Historic California Posts. Camps, Stations and Airfields
Camp Atascadero
(Camp Ringgold)
The 1904 Joint Encampment for Field Instruction of United States Troops and the Organized Militia of California
by Sgt Maj (CA) Dan Sebby, Military Historian, California Military Department
After the Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection, the Army took a long hard look at how the National Guard faired during those campaigns in the former Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands. What they found was that National Guard was ill prepared to fight in long sustained deployments overseas. In the years following the Civil War the state militias, which had provided a majority of the soldiers so well for that conflict, had degraded to little more that organized social clubs or police reserve used for strike breaking. When these units were activated for duties in the Caribbean and Asia they were totally unprepared for the rigors of contemporary warfare.
While most units did perform some sort of annual training encampment, it was hardly difficult and far from being uncomfortable. Soldiers would arrive at their campsite and find that their tents and dining facilities were already set up by local contractors and local merchants and tavern owners would set up temporary operations just outside the camp's boundary to serve the soldiers. Officers would routinely take up residence in the finest local hotels and often bring their wives. Quite often these encampments were little more than a social event with evening dances, concerts and parades conducted after a day of minimal training. But that was going to change.
In 1903, Congress passed the Dick Act which totally reorganized the various state militias under the universal term of National Guard and dictated that they would be trained to Army standards. It was soon decided by the War Department that there were going to be four major joint training exercises with the Regular Army and the National Guard. California was asked to host one of these sites and Governor Pardee, himself a veteran of the Civil War and a former Lieutenant Colonel in the California National Guard, enthusiastically accepted.
Three sites were considered in San Luis Obispo County, the Naciemento Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita, and the Henry Ranch south of Templeton. After considerable study, the Henry Ranch was chosen. In keeping with Army customs of the time, the camp was named for the nearest water feature, a small creek named Atascadero.
Soon over 5,000 soldiers and 1, 000 horses made their way to Camp Atascadero. Both Regular Army and National Guard units were joined into a two brigade infantry division with supporting artillery and cavalry, including the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry Regiment. Commanding the division and supervising the exercise was the legendary Major General Arthur Macarthur.
Regular Army Field Artillery travelling through Templeton
General MacArthur, father of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, was the best the Army had. He had earned the Medal of Honor at the Battle of Missionary Ridge during the Civil War, promoted to colonel at the age of 20 and was the last military governor of the Philippines. After decades of fighting battles during the Civil War, the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico against the Apache and against Spanish colonial forces in the Battle of Manila, he knew what had to be done and set about doing it.
For two weeks in August 1904, the Blue and Brown armies, named for the blue shirts or khaki jackets the soldiers would wear, battled on the plains on what today is the thriving city of Atascadero. At the end of the exercise, General MacArthur wrote, "From a military standpoint this encampment been of incalculable benefit to all…. In fact, it has been a state of war without its tragedies, and lessons have been learned here that could only have been paid otherwise in blood"
These joint exercises were to continue on a biennial basis until 1914 and after that the memories of the encampment on the plains of the Henry Ranch slipped into obscurity.
Almost completely forgotten, local historian Dorothy Lowe stumbled across its story and has written an outstanding book on the Camp and its soldiers entitled, Camp Atascadero, 1904.
Additional Histories Online
Report of Maj. Gen. Arthur MacArthur on the Encampments for Field Instruction and Maneuvers in the Pacific Division, 1904: Camp Atascadero, American Lake and Honolulu, Department of California, Department of the Columbia
The 1908 Camp of Instruction
In compliance with War Department General Orders Number 84 of 1908, a temporary camp of instruction for troops from various posts was established for the month of October, 1908, at the Atascadero Ranch in San Luis Obispo County. The ranch was apparently not used in 1909. Troops were again scheduled for one month's training there, September 15 to October 15, 1910, after which the ranch was not used again as a military post. It appears that in 1908 the camp was also called Camp Ringgold by the 5th and 7th California Infantry.
Regimentsal Headquarters, 5th California Infantry, circa 1908
Camp Atascadero, 1908
Officers' mess, Comany A, 5th California Infantry.
Damaged commemortive medal, 5th California Infantry, circa 1908
Commemorative medal, 7th California Infantry, circa 1908.
1910 Camp of Instruction
Guns Thunder at Atascadero: Flags Wigwag, and Heliographs Flash from Heights as the Troops Rush Positions
Los Angeles Herald, 17 September 1910
Associated Press, CAMP ATASCADERO, Sept. 17.— "War's alarm" again re-echoed throughout the beautiful wooded hilli and dales of Atascadero today in the second field operations of the army maneuvers now going on under Brig. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss. Heliographs Hashed from height to height. "Wig-wag" flags denoted the activity of detachments of the signal corps at points of observation, batteries of field guns thundered across the flats, columns of cavalry galloped along under the protection of hills with patrols on the ridges to the right and left to guard against surprises, and behind all were the ambulances with their red crosses drawn by plodding mule?.
Arizonans Arrive Late
This is a kaleidoscopic bird's-eye view of today's field operations participated in only by the regulars, the Arizona detachment having arrived too late last night to take part in the maneuvers today. As a matter of fact, there was little excitement and less of the spectacular in the "battles Than this picture- might indicate. There are no cavalry charges Witt sabers flashing in the sun, no rushing of heights at the point of the bayonet, nnd so far the roar of artillery lias been conspicuous by its absence, imn lines of khaki-clad infantry, inconspicuous against the brown landscape, move forward in skirmish order, now slowly taking advantage, of every tree and defensive position, now on the run. A single shot and then a scattering volley The force may be opposed by a regiment or by no more than a score of men composing an outpost. That is for the commander to flml as best he can or deduce from the lay of the ground and as the situation develops. Vpon the quickness and accuracy of his judgment, his resourcefulness and the tactical disposition of his troops will depend the report of the umpire* and the criticism or praise bestowed upon him.

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