Louisiana Maneuver Camps and Bases

Camp Beauregard - Esler Field | Camp Claiborne | Camp Livingston
Barksdale Air Force Base (Barksdale Field) | Fort Polk (Camp Polk)

Beginning in 1940, the U.S. Army started authorizing large scale maneuvers in several states, with Louisiana having the largest on record. Due to the large influx of units coming to Louisiana to train in these maneuvers, training camps were established to support the maneuvers.

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1941 Postcard from Camp Beauregard Louisiana showing the many varied types of training taking place at that location. Every type of training from paratroop to armor and artillery were conducted at the post. Note the early paratrooper jump uniform and helmet. Photo Credit: Rickey Robertson Collection

Camp Beauregard had been established around the time of World War I, training many soldiers who were sent to France to fight during the war. Camp Beauregard, named after Confederate General Pierre G. T. Beauregard and served as the home to the 39th Infantry Division composed of troops from Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. It closed after World War I for active use, but National Guard units trained periodically until it as reactivated as a federal facility in 1940. Camp Beauregard was the hub of the 1940 through 1942 maneuvers. The U. S. Army 5th Corps was activated at Camp Beauregard, and today it is used by the Louisiana National Guard as a logistical base and training base for engineer and aviation units. It also houses the Louisiana Maneuvers Museum.

Esler Field is part of Camp Beauregard. For many years the airfield was called the Artillery Range Airport Camp. Stationed at this primitive airfield was the 107th Observation Squadron, which was used for artillery spotting and observation of troop movements. The airfield was named in honor of Lieutenant Wilmer Esler, the pilot of an O-47 monoplane, who died in a crash on the airfield on April 11, 1941. On June 19, 1941, the War Department announced the air corps field at Camp Beauregard would be named Esler Field.

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1943 Postcard from Camp Claiborne Louisiana. Photo Credit: Rickey Robertson Collection

Camp Claiborne, located south of Alexandria was established in 1940. The camp was originally named Camp Evangeline, but was renamed Camp Claiborne in honor of Governor William C.C. Claiborne, Louisiana's first governor after admission to the union. The camp was home to the 34th Infantry Division, 84th Infantry Division, and the 103rd Infantry Division. On August 15, 1942 on the camp's parade ground, the 82nd Infantry was split to form the 101st Division and both division's were redesignated as "Airborne." They were the first airborne divisions in the U.S. Army and both had outstanding battle records in Europe during Word War II. Camp Claiborne was also a training base for railway construction battalions who maintained the Claiborne-Polk rail line that ran between the two posts. Camp Claiborne was closed in late 1945 after it had trained over 500,000 men.

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1944 Postcard from Camp Livingston Louisiana. At the time this postcard was sent, the 86th Infantry Division (Blackhawks) was garrisoned at the base. Photo Credit: Rickey Robertson Collection

Camp Livingston was also started in 1940 and was first known as Camp Tioga. It was renamed Camp Livingston in honor of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase. Camp Livingston was home to the 28th, 32nd, 38th and 86th Infantry Divisions during the war. Camp Livingston was designated as an infantry replacement training center, as well as a garrison for these infantry divisions. The 38th Division was known as the "Avengers of Bataan" and the 86th Division was the first American unit to cross the Danube River into Germany. Over 500,000 troops trained on the 47,000-acre base during the war. Camp Livingston was deactivated in late 1945.

Barksdale Air Force Base- the dedication of Barksdale Field on February 2, 1933, marked the culmination of a concerted community action. February 1928, a delegation of prominent Shreveport citizens hired a young crop duster, an Air Corps Captain named Harold Ross Harris, to fly over the local area to find an appropriate site for an airfield. Harris selected a location, a sprawling section of cotton plantation near Bossier City, Louisiana. The site selection committee, representing the largest taxpayers in the city, unanimously agreed with the location. A delegation of citizens journeyed to Washington, DC to personally present the advantages of the proposed site to the War Department. After the delegation's return a special Army board visited Shreveport and reported that the location met all the requirements of the Air Corps.

On November 14, 1928, F. Trubee Davison, Assistant Secretary of War, Major General J. E. Fetchet, Chief of the Army Air Service, and Lieutenant Lester J. Maitland, a trans-Pacific flier, arrived in Shreveport for a private inspection of the Bossier site. December 4, 1928, Davison announced that Shreveport had been selected as home of the 3rd Attack Wing.

Armed with the good news, the site committee directed all of its attention toward acquisition of the required land. The area included 128 separate tracts involving 800 landowners. In 1929, Shreveport citizens voiced overwhelming enthusiasm by approving a $1.65 million bond issue to buy the land and donate it to the government.

Beginning in 1931, construction of the airfield introduced dramatic changes to the cotton plantation area. Twenty-mule teams were used to grade the new landing field. More than 1,400 acres of cotton were plowed under and planted in Bermuda grass. Today, the base encompasses more than 22,000 acres - including an 18,000-acre recreation area and game preserve.

Barksdale was named for Lieutenant Eugene Hoy Barksdale, a Mississippi native and U.S. Army Air Corps pilot who lost his life August 11, 1926, while flight testing an observation airplane near Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.

A highlight in Barksdale's early history occurred in February 1935 with the arrival of the 3rd Attack Wing from Fort Crockett in Galveston, Texas. The wing flew A-12 attack bombers, A-8 attack aircraft, and O-19 observation aircraft.

The following years brought many significant changes to the installation. The changes included the introduction of a concept known as air attack warfare, the outgrowth of the successful role of air attack in World War I. The 3rd Attack Wing was given the job of developing the techniques to employ air attack warfare.

The late 1930s brought more sophisticated aircraft and other organizations to Barksdale Field. The units saw the need for developing effective training methods so, in 1940, Barksdale was made an Air Corps flying school. The four specialized flying schools established were Advanced Flying School (Two-Engine, Pilots), Advanced Flying School (Two-Engine, Navigators), Advanced Flying School (Two-Engine, Bombardiers), and Advanced Flying School (Single-Engine, Pilots).

Barksdale continued to serve as an air training base during World War II, and shortly after the war, became the home of Headquarters Army Air Forces Training Command. New pilots continued to earn their wings as the base got a new name - Barksdale Air Force Base - in September 1947. It wasn't until late 1949 that the installation began to undergo the transition to a new mission to support Strategic Air Command operations. The activation of Headquarters 2nd Air Force at Barksdale on November 1, 1949, marked the start of a significant role for Barksdale in the development of massive, long-range striking power.

In 1957, Barksdale received its B-52 Stratofortress. In addition, the KC-135 Stratotanker, a new all-jet aerial re-fueling aircraft, entered the SAC inventory.

On April 1, 1963, the 2nd Bombardment Wing moved to Barksdale rom Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia. the wing took control of B-52 and KC-135 missions assigned to the 4238th Strategic Wing.

The base became home for Headquarters 8th Air Force on January 1, 1975. The "Mighty Eighth" moved without personnel from Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, to absorb the functions of the 2nd Air Force, which was inactivated.

On June 1, 1992, Barksdale became an Air Combat Command base with the stand down of Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command.

Big changes came to Barksdale in 1994: The base said goodbye to aerial refueling aircraft, but welcomed the B-52 aircrew training. But Barksdale added a mission with the transfer, from a closing base, of the responsibility for training all of the Air Force's B-52 aircrew members. The new mission further cemented the base's position as one of the largest and most capable arsenals of firepower in the history of the world.

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Entrance to Camp Polk Louisiana in 1941. Photo Credit: Rickey Robertson Collection

Fort Polk, the largest military installation in Louisiana, is located seven miles southeast of Leesville. The post covers more than 198 acres (#11 square miles), partially in the Kisatchie National Forest.

Originally called Camp Polk, it was named in honor of the Right Reverend Leonidas Polk, the first Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, known as the "Fighting Bishop" for his role in the Confederate Army. Built in 1941, at a cost of about $22 million, it was established to support the famous Louisiana Maneuvers from 1940-1944. the 3rd, 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th Armored, the 95th Infantry and the 11th Airborne Divisions were among the units that received training at Camp Polk during World War II. After the war, Camp Polk was inactivated and put on a stand-by basis. During the summers of 1948 and 1949, the National Guardsmen and Army Reservists kept the post partially open for their two-wee summer training periods. The Korean War brought Camp Polk back to life in September 1950, when the 45th Infantry Division, Oklahoma Army National Guard, was activated and sent here. When the 45th was further reassigned to Japan, the post was garrisoned by the 37th Infantry Division, Ohio Army National Guard, who stayed until the post was closed again in June 1954.

Reopened in 1955, the post served as Headquarters for Exercise SAGE BRUSH, a maneuver involving over 85,000 troops. The 1st Armored Division was stationed here in 1955 until they partially reorganized leaving their Combat Command "A" here until the post was again closed in June 1959. The only post activities were summer encampments until September 1961, when the post was reactivated for the Berlin Crisis.

In June 1962, Fort Polk was designated as an Infantry Training Center. In December 1965, Fort Polk was selected to conduct Vietnam-oriented advanced training, and was then named as a permanent installation in October 1968. In April 1973, this post became the prime training center for qualifying basic infantry soldiers, and was designated as the U.S. Army Infantry Training Center in July 1973.

During all the years that Fort Polk was a training center, over one-million soldiers received basic training here. Fort Polk's Training Center retired its colors in May 1976. In August 1974, the post began supporting the arrival of the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) when its initial element, the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry, was activated and assigned here. In October 1976, the 2nd Brigade of the 5th Division was formally activated, bringing all major elements of the Division on line. Permanent construction of modern buildings on Fort Polk began in 1975, and has been continuous ever since. Over $500 million has been spent in modernizing this installation. In July 1984, Fort Polk was officially selected as the Forces Command (FORSCOM) representative for the Office of the Secretary of Defense Model Installation Program (MIP). This three year test program has provided an unprecedented opportunity to improve and develop Fort Polk.

In recent years, elements of the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) served around the world, to include REFORGER-1984 in Germany; in several National Training Center (NTC) rotations; and in December 1989, elements of the Division seized Panama President Manual Noriega's Headquarters during Operation JUST CAUSE. Nine Fort Polk tenant support organizations deployed from this post to support the Persian Gulf Crisis during Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991.

With the reduction of U.S. forces spurred by the end of the Cold War, Fort Polk has again been challenged to adapt to changing defense requirements. In November 1992, the 5th Division (Mechanized) re-designated to be the 2nd Armored Division and relocated to Fort Hood, Texas. In March 1993, Fort Polk became the permanent home of the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) which moved here from Fort Chafee and Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. Major Commands that have relocated from Europe or stateside locations and are now assigned to Fort Polk include the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 42nd Field Artillery Brigade, and the 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. Fort Polk is also the home of the Warrior Troop Brigade, whose soldiers perform a variety of support missions. A Medical Command (MEDDAC) and Dental Command (DENTAC) serve this installation.