Researcher/writer for WWI Articles, LCDR Thomas Strother (ret.) USN
The following is an overview of the material covered in the print edition of The Edgefield Advertiserfrom mid-April 2017 to date. This long term series included articles from the pages of this newspaper of 100 years ago. The Advertiseris hoping to publish on line (and when space is available also in the print edition) the many letters that were written during and after the War by the Doughboys from the Edgefield area. These letters include family names such as:Agner, Brunson, Reel, Morgan, Reece, Tompkins, Woodson, Bryan, Lyon, Holloway and MORE.
Researcher / Writer’s (Tommy Strother) Overview of Doughboys coming home.
For those of you who missed the first nineteen months of The Edgefield Advertiser’s detailed coverage (from a small town’s perspective) of WORLD WAR I, I will give you a really condensed version of just a small part of the war from the RESIDENTS of Edgefield County perspective, which, because of the paucity of letters home written DURING their combat time overseas (for many reasons, including dodging bullets, slowness of mail delivery and heavy censorship (which obviated the ability to really write about anything is mostly preparation for war, deployment to war, trying to grasp the meaning of war after the war in more revelatory letters home while preparing to return to the USA. After the censorship was relaxed or unofficially ignored anymore.) But my overview is a way to bring you up to speed about how the USA hurriedly prepared for war, after we had already DECLARED War, how the USA trained for war, how the US FORCES deployed for war, and what it took to bring the survivors back home. This overview can be used as an informal backdrop to help you understand the “build-up” and “draw-down”.
With America’s declaration of War against Germany (and thus in this “World War”) on April 6, 1917, the USA embarked upon a huge military expansion or build -up. When the USA declared war against Germany, the number of ” Federal” or “regular” US Army Soldiers, spread throughout these United States numbered about 100,000 troops. A that time there were also about 100,000 National Guardsmen in the 48 States of the USA. Just 5 or 6 years before, the “National Guard” was still called the “State Militia” –and even until the date of the Declaration of War, each State set their own training syllabus and standards for each officer and enlisted soldier, alike. Thus, right after the Declaration of War, each and every Non-Commissioned Officer or Officer in such National Guard unit was quickly re-screened by the “Federal” US Army to confirm their qualifications, physical fitness and medical readiness to be “federalized” into the US Army.
Within a few weeks or months, these National Guard Units and personnel were categorized, or re-categorized, into the Federal Army System, so that a modicum of base military knowledge, physical ability to serve, and even design, color, and types of uniforms were standard. Those who couldn’t meet the muster were quietly released back to their old State National Guard bureau, for by then even the names, numbers and branch of army service were being changed into the federal system. This release of long- standing and long serving old militia men was not well received, but caused a lot less furor than the renaming of decades old and revered units, such as the “15th (segregated) NY Infantry (regiment)” becoming the “369th US infantry (colored).” Nevertheless, with the federalization of the national guard, the US Army doubles in size by 6-8 weeks after War was declared.
Many historians have recounted stories about how the American Expeditionary Forces commander, General John “Black Jack” Pershing, US Army, was chosen to command. The man had combat experience in earlier “operations”, and most recently, as a Brigadier General, had earlier commanded the large US Army Expeditionary force along the US Mexican border to repulse the hundreds of thugs, bandits and terrorists who repeatedly raided and pillaged US towns along the border. But more than his very interesting Army career (already covered in earlier issues of The Edgefield Advertiser) was his alleged estimate of how many US GROUND FORCES would be needed in France to win the war by the end of 1919 or early 1920. People in DC were shocked when he estimated “about 5 million” (or words to that effect.) Although his estimate could not have anticipated the political collapse of Germany in 1918, or other world events, his estimates on manpower seem very prescient 100 years later, for by January 1919, there were over 4 million men in the US ARMY — which was building up towards 5 million soldiers at that time, with over 3 million US service members already overseas.
When I started this now 19-month odyssey in my attempt to learn about my Grandfather’s World War I US ARMY record, I quickly discovered that a huge, raging, 1973 fire at the US ARMY PERSONNEL RECORDS CENTER in St. Louis had almost totally destroyed all US ARMY SERVICE RECORDS from circa 1870 through over half of the World War II US ARMY service records, so except for my grandfather’s Honorable Discharge papers, and a few saved membership cards from the AMERICAN LEGION, I had not much to go on — until I turned to the records of my “GRANDPA’s” hometown newspaper, The Edgefield Advertiser! And “voila” — in the digitalized copies ofThe Edgefield Advertiserwas a GOLD MINE of information about not just “doughboys” (white and black) but of the herculean efforts of dozens of predominantly female women’s church groups, civic groups, and other groups such as the U.D.C., so I thought of contacting my now friend, Ms. Suzanne Derrick (now editor of the Advertiser), and the column began soon thereafter in the print edition.
I found out so many truly amazing things, including -but not limited to: ~ Unless a young man was already enlisted in the Federal Army or National Guard, he was barred from enlisting at all until the first NATIONAL REGISTRATION DAY (June 5, 1917), because before the military could expand, the federal government needed training camps, uniforms, doctors to screen the enlistees/draftees, training cadre to train the new recruits, and bunks, bedding, food, clothing, boots, etc., to sustain them! ~ As the Federal government scrambled to buy farms in the south (they thought the winters were mild there (they were wrong!) upon which to build training camps: they had to screen, examine, swear-in, clothe and take care of the soldiers. While they at first lived in tent cities, they looked ahead and knew that millions of pairs of woolen socks, woolen sweaters, woolen scarfs, woolen gloves, woolen caps, would be needed to fight in the “always chilly” Northern France area of the Western Front, and almost immediately women’s groups throughout our county bought their own “olive drab” or “Navy Blue” wool and took to knitting all manner of winter garments! The Groups such as the U.D.C, D.A.R., and Red Cross began knitting and knitting even before the first “tent city” temporary bases were set up in South Carolina and throughout the South. ~ Almost overnight, US Army “training camps” (later nicknamed “camps”) sprung up all over the nation, but especially in the South. To name a few, Camp Jackson, Camp Sevier and Camp Wadsworth sprung up “overnight”, each,when completed, able to train up to 40,000 recruits simultaneously. ~ By June of 1917, the first elements of the newly created “First Division” (later called the First Infantry Division) landed in France and, back home, millions of young men groused about not being able to go to active duty immediately! (the camps, clothing, weapons, shoes, ammo was not completed yet!). ~ The unknown heroes of WWI were the UNKNOWN and Unheralded ORIGINAL Rosie the Riveters who left our county and found work “churning out” new war ships and troop ships over at the Charleston SC Navy Yard. The other unknown heroes from Edgefield County were the Buffalo Soldiers from our towns who showed fidelity, loyalty and courage in serving a nation still under Jim Crow laws, and the families who worked the farms to produce more food than ever before, not just to feed our soldiers, but the starving masses of Europe. ~ As earlier alluded to, by war’s end, the US Army had grown to just over 4 million men and women, with well over 3 million already deployed, enough so that while the US ARMY has ZERO US Army Division (about 20,000 men each) on April 6, 1917, by November 11, 1918, there were 43 US ARMY DIVISIONS In France, along with Several Marine Brigades (including the 4th Marine Brigade comprised of the 5th and 6th Marines — who all served in the US ARMY’s Second Division ), Navy and Marine Corps Aviation groups, several USN RAILROAD GUN batteries (14″ battleship guns), and thousands and thousands of Sailor and Marines serving aboard ships at sea, on convoy or convoy escort duty!
All of the “quick overview” above leads to the part of the war highlighted in recent issue of THE EDGEFIELD ADVERTISER — The Post War Era.