Over the Top, ca. 1918
John William Overton Papers
Reverse contains illustration honoring John W. Overton who was killed in action in 1918.
“From Col. Thos. B. Williamson, Co. F,
Library Photograph Collection
The Great War, 1914-1918
European hostilities broke out between the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey) in 1914 after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. With a few notable exceptions, the fiercest fighting took place in France and tiny Belgium.
In 1917 President Wilson convinced Congress to declare war on Germany after a series of outrages against the United States. Although American troops began arriving in France in 1917, they did not participate in any major action until 1918. General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing commanded the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.), which, at its largest, consisted of 4 million troops, some 2 million of them overseas. Over 100,000 Tennesseans volunteered or were drafted during the First World War, six of them winning the Medal of Honor.
The armistice of November 11, 1918, ended the shooting, but it was not until 1919 that the Treaty of Versailles formally ended the war. Germany was forced to assume sole responsibility for the war and to pay $438 billion (in 2010 dollars) in war reparations. Resentment of the treaty in Germany helped, in part, to fuel the rise of the Nazi Party there and led to World War II.
Germany made its final World War I reparations payment in October 2010.
Sergeant Alvin C. York at the grave
Library Photograph Collection
Sergeant Alvin C. York
Alvin Cullom York (1887-1964) was the most famous Tennessean to serve in World War I. Born at Pall Mall in Fentress County, York was drafted into the Army in 1917. On October 8, 1918, he was with a unit of nineteen soldiers who were ordered to capture the Decauville railroad. Misreading their French maps, the unit ended up behind German lines and was caught in withering machinegun fire. York was ordered to silence the German guns. His quick and effective actions led to the capture of 132 Germans by nine men. Although he never claimed to have acted alone, York was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and returned home to a hero’s welcome. After the war York pursued his dream of providing a practical education for the rural children of Tennessee, founding the Alvin C. York Institute in 1929 in Jamestown, Tennessee. The state took over funding of the school in 1937. York died at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville on September 2, 1964.
Alvin York later in life
African Americans in World War I
Roughly 350,000 African Americans served on the Western Front during World War I. Because the U.S. military was still segregated at the time, many of the African Americans who served were relegated to labor and stevedore units instead of combat units. One notable exception was the 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the "Harlem Hellfighters." The regiment arrived in France in January 1918 but was given only labor service duties until April, when it was assigned to the French Army. The regiment spent 191 days in combat, more than any other American unit, participating in the Champagne-Marne and Meuse-Argonne campaigns. It was also the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine River in November 1918. All told, 171 of the regiment's officers and men received awards for bravery. The regimental band, led by James Reese Europe, is credited with introducing jazz music to Europe. Other notable members of the 369th were Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the tap dancer and actor, and Vertner Woodson Tandy, one of the founders (or "Seven Jewels") of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first African American fraternity.
"Our Colored Heroes"
Sergeant Henry Lincoln Johnson and Private Needham Roberts were members of the 369th Infantry Regiment. As a result of their heroic actions, depicted in this lithograph, Johnson and Roberts were the first American soldiers to be awarded France’s prestigious Croix de Guerre medal during World War I.
Honored as Heroes
General Pershing's Communique
"Section B — Reports in hand show a notable instance of bravery and devotion shown by two soldiers of an American colored regiment operating in a French sector. Before daylight on May 15, Pte. Henry Johnson and Pte. Roberts, while on sentry duty at some distance from one another, were attacked by a German raiding party estimated at twenty men, who advanced in two groups, attacking at once from both flank and rear.
"Both men fought bravely in hand-to-hand encounters, one resorting to the use of a bolo knife after his rifle jammed and further fighting with bayonet and butt became impossible. There is evidence that at least one, and possibly a second, German was severely cut. A third is known to have been shot.
"Attention is drawn to the fact that the two colored sentries were first attacked and continued fighting after receiving wounds and despite the use of grenades by a superior force."
On June 2, 2015, Henry Johnson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
1st Lieutenant Morton B. Adams,
Library Photograph Collection
A graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School,
John T. Sharp
John T. Sharp was a corporal in Company D, 117th Infantry Regiment. He was wounded in combat on October 8, 1918, and died of his wounds four days later.
May 29, 1918
Somewhere in France
My Dearest Mumsey,
Your loving son,
Francis B. "Dolly" Warfield
Francis B. "Dolly" Warfield arrived in France as a 1st Lieutenant in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 105th Engineers Regiment, 30th Infantry Division and ended the war as the Captain of the Headquarters Company in the same regiment. The 105th Engineers and the rest of the 30th Infantry Division took part in the fighting around Ypres, Belgium. During his career as an architect and engineer after the war, Warfield was involved with several notable projects, among them McTyeire Hall and Rand Hall at Vanderbilt, Westminster Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church, Bartholomew Episcopal Church, Two Rivers High School, Cheatham Place, the Coca-Cola Bottling Works in Columbia, Tennessee, and the Springfield Woolen Mills.
The Belgian city of Ypres (pronounced "eeper" and called "wipers" by British troops) was the scene of intense fighting throughout most of World War I and the city was extensively damaged as a result. The Third Battle of Ypres (July-November 1917) serves as an example of the appalling casualty rates suffered on the Western Front. In their push to capture the town of Passchendaele, ca. 140,000 British soldiers were killed to gain approximately 5 miles. That translates into one soldier killed for approximately every 2.25 inches of ground gained. During the Battle of Lys in April 1918, the Germans recaptured all of the ground that they had lost during the Third Battle of Ypres.
"Dead End," Yser Canal, Ypres, Belgium
"Dead End" Ypres
With morbid humor, British troops nicknamed the terminus of the Yser Canal in Ypres "Dead End" because it continuously came under German artillery fire. The name was clearly also adopted by American troops.
Captain Henry H. George and "Fritz"
Capt. George of "C" Co. and "Fritz"
Thousands of dogs served in World War I. Italy trained about 3,500 war dogs, France and England had about 20,000, and Germany had 30,000. Many World War I dogs served as "mercy dogs," and their task was to find and comfort the wounded. They were trained to find men under cover of darkness and bring them supplies or take them back to safety. Other dogs served as messenger dogs during battle.
Verdun and the Somme
The Battle of Verdun (February-December 1916) was the longest battle of World War I. While Verdun had relatively little strategic importance, it had a long history and was a symbol of French national pride. Knowing the French would ferociously defend Verdun, German General Falkenhayn’s objective in attacking it was not achieving an immediate breakthrough, but, in his own words, "bleeding the French Army white." Over ten months of fighting at Verdun, the Germans inflicted only marginally more casualties on the French Army (377,000) than they themselves suffered (337,000). With the French and Germans firing ca. 37 million shells at each other during the Battle of Verdun and the resulting explosions obliterating soldiers or burying them under mountains of earth, the remains of the ca. 100,000 missing French and German combatants are still being found to this day.
Before the Battle of Verdun began, the British had been planning a summer offensive along the Somme River. They decided to carry out the planned offensive, in part, to help relieve the pressure on the French Army at Verdun. The Battle of the Somme resulted in the single bloodiest day in British Army history. On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the British suffered ca. 60,000 casualties, of which nearly 20,000 were killed (for comparison, 60,000 is roughly the population for the city of Franklin, Tennessee in 2010). After five months of fighting, the British had suffered nearly 420,000 casualties and the French just over 200,000 casualties in their quest to capture about 6 miles of territory from the Germans, who suffered approximately 465,000 casualties.
Luke Lea was born in 1878, in Nashville, Tennessee. After his graduation from the University of the South and Columbia University, Lea began to practice law in Nashville in 1903. He was a successful lawyer, but he soon turned his attention to other enterprises. On May 10, 1907, Lea organized the Nashville Tennessean, which was to become one of the most influential newspapers in Tennessee.
Politically, Lea became prominent in 1908 as a result of a split in the state Democratic Party. At the 1908 State Democratic Convention, the Lea faction was able to gain control and secure the gubernatorial nomination for Malcolm R. Patterson, an ally of Lea. From that point until the election of Henry H. Horton in 1931, only one governor was elected without the support of the very powerful Luke Lea. Because of his great influence, Lea became known as the "maker of governors."
Lea was to reach the peak of his career in 1911, when he was overwhelmingly elected to the United States Senate, entering that body as the youngest man ever to hold a seat. However, during his first years in the Senate, the federal Constitution was amended to allow the election of United States Senators directly by the people. Lea was defeated the Senate race in 1916 by then-Congressman Kenneth D. McKellar, who held the senatorship for many decades afterwards. The Memphis-based "Boss" Crump machine was just beginning to feel its power and played a part in the first McKellar nomination. Thereafter, Lea was to wage almost continual warfare with the Crump machine.
Shortly after Lea's defeat in his bid for reelection, the United States entered World War I. Lea organized a volunteer regiment, later to become the 114th Field Artillery, and was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel and later a colonel in command of the regiment. This Tennessee volunteer outfit served ten months in France, and it fought in the Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel drives that helped break the Hindenburg line. For his role in the war, Lea was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Lea was also one of the founders of the American Legion in 1919. Gordon Browning, later Governor of Tennessee, served as a captain in 114th Field Artillery and was in command of Battery A.
Lea plunged into the publishing and political fields after the war, bringing into both activities a number of men who had served with him in France. He championed the cause of Austin Peay and helped him win three terms as governor against the opposition of the Crump machine. With the financial crash of 1929, however, Lea was to lose both political control and the business empire he had built. Within two years, Luke Lea and his son, Luke Lea Jr., were indicted along with several others in North Carolina in the failure of the Central Bank and Trust Company of Ashville, North Carolina.
The Leas were found guilty of violation of the banking laws of North Carolina and entered the North Carolina State Prison on May 10, 1934 to serve their terms. Lea was to serve 6-10 years, and his son was sentenced to serve 2-6 years or pay a $25,000 fine. Luke Lea Jr. was freed after several months imprisonment because of a serious condition requiring an operation. Lea the elder sought a pardon in 1935, but it was denied by the North Carolina governor, J.C.B. Ehrichaus. However, after serving less than two years, he was paroled April 1, 1936, and was later given a full pardon.
After his return, Lea lived in semi-retirement. He would never again achieve the success that he had known before the 1930s. Several attempts to repurchase the Tennessean failed, and other publishing ventures never realized their potential. Suffering from poor health in his later years, Lea died in a Nashville hospital on November 17, 1945.
Major Horace Frierson diary entry,
Major Frierson commanded the 2nd Battalion,
The French were the first to use gas on battlefield in World War I, employing tear gas against the Germans in August 1914. However, on April 22, 1915, the Germans opened the Second Battle of Ypres with an attack on French, Canadian, and British troops using chlorine gas, marking the first use of poison gas — that is, gas designed to kill rather than to incapacitate — on the Western Front. Mustard gas, nicknamed HS ("hun stuff") by the British and Yperite by the French, was used for the first time in 1917 in the fighting around Ypres.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Along with his friends Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen is one of the best known British soldier-poets of World War I. Owen enlisted in October 1915 and arrived in France as a 2nd Lieutenant, joining the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on January 1, 1917. He was killed in action on November 4, 1918 during the battle to cross the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors. His parents received notification of his death one week later . . . on Armistice Day. The British composer Benjamin Britten later incorporated nine of Owen’s poems in his work War Requiem.
The cessation of hostilities on the Western Front took effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — 11:00 a.m., November 11, 1918. This photograph was taken just after the Armistice went into effect. 1) Brigadier General Edward L. King, 65th Brigade Infantry, 2) Major Manning, 3) Captain Evers, 114th Field Artillery, 4) Major Bittel, 130th Infantry, 5) Colonel Clives, 130th Infantry, 6) Colonel Luke Lea, 114th Field Artillery
The group that attempted to kidnap the Kaiser, ca. 1919
Luke Lea Papers
Front row: Capt. Leland S. MacPhail, Col. Luke Lea,
The plot to kidnap the Kaiser
According to Lea, the idea to kidnap the Kaiser originated at a tea with the Duke of Connaught in June 1918. During the tea, the Duke boasted of being uncle to both King George V of England and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Lea would later write, "We realized that all of the force of the British crown . . . would be exerted to the utmost to protect the royal kinsman," but Lea believed ". . . that the Kaiser should be made to suffer in some small measure the orgy of torture he had inflicted upon more than half of mankind."
Shortly after the Armistice, the Kaiser abdicated his crown and went into exile in Holland, which had remained neutral throughout the war. With the aim of kidnapping the Kaiser and bringing him back to Paris to be tried for war crimes, Lea traveled to Amerongen Castle, where the Kaiser was living in exile, with several of his officers and men: Captain Leland S. MacPhail, Captain Thomas P. Henderson, 1st Lieutenant Ellsworth Brown, Corporal Marmaduke P. Clokey, Sergeant Dan Reilly, Sergeant Owen Johnston, and Sergeant Egbert O. Hail. They arrived at Amerongen Castle at 8 p.m. on January 4, 1919 and were able to talk their way inside the castle, but they were not able to meet the Kaiser and left when two companies of Dutch infantry arrived.
The U. S. Army would probably have preferred to ignore the incident had it not been for an official complaint filed by the Kaiser through the Dutch Government. The Kaiser wanted charges pressed against Lea for "appear[ing] uninvited at the castle of his host, Count Bentinck, and ma[king] him nervous." Then there was the issue of the bronze ashtray, monogrammed with the Kaiser’s initials, that Captain MacPhail had pocketed while at Amerongen Castle. While the Army was forced to conduct an investigation of the incident, none of those involved were court-martialed. General Pershing’s official position on the trip was to call it "amazingly indiscreet." Unofficially, he told General Bullard, commander of the U.S. 2nd Army, "I'd have given a year’s pay to have been able to have taken Lea's trip into Holland and entered the castle . . . without invitation."
Captain Leland S. MacPhail, thief of His Imperial German Majesty's ashtray, is better known to the world as Larry MacPhail, General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds (1933-1937), President of the Brooklyn Dodgers (1938-1942), and General Manager/President/Owner of the New York Yankees (1945-1947). MacPhail kept the ashtray and proudly displayed it on his desk for many years.
Section researched and written by Will Thomas, Archival Assistant.