The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. The Advertiser is bringing to its print edition a series of vignettes and pertinent material from old Advertisers to give its readership an understanding of what our area in S.C. was like before the War and during. Thomas Strother, whose roots are in Edgefield, has researched Chronicling America (old newspapers digitized for research) to find articles, ads, editorials and personals to give a kind of slice of life of the people of this area. His work as researcher has been made available to this newspaper, through his generosity. Researcher Strother (full bio in the print edition coming up April 19), whose talents and skills come from studies in history and years teaching history at the Naval Academy, as wells as military credentials – LCDR Tommy Strother, US Navy (ret.) — both enlightening his research in the area of WWI. He intersperses the researched articles with commentaries that underscore the important issues and events of the times.
As background information, Mr. Strother has written for the readership a history lesson in what brought the War on for the countries involved and the United States which stepped in 100 years ago, April 2017. Find this lesson below.
(Readers may wish to get the print edition to find their own grandparents, ancestors, and kin from over the Edgefield County and the surround, many mentioned in the many articles leading up to and during the War.)
Prelude to the “Great War” for the People of Edgefield County
written by Thomas Strother
The arrival of the “Great War” did not happen quickly to Edgefield County. The USA was still strictly “isolationist” for the most part. While wars raged throughout Europe in the early 19th century, America listened to President George Washington’s warning to avoid entanglements in Europe. With the exception of a foray into the Philippine insurrection (circa 1915) when, following the Spanish American War the Philippines was considered a “US protectorate or territory”, the US Army left “expeditionary” missions overseas to the US Navy and the-then very small US Marine Corps. While the US Army did fight in Mexico during the Mexican-America War, and in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, those very short wars were considered to be in Defense of our “Monroe Doctrine” as they occurred in our Hemisphere. The Pre-WWI deployment of “expeditionary forces” during the nascent 20th Century were mostly composed of large US Navy landing parties and US Marines taken up from service aboard USN Ships and Naval Stations around the USA. Not until the USA’s entry into the “Great War” was the US Army really considered an expeditionary force. Thus, before World War I, most of the US Army Troops were garrisoned in the continental US, at isolated outposts along the Southwest and northern borders, and along our coastlines in “Coastal Artillery” units created to defend major US Maritime ports, such as Charleston, SC, Norfolk, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston on the east coast, and San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle on the west coast. Hence the names of seacoast fortresses (such as Fort Sumter, Fort Monroe, Fort Delaware. Fort Totten, et al) gave the US Army the “punch” to defend our vital seaports against foreign seaborne invasions. And thus, the post-American Civil War positioning or “posting” of U.S Army units on our borders, or in garrisons in the far west, (In view of feared Native American Indian uprisings in the USA) while strategically important to defend our nation, gave our U.S Army leadership or experience in moving massed troops above the company or Battery level anywhere, let alone forward across the seas to fight in a modern war! But that begs the question of how did the USA ever get involved in World War I?
For brevity sake, this synopsis will focus on the twentieth century only. However, a quick review of the history of Austria is appropriate here. Austria in the seventeenth,, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries became a sea power. Access to the Mediterranean was available through the shifting boundaries to the south. And the Danube River was very accessible from Vienna, Austria, which gave Austria access to other Central European nations and the nation of Serbia too. That is very important as the story proceeds to 1914. But the Austrians were very closely aligned (and later allied) with Germany. Culturally, religiously and familial links in high places made Austria and Germany very good friends. If you “fast forward” to June 24, 1914 (or read Barbara Tuchman’s book entitled the “Guns of August”), you probably remember when and how Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated while on an official “State Visit’ to Sarajevo, Serbia.
The “ alleged” assassin, purportedly one of six assassins and a member of a secret group called the “Black Hand” – a group dedicated to, among other things, an attempt to break up Austro-Hungary Empire and conquer an area (“South Slav”). This would then become part of an emerging “empire” which would become part of a hoped for” “Yugoslavia.”
The aftermath of the assassination was immediate and visceral. While both Austria and Serbia prepared for war because of the murder of their heir apparent, diplomats attempted to avert open warfare. However, the alleged orchestration of the Assassination and mentoring, training and outfitting of the Assassins by a high-ranking Serbian Military Intelligence Officer, eventually led to the war. Unbeknownst to most of the diplomats, secret pacts of alliances between the Austrian government and Germany, and between Serbia and Russia, led to missteps by all concerned. By Late June and early July of 1914, “skirmishes” along the Danube between Austria-Hungary troops along the shore and Serbian Troops in transports, seemingly steaming towards Austrian- Hungary areas along the river, eventually ‘sealed the deal” and eventually (as some historians concluded) led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia (Unknown to most concerned was the tight alliance between Serbia and their “cousins” — emotionally, religiously and culturally — the Russians.) Also unknown were the secret pact between Russia and France (circa 1892), To exacerbate the situation, France had allegedly made a “secret defense pact” with England. Thus a “Triple Alliance” Between Russia, France and England (Great Britain) arose on one side, and, initially, an alliance between Russia and Serbia on the other. Eventually Canada, Australia and New Zealand fought for the British Commonwealth. And eventually other nations (such as Turkey) entered the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary. What most people remember is the naval bombardment of Belgrade, the Austrian Capital, by Austrian Gunboats steaming on the Danube. But to be concise, President George Washington’s admonition to (in words to the effect) “avoid entangling alliances with European nations –and thus avoid wars” never seemed wiser as millions of soldiers were mobilized and marched off to war.
In the meanwhile – once the alliances were understood, Germany eventually invaded France, via the Schlieffen Plan. USA stayed out of the war. President Woodrow Wilson espoused ending the war at once, but took faltering steps at beefing up the US ARMY with Voluntary Officer Training Summer Camps of a few weeks duration. These training camps, first started in 1913 under the Plattsburg Plan, began ‘sprouting up” with newly recruited young business men and college men signing up for said training camps. But their obligation to the US ARMY ended at the end of the camp- and they were viewed as partially trained men who “someday” may be called forth to be trained more formally — more elaborately staffed and outfitted – before being commissioned after completing the advanced 9-day “Officer Training Camps.” (Hence the term 90-DAY WONDERS evolved!) But between 1913 and 1916, thousands of young men attended these camps, and only their food, housing, travel tickets, and a very small stipend were provided to them by the US Army. Again, their military obligation was only for the duration of the summer camp and they would then be ordered home to await their possible use – “someday” in the future.
While the USA slowly awoke from an isolationist “slumber” (as some people called it), the War kicked off in Europe with a ferocity and vengeance never seen before. With the advent of the machine gun, aero planes, massed artillery and poison gas, the way wars were fought changed overnight. Any survivors of the Horse Cavalry (both horses and men) were soon given over to units where they could be useful — for the horses, as draft animals hauling wagon loads of ammo and supplies and for the Soldiers in the infantry or for a few-teamsters. Because of such “innovations’” as barbed wire, machine guns, “open (land or space) warfare” –now described in the 21st century as Maneuver Warfare” – became impossible. Great masses of infantrymen moving forward could not gain much ground in the face of the massed (and more accurate) artillery, machine guns, and barbed wire. Notwithstanding the evolution in better field communications for “command, control and communications” that the ‘new” field telephones provided, an accurate artillery barrage decimated the field telephone wires, and the troops were reduced to using carrier pigeons and semaphore flags. Thus the war on the Western Front quickly bogged down to trench warfare and battles where thousands of soldiers on both sides died in a single day. The worst example of this was the Battle of the Somme, where hundreds of thousands of French Soldiers died. And, to make things worse, the infancy of a nations “AIR SERVICE” or “Air Force” quickly led beyond daring-do “dogfights” high above the tranches to strafing attacks and even still later bombing attacks on entrenched and static soldiers – or worse yet, soldiers in the open advancing toward the enemy, or later still, more strategic attacks on main supply routes!
While this maelstrom unfolded in Europe, America remained “ostensibly” neutral. While Woodrow Wilson claimed America’s Neutrality, and during his 1916 re-election campaign promised to “keep us out of the war,” little things such as the “Zimmerman Incident” in which German Agent Provocateurs were accused of trying to incite border disputes between the USA and MEXICO, and the fact that AMERICANS shared a common language with the “Brits” who almost as soon as the war began started sending very handsome emissaries to College Campuses and small towns (including Edgefield!) to: a) give the ‘British” perspective of the war; b) encourage donations to the International Red Cross; c) encourage men and women to join the British Ambulance Corps and Nurse’s Corps, and d) maybe even quietly counsel young thrill-seeking men on how to apply to the Commonwealth ‘s military forces (especially the fledgling Royal Air Force.) Suffice to say, even after the sinking of the British liner Lusitania, which resulted in the deaths of over 100 American Citizens, and even after the 1916 US Presidential Election, and even though the dastardly deeds of German U-Boats were well documented, America stayed out of the war. And still there was trench warfare — even with the introduction of ‘the tank” on the battlefield! And to further dissuade anyone from attempting an “end around” sweep around the German Trench lines via an Amphibious landing somewhere to the north or south, the “disastrous” and ill-planned, ill-conceived amphibious landing at Gallipoli by the Australian and New Zealand troops (nicknamed “ANZACS” or “Diggers”) dissuaded both sides from attempting that! Thus it was not until foresighted US Marines really studied the outcome and lessons learned from W.W. I, and deduced, in the 1920s and 1930s, that very large scale amphibious invasions or amphibious or “end =runs” around the flanks of lengthy trench lines (extant on the Western Front in W.W. I) could work. This was provided they were meticulously planned and properly supported with more and better naval gunfire support and emerging close air support. But perhaps, MOST IMPORTANTLY, the proper loading of new types of landing ships with the adage of “last in-first out / first in-last out” would ensure supplies of “bullets, beans , bandages and potable water”for ground forces, that those ashore don’t want-for any of these critical supplies in the first hours or days or even weeks of the invasion -or flanking movement by sea. Only by following these “logistical rules” could Allied Forces avoid the debacle that the “ANZACS” suffered against the troops of the Ottoman Empire (Turks )at Galipoli.
The above synoptic overview leads to the original purpose of this introduction of Part II –the PRELUDE TO WAR for the People of Edgefield County. Bottom line- by April 1917- when the USA finally entered WWI –both sides had destroyed a vast amount of the young men of their nations. Through the introduction of more and more vicious tools of war (including poison gasses), by late 1915/early 1916 the warring nations were very worn down and barely hanging on. Who could help save the British and French allies? Where would the new men come from? The redacted stories and articles contained herein tell how the USA came to their rescue. With less than 200,000 Soldiers in the US ARMY in 1916, by the end of 1918 there were over 2 million men in Uniform. With a US Marine Corps of barely two Brigades in early 1917, thousands more were trained to serve in the Corps BY 11 November 1918. And with a relatively tiny Navy in 1912, the Navy got big enough, fast enough, to carry out the anti–submarine escort missions while “guarding” dozens and dozens of USN troop ships that carried over 2 MILLION AMERICANS overseas. Included in those numbers were THOUSANDS of American Women. To build up a robust US NAVY NURSES CORPS, a US NAVY “yeomenettes” corps, sending thousands of women to Europe to serve in the Red Cross In numerous capacities was amazing. But the focus of this series of articles about what happened in Edgefield County during the Great War is even more remarkable in many ways. Community Organizations from all walks of life “pitched in” and went off to war, donated much money for Red Cross relief efforts, assembled “comfort kits’ for hundreds of soldiers at Camp (now called Fort) Jackson, Camp Sevier and other camps throughout South Carolina.
And interestingly enough, for a section of the nation that has been much maligned for racism over the last three centuries, a discerning reader of this series of articles may conclude that the citizens of Edgefield County came together to offer up very supportive “send offs” for the white and “colored” troops alike. Even though the military was still segregated, people of all backgrounds came together– if just for the length of the war–to ensure that every departing recruit got the same great send-off before they boarded a train for Columbia, South Carolina, or any of the many training camps that were built in a very short period of time. The Great War was the end of some things, the beginning of others, both good and bad. But the USA, and Edgefield would never be the same again.