By the time the United States declared war on the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey) in April 1917, Europe had been mired in the bloody conflict for nearly three years. While the majority of Americans opposed U.S. involvement until the last moment, hundreds of others, including a dozen North Carolinians, rushed to the aid of France and England shortly after the start of the war in 1914. They joined as volunteers in the two country's armies, air corps, and medical branches. Kiffin Yates Rockwell and James R. McConnell were among the forty-eight Americans who flew for the Lafayette Escadrille, an all-American unit of the French air force. Two other North Carolinians, Arthur Bluethenthal and James Baugham, flew for the French before America entered the war. Scores of other North Carolinians served with French squadrons after American entry.
The three North Carolinians who fought in the British Army each managed to survive, although one of them, Benjamin Muse, was captured by the Germans in 1917 and held as a prisoner of war. Another five North Carolina volunteers, four men and one woman, spent their time as ambulance drivers and a nurse with the American Field Service (AFS). American novelist Ernest Hemmingway also served in the AFS, and the experience became the backdrop of For Whom the Bell Tolls. (For more on the debate over U.S. involvement in the war and the attitudes of leading North Carolinians, see "Introduction: Carolinians Go to War.")
After the U.S. entered the war, more than 87,000 Tar Heel men and women participated in the armed services during the conflict. Women toiled as nurses while the majority of the men spent time either slogging through muddy French battlefields or riding the Atlantic waves aboard a Navy ship. A total of 629 Tar Heels were killed in action, another 204 died from battle wounds, and 1,542 succumbed to disease. Over 3,600 men returned to North Carolina after the war with physical wounds, while countless others carried the mental scars of combat trauma for the rest of their lives. For a biographical listing, including photos, of hundreds of Tar Heel servicemen, consult J. R. Graham's, Tar-Heel War Record.
As significant as these sacrifices were to individuals and their families, they were largely forgotten within a generation. Perhaps this is because North Carolinians made up only a fraction of the 4.5 million Americans serving in the military during World War I, and U.S. forces were engaged in active combat in France only between May and November 1918. It is certain, however, that American men and materials, including North Carolina's contribution, bolstered the beleaguered French, British, and Empire forces at a critical juncture and helped turn the tide against Germany. It is a matter of historical debate, however, as do whether or not Germany would have eventually been defeated if the U.S. had not entered the conflict.
Setting aside such conjectures, there is no argument among historians that the best way to obtain a full appreciation of the war and the perspectives of its participants is by looking at the types of sources included in "The Soldiers' Experience." This section includes memoirs, diaries and letters of soldiers, regimental histories, and photographs of the front and of a typical soldier's equipment and personal effects. These sources provide glimpses of the experiences soldiers engaged in modern warfare--infantry charges across a battle-scared "no-man's" land under withering machine gun fire; earthshaking artillery barrages; thrilling aerial combat; the terror of a poison gas attack.
Three army officers, an aviator, a prisoner of war, and a nurse wrote the seven personal narratives (three diaries, two sets of letters, and two published memoirs) included here. Unfortunately, no sources by North Carolina enlisted men, or "doughboys" as they were affectionately named, were available for inclusion. The authors of the personal narratives do not comment much about the typical life of a soldier. When they do pause to reflect, it is mainly to exalt the fight for liberty, boast of America's fighting prowess, praise the spirit of the French, and damn the brutal German "Hun" or "Boche".; These personal perspectives provide important evidence about the idealism and motivation of American soldiers. The introduction to the Personal Narrative subsection, below, provides some of the gritty, mundane details of life in the trenches, as well as an overview of the major battles in which North Carolina troops engaged.
Along with first-hand accounts, "The Soldiers' Experience" offers two biographies—of aviator Kiffin Yates Rockwell and infantry sergeant and prisoner of war Edgar W. Hallyburton. The section also includes three official histories of North Carolina regiments within the Thirtieth Division of the U.S. Army, and several memorials and commemorations written shortly after the War. The histories include some discussion of frontline action, but these chronicles, especially the regimental histories, are most useful for the photographs, statistics, and other details they include about North Carolina's military contribution, particularly in the Thirtieth and Eighty-first Divisions. In addition, the authors, especially of the biographies and memorials, offer strong ideological perspectives, along with "the facts," about North Carolinians in combat. They illustrate the patriotic spirit during the war that honored and celebrated the heroism of veterans and those who were killed or died while in service. (For more on wartime patriotism, see The Home Front/Patriotism & Politics.) As with the personal narratives, the patriotic perspective of these works is as important an element to note as the "facts" they contain about North Carolina and the war. In every decade, including the postwar era, how Americans have chosen to remember recent significant events can have almost as much influence over the future as what actually happened.
The material in "The Soldiers' Experience" is divided into four areas. The divisions make it possible to focus on different chronological phases in the experience. The introduction and items in the "Recruitment & Training" division bring Tar Heel men and women into the service either as volunteers or draftees. The introduction and items in the other three divisions--"Personal Narratives", "Outfitting a Soldier" and "Histories & Memorials"—carry the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and nurses to France and through their experience in and out of combat. "Histories & Memorials" also brings the veterans back home and examines how North Carolinians commemorated World War I in the years after.
The divisions also allow users to choose among different types of material as well as subject areas. The "Recruitment & Training" and "Histories & Memorials" subsections contain contemporary published biographies, general histories and memorials, propaganda posters, and photographs. The items under "Personal Narratives" consist of the unpublished diaries and letters of three Tar Heel Army officers and Elizabeth Herbert Smith Taylor, an army nurse, as well as the published memoirs of prisoner of war Benjamin Muse and aviator James McConnell. "Outfitting a Soldier" is comprised of seventeen photographs, with accompanying descriptive captions, of various artifacts from William B. Umstead's Army service.
Sources: Sarah McCulloh Lemmon, North Carolina's Role in the First World War (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1966) and R. Jackson Marshall III, Memories of World War I: North Carolina Doughboys on the Western Front (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1998). For other print and on-line sources on World War I military history, consult the "For Further Research" section.
The United States did not officially enter World War I until April 1917, but the country had been edging towards conflict for more than a year. A dozen North Carolinians were among a significant number of Americans who had been voluntarily serving in the French and British armed forces since 1914. (See the general introduction to The Soldiers' Experience, below.) In addition, in 1916, a reluctant President Woodrow Wilson committed himself to expanding the American armed forces and to lending money and material to the Allies (England, France and Russia). Political leaders and the general public in North Carolina and across the country remained wary of American involvement in the European war. (For more, see "Introduction: Carolinians Go to War".) The preparedness program forged ahead, however, with the aim of creating a 211,000-man regular army, a National Guard of 457,000 men, and 157 new Navy ships. In the meantime, President Wilson called North Carolina's 7,464 National Guard troops into service in 1916 and sent them to Mexico to try to interdict nationalist revolutionary "Pancho" Villa. Edgar W. Hallyburton, a native of Iredell County who had enlisted in the army in 1906, was among the Guardsmen and members of the regular army sent to Mexico.
After the United States entered the war, however, the military mobilization campaign went into overdrive. First, the President mustered existing state National Guard and militia units. After Hallyburton and his fellow veterans returned from Mexico in March 1917, they were almost immediately pressed back into active duty and reformed into the 119th Infantry and 120th Infantry of the Sixtieth Brigade of the Thirtieth Division of the U.S. Army. In August, the Army called up additional North Carolina Guard regiments and used them to buttress the 113th Field Artillery, the 105th and 117th Engineers, and the 113th and 117th Machine Gun Battalions of the 30th Division. North Carolina's Navy militia was also called into service. With the departure of most Tar Heel Guardsmen, the local militias stepped into the breach to provide domestic security. Renamed the Home Guard, local units defended the coastline against possible attack and factories and rail lines against sabotage.
While state Guard and militia units were being reformed, the War Department rushed to draw new volunteers into the Army, Navy and Marines. The government sent recruiters to colleges, factories, pool halls, and into movie houses to give inspirational speeches. The most powerful recruiting pool, however, were the hundreds of propaganda posters plastered on street corners in North Carolina and across the country. The posters relied on masculine slogans, such as "Wanted: Husky Young Americans" and with appeals to patriotism, such as "Good bye Dad, I'm off to fight for Old Glory." (For additional recruiting posters, see Propaganda Posters/Military.)
In the first month of the war, hundreds of North Carolina men volunteered for the Marines, Navy and the Army air corps, which were seen as either more manly, or more romantic and gentlemanly than the general infantry. In fact, it was a North Carolina sailor who took the first official hostile action against Germany after the U.S. entered the war. James Goodwin of Edenton, a gunner's mate aboard the U.S.S. "Mongolia", was credited with sinking a German submarine. Several other Tar Heel officers and enlisted men served with distinction in the U.S. Navy during the war. (For pictures of Tar Heel sailors, see the 1919 edition of the The Yackety Yack, the UNC annual.) The cruiser U.S.S. "North Carolina" also culminated its fifteen year commission protecting American merchant ships during World War I.
The majority of North Carolina men, like most Americans, served in infantry or artillery regiments of the Army, and they did so because they had been drafted. America had not resorted to conscription since the Civil War and many Yankees and Confederates, especially in North Carolina, had objected to the system. Congress instituted the new draft in May 1917 and it covered all healthy black and white men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five. The draft for World War I was greeted with considerably more enthusiasm in North Carolina than it had been during the Civil War. Registration Day, June 5, 1917, became an occasion of pomp and circumstance across the state and it produced a registration rate in excess of 100 percent. This figure can be explained by the fact that many eager teenagers apparently lied about their age so they could join the older men in service. In total, county Selective Service Boards registered 337,986 white men and 142,505 black men across the state.
North Carolina's registration system appears to have been open and fair, especially when compared with previous drafts or with the administration of the World War I registration in other states. For one thing, North Carolina's officials do not appear to have been as racist as their colleagues the Deep South. In those states, local draft boards often protected white men by registering black draftees in their place. (For more, see The Home Front/African Americans.) The World War I registration also avoided the class bias of previous drafts by removing the exemption for college students. Indeed, North Carolina's colleges and universities were transformed by the war. (See The Home Front/Educational Institutions.) Finally, the draft pool included not just laborers and farmers, but many white-collar professionals, such as clerks and managers, whose bureaucratic skills would prove useful to the military. The most important group of professional draftees, however, were the 17,000 physicians signed up as military doctors. (For a list of draftees from Orange County and their record of service, see Annie Sutton Cameron, pp. 87-106.)
The vast majority North Carolina's draftees accepted their fate and left home for training and eventual combat, but 1,612 North Carolinians earned the opprobrium "slacker" for evading registering for the draft. The United States District Court for the Eastern District (North Carolina) tried 390 cases of draft evasion and convicted fifty-two of the "slackers". The evaders amounted to only 2.6 percent of North Carolina's total draft pool, giving the state one of the lowest rates of draft evasion in the country.
The new Tar Heel draftees and volunteers, such Paul Green and Robert Hanes, were funneled principally the Army; the Thirtieth Division, also known as the "Old Hickory" Division. The Thirtieth had the most North Carolinians in its ranks, as it also included Tar Heel veterans of the regular army and National Guardsmen. Fewer North Carolinians served in the Eighty-first Division, nicknamed the "Wild Cat" Division, and most of them were concentrated in the 321st Infantry, 316th Field Artillery, and 321st Ambulance regiments. William Umstead, served as a junior officer Eighty-first's 317th Machine Gun Battalion, but he was one of only nine North Carolinians in his regiment. The remaining Tar Heels were dispersed among other Divisions, such as the Forty-second and the First, to which Edgar W. Hallyburton was attached. Not even the Thirtieth or the Eighty-first, however, contained regiments made up exclusively of North Carolinians. Therefore, all of the Tar Heel boys mingled with other Southerners, westerners, and Yankees, perhaps for the first time in their lives. For example, roughly half of the 119th Infantry Regiment of the Thirtieth were North Carolinians, another quarter were from Tennessee and the remainder were from various Midwestern states.
Given its small size prior to World War I, the U.S. Army lacked a sufficient number of training facilities to accommodate all of the new recruits. In response, the War Department hastily expanded existing facilities and constructed thirty-two new camps across the country. While the majority of the new training facilities were located in the South, only three were in North Carolina. Camp Greene, the largest of the three, was built outside of Charlotte. At one point Camp Greene had 65,000 men in residence. The Army also constructed a small tank training school at Camp Polk outside of Raleigh. Then, in September 1918, the Army opened Camp Bragg near Fayetteville, as an artillery training facility. Fort Bragg was the only World War I era camp in North Carolina to remain in operation after the war and its presence redefined the small port town of Fayetteville, as catering to the needs of the soldiers became an important part of the local economy. Finally, though North Carolina's colleges and universities, especially at Chapel Hill, were never officially designated as military camps, The Yackety Yack of 1918 and 1919 attest to the fact that nearly all campus activity focused on preparing the Student Army Training Corps for service. (For more, see The Home Front/Educational Institutions.) A few North Carolina soldiers, such as Paul Green, were initially stationed at Camp Greene, but for the most part, the members of the Thirtieth spent their time stateside at Camp Sevier in South Carolina while the Eighty-first was based at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. A few other Tar Heels traveled as far away as Texas and New Jersey for training. In turn, North Carolina's three camps hosted newcomers from across the country.
Regardless of where a Tar Heel recruit was based, they all underwent a rough three months of basic training. (See a detailed chronology of William Umstead's training as an officer in the 317th Machine Gun Battalion of the 81st Division. For a chronological history of one of the North Carolina regiments of the Thirtieth Division from organization through training and combat, see Arthur Lloyd Fletcher's History of the 113th Field Artillery 30th Division, pp. 214-17.) The rigorous physical conditioning, constant drilling in military discipline and modern weaponry were made even more difficult because most of the camps were hastily constructed the Army was still scrambling to gather the necessary supplies. The men of the Thirtieth Division perhaps had it worst of all, since they arrived at Camp Sevier before the facility was even completed. They spent their first days in camp clearing fields and forests and erecting the canvas tents that would be their home. Other facilities, such as Camp Jackson, Camp Greene, or Camp Bragg may have had actual wooden barracks, but like all training centers, they suffered from a serious lack of supplies, including proper uniforms, weapons and food. (For images of a typical officer's uniform, equipment and personal effects, see the "Outfitting a Soldier" subsection.) In addition, the camps lacked proper sanitation facilities.
In fact, conditions at Camp Greene in Charlotte were so rough that after U.S. Representative Sherman E. Burroughs of New Hampshire visited a regiment from his home state training at Camp Greene in early 1918, he lambasted the War Department on the House floor for the unsanitary conditions. Burroughs explained:
There is not now and there has never been since the camp was established last summer any sewerage system whatever at Camp Greene. Dirty water from the Kitchins and refuse of all kinds are thrown into ditches, and a good part of it remains there, because it cannot get away and the clay soil will not absorb it. . . .We saw a number of old discarded latrines. They are still open and exposed and are filled with 6 or 8 feet of decaying, putrid, festering animal matter. When the warm weather comes, as it is likely to come any time in this southern climate, it takes no sanitary engineer or expert to predict what is going to happen. Flies are going to breed there in enormous quantities, and typhoid fever and diphtheria are likely to break out at any time.Indeed, in World War I, as in previous wars, disease rather than enemy fire remained the greatest crippler of men. (For more on the wartime epidemics and their effects on civilian and military populations, see "Introduction: Carolinians Go to War" and the introduction to Soldiers' Experience/Personal Narratives.)
Green, Hanes, Umstead, and other junior officers lived more comfortably in the camps than enlisted men, but the officers' training was no easier. On the one hand, the officers were much better clothed and fed than the enlisted men, though as a Mess and later Supply Officer for his battalion, Umstead tried to lessen that discrepancy. On the other hand, the young officers had the double burden of mastering the basic skills of soldiering while also learning to lead men into battle, all within a few short months. The American model of combat training for emphasized small units relying on their own initiative and engaging the enemy on open ground. This was marked contrast to the French, English and German approach in which huge armies directed by a central command battered each other from entrenched positions.
Finally, regardless of their rank, America's new soldiers had to master basic marksmanship as well as new modern weaponry, such as hand grenades, automatic rifles, machine guns, and artillery. In a letter home, dated September 10, 1917, Hanes relates how overwhelming the rigors and challenges could be to a young artillery trainee like himself:
We have to know both infantry and artillery drilling, care, feeding, shoeing and riding of horses, all the army regulations, the semaphore and morse signal systems, French a lot of Mathematics and several other things. They are giving us a written quiz of an hour every Saturday at noon on the past weeks work and you have got to keep up to the notch to stay here. They are throwing them out every day. . . . We shall know the stuff when we do finish tho' that is one consolation. We start at 5 A.M. wash, shave and dress, Reville 5:30, 5:40 to 6:00 make up bunks clean up tent. . . . and street, 6 A.M. breakfast, 7 assemble for drill, infantry drill until about 10 or 10:30, artillery drill until 12, lunch 12, lectures 1 to 3, drills on horseback exercises 3 to 5:30, supper 6, lecture 7 to 8 study 8 to 10, lights out at 10. You can see from this that Sundays are the only days that I have a spare moment. I am always glad to see Sundays come too. They put me in as Captain, after I had only drilled five days. I never have been as scared in my life. I made one or two bulls [hits on an artillery target] but on the whole, considering my experience I guess I got by with it in passable shape.Paul Green and other members of engineer regiments also had to learn new skills involved in trench warfare. Part of the engineers' task was to advance at night and cut holes in the barbed wire defenses and mark with flags the path advancing troops would take once they left the safety of the trenches. Engineers were also responsible for building and maintaining roads and communications lines.
American munitions factories did not get up to full production until the end of the war so recruits often had to improvise their training when there were not enough weapons to go around. Infantry units practiced bayonet techniques with sticks in place of rifles. Hanes and the other members of the 113th Field Artillery also drilled with wooden guns in place of cannon, howitzers and mortars. In addition, when U.S. units did receive their actual rifles, machine guns or artillery pieces, they were most likely of French or British manufacture.
Of all the aspects of training for modern warfare that soldiers undertook, perhaps the most frightening was learning how to prepare for a poison gas attack. Recruits had to learn how to quickly don the cumbersome gas mask and breathe the hot air that filtered through the mask while they marched under a full load of equipment.
Some four thousand North Carolinians found either found the prospect of combat too terrifying or training too much to bear and so they tried to desert the Army. Discontentment with conditions in the training camp or bad news from home was the most likely reason for young recruits to go AWOL (absent without leave) long enough to earn the technical distinction of deserter. Most of the vagrants were either caught or voluntarily returned to face their punishment. In Ashe County, however, the search for a group of deserters led to bloodshed.
Most men sought less extreme forms of relief from the rigors of training than desertion. They entertained themselves at camp in the evenings and in the nearest town, such as Charlotte, Raleigh, and Fayetteville on the weekends. Both the War Department and local civic leaders tried as much as possible to fill the soldiers' free time with wholesome, morally uplifting entertainment. They knew that if they did not, the young men would be drawn to less wholesome diversions, such as gambling, drinking and prostitution.
The prevention of vice and the preservation of virtue had been at the heart of the social reform movement since the Antebellum era, but during the war moral reform gained momentum because it was viewed as an element of military preparedness. The War Department argued that soldiers had to "live straight" so that they could "shoot straight." That logic seemed especially true when it came to drunkenness and venereal disease, which had become serious problems for the military before the war. North Carolina had been a dry state since 1908, but in May 1917, the U.S. military issued a nationwide ban on the sale of liquor to servicemen. Prohibition became federal law with the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919. In addition, Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, a North Carolinian, led the charge to eliminate prostitution by cleaning up the "red light districts" in the nation's port cities, including Wilmington. The Army and civic leaders in Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville and other cities near training camps followed suit and established prostitution-free zones around all military bases. In 1917, over 8 percent of the regular army and nearly 40 percent of draftees suffered from some form of venereal disease. The number of cases had been cut in half by the end of the war.
In addition to discouraging soldiers from indulging in vice, the CTCA tried to encourage soldiers to pursue virtue. To accomplish this goal, the War Department authorized every training camp to have a branch of the Young Men's Christian Association. The Y's offered church services, lectures on clean living and sing-alongs of patriotic war songs. William Umstead and other officers usually conducted the Sunday schools classes and delivered the lectures. They also tutored the many illiterate young men under their command so that they could read the precious letters from home and the training manuals. The Ys offered entertainment as well as enlightenment and indoctrination by sponsoring motion-picture shows and sporting events.
When trainees left camp for the nearby cities, those communities had active branches of the Red Cross and the War Camp Community Service waiting to serve them. These organizations collected food and clothing for the trainees and also hosted dances and other social events for them in town. Since most of the Red Cross and WCCS volunteers were young women, the lonely soldiers also got a chance for socially sanctioned female companionship. (For more on the work of the Red Cross and the WCCS in North Carolina, see The Home Front/Mobilizing Resources. Consult the section of the introduction on Charitable Organizations.)
However North Carolina soldiers passed their free time stateside, after the three months of basic training, they shipped out for service in France. First, the soldiers boarded trains bound for embarkation ports. In North Carolina towns along the train route, Red Cross chapters set up canteens to greet the passing troops with refreshments and good cheer. Then the troops endured a rough two-week ocean voyage, often aboard converted English cattle boats. As in the training camps, officers such as Hanes and Umstead fared well, but the enlisted men complained of the bad English cooking, cramped quarters aboard ship and the constant fear of German submarine attack. After a brief stay in England, the Americans crossed the English Channel to France. Most North Carolina troops arrived in France as part of the Thirtieth Division in March 1918. The Eighty-first Division did not follow until August 1918. Once in France, American troops underwent final combat training before being assigned to the frontlines. (For the experience of North Carolina troops in combat, see the Personal Narratives subsection.)
Sources: Sarah McCulloh Lemmon, North Carolina's Role in the First World War (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1966) and R. Jackson Marshall III, Memories of World War I: North Carolina Doughboys on the Western Front (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1998). The North Carolina Collection also houses Trench and Camp, a weekly edition of the Charlotte Observer, published for Camp Greene as well as The Caduceus, the newsletter of the Camp Green hospital.
Americans Arrive in France, June 1917-May 1918
North Carolinians in Combat, May-November 1918
Casualties and Heroes
The Medical Corps
Hardships in the Trenches
Leaving for Home, November 1918-June 1919
The bulk of North Carolina's service personnel, along with the rest of the American Expeditionary Force, arrived in France between March and August 1918, after completing three months of basic training and enduring a two-week voyage across the Atlantic. (For more, see the Recruitment & Training subsection, below.) The 87,000 North Carolinians joined a dozen other Tar Heels men and women who had been volunteering in the Allied armed forces and medical corps shortly after the start of the war in 1914. (For more on these early volunteers, see the general introduction to "The Soldiers' Experience," above. For a biographical listing, including photos, of hundreds of Tar Heel servicemen, consult J. R. Graham's, Tar-Heel War Record.)
The most glamorous job Americans volunteered for was combat aviator. Before the U.S. officially entered the conflict, four Tar Heel men, including Kiffin Yates Rockwell and James R. McConnell, were among the forty-eight Americans flying for the Lafayette Escadrille, an all-American unit within the French air corp. All four flyers were killed in action, and they earned a bevy of decorations from the French government. Rockwell, in particular, became a legend among American flyers. After the U.S. declared war, several other North Carolinians were among the 220 Americans who flew with the French. (For more on North Carolina flyers and the role of aviation during the war, see the introduction to James McConnell's memoir.)
The vast majority of North Carolinians serving in France did so, not in an airplane, but in infantry, artillery, or engineer regiments of the U.S. Army. These ground troops arrived just in time to bolster the Allies. By the time the United States entered the war in April 1917, the tide of battle had begun to turn decidedly against the French, British and Russian alliance. After a disastrous offensive in the spring of 1917 and a wave of mutinies, in 1918 French divisions were half the size they had been in 1914. The British Army had launched a series of offensives in early 1917, attempting to divert some of the German forces from the French. Instead, the British lost nearly 350,000 men. In the face of such slaughter, the British government refused to send more reinforcements to its generals in the field. The war in France settled into a bloody stalemate as German and Allied armies hammered each other from entrenched positions.
As a result, both French and British were desperate for American men and material to replace their losses. The American mobilization, however, took time to get underway. The U.S. commander, General John J. Pershing, and the first American divisions began arriving in June 1917, but by December, there were only 176,000 American troops in France. Sergeant Edgar Hallyburton, a North Carolinian attached to the First Division, was among the Americans who fought alongside French troops in late 1917. Hallyburton was the first American captured by the Germans after the U.S. entered the war. He spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp. The Germans had previously captured Benjamin Muse, a fellow North Carolinian serving as a volunteer with the British army.
General Pershing delayed committing more of his men to combat while he quarreled with French and British generals over strategy. They wanted to funnel American soldiers into French and British regiments immediately, while Pershing was determined to build a distinct U.S. army under American command. The American military thought that the French and English had lost the will to fight and feared that they would simply use American troops as cannon fodder to wear down the German trench lines. Instead, Pershing gambled that the stalemate would last through 1919, by which time he could build up a massive American army and take the offensive on open ground. In February 1917, however, Russian revolutionaries overthrew czarist rule and established a provisional constitutional government. Then, in October, Bolshevik forces toppled the republic and installed a communist regime. In March 1918, the Bolsheviks pulled Russia out of the war, thus freeing up German resources from the eastern front.
Germany deployed its eastern reserves to the French front and planned a new offensive to end the war before the Americans could become fully mobilized. In March 1918, the German army numbered over one million men, set against 1,476,000 Allied troops. The American Expeditionary Force had grown to 287,500 men. That same month, the Germans launched the Somme offensive against the British and nearly annihilated the British forces. Then, in April, the Germans launched a second drive, the Lys offensive, against the French. The Germans set their sights on capturing Paris. American troops, including some Tar Heels, first saw combat during the offensive when they were sent in to relieve the French.
Most North Carolina troops, along with the rest of the American Expeditionary Force, however, received their baptism in fire during the third major German offensive between May and July 1918 and the subsequent Allied counteroffensive that lasted from August until November 1918, when the war ended. In May and June, U.S. Army and Marine units, with many North Carolinians in them, attached to French commands helped repulse the German drive in a series of battles at Cantigny, Chateau-Thierry, and Belleau Wood. The fierce fighting cost close to eight thousand American lives, but the German advance stalled thirty miles from Paris. Then, in July, in the Aisne-Marne campaign, Americans made up the bulk of the French--led forces that drove the Germans back across the Marne River and twenty-five miles further east, putting them permanently on the defensive. During the July fighting, 45,000 Americans died, but in the process gained a reputation for reckless courage and individual initiative. This was a far cry from what Americans considered the timid trench warfare of massed armies that had previously been the norm. While many North Carolinians had been among the combatants up to this point, the two divisions with the most Tar Heels--the Thirtieth and the Eighty-first--had not yet seen combat.
In early July, however, the regiments of the Thirtieth, including the 119th and the 120th Infantry and the 105th Engineers, were placed under British command in Ypres, Belgium. (For a chart of all of the Thirtieth's operations during the war, see J. R. Graham's Tar-Heel War Record, p. 216. For a series of orders issued to the 119th infantry during the Ypres assignment, see Coleman Conway's history of the regiment, pp. 18-35.) At first, the British held the Americans in reserve and put them to work rebuilding trench lines and then holding the positions, only occasionally engaging the Germans. The menial labor annoyed the eager Americans, as did the unofficial ceasefire that seemed to have been arranged between the German and British troops. Neither side wanted to fire the first shot and preferred to hunker down in their respective trenches.
The Americans may have understood why when they surveyed the devastation wrought by four years of war. One Tar Heel recalled that at Ypres, "there was a graveyard as big as Raleigh [for the allied war dead]. . . .When we were on that hill there and looked down, there was the valley of Belgium near the French-Belgium line. There was a smoke haze in the air from the gunpowder. . .and that cemetery. You were going down through the valley of the shadow of death, that's what it was, the jaws of hell."
The men of the Thirtieth felt the clamp of those jaws in mid-August when they went into battle as part of the Ypres-Lys offensive intended to drive the Germans out of Belgium. The Americans were responsible for the Canal Sector. After the first advance, the Americans troops became scattered and disorganized, fighting in small units for the next two weeks.
The Thirtieth eventually achieved its objective and performed so well that the British generals decided to redeploy the Division to the south to take part in the final Allied offensive in September. The North Carolina regiments of the Thirtieth had paid a high price to win their reputation. The 119th and 120th Infantry were hardest hit, suffering 565 casualties during the Ypres fighting. Paul Green, an officer in the 105th Engineers, withheld the gory details of combat in letters home to his family, but in a letter following Ypres Green reflected, "the poor tired earth has drunk enough blood within the last four years as to be offensive in the sight of God."
From September through October, the battle-hardened men of the Thirtieth joined other American divisions in the Allied offensive in the northeastern corner of France. The initial battle at St. Mihiel in September was significant because it was the first major engagement fought by a united American army, rather than by American divisions under British or French command. American victory at St. Mihiel was also strategically critical. Had the Germans remained in that central location they could have threatened the entire Allied front.
Although the Germans had already begun retreating from St. Mihiel before the Americans attacked, elements of the Thirtieth Division, especially the 113th Infantry and the 105th Engineers, still faced heavy fighting there typical of much of World War I. (The 113th had been held up earlier and so was not part of the action at Ypres. The 119th and 120th Infantry remained at Ypres and did not participate in the St. Mihiel fighting.) Fletcher's, History of the 113th Field Artillery devotes a chapter, including several photographs, to St. Mihiel (see pp. 58-84). Hanes, an officer in the 113th, also comments on the battle in his diary entries and letters in September and October.
At St. Mihiel, as in other battles, the attack progressed in three stages. First, the night before the assault, the engineers snuck out to cut the German barbed wire defenses, hunt for mines, strengthen the American wires to cover a possible retreat, and to lay lines of white tape along the jagged edge of the American trenches so the troops could line up before advancing. Then, at 1:00 am on September 12, the guns of the 113th and other artillery regiments opened up a four-hour fusillade to soften the German lines. During the war, artillery barrages always preceded an attack, so the Germans began to return fire.
Artillery was by far the most terrifying aspect of combat. A high-pitched scream of an incoming shell gave soldiers brief warning that either an explosion or a cloud of poison gas was eminent. Gas masks offered some protection from gas shells, but there was no escape from the relentless noise of explosive shells, to say nothing of the dirt and shrapnel that flew in their wake. Robert Hanes described a German bombardment during St. Mihiel:
The 77s [German guns with a seventy-seven millimeter diameter] opened up on us and fired almost continuously at us for two days. One shell burst in the bunker just back of my head but beside covering me with dirt and deafening me it did not harm. Men were killed and wounded all round us but we did not get a direct hit. Two men walking down the road just in front of us were blown to nothing by a shell, which burst just in front of them.Artillery accounted for the majority of combat deaths and injuries. It also left mental wounds. For example, the 120th Infantry recorded nineteen cases of "shell shock" among its officers and men.
Finally, after the opening artillery barrage ended, the American infantry received the dreaded signal to "go over the top"--to climb out of the trenches, assemble in small units on the white tapelines, and begin the charge through the wire towards the German lines. The American artillery kept up a "rolling barrage", moving forward behind the infantry to cover their advance. American snipers also tried to keep the Germans from firing at the advancing soldiers. Still, the troops had to dodge German shells and snake their way through the German wires. Once they did, they came within range of withering German machine gun and rifle fire. Hundreds of Americans were mowed down. The rest scrambled for safety in shell holes, where they often remained pinned down for hours until other American regiments flanked the Germans. By September 16, however, the Germans had been routed at St. Mihiel and forced to abandon two square miles of territory. They left behind thousands of prisoners and a trove of weapons and ammunitions.
Later in September, the artillery and engineer regiments of the Thirtieth joined their infantry comrades in the 119th and 120th as part of a British-led assault on a section of the seemingly impregnable German Hindenburg Line. This string of fortified towns villages, connected by reinforced trenches and tunnels, stretched across the northeastern corner of France from Belgium to Switzerland. The British had already pushed the Germans across the Somme River and back behind the Line in August. On September 29th, the Thirtieth was the first American Division to breech the German defenses at the village of Bellicourt along the St. Quentin Canal, northeast of Paris. (For a detailed description of the assault on the Hindenburg Line, including copies of orders and planning memos, see Conway's history of the 119th, pp. 39-55 and Walker's history of the 120th, pp. 21-27.)
The Thirtieth had accomplished a great feat. Bellicourt was the most formidable section of the entire Line. As Walker's official history of the 120th Infantry described it:
This Regiment's sector of the Hindenburg System consisted: First, of three rows of heavy barbed wire, woven so thick as to resemble a mass of vines and briars intermingled--each row was from thirty to forty feet in depth, and to which the artillery fire did but little damage; second, three rows of the Hindenburg trenches, on which four years of work had been spent; third, the backbone of the entire system, Bellicourt, the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel, a vast concrete bunker, guarded by machine gun emplacements, which functioned as a troop barracks, supply depot, command center, and hospital.(See a map of the Hindenburg Line front from September through October and here for a more detailed map of the Bellicourt sector.)
The attack on Bellicourt followed the pattern set during St. Mihiel of intricate planning giving way to confusion and improvisation. For three days beginning on 26th, the artillery and infantry regiments skirmished with the Germans to probe for weaknesses. The engineers also crawled around the "no man's-land" between the American and German trenches preparing for the main attack. Robert Hanes discusses Bellicourt in his diary and letters. Command set "Zero Hour" for the assault at 5:50 A.M. on September 29. Before then, the officers and men had to master a confusing array of signal flares and flags designed to coordinate the detailed timing of each unit's action.
Almost as soon as the men went over the top, however, the careful planning gave way to confusion. German artillery scattered the regiments into small groups who crept through the dense fog and smoke, navigating water-filled shell holes, barbed wire, and debris, as they felt their way toward the German defenses. One member of the 120th Infantry recalled the sight that greeted the men with the sunrise. "When the fog lifted. . .there was a scene I'll never forget. There were caissons [artillery wagons] and trucks and wagons and horses and mules and soldiers--some of them hanging on spikes--and rifles and machine gun nests upset and shell holes. It was just a scene of devastation."
Shaking off exhaustion and shock, groups of North Carolinians with the 119th and 120th pulled themselves together into units and fought their way into the German trenches. The members of the 120th followed the trenches into Bellicourt and captured the village, or what was left of it. The 120th was the first American regiment to break through the Hindenburg Line. Meanwhile, the 119th was being cut to pieces by German machine guns further along the Line. Nevertheless, the men held their position until relieved by other regiments. The fighting along the Line continued until October 20th when the Germans pulled back. Over the course of the battle, the Thirtieth Division lost over four thousand men, with over half of those deaths coming from the 119th and the 120th, the two regiments with the most North Carolinians. The Germans now seemed destined to lose the war, but the fighting dragged on elsewhere in France for almost another month, and American causalities continued to mount.
While the British and Americans hammered the Hindenburg Line, General Pershing was initiating the Meusse-Argonne campaign further to the southwest. The latter campaign lasted from late September until the Armistice on November 11. Pershing massed over one million American troops, making Meusse-Argonne the most extensive American action during the war. The infantry regiments of the Thirtieth were too battered to participate, but the 113th field artillery pitched in, as did all of the recently arrived Eighty-first Division. In fact, the veteran American divisions were so exhausted by then that Pershing had to rely on inexperienced troops. Five of the nine divisions, including the Eighty-first, had never been in combat. (For a detailed narrative, including photographs, of the Meusse-Argonne, see Fletcher's history of the 113th Field Artillery, pp. 84-106. Robert Hanes also mentions the campaign in his diary. William Umstead, served as an officer in the 317th Machine Gun Battalion of the 81st Division. Unfortunately, his diary entries end in July 1918. See the introduction to the "Outfitting a Soldier" subsection, below, however, for some information about the Meusse-Argonne fighting. Click here for a photograph of one of the 317th's command posts, where Umstead likely spent time.)
Pershing had to fight with the French and British high command for permission to launch the risky Meusse-Argonne offensive, but he was sure it would prove once-and-for all the superiority of the American army. It would also be a key tactical victory if the Americans could push the Germans out of the Argonne Forest and away from the Meusse River. If the Americans could also capture the key Sedan-Mezieres Railway, then they would have divided the German armies and cut off their best route of retreat. The Allies preferred that Pershing lend his fresh troops to them for other offensives more likely to succeed, especially along the Hindenburg Line. In the area where Pershing had set his sights, the Germans held the Argonne Forest to the east, a dense wood filled with natural and manmade obstacles and machine gun emplacements, and the high ground along the Meusse River to the west. Between the two flanks lay a three-tiered, fifteen-mile wide German trench-system and several fortified towns. The American army also lacked an adequate transport and supply system with which to support such a massive operation.
While all of these difficulties made hash of Pershing's plan for a quick victory, the Americans still confounded the expectations of the French and British who expected them to be utterly devastated. The attack began on September 26, but the Germans made good use of the terrain, their entrenched positions, and their experience to blunt repeated American advances. Still, the Americans bulled ahead with one murderous frontal assault after another on the German lines over the next month. This proved the reckless valor of the American soldier, but it did little to win the war. American casualties mounted far in excess of German, American troops and officers became despondent, and the entire supply and support system nearly broke down. For all their earlier criticism of the Allies' conduct of the war, in late 1918, it was the French and the British, not the Americans, who were willing and able to be innovative with logistics and tactics.
By early November, the Meusse-Argonne tide began to shift, due to American tenacity and because the French, British, and American troops had beaten the Germans elsewhere. The German government was convinced defeat was inevitable and accelerated the surrender negotiations that had been underway since mid October. In desperation, the German Army also dropped "How to Stop the War" leaflets behind the American lines in a futile attempt to convince the troops to desert. (See Hanes' letter of November 5, 1918, for a copy of the leaflet.)
On November 10, members of the Eighty-first and other American divisions were in the process of capturing towns and rail lines along the Meusse River and advancing through the Argonne Forrest when they received word that a general armistice, or ceasefire, would take effect at 11:00 A.M. on November 11. Across France, the soldiers fought on until the appointed hour when the guns fell silent. (Click here for a photograph capturing a regiment at the moment of the Armistice.) Hanes called it "the greatest day in history" and kept the casing of the last shell he fired as a souvenir. (See Hanes' letter of November 11 for his thoughts on the Armistice.) One Tar Heel medical corpsman recalled that as he stepped out of his field hospital at 11:00 A.M. "it sounded like hell with these shells going over, and it stopped so quick I thought I was going to pieces. It was just like being in a thunderstorm with lightning striking, and all of a sudden the sun comes out." Another North Carolina infantryman wrote home, "at 11:00 A.M. we were partly in their [the Germans'] last trenches. . .all firing ceased and the Germans came over where we were and shook hands with us and talked as if there had never been any war at all."
At the time, the soldiers did not know if the armistice would lead to a permanent peace, but they were still happy at the prospect of being relieved of the suffering they had endured, both on and off the battlefield, over the course of the war. Most the North Carolinians, like other Americans, had only been engaged for six months or less, but they had shown great heroism in that short time. In all, 629 Tar Heels were killed in action. Another 204 died of wounds. Some of the recovered bodies were returned home to their families, but most were laid to rest in French cemeteries. Another 3,655 men returned to North Carolina with physical injuries. Others carried the mental scars of combat for the remainder of their lives. The American army as a whole suffered 60,000 deaths and 206,000 wounded.
The American and French governments honored North Carolinians with a host of decorations and medals. Two hundred Tar Heels earned Distinguished Service Crosses. Twelve won Distinguished Service Medals, including prisoner of war Edgar Hallyburton. (For a county-by-county list of North Carolinians who won the Distinguished Service Cross and Medal, see The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's Armistice Day program, pp. 29-67.) Robert L. Blackwell, a native of Person County and a private in the 119th Infantry Regiment, was the only North Carolinian to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Blackwell's platoon had been surrounded, and he was killed while trying to sneak through the German lines to get help. (For more of Blackwell's story, see the Armistice Day program, pp. 23-4.)
The French government also awarded many citations for gallantry to North Carolinians, including posthumous merits to aviators Kiffin Yates Rockwell and James R. McConnell. The French did not award only Tar Heel men. Madelon Battle Hancock, a nurse who volunteered with the French army and served in frontline hospitals from 1914 to 1918, received a dozen decorations. (For the 120th's casualty list, as well as the citations granted to its, see Walker's history, pp. 40-49. For the 113th, see Fletcher's history, pp. 208-10. For Orange County's record of service, see Annie Sutton Cameron, pp. 82-106.)
In honoring Hancock's service, the French recognized the vital contribution of the medical corps to the war effort. Elizabeth Herbert Smith Taylor and 194 other North Carolina women volunteered as nurses with the Army Nursing Corps. Male doctors, medics, and ambulance drivers from North Carolina also joined the women in service. The American Medical Corps received some of the highest praise afforded to any branch of the service during the war. The quality of care administered by American aid stations and hospitals matched that of the British and far excelled the dismal record of the French. American doctors, nurses and corpsmen had the skill and equipment to tend various wounds, including gas attacks, but they could make only limited progress against the host of diseases that plagued soldiers.
More than 60,000 American soldiers died of illness during the war, including 1,542 North Carolinians. Half of these succumbed in stateside training camps. The worldwide influenza epidemic was the greatest killer of soldier and civilian alike. Influenza accounted for 86 percent of all disease-related military deaths. In addition, the forward area camps, and especially the trenches, were little more than open sewers. The rotting corpses of men and animals also attracted clouds of flies. Such conditions fostered typhoid, dysentery, and other illnesses. Still, World War I was the first American war in which deaths from disease matched, rather than exceeded battlefield fatalities.
Like all soldiers in all wars, North Carolina troops did not spend the majority of their time fighting, but rather waiting for combat. They were either hunkered down in the trenches, training near the front, recuperating in a rear area rest camp, or moving from assignment to another. Regardless of where they were or what they were doing, the soldiers, especially the enlisted men, endured all manner of discomforts.
Unfortunately, the personal narratives and the secondary histories included in "North Carolinians and the Great War" have been too sanitized by their authors to provide much gritty detail. When the North Carolina officers who wrote diaries, letters, and memoirs paused to reflect, they did not complain about mud and blood. Instead, they exalted the fight for liberty, praised the spirit of the French, or damned the brutal German "Hun" or "Boche". Useful impressions of the soldier's daily life, however, can be obtained by viewing the photographs of William Umstead's equipment and personal effects and by reading the accompanying captions. (See the Outfitting a Soldier section.)
When historian Jackson Marhsall interviewed North Carolina doughboys in the mid-1980s, he found that they remembered the daily "battle against hunger, lice, and sleeplessness" almost as much as combat. Next to avoiding getting shot, the soldiers' biggest concern was finding edible food. Officers still ate much better than their men, as had been the case in the stateside training camps and the transit ships. Most of the time, the troops subsisted on a rough stew of beef and potatoes, known variously as "slumgullian" or "slumgully." The beef, nicknamed "bully beef" or "corn willy" came in cans. It was so densely packed that soldiers sometimes broke off the tips of their knives trying to extract it.
Soldiers often had to make due with even less than slumgullian when they were in the midst of a battle, stuck in camp waiting for long overdue supply trucks, or when a German shell hit the company mess. Then, the hungry soldiers had to resort to field rations. Many times, even water became scarce. Trenches and shell holes were often filled with rainwater, but it was too full of refuse, bodies, and poison gas residue to be drinkable.
The only creatures that seemed to feed well at the front were the lice that infested the soldiers' hair and clothing and the rats that lived in the trenches. Lice, or "cooties" as the doughboys named them, were an ever-present menace. As soon as a soldier stopped moving, the tiny creatures would set to work sucking blood and laying eggs. The only remedy was to wash one's body and uniform thoroughly, which was not often possible at the front. As soon as weary soldiers arrived in a rear area rest camp, the first order of business was a "delousing" shower for themselves and a steam cleaning, if available, for their uniforms. If there was no steam bath, then the soldiers burned the lice out with candles. Either method killed the lice, but they often ruined the uniform as well.
This was a serious problem because replacement uniforms and clothing, like everything else in the American army, were in short supply. Soldiers often had to wear filthy clothes for weeks at a time. (See photographs of a typical officer's summer and winter uniforms.) Unfortunately, there was little William Umstead, or other supply officers, could do about the problem. Soldiers received some relief in the form of socks and underwear sent to them from America, which had been collected by the Red Cross and other charitable organizations.
The Red Cross, the YMCA, and other organizations sent volunteers to France to tend to soldiers in the rear area camps and hospitals. Soldiers looked forward to all too infrequent trips to rest camps, where they found relief from the boredom and loneliness of the front. In the camps, dirty, hungry and exhausted doughboys had a chance to bathe, launder their clothes, get a decent meal and a pack of cigarettes, and catch up on sleep. The mostly female staff of the Red Cross and the War Camp Community Service also socialized with the young men in uniform.
Back in the trenches, the soldiers found ways to pass the time and keep up their spirits by singing, telling jokes, and circulating cartoons that made light of the dangers of combat and the hardships of army life. The men also smoked, drank and gambled, even though the latter two diversions were forbidden. Officers, such as William Umstead, often carried books and bibles and small games in their packs to keep themselves and their men occupied with wholesome entertainment. Back home, government propaganda posters with captions such as "Yanks in Germany Want More Books" urged Americans to send care packages and books to their boys.
The surest relief for a soldier's homesickness was mail from loved ones in North Carolina. Letters from home, however, were hard to come by, since mail delivery had to follow the troops from one place to another, a circuitous journey given the many times divisions such as the Thirtieth and Eighty-first had their regiments dispatched to different assignments under French and British command. Robert Hanes had been writing his wife for weeks but had not heard back from her. He poured out his anguish in his letters of May 28 and 30:
I haven't heard a word from you yet, darling. I am so anxious to hear all you are doing. It has been about three weeks since I left you. It seems like three years, and so much longer since I can't hear from you and know all about you. The pictures are a constant source of pleasure to me. I don't know what I should do at all without them. . . I am crazy to hear from you. It would help a lot to calm this longing for you, darling that I have constantly.In August, Hanes finally received a bundle of ten of his wife's letters. Other batches followed.
Not all of the messages soldiers received from home were uplifting. Paul Green and other officers were very conscious of how the contents of a letter from home could either boost or damage their men's morale. In a letter to his sister Erma, Green instructed:
Let all letters to the boys be cheery and full of fighting spirit. . . . I've seen boys get a blue spell after receiving a letter from mother that lasted thru a week. Now when a boy falls into that condition, he is useless as a soldier as long as it lasts. We must get most of our fighting stimulus from home. We . . . must . . . have . . . your . . . support.
That fact that this was one of the few letters Green managed to write home suggested how difficult it was for North Carolinians to get news of their husbands, brothers, and sons, especially after they went into combat. Hanes wrote several letters home after he arrived in France in May, but his correspondence decreased considerably when the time drew near for the 113th Artillery to be sent to "the big show", the front. In addition, those letters soldiers did manage to dash off in quite moments were censored. Consequently, the writers could reveal little about where they were, what they were doing, or how they were feeling. (See Hanes' letter of May 11, 1918 for an example of a censored letter.) Officers such as Green and Hanes were especially conscious of withholding frightening details from their letters, preferring to comments about the splendid American fighting men and the inevitable victory of the Allied cause.
The celebrations that broke out in the ranks with the declaration of the armistice on November 11 subsided by the end of the month when it became apparent that many American troops were not going home anytime soon. During the winter of 1918-19, the Thirtieth and Eighty-first Divisions slowly made their way to embarkation ports in France. Other divisions, which included many North Carolinians, followed the defeated enemy back into Germany to establish an occupation force. Either way, the North Carolinians endured several more weeks of long marches and then a seemingly interminable wait to be shipped home. (For a detailed description, including photographs, of the 113th Field Artillery's activities in France after the armistice, see Fletcher's history, pp. 119-130.)
North Carolinians had arrived in France in stages and they left the country in a similar fashion. Benjamin Muse and Edgar Hallyburton, the two Tar Heel prisoners of war, returned home after the Germans released them in December 1918. After parades and celebrations in several French towns, the regiments of the Thirtieth Division departed in February and March 1919. The Eighty-first followed in June. (William Umstead was disappointed that he had to leave France in March, before the rest of the division, in order to get home to care for his ailing parents.) The Allies deemed the veterans of the regular army, including many North Carolinians who had been in combat since the winter of 1917, too valuable to dismiss in the spring of 1919. They might be needed in case the armistice broke down. As a result, these soldiers remained on duty either in France or in occupied Germany until well into 1919.
Regardless of when they departed France, Tar Heel soldiers were happy to leave the war behind. For the most part, the veterans returned home with little fanfare, and in the months to follow they settled back into civilian status. Life for these men, however, would not entirely return to what it had been before the war. Both they and their state had been changed by the experience. (For more on the homecoming of North Carolina troops and subsequent commemorations of World War I, see the "Histories & Memorials" subsection.)
Sources: Sarah McCulloh Lemmon, North Carolina's Role in the First World War (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1966); R. Jackson Marshall III, Memories of World War I: North Carolina Doughboys on the Western Front (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1998); and Robert H. Zieger, America's Great War: World War I and the American Experience (Lanham, Md.: Rowman &Littlefield Publishers, 2000). For other print and on-line sources on World War I military history, consult the "For Further Research" section.
"I sometimes think that the lives lost in war are trivial in comparison with the grief and sorrows their deaths leave in the aching hearts of their dear ones. I left with a heavy heart, trying to bear up manly under a burden which almost broke me down."
—William Bradley Umstead's Diary, August 29, 1917.
World War I can be examined in a variety of ways. Through the broad lens of global history, it may be viewed politically and economically as a tragic but inevitable confrontation. Militarily, it proved to be far more than a monstrous armed struggle. The "Great War" was a tectonic shift in the world order, a point where the nineteenth century's lingering traditions collided with the brutal efficiency of the twentieth century's expanding, highly lethal technologies. Out of that upheaval, new alliances were formed, old ones were crushed, and the futures of both long-established states and emerging national powers were radically altered. Those consequences were, indeed, profound and require interpretation on a grand scale; yet, the war can be, and should be, viewed from another more focused, more intimate perspective: through the stories of individual soldiers. It is in their accounts where the true human costs of military conflict can be measured and where the anxieties, pain, rage, patriotic zeal, and even humor of those lost souls can vicariously be experienced today.
Regrettably, the personal stories of over nine million soldiers ended on battlefields in and outside Europe between 1914 and 1918. The tales of many millions of others who survived the war have also vanished, lost to marked and unmarked graves around the world. Despite the vast number of soldiers who participated in World War I, only a small percentage preserved the details of their service in large collections of personal records. Researchers are fortunate from the American perspective that some doughboys and their families gathered and preserved wartime letters, memoirs, photographs, and military gear. Examples of such material, including diaries and artifacts, can be found today in the Academic Affairs Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Among the University's holdings on World War I is the William B. Umstead Collection, which is maintained in the Manuscripts Department and in the North Carolina Collection.
William Bradley Umstead (1895-1954), grew up on a prosperous farm in Durham County. He went on to become a Congressman, U.S. Senator and the Governor of North Carolina. Over three decades before his election as the state's chief executive, Umstead began his two-year service in World War I as a lieutenant in the United States Army. The final eight months of his military duty--from August, 1918, to March, 1919--were spent in Europe as a supply officer for the 317th Machine-Gun Battalion of the 81st "Wildcat" Division. Prior to his battalion's deployment there, the young lieutenant trained at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia and at Camp Jackson outside Columbia, South Carolina.
After the War, Umstead returned to Durham to practice law and soon entered local politics. Umstead married Merle Davis in 1929 and began the first of three terms in the United State Congress in 1932. In 1938, Umstead returned to private life, but reentered the political arena in 1944, first as chair of the state Democratic Party, then as a U.S. Senator appointed to Josiah Bailey's unexpired term, and finally as Governor in 1952. In November, 1954, during the second year of his term as North Carolina's governor, Umstead died in office. His family continued to care for these war-related items. In 1995, Merle Umstead Richey, his daughter, donated most of the collection to her father's alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"North Carolinians and the Great War" includes only a small sample of the many items that comprise the William B. Umstead Collection. One of those items is Umstead's diary, which he kept throughout his training, overseas duty, and brief sightseeing travels in postwar France. "A Soldier's Record" begins in August 1917 while Umstead is on leave after three months of "hard and intensive" training at Camp Oglethorpe and is due to report to Camp Jackson in less than two weeks' time. Umstead visits Kinston, where he had taught school. There many gatherings of friends and former students in his honor reveal a community that regards him highly. His reflections on saying goodbye to his aging parents in Durham County are particularly poignant. Once in active service, Umstead describes his work experiences at Camp Jackson and Camp Hancock, Georgia. He is first appointed Mess Officer for his battalion and eventually promoted to Battalion Supply Officer. This promotion happens on his birthday, which he ruefully describes as an "awful birthday present." As there are very few diary entries after this promotion, the job apparently left him little time to write. Umstead held Sunday school class in his company, and tutored soldiers who could not read or write. The diary also includes reflections about a sermon he heard concerning the downfall of Sampson. Unfortunately, the diary entries stop in July 1918, before Umstead shipped out for France so there is nothing relating to his combat experience.
Umstead also saved examples of supply requisitions, induction and discharge papers, a training manual, booklets, Christmas cards and other correspondence from home, photographs, travel receipts, rail tickets, European coins and paper currencies, and souvenir tour guides. He preserved these documents and mementos for decades after the war, along with much of the clothing and equipment issued to him by the army. The "Outfitting a Soldier" section is comprised of seventeen photographs of some of these artifacts.
To furnish researchers with historical context for the diary and the artifacts, a chronology of Umstead's life is provided. This annotated reference provides details of his military service and travels in Europe. It also highlights some of his accomplishments in law and politics after World War I.
Sources: Fulghum, "'Over There' in the Great War: William B. Umstead & World War I," an unpublished profile of an exhibition presented March 1-May 31, 2001, in the North Carolina Collection Gallery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 39 pages, including exhibit-content lists, labels, and publicity; available upon request. See also the A.W. Stewart entry on Umstead in William Powell ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
The Yanks received wild send-offs in Paris and in French ports before sailing for America, but the majority of veterans returned home to the U.S. and mustered out of service with relatively little fanfare. Large welcome home parades were primarily limited to New York, Washington, D.C., and a few other large northeastern cities. The honorees were select regiments. The North Carolinians in the Thirtieth and Eighty-first Divisions made a quieter entrance when they landed in Newport News, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina, attracting little attention when they marched through the streets on their way to trains bound for North Carolina. Raleigh accorded the 113th Artillery Regiment the state's grandest welcome with a huge parade on March 24. North Carolina's Governor Thomas Bickett and a few Confederate veterans presided over the festivities. (For more, see Fletcher's history, pp. 131-147.) Charlotte feted the 120th Infantry Regiment. Most of the other troops in the Thirtieth and Eighty-first, however, trickled into their former training camps in South Carolina or Virginia, where they were discharged and given sixty dollars travel pay. One-by-one they made their way to their hometowns and to their eager loved ones. The families of North Carolina's war dead had already received an official condolence from the state of North Carolina.
Not long after the surviving veterans returned home, their local communities recognized their service and that of their fallen comrades. For example, the residents of Orange County spent weeks planning a celebration on July 16, 1919, complete with a parade, patriotic speeches, school pageants, and a picnic. African American residents formed their own committee to welcome Orange County's black veterans. (For more, see Annie Sutton Cameron, pp. 108-117.) Local businesses took out advertisements to honor the troops. Merchants also invited the men to celebrate their homecoming by spending some of their service pay on the accoutrements of civilian life, such as a new suit of clothes and a buggy.
By the 1920s, the process of constructing a history of World War I was underway. The creation of historical memory is important to recognize because the way Americans and North Carolinians chose to remember the war was almost as important as what actually happened. When historian Jackson Marshall interviewed North Carolina's veteran enlisted men in the 1980s, he discovered that they had previously been reticent to discuss their wartime experiences, even with their families. Former officer William Umstead had a political career that last from the 1920s through the 1950s, but he rarely drew attention to his army service to win votes. Other veteran officers, however, were busy in the 1920s creating a detailed, but idealized history of North Carolina's contribution to the "Great War." Walter Clark, Jr., a former captain in the 120th Infantry Division glorified the achievements of Tar Heel soldiers in a stirring Fourth of July speech in 1923. (Clark was the son of Walter Clark, North Carolina Supreme Court justice, progressive politician, and member of the federal War Labor Board.) During the war, Clark declared, "the son of wealth and the son of poverty, the preacher and the convict stood shoulder to shoulder" alongside their civilian counterparts. In the 1920s, officers also published official histories of the North Carolina regiments in which they served, including the 113th, 119th, and 120th.
Civilian authors also produced memorials to the war that were likely more popular than the detailed regimental histories. The more general compilations of experiences on both the battlefield and the home front included the Tar-Heel War Record and "Lest We Forget". Annie Sutton Cameron of Orange County was one of several local historians who chronicled their community's role in the war. (For a list of county-level histories of the war, see the "For Further Research" section.) The almost reverential tone of these items, especially the Tar-Heel War Record, reveals the depth of North Carolinians' pride and patriotic spirit.
Probably the most widely read wartime chronicles were the sensational biographies of individual warriors. While in realty, large armies, machinery, and battles of attrition defined World War I, Americans still craved individual heroes. They found them in the person of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, America's first flying ace, who dueled Germany's infamous "Red Baron" Manfred von Richthofen. Sergeant Alvin York's story was even more inspiring than Rickenbacker's. York, a Tennessee mountain boy and religious pacifist at the beginning of the war, single-handedly silenced an entire German machine gun battalion that had surrounded his unit.
During and after the war, North Carolinians also thrilled to the published exploits of their own combat aviators, Kiffin Yates Rockwell and James R. McConnell, and prisoners of war, Benjamin Muse and Sergeant Edgar R. Hallyburton. The biographers of Rockwell and Hallyburton presented epic tales. Charles Hyams argued Hallyburton was "captured, but not conquered, by the blood-maddened hosts of an infuriated Kaiser," thanks largely to Hallyburton's "typical Southern country" upbringing "where each child is taught from infancy to speak the truth, be strictly honest, bold, brave, fearless in the face of threatened or imaginary danger, obey their parents in all things, at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances, to love their native land, and revere the Almighty."
North Carolina school children were taught to revere Hallyburton, Rockwell, and all of North Carolina's veterans and fallen sons. In 1921, the annual North Carolina Day in the state's public schools was designated for an Armistice Day anniversary celebration. The state superintendent of public instruction explained that "teachers should tell the story of how all the people cooperated to destroy the forces of evil and to make this world a better place in which to live. They should be taught to honor all patriotic citizens, and should be led to see that both in times of war and in times of peace he or she may be a soldier of liberty who fights the common enemies of our country." To this end, students sang patriotic songs, learned the statistics of their state's contribution to the war effort, both at home and on the battlefield, and memorized the names of Tar Heel heroes.
In the early 1920s, neither the teachers nor their students had the benefit of hindsight to see the larger, more profound changes that the war had produced in North Carolina, changes that would shape their future. (For more on the long-term economic, political, and social effects of the war, see the "Introduction: Carolinians Go to War" and the introductions to the subsections within "The Home Front".)
The students and teachers also had no way of knowing that peace achieved at such a high price in 1919 would not last for another twenty years. In fact, they assumed quite the opposite. They believed that World War I had made the world safe for democracy and that it was "the war to end all wars." Historian Jackson Marshall reports that North Carolina's doughboys, presumably even those who had been drafted rather than volunteered, shared this optimistic assumption about what they had achieved. "We had to whip the Kaiser [the German emperor]" one veteran recalled. "He was going to conquer the whole world, but he didn't get it done." "I felt I had an opportunity to make history," another said. "I can't imagine anything more justifiable than to say 'I'll help kill war. There will never be another war.'"
In his July 4th oration, Walter Clark prayed for lasting peace, but pledged that if conflict should arise in Europe again, "then may men who offered their lives to their country rally once again about the colors and lead the world to a better and brighter day." Clark's fellow veterans were likely not so eager to return to battle. In 1941, however, North Carolinians once again sent their sons off to war and mobilized the home front. Having survived two world wars, North Carolina's veterans of the "Great War", looked back with justifiable pride on their state's patriotic service, but they also came to grim conclusions about the futility of war as an instrument of progress. "You can't make peace by fighting" one former doughboy told Marshall. Another reasoned, "All wars are useless, nobody wins."
Sources: R. Jackson Marshall III, Memories of World War I: North Carolina Doughboys on the Western Front (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1998) and Robert H. Zieger, America's Great War: World War I and the American Experience (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000). For additional regimental histories and histories of North Carolina troops by their home counties, consult the "For Further Research" section.