By Mr. Bryan Gatchell (Benning)October 24, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Oct. 24, 2018) - As part of the garrison's centennial celebration Oct. 19, 2018, Fort Benning, Georgia, officially opened a recreation of the training trenches the U.S. Army Infantry School used on post nearly 100 years ago.
The new trench, which the Directorate of Public Works dug out recently, is meant to educate visitors about the post's previous training mission. It is a short walk from a small portion of the original training trenches that many decades had weathered and overgrown.
Camp Benning was established at a site near Columbus, Georgia, Oct. 19, 1918, after the Infantry School staff and students arrived from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Part of the training they conducted was in trench warfare.
Brig. Gen. David M. Hodne, the current U.S. Army Infantry School commandant, cut the ribbon on the new trench at the site across from the Bass and 1st Division roads intersection.
"One of the first missions of the Infantry School was to train leaders for units expected to fight in the trenches in France and in Belgium," said Hodne. "When discovered less than one year ago, these trenches were found to be remarkably well preserved. These restored and recreated trenches represent one of the earliest reminders why the Infantry School was moved to Columbus, Georgia."
Col. Alfred C. Arnold, a recipient of two Distinguished Service Crosses in World War I, designed the trench around what was proven effective on the battlefield of that world war. As warfare became more mechanized in the interbellum period, the need to train Soldiers on trench warfare became less important. Armored vehicles proved too powerful for entrenchment as a defensive strategy. Fort Benning continued to use the trenches in modified ways, but ultimately the Army ceased using them, and the the trench system at Fort Benning, which extended for more than three miles in total length, fell into disuse.
DPW found the training trenches when they were conducting a Light Detection and Ranging survey of Fort Benning to determine whether there had been waterways near native archaeological sites. What they found by accident were crenulation patterns indicative of trench networks. The archaeologists then dug samples to record differences in soil. The samples' coloration and density allowed the archaeologists to determine in what shape the trenches were dug.
The trenches were originally five feet deep and, according to contemporary doctrine, likely had sandbags along the top to make them a total seven feet. The walls sloped at a 17-degree angle.
Jessica Parks, an archaeologist with DPW, said the process of preparing the original trench was difficult.
"With the surface artifacts that we did find, this was a bit difficult," she said. "This almost had to be hand-landscaped because of all the metal."
Parks is hopeful about the opportunity this restoration provides the public and the legacy it imparts.
"Fort Benning's history is here," said Parks. "As long as they're able to use this and learn from this, the history will not be lost."