The Norcross Rifle Range was constructed in 1917 as part of the U.S. Army’s World War I encampment Camp Gordon, located in Chamblee. There were two rifle ranges near Atlanta, one in Norcross and another in Marietta.

Soldiers training at World War I Norcross Rifle Range

Soldiers training at World War I Norcross Rifle Range in September of 1918 don their masks amid the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

Captain Peter Thaddeus Carey was commander of the Norcross Rifle Range from November 1917 through January 1919. His job was to prepare recruits for rifle duty in combat companies. This was a daunting task as these were men who usually had no military experience at all. Captain Carey’s son, Chris Carey, first contacted me in 2018 and shared several documents and photographs related to his father’s time there.

Peter Carey, born in 1878, already had quite a military record when the United States entered World War I. He had fought in the Spanish-American War, serving in the 7th U.S. Heavy Artillery.

Following that service, he was a bugler for the New Jersey National Guard. He was transferred to high private in the rear rank and then rose through the Army ranks as sergeant, commissary sergeant, first sergeant, first lieutenant (1904), and captain (1906), until his resignation in 1910 from active duty.

In 1917, when men across the United States were called to register for service, he reported to officers training at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. That same year, he was recommissioned and reported to Camp Gordon as a captain in the 82nd Division, then to Norcross Rifle Range in March 1918.

Recruits who reported to Camp Gordon included regiments of Black soldiers, who were at that time segregated from White troops and were commanded by White officers. There were also many recruits who were recent immigrants still learning English.

Chris Carey recalls that his father had a reputation of dealing kindly and fairly with all the soldiers under his command.

The Spanish Flu of 1918 struck during Capt. Carey’s command. Military installations across the U.S. were hit particularly hard by Spanish Flu. Soldiers sometimes slept outside to reduce the spread of the flu. The fresh air was thought to help ward off the flu and comfort those with fever.

The photographs in Chris Carey’s collection show many aspects of life at Norcross Rifle Range. There are several images of soldiers at target practice and of Capt. Carey demonstrating his skills and instructing the soldiers. One photograph describes the image as Carey at target practice from 1,000 yards, hitting the target 24 out of 25 tries. This was a record for Norcross Rifle Range.

Other photos show Capt. Carey in his daily routine at the camp; with his horse Aphrodite and his dog Ranger, in his office, with his car, and by the signpost for Norcross Rifle Range. Group photos show soldiers enjoying some Georgia peaches and watermelon. Carey is there among the soldiers he is training.

Watch for the second installment of Captain Peter Carey’s story in the Dunwoody Crier to find out more history, including his experience training Alvin York, the future Sergeant York.

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