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This brief history has been culled from a series of six articles that ran from February to July 1925 in The New York National Guardsman magazine. The author was LTC William R. Wright.
Part I - TERRAIN
The present reservation comprises nearly 2,000 acres. It stretches for about two and a half miles along the Hudson River, extending from Peekskill or Annsville Creek on the south to the Putnam County line on the North, and goes back from the river for almost two miles, touching the Albany Post Road (State Route 9) at one point. It formed the northeast corner of the great Cortlandt Manor of Colonial days.
The original camp ground consisting of the west camp and parade grounds extending to the 500 yard butts and excluding the higher ground of the Ordnance and Superintendent’s houses (buildings 89 and 90), was about 150 acres of the McCoy Estate. The state initially leased 97 acres of this site in May 1882. Site improvements were commenced on 6 June 1882, with the first encampment on 1 July 1882. The site was purchased in 1885. With appropriations in 1913 and 1914 the remaining 187 acres of the McCoy farm was purchased, together with smaller parcels aggregating about 65 acres owned by Theodore Wendover and Clifford and Franklin Couch. This carried the property down to the Albany Post Road and the Annsville Road, and provided for a backstop for the present target range. In 1923 the largest addition to the terrain was made by the purchase from the Van Cortlandt Estate of some 1,485 acres, giving the state ownership of all of the hills north of the camp to include Anthony’s nose.
Main historical and geographic points of interest are Anthony’s Nose, Manitou Mountain, the old copper mine, the remains of Revolutionary forts and, of course, the Military Road. Anthony’s Nose rises to an elevation of 900 feet and is one of the best known peaks along the river. See HISTORY OF NAME. A trail leads to its summit from the military road just north of the camp, and this trail and access is part of the Appalachian Trail which crosses the Hudson at the Bear Mountain Bridge and goes North up Route 90. Manitou Mountain, 760 feet high, from which fine views to the west and south can be had. The old copper mine was on Roa Hook opposite the Camp entrance and has probably been destroyed by mining operations, as has the remains of Fort Independence which was also on Roa Hook. The Military Road (Road A) was started in 1891 to connect Garrison (opposite West Point) and the NYS Camp. It was only constructed to slightly north of the Camp by 1897 when funds ran out. See REVOLUTIONARY WAR for forts, etc., in the area.
Part II - EARLY USAGE
1882: The first regular encampments started on 1 July 1882 with the 23rd Infantry of 428 men. The succeeding years were marked by steady improvement in training methods and increasing use of the Camp for that purpose. In 1889 a new mess hall was built, the Military Road started in 1891, the first field problem made its appearance in 1894 to be followed by more elaborate ones to include the regimental "march-out" to Lake Mohegan. This period was marked by conflicting opinions between encampments with marksmanship training, and increasingly more complex maneuvers.
1904: The Manassa maneuvers in 1904 shattered the routine of years. Maneuver training became paramount. Units were scattered for larger maneuver training to Massachusetts, Pine Camp (Fort Drum), Connecticut, and Camp Whitman (Black River - Fort Drum). Peekskill was still used occasionally by 1911 as the minutia of drill and routine following maneuvers, although it was now primarily used as a rifle range for New York City troops and for Officers and non-commissioned officers schools. It was in the old White House (removed 1923) that the council of war of commanding officers was held by Gen O’Ryan prior to the call for the Mexican Border Service.
WWI: In 1917 the 15th NY (presently the 369th) trained at Peekskill [prior to their going to WWI and subsequent glory]. The Camp was also used throughout the war by the 1st Provisional Regiment, NYG, as a post during their services on duty guarding the NYC water supply, and also by the U.S.Navy. During the reconstruction of the New York Guard after the War, and its Federal recognition as the New York National Guard, the Camp played a gradually increasing role. 1920 saw only officer and NCO schools as Regiments were federally recognized and sent to U. S. Army posts for their summer training. 1921 all of the NYC Regiments trained at Camp. 1922 through 1925 all NYNG Infantry units occupied the Camp.
POST WWI: Major improvements were made to the Camp from 1925 through the early 30’s. In 1925 the target ranges were reconstructed in their present locations, the Broccy Creek Reservoir was constructed as was the present sewage plant and incinerator (buildings 65,, 64), the "new" officer’s mess was constructed in 1930 (the present building # 79). In 1931 all of the trails were given names from the sectors in Belgium and Northwestern France, where the Twenty-Seventh Division made a glorious record in the fall of 1918, none of these names are known to be used today.
Part III - PRESENT USAGE
1960-70: The next major renovation of the Camp that comprises its current configuration and use occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s. New modern brick barracks and support facilities were constructed in 1964 (501, 506), 1965 (504, 505), 1967 (507, 503), and 1968 (508). In 1973 Baker Hall (502) was constructed to replace the old wooden Post Exchange building from the early 1920s. The USP7FO was relocated from Brooklyn to a new Warehouse (513) in 1973, and an additional building was added in 1984(514). This period continued much as before, with major Annual Training periods being done at major U. S. Army posts and the Camp primarily being used for weekend training and schools. Marksmanship training has taken on a major role here as many indoor ranges at armories were closed in the 1980s due to lead and ventilation problems.
PRESENT: Most recently the Camp has become a more permanent home for numerous activities. The Headquarters 53rd Troop Command occupied building 501 from 1995 until December 1997 when it moved to Valhalla and was replaced on-site in January 1998 by the Headquarters 1st Battalion 53rd Troop Command. The FBI, DEA and Postal are permanent tenants with daily use of the ranges for their marksmanship programs. The Peekskill Warehouse (513) is one of the main full time supply activities for the NYARNG, and full time maintenance activities are conducted at Combined Support Maintenance Shop A and Organizational Maintenance Shops 16 and 20. Recently the Empire State Military Academy, which had been training officers and NCOs since 1920, was reorganized as part of a national effort and redesignated the 106th Regimental Training Institute. The 106th RTI occupies building 48. The 199th Army Band, "The Governor's Own." has long been a presence in building 84, and Company A(-) 1st Bn 105th Infantry (light) is in building 119.
FUTURE: Ongoing work includes major reconstructions of the facility’s antiquated infrastructure, such as water, sewer, and electrical distribution systems. Also in design is a new BOQ to be constructed north of 508. Camp Smith remains a valuable asset for small arms weapons training and military academy and youth training. Recently the National Guard Bureau has classified the camp as a Collective Training Area (CTA) or an official Annual Training (AT) site for Battalion sized units. Due to terrain restrictions the camp caters mainly to Light Infantry, Signal, and Maintenance units. Camp Smith is also a major testing ground in the field of simulations and high tech training.
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
Peekskill was the center of many military events during the War of the Revolution. It was located at the gateway of the Highlands, which guarded the water communication into the heart of New York State, and also formed part of that mountain barrier, extending to the southwest, behind which Washington so skillfully operted his little army. It was a part of Washington’s "Hindenburg Line," but unlike a certain other well known Hindenburg Line, it was never broken. Driven back at times, the Americans always pushed forward again, and the close of the war found the gateway still firmly in their possession.
The main line of resistance was at first directly on the line of the Manitou. Later it was near West Point, but always the outpost line was either of Peekskill or at Verplanck’s Point, a few miles south.
The forts located in the vicinity were:
Fort Lafayette, Verplanck’s (Verplancke’s) Point south of Peekskill on the East bank of the Hudson. British landed 22 Mar 1777 in Lents Cove near Peekskill, attacked Peekskill, encounter near Peekskill Creek. September 1777 British landed a force at Peekskill, burned barracks and stores.
Fort Independence, on Roa (or Rahway) Hook, east bank of the Hudson, oposite the entrance to Camp Smith. All trace of this fort was obiterated by the operations of a sand and gravel company in the early 20’s.
Fort Lookout, between Peekskill and Canopus Creeks, east of Camp Smith. In 1925 a clump of dead trees on the hill were inside the old earthenworks.
Fort Constitution, On an east bank island opposite West Point.
Fort Stony Point, West bank of Hudson accross from Fort Lafayette. Captured by British, starting point of attack 6 October against Forts Clinton and Montgomery. Later recaptured by "Mad Anthony" Wayne.
Forts Clinton and Montgomery, on west bank of Hudson south and north respecfully of the Popoloen Creek, accross from Anthony’s Nose, now directly adjacent to the Bear Mountain Bridge. British forces under Sir Henry Clinton attacked 6 Oct 1777 American forces Commanded by Generals George and James Clinton. The Americans were defeated, a desperate fight between Lake Sinnipink and the river (rear of Bear Mountain Hotel) gave the lake the name "Bloody Pond."
Fort Putnam, at West Point.
Another Fort Clinton at West Point on the Hudson.
Boom and Chain, accross the river at Fort Montgomery to Anthony’s Nose, about where the Bear Mountain Bridge is now. Capture of Forts Clinton and Montgomery 6 Oct 1777 led to the abandonment of the American fleet and the British breaking through on 7 Oct 1777. The British went upriver as far as Kingston, which they burned. At this time a force was advancing from the North under General Burgoyne, to meet with the British fleet. The defeat and surrender of Burgoyne to General Gates in Saratoga on 17 Oct 1777 ended this threat. Recently a Revolutionary War gun emplacement site has been found near the base of Anthony’s Nose where the boom and chain would have been anchored.
The above is only the barest outlines of the interesting history of the vicinity of Camp Smith during the Revolution. Details may be read in Bolton’s or Scharf’s "History of Westchester County," or Washington Irving’s "Life of Washington."
The above information was extracted from articles by LTC William R. Wright in the Feb, Mar, and April 1925 issues of The New York National Guardsman magazine.New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs
Last Modified: 2 Jul 03 (ww)