Fort McCoy History

Maj. Gen. Robert Bruce McCoy - Photo.  Robert Bruce McCoy.  Fort McCoy is named for Robert Bruce McCoy. He was born Sept. 5, 1867 in Kenosha, Wis. The son of a Civil War captain, Robert B. McCoy was a prominent local resident who served as a lawyer, district attorney, county judge and mayor of Sparta, Wis. In 1920, he was nominated as the Democratic Party candidate for governor of Wisconsin.

Robert B. McCoy's military career began in May 1895. He reached the rank of major general during his 31 years of distinguished service, which included duty in the Spanish-American War, the police action in Mexico, and in World War I.

The idea of using the land east of Sparta as an artillery range was conceived by Robert B. McCoy. He had the foresight to recognize that future conflicts were inevitable, weapons would be improved upon, and training had to be emphasized.

Upon returning from the Spanish-American War, he envisioned an artillery camp, suitable for training Soldiers, situated in the low pastures and wooded hills surrounding Sparta. He started by buying small tracts of land, which he rented for grazing to finance additional land purchases. Eventually, he acquired 4,000 acres.

McCoy Ranch – Maj. Samuel Allen, commander of the 7th Field Artillery, Fort Snelling, Minn., also admired the terrain of the Sparta area for its training value. In September 1905, Robert B. McCoy invited Allen's unit, along with an Army board of reviewing officers, to put the land to the test during 16 days of training on his family's ranch.

In 1906, William Howard Taft, then Secretary of War, advocated the building of four large maneuver camps across the nation to be used jointly by the regular Army and National Guard. Part of the package included a $150,000 appropriation to buy land near the state military reservation at Camp Douglas, Wis.

When local landowners heard this news, however, land prices skyrocketed from about $3 an acre to $30 an acre. Because of this, the McCoy property between Sparta and Tunnel City came under closer scrutiny. The increase, coupled with the recommendations from Maj. Allen and the board of reviewing officers, led to the purchase of the McCoy property and additional land for a total of more than 14,000 acres.

Photo.  Camp Robinson.  Camp Robinson/Camp Emory Upton – 1909 – Negotiations were concluded, and the Sparta Maneuver Tract became a reality in 1909 on what is known today as "South Post." The total parcel was divided approximately in half by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Situated north of the tracks was a maneuver camp named Camp Emory Upton. An artillery camp known as Camp Robinson went up to the south of the tracks. Temporary galvanized buildings were constructed in the summer of 1909, and training began. The railroad provided an unloading side track near the artillery camp and ran a spur into the maneuver camp.

Camp Robinson prepared to receive its first Soldiers under the command of Capt. William M. Cruikshank, Regular Army, the first official installation commander. The first unit to arrive was a medical unit from Fort Russell, Wyo.

In 1910, $40,000 in additional improvements were authorized. Construction was aimed at making the site permanent, and the camp was named Camp Bruce Elisha McCoy, after Robert Bruce McCoy's father.

Events during 1910 also helped firm the camp's reputation as an excellent field artillery site, with batteries from Fort Snelling; Fort Sheridan, Ill.; Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and several National Guard units training here.

World War I – Improvements and additions were made between 1910 and 1919 that included rifle ranges, office buildings and storehouses. Until 1919, the camp was a favorite of the artillery, and was at one time described as the largest, most modern and most beautiful in the nation. It continued to grow through World War I with the construction of barracks, mess halls, stables and warehouses. Field artillery units trained at the camp during World War I through 1918.

Photo.  Sparta Ordnance Depot.  Sparta Ordnance Depot – 1919 – Training stopped from 1919 to 1923, and the reservation was designated the Sparta Ordnance Depot. The primary function of the camp personnel and facilities was to handle, store and ship explosive material. Thousands of tons of powder and Pyrex cotton — a highly explosive substance made of cotton treated with nitric and sulfuric acids — were shipped for storage in portable magazines.

Department of Agriculture – From 1923 to 1925, the U.S. Department of Agriculture acted as custodial agent for the camp as activity centered on dismantling the wartime barracks and the deactivation of the Ordnance Depot. The powder was processed at the depot and sold as dynamite to the commercial market. Lumber salvaged from the dismantled barracks was used to box and ship surplus powder to other government-owned depots.

Camp McCoy – 1926 – On Nov. 19, 1926, the reservation officially was designated as Camp McCoy in honor of Maj. Gen. Robert B. McCoy, who had died in January.

The War Department once again regained control of the camp as it settled down to improving buildings and roads. Summer artillery training was conducted from 1926 to 1933 by units from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.

A Citizens' Military Training Camp (CMTC) also was established at Camp McCoy. CMTCs were authorized by the National Defense Act of 1920 as an extra measure in preparing for the nation's military readiness. The camps provided an introduction to military training for young men of high school or college age to prepare them for Reserve or National Guard duty.

Civilian Conservation Corps – 1933 – In 1933, the camp also had another mission – it served as a supply base for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was a New Deal program during the Great Depression designed to provide jobs at $30 a month, plus uniforms, lodging and food. The program was supervised by the Army, and the quasi-military nature of the organization led to Army careers for many young men.

Nationwide, the CCC spent nearly $3 billion putting some 3 million youths and war veterans through conservation school and health programs. CCC operations continued at the camp until 1939. After this period, the camp was put on standby status with only a quartermaster detachment and civilian maintenance personnel left behind as caretakers.
Gate to Camp McCoy in 1940.

World War II – The lull was only temporary as another world conflict that could involve the United States was looming on the horizon. Training needed to be intensified and the camp was chosen as the site for the Second Army Maneuvers in August 1940. The 65,000 Soldiers from seven states who participated in the maneuvers made up the largest troop concentration in the Midwest since World War I. In the summer of 1940, the last of the horse-drawn artillery left post.

New Land, New Construction – By now, the camp was at full utilization and needed to grow. More than 45,000 acres were added between 1938 and 1942. This addition included construction in 1942 of a large triangular cantonment area referred to as the "New Camp," which still serves as the installation's cantonment area today. Congress allotted funding for the construction of facilities large enough to house, train and support 35,000 troops. Inaugurated on Aug. 30, 1942, some 8,000 local workers participated in this building project. The triangular shape of the cantonment area, or "triad," was designed to allow troop units to live and train efficiently under one headquarters. More than 1,500 buildings were constructed at an estimated total cost of $30 million.

Prisoners of War – In addition, the former CCC discharge and reception center located on South Post was converted into a prisoner of war and relocation camp. The camp was the largest holding facility for Japanese POWs in the Continental United States and also housed several thousand German and Korean POWs. Camp McCoy is unique in American history as having housed relocated Japanese-Americans from the West Coast and European and Japanese prisoners of war captured during World War II.

Troop Trains arrive at Camp McCoy.  100th Infantry Battalion – The first unit to train at the "new camp" after its inauguration was the 100th Infantry Battalion, comprised of Hawaiian National Guardsmen who were Americans of Japanese ancestry. The 100th served with distinction in Italy, suffering severe casualties while establishing one of the most outstanding battle records of any unit in World War II. More than 9,000 Purple Hearts were awarded to members of the 100th Infantry Battalion. The 100th's lead in training here was followed shortly afterward by the 2nd and 76th Infantry Divisions.


Other Activities – During World War II, a variety of other activities also went on at the camp. The nation's first ordnance regiment, the 301st, came to Camp McCoy after basic training in North Carolina. An induction and basic training center for Army nurses was set up.

A Limited Service School was established to train physically disabled Soldiers in several specialist fields. Building of new recreation and welfare facilities continued, and a bakery was opened to supply the post, Camp Williams and a radio school in Tomah.

Reception and Separation Center – In 1945, the post's mission was changed to that of a reception and discharge center for Soldiers returning from overseas. Men from Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Michigan and Montana were processed and discharged. In its year of operation, the center processed nearly 250,000 Soldiers.

Task Force Frost.
Cold-Weather Training – 1946 – Training nearly stopped in 1946, except for the 1,800 troops of Task Force Frost, whose mission was to test winter clothing and equipment. They trained here until late spring of 1947.

For a time during early to mid-1947, the post was an induction center, with men from throughout the Midwest processing here before heading for training centers across the country.

In June 1947, the camp was put on inactive status. Reserve and National Guard units still used it as a summer training camp during the next few years.

Troops Prepare for the Korean War.  Korean War – The camp was reactivated in September 1950, shortly after the conflict in Korea started. The camp served as a major training center for the Fifth Army area, preparing Soldiers for battle in Korea. The peak strength reached after the activation was about 19,000. Earlier in that same year the post was considered as a possible site for a proposed U.S. Air Academy.

In October 1951, the camp again became a reassignment and separation center. Before the center closed its doors in January 1953, more than 15,000 men were separated from service, and another 18,000 men had been reassigned to other posts.

In 1952, Camp McCoy came to the aid of the civilian community during the polio epidemic. More than 100 civilian patients were treated at the station hospital.

Deactivation – 1953 – Those busy days were short-lived. In November 1952, the Army announced it would curtail operations at Camp McCoy for economic reasons. Soldiers stationed here were reassigned, and on Feb. 1, 1953, the post again was deactivated. However, Camp McCoy continued to be used as a site where Reserve and National Guard units conducted their annual training during the summer months.

In 1955, the Wisconsin State Patrol established a training academy, including housing, at Camp McCoy.

Camp McCoy made headlines in the winter of 1959 when the post was considered as a possible site for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) base. The Army opposed the idea and resisted Air Force efforts to have the ICBM launch site located here, reasoning that the Army may need all of Camp McCoy, which was still deactivated, at some later date.

Interstate 90 – In 1962, the state of Wisconsin was granted a right-of-way easement over 400 acres of Camp McCoy property in order to build Interstate 90. The borrow and fill removed from three locations parallel to the Interstate resulted in the three man-made lakes now known as Big Sandy, Sandy and West Sandy. These lakes are now popular fishing and recreational areas.

Job Corps Site.

Job Corps Training Center – From 1966 to 1968, Camp McCoy was home to a Job Corps Training Center. The program trained teenage boys from low-income families in vocational, technical and social skills.

More than $2 million was spent renovating 167 buildings and installing natural gas pipelines. An additional $750,000 went to constructing a field house with swimming pool (now the Rumpel Fitness Center), warehouse, and gate house. When the Job Corps program ended, the Army assumed responsibility for these new facilities.

Reserve and Guard Training – During a visit in July 1970, then-Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird stated, "As we phase out the regular forces, this will put a greater responsibility on the Reserve and National Guard forces. A camp like Camp McCoy will have an increasing role to play in the training of the Reserve and National Guard forces."

The camp was reactivated and permanent party staffing established to accomplish its mission of supporting Reserve and National Guard training.

On Arbor Day 1971, Camp McCoy's one-millionth tree was planted on the east side of post headquarters marking the 10-year anniversary of the Army Forestry Program.

In August 1972, 16 foreign officers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) observed training at Camp McCoy.

Camp McCoy becomes Fort McCoy.
Fort McCoy – 1974 – Camp McCoy was designated a FORSCOM installation with the formation of U.S. Army Forces Command July 1, 1973. With Department of the Army General Order No. 45, the camp was officially renamed Fort McCoy on Sept. 30, 1974. This designation recognized Fort McCoy's status as a year-round Army training facility.



Cuban resettlement center.
Cuban Resettlement Center – 1980 – In May, Fort McCoy was designated as a Resettlement Center for Cuban refugees who came to the United States when Fidel Castro allowed them to leave Cuba as part of the "Freedom Flotilla." Approximately 15,000 Cubans were housed here through October.

Troop training activity continued to grow throughout the 1980s, as did the number of permanently assigned civilian and military personnel.

Off-Post Support – Fort McCoy's off-post support mission also grew significantly throughout the 1980s. Today, Fort McCoy has one of the largest off-post support missions of any Army installation, with services being provided to federal agencies throughout the upper Midwest.

An aerial view of the "triad."  Installation Insignia – 1984 – The Department of the Army gave approval for Fort McCoy to have a distinctive unit insignia in 1984. The crest depicts the triangular shape of the post's cantonment area with two pine trees silhouetted in the center.

In 1984, major improvements in the training facilities were accomplished, including the construction of an initial entry airborne parachute training complex and a 4,500-foot combat air assault strip, enabling Fort McCoy to effectively support combined arms training exercises.

Fort McCoy was training more than 100,000 military personnel annually by 1985. This figure represents more than 1 million man-days of use each year.

Fort McCoy's reputation as an excellent winter training site grew as several active-component units, as well as elements of the Marine Corps, conducted winter training here.

During this decade, some of the largest reserve-component training exercises in the history of the Army occurred at Fort McCoy.

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) – With the closing of Fort Sheridan and Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., Fort McCoy has become more visible as the only major installation located in the north-central United States.

As a training installation, Fort McCoy has much to offer the more than 100,000 personnel who use the post and its facilities each year. To date, BRAC actions have served the post well by redefining and expanding Fort McCoy's support role and visibility throughout the Army.

Troops mobilize for the Gulf War.  Desert Shield/Desert Storm – Fort McCoy's role as a major mobilization site was evident during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. More than 18,000 Soldiers from 148 separate units and 3,400 items of equipment were deployed and redeployed at Fort McCoy. Fort McCoy processed and deployed eight percent of the total reserve-component force called to active duty.



New Construction – The 1990s began with the first major new construction since 1942. Since 1990, more than $265.6 million in new construction — buildings and ranges — has occurred. Recent construction projects include an NCO Academy classroom facility, new housing on South Post and a new barracks facility to support annual training and mobilization.

Soldiers train for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Global War on Terror
– Fort McCoy has supported many national defense missions, including Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Noble Eagle and New Dawn. More than 140,000 military personnel from 49 states and two territories mobilized or demobilized at Fort McCoy since Sept. 11, 2001.




From the days of the horse-drawn caisson, Fort McCoy has continued to meet the needs of America's armed forces. Fort McCoy is proud of its history and stands ready to meet the challenges of the next century.