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Friday, June 14, 2013

Fort Sheridan and the Impact of Chemical Warfare

During World War I (1914-1918), Fort Sheridan was at the forefront of mustering and training soldiers. Much of that training focused on mastering trench warfare, since the frontline in Europe was cluttered with the trenches of opposing armies.

As wounded soldiers returned from the war, the Fort shifted its priority from training soldiers to caring for them.
Postcard of soldiers convalescing at one of the wards at
Fort Sheridan's Lovell General Hospital, circa 1918.
LCDM 92.24.236.
Many of the injuries treated at the Fort were caused by innovations new to warfare such as airplanes and poison gas. More than 30% of American casualties were from poisonous gases which ranged from disabling chemicals (tear gas and severe mustard gas) to lethal agents (phosgene and chlorine). Gases blistered exposed flesh and caused rapid or, worse, gradual asphyxiation. Those fortunate enough to survive needed somewhere to convalesce. 
The hospital at Fort Sheridan was built in 1893.
Pictured here circa 1930. LCDM 92.24.1384
In 1918, the Post’s hospital expanded its operations and was dedicated as Lovell General Hospital for Joseph Lovell, Surgeon General of the U.S. Army from 1818-1836.

The hospital became a multi-building complex, including the entire Tower complex, and temporary, wooden structures were constructed on the Post’s parade grounds. This was the largest military hospital in the United States to treat wounded and convalescent soldiers.

View of Fort Sheridan looking northwest, showing the Tower and temporary
buildings for Lovell General Hospital across the parade grounds.
Circa 1920. LCDM 95.32.1

The "Trackless Train" at Fort Sheridan moved wounded between
hospital wards for treatment. Photo from the Chicago Tribune,
March 8, 1919.
Even with Lovell General Hospital and other facilities throughout the country, there were more casualties than the system could handle. In addition to treating veterans of the war, Lovell accepted civilians suffering from the Great Flu Epidemic.

In 1919, the Hostess House of the Young Women's
Christian Association was built at Fort Sheridan using
salvaged material. General Pershing, commander-in-chief of American
forces in Europe, is shown visiting Hostess House. The facility
provided a library and tea room which served homemade
meals to the soldiers. LCDM 95.32.24.

Paul Steorp of Deerfield Township, Lake County, IL, wearing gas mask,
served with the U.S. Army Ambulance Service. LCDM 2003.0.16
The war prompted an enormous expansion of the Army Medical Department.
When the U.S. entered the war the dept. consisted of less than 1,000 personnel,
and numbered over 350,000 when the peace treaty was signed in November 1918. 
In 1920, the temporary structures of Lovell General Hospital were dismantled and sold, and the parade field returned to an open state.

The memory of the horrors of WW I prompted changes in training soldiers for future conflicts, including mandatory gas mask training. 


2nd U.S. Infantry training in tear gas at Fort Sheridan,
circa 1925. LCDM 92.24.1015.

Soldiers entering a gas chamber built on the Fort's Lake Michigan
shoreline. Circa 1935. LCDM 92.24.1761.
Overseas during wartime, military personnel, nurses and civilians were legally required to carry gas masks at all times. Members of the Womens' Army Corps trained in the use of gas masks in simulation chambers as part of their coursework on chemical warfare and some studied gas identification in Officer Candidate School.

WACs emerging from gas chamber training
at Fort Sheridan, 1964. LCDM 92.24.1202

To this day, researchers work to increase protection for military personnel against greater varieties of biological and chemical weapons.

To request a free brochure on Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve with information on the history of the Fort and site map, please email me at: ddretske@lcfpd.org. To view the Lake County Discovery Museum's digitized Fort Sheridan Collection visit the Illinois Digital Archives

5 comments:

Kim@Snug Harbor said...

Fort Sheridan is so rich with history. I did 3 posts on it myself last year. Take a look for some modern photos of what it looks like now.

dotconk said...

Great stuff on the Fort. Keep it coming. Is there a Ft. Sheridan Historical Society?

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for your comments!

Fort Sheridan Historic Preservation can be reached at:
P.O. Box 176
Highland Park, IL 60035

Julie Ewart said...

I worked in Fort Sheridan's Public Affairs Office in its last decade as an active duty base, and I'm newly employed at Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, formerly the North Chicago VA Medical Center. While recently walking on a Fort Sheridan path, I learned to my great surprise that the fort once had a hospital called Lovell, and found additional information on this site. I expect the Lovell connection is entirely coincidental, since each facility was named for a Lovell of a different era, but what a coincidence! Have others noticed this connection? I've posted this discovery and link to this blog on the Lovell FHCC site at https://www.facebook.com/lovellfhcc/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE&fref=nf, fyi.

Diana Dretske said...

Thank you for commenting and posting a link to Facebook. The "Lovell" military hospitals certainly have distinguished roles in Lake County history.