Forging the Sword: The Story of Camp Devens - 1920

Front Cover, Forging the Sword: The Story of Camp Devens by William J. Robinson, 1920.

Front Cover, Forging the Sword: The Story of Camp Devens by William J. Robinson, 1920. GGA Image ID # 184cff57b5


By Major General Henry P. McCain, U. S. A. Commander of the Plymouth (12th) Division and later cantonment commander at Camp Devens

Camp Devens is the only national encampment in New England. The work done there in preparation for the World War measured fully up to the country’s expectations. Every New Englander and every man who served at Camp Devens will be interested in an account of its activities. "Forging the Sword" gives in chronological order, from the arrival of the first man at Camp Devens to the demobilization of the 26th Division, a full account of how New England’s man- power was assembled, equipped, trained, and thousands sent across to fight.

The author, Mr. William J. Robinson, correspondent of the Boston Globe, is equipped by nature and by experience to undertake this important work.

He lived in the cantonment for more than a year. He did not simply exist there. He was always on the job regardless of weather or other conditions.

He had access to all places and to all formations, and he saw the troops being equipped, he saw them in training, and he saw them during the distressing epidemic of influenza.

He knew the officers and thousands of the enlisted men, and associated daily and freely with them, on and off duty. He was liked by them and had their confidence.

What he has written can be relied upon as the true story of Camp Devens. I am pleased to commend his story of how the sword of New England was forged to all who are interested in Camp Devens and to all who are justly proud of the part played by New England in the great war.

H. P. McCain, Major-General, U. S. A. December 1, 1919.


A suggestion is really a germ. A request might be called a germ grown up. And an order—well, everybody who has been in the army knows what an order is!

Now there are without doubt many better qualified to turn out a history of Camp Devens than the writer of this volume, and for that among other reasons it is hoped that this book will not be considered a history by prospective readers of its pages.

If they start with the idea of reading a history, they will be disillusioned before they get very far. But the idea of a “story” of Devens has been suggested, requested and "ordered"—all three, and the compliance of the writer will be found on the pages following.

As a story containing most of the high lights of the activities at Camp Devens it is the honest belief of the writer that it will be found sufficiently accurate. That many, many details have been necessarily omitted is granted.

It pretends to be a general story of what happened at New England’s cantonment during the World War, garnished with lighter details here and there to give courage to any disinterested reader into whose hands it may fall; that and nothing more. As such it is offered to those who are interested.

If any credit is to be given for the publication of the story here described, the major share of it belongs to the Boston Globe. That newspaper published more news of New England troops during the World War than any other Boston daily, and carried in its columns nearly three quarters of a million words of news regarding the troops at Camp Devens alone.

The Globe was also the only New England newspaper to have a staff correspondent accredited to the first New England division overseas.

A Globe staff correspondent was kept at Camp Devens from the time the first National Army recruit arrived there on September 5, 1917, until July 5, 1919, when practically all of the New England men returning to civilian life through Camp Devens had been discharged.

Much credit is also due Mr. Laurence L. Winship of the Globe staff, who was the first representative of that paper to be stationed at Camp Devens, and who "covered” the 76th Division during the major part of its training there. The greater portion of the facts pertaining to the 76th Division contained in this volume were gathered by Mr. Winship.

Thanks are due the military authorities at Camp Devens for their extreme kindness and great assistance in providing official data of varied nature, and to Major-General Henry P. McCain, Captain R. G. Sherman, Camp Adjutant, and other members of the Headquarters Staff in particular, for their encouragement and help.

To George H. Davis, Jr., Leonard Small and Arnold Belcher, Globe staff photographers; to the Globe itself and to Captain Livingston Swentzel, U. S. Signal Corps, are due credit for the great majority of the illustrations.

The writer only asks that this story be accepted as an honest effort to record, for the benefit of those interested, some of the most important facts and events concerning New England’s greatest war camp.


Publisher Review

Forging the Sword: The Story of Camp Devens by William J. Robinson. Printed by the Rumford Press, Concord, NH 1920

Camp Devens was to New England what Plattsburgh was to New York. A Goodly number of our New York men were trained there. The author who was the Boston Globe correspondent at the camp has told the story in very readable form.

It has the newspaper quality of touching on the highlights. Much of the material had already appeared in substance in the columns of the Boston Globe which took great pride in this New England camp and published nearly three quarters of a million words of news regarding the troops at Camp Devens alone.

In this respect New England as usual outstrips our other localities. She certainly takes care of her own when it comes ot writing history.

The 76th Division was organized and trained at Camp Devens and after it was sent abroad, the camp was made the center for training the 12th Division.

After the war was over, Camp Devens was busy as a demobilization center. The account of the work of demobilizing is one of the most graphic in the book and then as the author says the camp "was turned from a busy city to an almost deserted village".


  • Foreword by Major General H. P. McCain
  • Preface
  • Chapter I. The Campsite in the Wilderness
  • Chapter II. Astonishing Construction and First Arrivals
  • Chapter III. How the Draft Worked
  • Chapter IV. The 76TH Division Is Organized
  • Chapter V. “In the Army Now”
  • Chapter VI. The First Forty Percent
  • Chapter VII. Training Begins
  • Chapter VIII. The Secretary of War Comes to Camp
  • Chapter IX. Off Duty and On
  • Chapter X. The 76TH Stands Inspection
  • Chapter XI. Christmas and Progress
  • Chapter XII. Finishing Touches
  • Chapter XIII. Bon Voyage
  • Chapter XIV. General McCain and the 12th Division
  • Chapter XV. In the Grip of the Flu
  • Chapter XVI. The I2TH Division Breaks Some Records
  • Chapter XVII. The Beginning of the End
  • Chapter XVIII. “Mopping Up"
  • Chapter XIX. The Arrival of the Y-D
  • Chapter XX. “Apres la Guerre”

Library of Congress Catalog Listing

  • Personal name: Robinson, William J.
  • Main title: Forging the sword; the story of Camp Devens, New England's army cantonment, by William J. Robinson ...
  • Published/Created: Concord, N.H., The Rumford Press, c1920.
  • Description: xi, 172 p. fold, front., plates, ports. 21 cm.
  • LC classification: U294.5.D4 R7
  • LC Subjects: Devens, Camp, Mass.
  • LCCN: 20008801
  • Other system no.: (OCoLC)1747293
  • Type of material: Book
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