soldiers still slept in 14,000 tents. At one time, the camp swelled to 100,000 people. Over 1,000 square miles of the camp was used for training at the height of World War II.
The 31st Division joined the ranks as well as the 43rd, 65th and 69th Divisions, which included the 442 Regimental Combat Team that included Japanese-Americans who would go on to be highly commended soldiers in the European Theatre. The 85th “Custer” Infantry Division, 100th Battalion and 773rd Tank Destroyer Battalion would also come to be stationed at Shelby later in World War II. Camp Shelby also hosted the units of the Women’s Army Corp. A prisoner of war camp was also created at Shelby to house German POWs captured from Rommel’s Africa Corps. Camp Shelby quickly became the largest training center in the world during this time.
Camp Shelby during World War contained 360,000 acres with another 400,000 acres leased for maneuvers. Over a 1,000 square miles were dedicated to military training, storage and mobilization.
Shelby was again deactivated after World War II. Most of the land was sold. During the Korean War, Shelby became an emergency facility and $3 million was spent to restore water, rail and electric services to keep the camp running. National Guard units began training at Shelby again in 1954. The camp became a permanent training facility in 1956 and came under the control of the Third Army Headquarters.
Over the years, Camp Shelby trained over 120,000 Army Reserve, active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marine Corps and National Guardsmen. The camp currently spans nearly 135,000 acres, and it is still the largest state-owned field training site in the US. the site can accommodate large battalion style maneuvers, including Gunnery Table 8012 and FA Firing Points. There are also numerous storage and support facilities located on site.
Today, Shelby also is also home to the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum and the Youth Challenge Academy on-base. The Youth Challenge Academy provides military education for FED and state high school diploma students. It was opened to aid Mississippi High School dropouts ages 16 to 18 under the guidance of the National Guard Bureau.
The Air National Guard unveiled a new combat training runway at Shelby in 2007. It spans 210 acres and is known as Shelby Auxiliary Field 1. Camp Shelby is only one of two sites in the world created for C-17 Globemaster III landing operations.
Housing and Billeting at Camp Shelby
Shelby is a training facility and mobilization station under the US Army Forces Command. The camp has 350 active duty soldiers, 800 National Guardsmen, 20 Army Reserves, 300 civilians and 525 dependents.
For billeting, you can call 601-558-2540 to make reservations. THE DSN is 286-2540. You can also reach the office for the camp cabins at 601-558-2500. Guests can stay on-base in barracks-style rooms with housekeeping, microwaves, coffeemakers, TV/Cable, Internet access and air conditioning. Guests also receive maps to the local community and a list of things to do around the area including restaurants, hotels and activities for families.