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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.

One of 78 hospital wards at Fort Sheridan, circa 1919. Dunn Museum 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 and shown here circa 1930. Dunn Museum 92.24.1384

In 1918, the Post’s hospital expanded its operations and became General Hospital No. 28. Later it was dedicated as Lovell General Hospital for General Joseph Lovell (1788-1836), Surgeon General of the U.S. Army from 1818-1836.

Associated Press article which appeared in The Dispatch, Moline, Illinois on October 18, 1918.

The hospital grew into a multi-building complex, including the entire Tower complex. 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 General Hospital No. 28 (later Lovell General Hospital) across the parade grounds.
Circa 1919. Dunn Museum 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 the Fort Sheridan hospital and other facilities throughout the country, there were more casualties than the system could handle. In addition to treating veterans of the war, Fort Sheridan's hospital accepted civilians suffering from the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918.

In 1919, the Hostess House of the Young Women's Christian Association was built at Fort Sheridan using
salvaged material. General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the
Western Front in World War I, visited Fort Sheridan and the Hostess House in December 1919.
The facility provided a library and tea room which served homemade meals to convalescing soldiers. Dunn Museum 95.32.24.

Paul Steorp of Deerfield Township, Lake County, IL, wearing gas mask. Steorp 
served with the U.S. Army Ambulance Service. Dunn Museum 2003.0.16

The World War prompted an enormous expansion of the Army Medical Department. When the U.S. entered the war the department consisted of less than 1,000 personnel. By the time the peace treaty was signed in November 1918, it numbered over 350,000. 

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. Dunn Museum 92.24.1015.
Soldiers entering a gas chamber built on the Fort's Lake Michigan
shoreline. Circa 1935. Dunn Museum 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.
Women's Army Corps members emerging from gas chamber training
at Fort Sheridan, 1964. Dunn Museum 92.24.1202

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

The Bess Bower Dunn Museum's (formerly the Lake County Discovery Museum) Fort Sheridan Collection is digitized and hosted online at the Illinois Digital Archives


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

Unknown 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, 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.

Unknown said...

I'm a World War I researcher and am looking for information about an American soldier who was admitted to Ft. Sheridan Hospital shortly (probably immediately) after his return from the war zone in 1918. I'm wondering if anyone knows who I might contact to get information (records) about his time at the hospital.

Ft. Sheridan was one of 22 U.S. hospitals that received soldiers who arrived at Newport News (others arrived at Hoboken) with psychiatric issues (‘mental, mental defective, neurosis’). He was sent to Ft. Sheridan after 9 Nov 1918 and was transferred to Dixmont Hospital for the Insane near Pittsburgh on 15 Aug 1919 where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions or advice anyone might have for finding out more about my doughboy.

Diana Dretske said...

Hello James,

I can check for a name in the database for the museum's Fort Sheridan Collection on the chance there is something.

Also check the National Archives:

394.4 Records of Field Installations
1871-1942 (bulk 1917-42)

Textual Records: Correspondence, issuances, messages, morning reports, post diaries, court-martial orders, activity reports, and other records of Fort Sheridan, IL, 1920-39 (68 ft.)

Best wishes,


Unknown said...

Dear ma'am my father was stationed at fort sheridan during ww2. His records were lost in the big 1973 fire according to the St Louis archives .His separation papers indicate he was stationed at fort sheridan during ww2 between 1944 to 1946. They say he was a supply clerk.we think he was in third supply .We also think he was stationed out east in camp eddinger in Virginia. He might have been an MP and POW guard somewhere. Can i find out about personal that were stationed at fort sheridan during ww2. His name was Elmer R Lori . Thank you sign Joseph m lori

Unknown said...

Hi. My name is Diane Sanford. 1st child born at the new Naval hospital in Apr 1965. My mom has a news paper clipping. Is that tracked or verifiable? advance.

Diana Dretske said...

Hello Diane,

News clippings are a good place to start with research. If the clipping includes the paper's name and date that's great. We do not have any records for the Great Lakes Naval hospital.
The National Archives may be of assistance:

Thanks for reading!

Susan Donahue said...

I was born at Ft. Sheridan, Dec.19, 1948. I hopefully will be visiting in the next couple of years, so excited

Anonymous said...

I am looking for my biological father: My father was a military policeman stationed at Ft. Sheridan, IL in 1952. He & 3 other military policemen lived off-base in a rented place & shared the use of a green Chevy car. He dated my mother, telling her his name was George Taylor; which I believe turned out to be the name of one of his other roommates. Shortly after my mother told him she was pregnant, he was being shipped off to Korea. On one date with my mother, he played 'chicken' on Rand Road in Arlington Heights with an on-coming car that turned out to be a police car. He was arrested in my grandparents driveway. He was approximately 2 years younger than my mother (or so he told her) so he would have been born in or about 1930 or 1931. I don't know if he is still or if I have any half-siblings, but I would like nothing more than to have a picture or two of my birth-father. A possible connection with him or other family would be really nice, but if not, I understand. Please contact me if you have REAL info on him. I don't have anything else to go on. Is there ANY way to get a list of servicemen stationed at the fort for the 1952 year? Thank you.

Diana Dretske said...

I can check our files on Fort Sheridan. Please email me at to follow-up on your genealogical research request.

Thank you!


Diana Dretske said...

The Dunn Museum's Fort Sheridan records do not include personnel records. The collection mainly includes photographs, some newspapers, and artifacts.

According to "American Military Police in Europe 1945–1991 Unit Histories" by Robert L Gunnarsson Sr., the 204th was "activated on December 20, 1952 at Fort Sheridan, Illinois and delegated a law and order mission." Also serving with the 204th MP were "personnel from the 174th MP Battalion, a unit that had been stationed at Fort Sheridan, but was concurrently deactivated."

Your biological father was likely in the 204th Military Police Company.

You may wish to check with the Arlington Heights Historical Museum to research the incident on Rand Road.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chuck Eiden said...

My Father entered the Army at Fort Sheridan in 1939 and was station in New York and New Jeresy
He was assigned to Coast Artillery and Submarine Mine Planting to protect troop ships leaving
the east coast from Germans Subs. He was discharged from the Army at Fort Sheridan in 1945.
Chuck Eiden

Anonymous said...

My grandpa was stationed on Rock Island arsenal as cavalry instructor company bugler and many other things He went on some kind of maneuvers in 1930 and had a nervous breakdown they put him in the hospital at fort Sheridan and he jumped out the window. My dad was 15 when that happened. That bullet is still flying and affecting relatives today.