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William Bradley Umstead, 1895-1954
William Bradley and Merle Davis Umstead papers (#4529). My Diary. A Soldier's Record. 16 August 1917-4 July 1918.
: Transcript of the manuscript, UNC-Chapel Hill, Southern Historical Collection, .


William B. Umstead (1895-1954) was born in Durham County into a prosperous farming family. From 1932 to 1954, he served North Carolina as a United States Representative and Senator and as governor. Over three decades before he served as North Carolina's chief executive, he began his two-year U.S. Army service in World War I as second lieutenant in the 317th Machine Gun Battalion, part of the 81st \"Wild Cat\" Division. For a more complete biography of Umstead and his wartime service see the introduction to The Soldiers' Experience/Outfitting a Soldier. For a chronology of Umstead's life and service see the Chronology of W.B. Umstead's life.

Umstead's diary, \"A Soldier's Record,\" begins in August 1917 while he is on leave after three months \"hard and intensive\" training at Camp Oglethorpe, Ga., and is due to report to Camp Jackson, South Carolina in less than two weeks' time. Unfortunately, the entries end in July 1918, before the Eighty-first Division arrived in France for combat duty. Nevertheless, the diary is a good source of information about the three-months of basic training and the difference between the experiences and perspectives of enlisted men and the officers, such as Umstead, who led them. (For more, see The Soldiers' Experience/Recruitment and Training.)

Umstead visits Kinston, where he had briefly taught high school after graduating from the University of North Carolina. The 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 interesting reflections about a sermon he heard concerning the downfall of Sampson.

Throughout Umstead's training, his overseas duty, and his brief sightseeing travels in postwar France, he accumulated various mementos and much of the clothing and equipment issued to him by the army. Fortunately, Umstead kept those items and they were eventually donated to the University of North Carolina. For photographs of twenty of these artifacts, see The Soldiers' Experience/Outfitting a Soldier.

Work Consulted: A.W. Stewart entry on Umstead in William Powell ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (University of North Carolina Press, 1996.)

Amy Davis
Michael Sistrom

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