The WWI Experience for African Americans: Sowing the Seeds of Civil Rights

by Sherri Goudy

“First your country, then your rights!” With these words, W.E.B. Dubois urged blacks to support the war and that their fight for democracy abroad would surely result in democracy at home.  Although their treatment before, during, and after the war is the worst that any American soldier has ever experienced, they did not surrender their fight for freedom.

WWI’s impact on the civil rights movement is profound and continues today.  As recently as 2015, the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military honor, was awarded posthumously to Pvt. Henry Johnson whose valor and sacrifice on the French front lines during WWI had not been recognized by the American government.  He is one of only 2 African American WWI soldiers to be awarded this honor, both of whom received their awards long after their sacrifice had been made.

WWI was a momentous period for African Americans in many ways.  In 1914, as war began in Europe, the Great Migration in America of over 500,000 southern blacks to the north began. African Americans were subjected to Jim Crow segregation, political and social oppression, and countless horrific indignities in the south. Wartime opportunity gave hope to these individuals, that they would find jobs, better pay, and better treatment than they were facing in the south.

Conditions in the north did not prove to be much better.  Although there were opportunities for jobs and better pay, “separate but equal” caused bitter race relations.  Nevertheless, blacks continued to persevere and as war was declared by America in 1917, African Americans joined the effort for the “war to make the world safe for democracy.”

As men came forward to enlist for service, many African Americans were denied entry or leadership positions for physical reasons.  Colonel Charles Young had a bright future as a military leader, serving many of those years at Wilberforce University where he taught Military Tactics and Technology courses.  At the outbreak of WWI, he was medically retired by the government.  He asked for reconsideration and upon being denied, he set out on a historic 500-mile horseback ride from Wilberforce, Ohio to Washington, D.C. Though he had proven his physical stamina and capability to serve and lead troops, the decision of his retirement was not reversed.  He was however kept on an active duty officers list and served in Ohio recruiting and training black soldiers.

Photo 1 ColChasYoung1919

In Springfield, Alfred Howard wanted to enlist to serve.  Standing 6 foot 7 inches tall, he had “difficulty in passing city draft board” due to his height.  Though one physician passed him due to his “splendid physique” another doctor denied him due to his height.  In this local article dated August 8, 1917, he is shown standing next to Clarence Smith who stood 5 foot 4 inches tall who had no problem passing the physical requirements.

Photo 2 Colored Giant Aug 8, 1917

Over 400,000 African American soldiers enlisted or were drafted into service by the government which denied them so much.  Most of these men were segregated and put to work in labor units.  Half of these soldiers were sent overseas, and 40,000 of them became part of 2 black combat divisions – the 92nd and 93rd.  The 93rd Division was further divided into 4 regiments, one of which was the 372nd Infantry which included Black soldiers from the Ohio National Guard.  On November 10, 1917 the Springfield Daily News reported that 218 black men from Springfield, Ohio enlisted and were sent to Camp Sheridan. All but 65 of these men went on to serve with the 372nd in France.

Photo 3 Two Hundred and Eighteen Colored Boys are in Camp

One of the men who served with the 372nd was Springfield resident Willard Gilmore.

Photo 4 Pvt Willard Gilmore

He told the Springfield News Sun in 1982 that he voluntarily enlisted because “We loved our country. Although things were not good for us, it was still our home… I didn’t need anyone to force me to protect my home.”

Photo 5 Gilmore 1982

Pvt. Gilmore kept a scrapbook about the 372nd, which is part of the Clark County Historical Society’s collection.  In it, are newspaper clippings about the men that he served with, many of them from Ohio: PVT. Elmer Underwood, PFC. Maceo Burns, CPL. Lee Freeman, PVT. Homer Lawson, PVT Charles Hamilton among others. Some of these men wrote letters home to their families, which were published in the newspapers.  In a letter from PVT Robert W Smith, he writes about the conflict and the progress they were making, “We have gained quite a number of miles on the Huns and the boys have captured thousands of them, also big German guns.  We have got them on the run and are holding them there… German soldiers call us “the black Devils of Uncle Sam.”

Photo 6a Pvt Smith letter

Photo 6b Pvt Smith letter

Photo 6c Pvt Smith letter

In another letter, Gilmore himself wrote home to his father and told him about Thanksgiving in the trenches. “For my Thanksgiving, I had bread, beans, and coffee. Some dinner, but very glad to have that.”

Photo 7 Willard Gilmore letter

In France, he and the other men of the 372nd, faced combat situations for 13 months, the longest of any soldier, black or white, during WWI.  They fought gallantly and were recognized and honored by the French with the Croix de Guerre (France’s highest military honor).  There was also a monument erected in France dedicated “In memory of the Members of the 372nd US Infantry killed in action.”

Sadly, the US Government did not properly recognize or honor these men during or after the war.   Willard Gilmore did not receive any recognition from his home country until 1982. On November 5, 1982, PVT Willard Gillmore and 5 of his comrades were honored by the State of Ohio with the Ohio Distinguished Service Medal “for gallantry in action.”

Photo 8 Willard Gilmore recognition

Photo 9 Willard Gilmore recognition 2

 

Photo 10 Willard Gilmore recognition 3

African Americans showed their patriotism despite segregation and oppression during WWI.  The role that blacks served in WWI is often overshadowed by the Civil War and WWII.  However, this period in history could be described as one of the most pivotal for blacks because it changed so much of their experience.  They asserted their right for citizenship and equal treatment on a level never seen before in American history.  The civil rights movement was born out of this era, and the true potential of the United States and what it stands for was never demanded less.

Let us know what you think.  And join us for our next blog about Camp Life for the soldiers from Clark County preparing to go Europe.

 

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Women and WWI: Organizing, Serving, and Working for a Cause Part 2: Serving and Working for the War

by Sherri Goudy

A century ago, as America pledged allegiance to join the bloody battlefield already in motion, the men of this country prepared for war.  They left their homes, farms, jobs, and towns to join the 60 million men already fighting across the sea.  Over 5 million American men joined and fought in WWI, and in their absence women had no choice but to fill the gaps.  Women went to work on the home front and overseas, and forever changed the labor force in America.

Women at home kept the farms and factories running. New jobs popped up as the formation of munitions factories and other war-based industries arose, and women filled those jobs as well. They maintained their household duties and spent full workdays outside of the home.  Women became single heads of households in unprecedented numbers.

In Springfield, women were seeking opportunities to learn about automobiles and the possibility of driving trucks for the war effort. In April 1917, women attended a class at the YMCA about how to “Master Mysteries of the Automobile.” The article states that one participant of the class said, “that all women who can and should be prepared to help in the case of war.”

Photo 1 April 15 1917 pg 10

Articles were published over the next few months asking women to take jobs on the railroad.  The article makes sure to mention that women “will be paid the same wages as men.”

Photo 2 April 25 1917 pg 15

In August, a photo of a woman working on the Railroad in Jersey City was published in the Springfield Daily News.  Although the tone seems to mock the woman being photographed, it is certainly a common attitude for this time.  The caption under the photo reads “This happy and husky woman railroader has just finished giving the engine a thorough inspection when the photo was taken.  She looks a bit olly, but she doesn’t mind at all, for she knows she is doing her bit for Uncle Sam.  She is one of the many thousands of women who are going to keep American industries going while the men are away to war.”

Photo 3 August 20 1917 pg 6 photo also

Regardless of the tone with which women stepping up to the call of duty had to contend with, they embraced their new role and opportunities to prove themselves.  Mary Gore, secretary to the Springfield city engineer declared “You cannot stop the women.” Her progressive thoughts are well laid out in this article where she discusses women’s role in handling issues from the unique perspective of being a woman.  “Opportunities await the women on every side today… They are being recognized and are being better paid because they have proved that they can do the work just as well as men, and can be depended upon.”

Photo 4 May 6 1917 pg 14 part 2 of 3

Photo 5 May 6 1917 pg 14 part 2 of 3

Photo 6 May 6 1917 pg 14 part 3 of 3

In October, as the men of Springfield who had been drafted were preparing to go to training camps, a plea was published in the Springfield Daily News, for 1 million women to go to work.

Photo 7 October 10 1917 pg 9

While women were filling the holes left in the workforce at home, women also began to serve in the military.  As already discussed many women served as volunteers in the Red Cross and as nurses.  They also drove ambulance and supply trucks directly on the battlefield. Although the army refused to officially enlist women, the were permitted to volunteer.  The Army Signal Corps recruited more than 200 women, most of whom were bilingual to serve as telephone operators.  These “hello girls” were trained by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) to operate switchboards and enabled communications within the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and the allied forces.  Although they were serving the military, were subject to military discipline, and some were even praised by their male comrades as “Soldiers of the Switchboard,” they were denied military titles, status, and benefits by the United States Army.

There were women, however, who did enlist officially in the military.  The Marine Corps and Coast Guard admitted women into their ranks.  But by far, the largest number of women who enlisted and received benefits were part of the Navy.

After war was declared in America and military branches needed to increase their ranks, the Navy remained critically shorthanded. The number of ships increased from 200 to 1000, but there were not enough people to man them.  Due to vague language in the Naval Act of 1916, the Naval Reserve force was to consist of “all persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense.” This gave the Navy a new resource and 13,000 women joined the ranks, freeing men who once served in clerical and administrative positions to serve aboard ships.  The female Naval service members were called Yeomen, and they served by carrying out operations which included radio operators, stenographers, nurses, pharmacists, messengers, chauffeurs, mechanics, truck drivers, cryptographers, fingerprint experts, chemists, telephone operators, and munitions makers.

Across the US, women were asked to join the Navy, and propaganda posters like this one appealed directly to them.

Photo 8 Woman navy recruit poster wwi

WWI left an incredible legacy for the world, the United States, and its citizens.  There was no such thing as “getting back to normal” once the war was over.  Life was changed forever, and this is clearly exemplified by the evolution of gender roles that really started to change during this time. Women demonstrated their abilities to lead and handle “man’s work” in the face of total war.  They would continue to see ranks and positions open to them in the workforce and military.  And in 1920, the 19th Amendment secured their right to a political voice. Although not without tension and conflict, the movement for women’s equality was fostered and began to see success because of WWI.

Next time we will discuss the contributions of African Americans during WWI.

Let us know what you think and what you want us to write about!

 

Women and WWI: Organizing, Serving, and Working for a Cause Part 1: Organizing the Homefront

By Sherri Goudy

World War I coincided with a phenomenon that was already in full force in the United States – the Women’s Club Movement.  Women had been organizing since before the turn of the century to discuss books, music, and other cultural things.   They were also joining forces to address issues they wanted to reform such as equal suffrage, labor problems, urbanization issues, immigration, migration, and corruption in the government. The Progressive Era and WWI became a huge catalyst in changing women’s role in American Society.

At the onset of war, women immediately mobilized to provide aid and support.  As we discussed in the last blog, the Red Cross grew exponentially during the first World War.  But women contributed to the war effort beyond their contributions to the Red Cross and nursing.

In Springfield, the newly formed Local Chapter of the League for Women’s Service elected officers and committee chairs to begin a publicity campaign.  The local paper wrote of their motivation for such action: “Love of country and a desire to render what assistance they can, if called upon in the present war crisis.”

Photo 1 April 12 pg 5

The next day, the paper published another article was published about the large number of women who had joined the group.

Photo 2 April 13 pg 10

Within a month, the Committee on Women’s Defense Work was formed by the Council of National Defense.  The committee consisted of women who represented various organizations across the country including the President of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the President of the National American Women’s Suffrage organization.  These women would determine what role women and the home front would play during the war, particularly efforts for the mobilization of industries and resources.

Photo 3 May 5 pg 2

The Women’s Defense League asked women to conserve resources for the war effort.  However, women were warned “don’t go to uncomfortable extremes in your zeal for the cause.” This interesting article from the Springfield News Sun tells women “don’t wear dowdy clothes just because the nation is at war… nobody wants mi-lady to forgo her fall or winter outfit, or to go about in the left-overs of the style of 1916 or earlier.” It seems that even in war, and with supplies in short supply, the womenfolk should not deny themselves a little vanity and they certainly should “keep cheerful, for one can economize, retrench and do any of the hundred and one duties that war time exact, to so much better advantage with a smiling face.”

Photo 4 August 19 front

Photo 5 August 19 front

Locally, women were organizing to support the war effort in various ways. They organized to raise war funds to aid the families who might be sent away to the war.

Photo 6 May 19 pg 8

The Women’s Clubs in Springfield who often dedicated their time to self-education in cultural subjects, decided to give up their literary studies for war relief work.  They wanted each of their members to assist them in this goal, without alienating anyone.  The local paper published this statement “The idea is to hold the entire membership intact and to have membership in the club obligation to lend a hand with whatever branch of national aid is taken up.”

Photo 7 July 15 front

By the end of the summer, the local women’s organizations were making surgical dressings, sewing clothing and other items needed in war torn France, and providing supplies directly to the Red Cross.

Photo 8 August 26 pg 7

Photo 9 September 2 pg 4

Whether women were formally organizing or simply supporting the war from home, the Homefront was crucial for the success of the war effort, especially where food conservation was concerned.  Women were asked to think of soldiers while canning goods and doing their grocery shopping.  The local paper dedicated one section of the news to “Winning the War at Home” through food conservation.  On October 7, 1917 the front page of this section published the “Honor Badge of the Housewife” which was a window display card for women to display in their home to show they were a member of the United States Food Administration and had signed a pledge card to conserve food for the war effort.

Photo 10 October 7 pg 11

In mid-November, women on the Homefront also began to wear a small service flag to show their support for the men in the army and who were at camps preparing for service overseas. Many Red Cross workers also wore the service flags in support for the men serving on the front.

Photo 11 November 11 pg 10

So many local and national organizations which had formed because of growing concern for Progressive Ideas contributed greatly to the war effort. Black women also formed groups specifically to support black soldiers, and they did so separately due to segregation.  However, not all groups supported the war.  Some suffrage activists, who would finally be successful in their fight for equal voting rights for women in 1920, vehemently opposed the war.  Regardless of motivation or position, all women regardless of class or conviction were networking to get things done in America.

During WWI, while women mobilized on the Homefront to support the war, others went overseas. They staffed medical units and served in the military. Of the women who stayed in the US, many engaged in wage work in industry and agriculture.  Please join me next week for more about women’s role in work and service.

Serving the United States and Clark County: The American Red Cross in World War I

By Sherri Goudy

Imagine you’re a solider fighting for your country.  A battle has just ended and you’ve been injured.  Your arm is bleeding.  You’re hungry. It’s raining and your socks are wet.  You don’t have another pair.   As you sit on a tree stump under a makeshift canopy made from your jacket, you see a woman coming towards you dressed in white, with a dark cloak wrapped around her shoulders.  She asks you to show her your injuries and proceeds to bandage your arm.  She has a ration pack and you’re so hungry you immediately tear it open and devour its contents. She also has a package for you with socks and a sweater, soap and toothpaste, and even a pack of cigarettes. Would you assume this woman was a nurse?  Or perhaps even an angel, sent to care and comfort you in the hell of your present location.

During the Civil War one such woman was nicknamed the “Angel of the Battlefield” for this very reason.  Clara Barton was a former school teacher and clerk for the US Patent office when she decided to collect and distribute supplies to soldiers during the Civil War, as well as providing nurses aid on the battlefield.  Her experience led her to advocate for war-injured soldiers through the ratification of the Geneva Convention. She is  most famous for founding the American Red Cross in 1881.  It was one of the first humanitarian organizations in the US, and the only one congressionally mandated to provide aid to victims of disasters and war.  But it wasn’t until World War I when the Red Cross began its transformation from a small organization with limited staff and insufficient funds into a massive, globally influential institution.

With the outbreak of war, the Red Cross expanded in many ways.  Its numbers grew from 107 local chapters with 17,000 members in 1914 to 3,864 local chapters with 31 million members in 1918.  During World War I, the public contributed $400 million in funds and materials to support Red Cross Programs.  And the organization recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the military during the war, and additional nurses came forward in 1918 at the outbreak of the influenza epidemic.

In Clark County, women became a part of the Red Cross and its campaign for action from Wilson’s declaration of war.  In early April, the headline read “Springfield Girl is Now Red Cross Nurse.”

Photo 1 April 13 1917 pg 10 nurse

Part of the Red Cross campaign was to collect bandages and surgical dressings for wounded soldiers overseas.  In Springfield, 77 Clark County citizens, mainly women enrolled in a surgical dressing class to bolster supplies for the Red Cross.  The classes were organized by the local chapter of the National League of Women Services.

Photo 2 May 7 1917 pg 3

In order to contribute to the fundraising efforts for the Red Cross, Springfield was divided into 4 districts “to facilitate the work of the campaigners.”  The newspaper provided a map for readers to see where their contributions would be counted.  It was set up like a competition among the quadrants as to who could get the most funds.

Photo 3 June 17 1917 2nd section pg 2

Ads flooded the newspapers, urging citizens of all ages to be a part of the Red Cross and its campaign to send aid overseas.  This particular ad pulls at the heartstrings of children, pleading with them to help the boys and girls overseas who don’t have enough to eat and whose papas are fighting “in an awful war” and that “we are in that war too.”

Photo 4 June 19 1917 pg 3

Full page ads urged women to join the Red Cross as nurses, and citizens to join as members to support the war effort.

Photo 5 Large June 17 1917 pg 11

Photo 6 Large June 18 1917 pg 7

Photo 7 Large June 23 1917 pg 8

The ad campaign was successful and by mid-June, the goal of 30,000 Red Cross members was expected to be exceeded.

Photo 8 June 20 1917 pg 1

The headlines for June 21, 1917 read “Six Donations of $5,000 Each received by Red Cross” and “Thirty Thousand Dollars Netted in Hour Thursday.”  The central district for the Red Cross campaign for memberships provided a photo of the young girls who were soliciting for the Red Cross, wearing their white uniforms and recognizable white cap with the cross on it.

Photo 9 June 21 1917 front

In preparation for the cold months, the Red Cross accepted donations of knitted garments for soldiers.  On August 26, 1917, the Springfield newspaper published an article stating that “it is necessary that the Red Cross have one thousand sets of knitted articles.”

Photo 10 August 26 1917 pg 5

In less than 4 months, Springfield and its surrounding rural towns were exceeding expectations with the number of members and contributions to the Red Cross.

Photo 11 August 26 1917 pg 7 exceed records

In the first months of the war, the Red Cross grew exponentially. The membership expansion, nurses who joined, knitting goods, supplies collected, and every citizen young or old, regardless of background contributed to this growth, and were led by the women of Springfield and women across the country.  For the first time, women had an incredible opportunity to show their patriotism in the public sphere and were recognized for it.

Next time, we will discuss other ways women served their country by joining the military and work force.

Let us know what you think! Leave us a comment about what you’ve read and what you’d like to see us write about next.

 

Ever Changing Roles: Women in World War I

By Sherri Goudy

“The Great War,” “The War to End All Wars,” “The World’s Worst Wound,” “The Bloodiest Conflict;” the terms and titles that historians and writers have given to describe World War I are vast and graphic.  It is depicted as brutal with the new forms of weapons technology used, and the effects of large numbers of men mobilized to fight on the battlefield left horrific scenes behind.  Many modern authors, exposed the severe and vast way in which this gruesome war impacted the public and changed lives forever. Beyond the patriotic, heroic, and noble actions that newspapers were writing about, were real life and long-lasting effects that the war was taking on soldiers, families, and the communities.  The effect of WWI changed life for women, and it changed the women themselves.

While men were going off to war, women were left to fill the gaps in family, society, and community life.  They became the sole provider of the home, joined the military, and formed social organizations to provide aid and resources for the troops.   They began participating in economic, cultural, and political life in ways they had not before.

As was going on throughout the country, the women of Springfield and Clark County immediately sprang to action at the onset of the war.  Over the next few weeks we will discuss the ways in which the women in this area helped to support the war effort.

The local branch of the National League of Women’s Service was formed in Springfield in early April 1917.

Photo 1 Women organize

It is evident that women had been organizing on a local level for some time, and that by joining the national organization, they would increase their success. “So perfect has been the organizing of the service work in Springfield for some weeks past, that the activity of the permanent organization effected Wednesday afternoon will go forward with speed and dispatch.”

Women were also prepared to “do their bit” by enlisting as nurses and ambulance drivers, as well as by replacing men sent to war in the factories and on farms.  They joined the Red Cross and urged everyone in the community to support their efforts.  They were ready to do whatever was needed. As this article posted in the Springfield paper stated, women were willing to “serve on street railways and railroads, to drive trucks or do clerical work, to prepare bandages and surgical kits, to do guard and patrol duty, to care for the nation’s food supply or to fill the places of professional men, such as doctors, dentists and chemists, who might be called to war.”

Photo 2 US women report for war

Women were not only contributing to the war effort by organizing, working and serving, but also by conserving food and home gardening.  Resources and supplies were scarce both at home and abroad and people across the nation were asked to “remember soldiers” when going about their daily lives.

Photo 3 July 22 1917 Housewivs canning remember the soldiers

In every action, from taking care of the family, working, enlisting, or continuing her daily duties of purchasing food, canning, cooking, and gardening a woman could help support the war effort. And she did this willingly.  She took the place of the men in her town and home.  And this changed her forever.

Join me in my next blog as we discuss the Red Cross and other ways in which women of WWI served their country.

Answering the Call: WWI Military Recruitment in Clark County, Ohio (Part 2)

by Sherri Goudy

In my last post, we discussed US entry into WWI and the impossible task of raising an army from a few hundred thousand to a million using only volunteer recruits.  Initiating a draft was inevitable, and over the course of the summer of 1917 local newspapers were filled with this very topic.

After over a month of debates between congress and the President, the Selective Service Act was finally passed on May 18, 1917.

Photo 12 May 10 1917 front Draft Age Set

Photo 13 May 19 1917 front Draft Proclamation

The first draft was June 5, 1917. Registration cards were printed in the local paper.

Photo 14 June 4 1917 front Registration Card

In early June, the front page featured photos of men waiting in line to register under conscription.

Photo 15 June 5 1917 front Photo of men registering

Just the thought of the draft becoming a reality was too much for some Ohio residents to bear.  One woman committed suicide before conscription was even a reality, out of fear that her son would be drafted to military service.

Photo 16 April 15 1917 front Woman Suicides

In Springfield, the paper published articles warning men not to “dodge registration” for the draft.

Photo 17 June 1 1917 front Wilson Warns Dont Dodge Registration

The local paper also posted on the front page the penalty and “round up” of “slackers” in Toledo.

Photo 18 June 6 1917 front Round up of slackers

By mid-July, the paper published local and national information about the draft.

Photo 19 July 12 1917 front Clark County Must Furnish 509 Men

Quotas for each city were listed in the papers, demanding the number of men who would have no choice but to report for duty.

Photo 20 July 13 1917 front Nation first draft

Clark County was to supply 509 men, of which 409 were to come from the city of Springfield.

On July 12, 1917, the paper listed the names and serial numbers of the men registered, which would be randomly drawn for service.

Photo 21 July 12 1917 pg 2 List of men registered

Rules and regulations were also published, including information about physical exams and where notifications would be printed.

Photo 22 July 15 1917 front Draft Rules

The drawing was set to take place on July 20, 1917.

Photo 23 July 19 1917 front Draft Plan Announced

The paper listed the first men of Springfield and Clark County to be drafted.

Photo 24 July 20 1917 front List of men called to draft

The residents were anxious to find out any information about the drawing, and they crowded in public places where the information was posted.

Photo 25 July 22 1917 2nd edition page 4 phone photo

To boost morale, political cartoons flooded the paper to show that regardless if men were drafted or volunteering for service, they were united in their fight for democracy and liberty.

Photo 26 July 21 1917 pg 4 PC Side by Side

However, there continued to be issues with draft dodging and punishment plans such as court martial were printed on the front page.

Photo 27 August 5 1917 front Court Matial to Punish Slackers

In total, 2 million men volunteered for service and 2.8 million men were drafted, with fewer than 350,000 dodgers.  These brave men who served our nation represented over 25% of the entire male population age 18-31. Although these men participated for less than 2 years in the deadliest conflict the world had ever known, their contributions helped put an end to the war and they are deserving of honor, respect, and reflection.

Next time, we will begin to explore the many contributions of women during this time of war.  From joining the Red Cross, to taking men’s place in the workforce, to support from home, women played a vital role during World War I, and we will look into these roles over the next few posts.

Please let us know what you think and what you want to read about next.  We want your feedback!

 

 

Answering the Call: WWI Military Recruitment in Clark County, Ohio (part 1)

by Sherri Goudy

When President Wilson declared war against Germany in April 1917, neither he nor the country realized the full ramifications of his decree.   The war had been going on “over there” for 3 years, and although some men had volunteered to help the allies by serving in foreign military legions, what did America’s entry into the war really mean for our own military?

Photo 1 April 3 1917 front Plan for Army

At the time, the US military was not prepared to fight on US soil or abroad.  The US Army numbered only 127,000 and there were 86,000 in the national guard.  As many as half of these soldiers lacked the training, experience, and physical stamina which would prepare them for the trenches. When war was declared, the War Department asked for $3 billion (an amount previously unheard of!) to build training camps, and to purchase rifles, artillery, and airplanes.

To combat the lack of men in the US military, the debate between raising an army using only volunteers or initiating a draft began.

Photo 2 April 20 1917 pg 23 How America will Recruit

The idea of conscription had been envisioned as early as December 1916.  It had been brought to Wilson’s attention in February 1917, as the threat of war loomed and the realization that the numbers in the federal army, navy, and national guard were too few.

Photo 3 February 9, 1917 Navy wants 25,000

Photo 4 April 15 1917 Land and Sea Forces Enlarged

The President at first wanted to utilize only volunteer enlistment to supply troops.  After the declaration, Wilson asked for an immediate increase of 1 million men to volunteer for service immediately, with 2 million required within 2 years.

Photo 5 April 5, 1917 Army of 2 million men

Another issue, was that the US government was not clear on if troops would have to go “over there.”  They were prepared to make a declaration of war against Germany and to defend the United States, but it seemed as if they were not ready to actually send troops to aid the horrific fighting already happening in France.  One historian, Thomas Fleming wrote about “the almost incredible naivete that underlay the US decision to declare war on Germany.”  He also recounts that the Senate Majority leader Thomas S. Martin was shocked that the US may have to have an army in France, exclaiming “Good Lord! You’re not going to send soldiers over there, are you?”

On April 5, 1917, the Springfield Daily News printed an article about this very topic.  The article speculated that within 6 months, American troops would be sending “a considerable fighting force.”

Photo 6 April 5 1917 pg 7 American Soliders Expected in Trenches

As the months went on article after article appeared in the Springfield paper, calling for troops and notifying residents about enlistment opportunities.

Photo 7 April 12 1917 front Call for volunteers

Photo 8 April 14 1917 front Enlistment to start Monday

The newspaper printed names and stories about some of the men who were volunteering to enlist daily. Even retired Army General J. Warren Keifer, age 81 and having the experience of both the Civil War and the Spanish American War volunteered his services.

Photo 9 April 27 1917 pg 23 Keifer tenders service

The impossible task of raising an army using only volunteers led to the dauntless task for Wilson to push a Conscription bill through congress.

Photo 10 April 18 1917 front Wilson push bill part 1

Photo 11 April 18 1917 pg 8 Wilson push bill part 2

Next time, we will continue exploring military service during WWI and delve into the draft and the Selective Service Act of 1917.

Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.  We want your feedback!