How one telegram helped to lead America toward war
By Scott Bomboy
via the National Constitution Center web site
On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson learned of a shocking piece of paper that made America’s entry into World War I inevitable. And current research shows the Americans didn’t know everything German diplomats intended.
The Zimmermann Telegram was a message sent on January 12, 1917, from the German foreign minister Arthur Zimmerman to the country’s embassy in Washington, D.C., to be relayed to German representatives in Mexico.
In the message, Zimmermann instructed the German diplomats to approach the Mexican government, if United States entered the war in Europe, to offer an alliance between Germany and Mexico. The Germans would offer “generous financial support” to Mexico as an ally, with the following proposal, “an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.” Zimmermann also said Germany planned to start unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, an act that could force the Americans toward a conflict with Germany.
To be sure, the Zimmermann telegram by itself didn’t force the United States’ entry into World War I; that would come five weeks after the telegram was made public, when the Senate and the House passed war resolutions. But its existence became a turning point in the debate over intervention, and it did lead to solidarity between the President and Congress over “the war to end all wars.”
President Wilson broke off diplomatic relations on February 3, 1917, after German submarine attacks resumed. But without evidence of expanded German hostilities, Wilson and the Americans remained neutral, at least in the short-term.
Three months earlier, President Wilson won a narrow victory for a second term against Charles Evans Hughes, with the promise to keep America out of the European war. On February 26, 1917, he was dealing with a Republican Senate filibuster over arming merchant ships when shocking news arrived at the White House via the U.S. ambassador in Great Britain, Walter Hines Page.
British code breakers obtained two copies of the coded Zimmermann telegram, and they were able to break the cypher using a broken code and comparing the telegrams. Not only was Zimmermann willing to finance an adventure by the Mexican government to reclaim territory lost to the United States, it wanted Mexico to intercede with Japan to get Japan to switch sides in the war. (Japan played a limited role against Germany in World War I.)
1918 • A Post-Dispatch mailroom clerk becomes the first St. Louisan to die in WWI
via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper (MO) web site
David Hickey was 38 when he answered the patriotic drumbeat in April 1917 to fight in the Great War. He was assigned to a U.S. Army artillery battery in France at the village of Seicheprey, near the slaughterhouse known as Verdun.
Hickey had grown up just north of downtown and was a newsboy. He later worked in shoe factories and the Post-Dispatch mail room, where newspapers were bundled. He played on local amateur baseball teams and never married.
His distinction was posthumous: “First St. Louis Man Killed in France,” was the headline in the Feb. 27, 1918, Post-Dispatch, reporting that Hickey had died three days before of shrapnel wounds suffered on Feb. 12.
It was a big local story. The United States had entered World War I on April, 6, 1917, but still was forming its forces along the Western front when Hickey was fatally wounded. America’s first significant offensive didn’t take place until May 1918. Not until September did the Army begin its major push at Saint-Mihiel, near the village of Seicheprey.
Hickey probably was hit by some of daily shellfire that routinely tossed dirt along the shattered front for four numbing years. Only minor engagements were reported in France on Feb. 12, 1918. The headlines were about the Russian revolutionary government’s withdrawal from the war.
When word of Hickey’s death reached St. Louis, reporters interviewed state Sen. Michael Kinney, who knew him from the old Bates School north of today’s Laclede’s Landing. Kinney said Hickey had sent a letter in November asking the senator to notify his sister at 5872 Garfield Avenue about his service in France.
“Dave was a happy-go-lucky chap always ready to do a pal a good turn,” said Kinney.
But the senator couldn’t locate Hickey’s sister, Celia Ebeler, who had moved. Newspapers described Hickey and Ebeler as “estranged.”
Hickey was the first of 1,072 men from the St. Louis area who died in uniform during World War I. America’s total military deaths were 116,500, a small number compared to other combatants. France and Germany together lost at least 300,000 soldiers killed in the grinding battle for Verdun in 1916.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial on Digital Media
By Jenifer Van Vleck, Ph.D.
Contract Historian, Arlington National Cemetery
From November 9 through 11, 2021, thousands of people came to Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) to participate in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration. To supplement the in-person anniversary events, a comprehensive digital media campaign enabled millions more to participate in the centennial virtually. Throughout 2021, ANC featured blog and social media posts (identified with the hashtag #Tomb100) about a rich variety of topics related to the Tomb’s history, meanings, and global significance as a memorial site.
The ANC History Office and Public Affairs Office collaborated to create content that was historically accurate, engaging, and relevant to a broad and diverse public audience. Our successful #Tomb100 digital media strategy built upon broader virtual education and outreach initiatives, which became especially critical as the pandemic prevented many from visiting the cemetery in person.
ANC’s blog (https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/blog), launched in 2019, features original historical essays based on archival research, as well as journalistic accounts of present-day ceremonies and other events at the cemetery. For the 100th anniversary of the Tomb, we published thirteen blog posts, listed here: https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Tomb100/News-Photos-Videos. These posts highlighted key participants in the 1921 ceremonies (Chief Plenty Coups, Edward F. Younger, Frank Witchey, André Maginot); provided historical context and interpretation for the 2021 ceremonies (“The Centennial Flower Ceremony: Meaning, Symbolism, and History”); and delved into broader issues related to World War I, such as memorialization and trauma (“The American Battle Monuments Commission and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”; “A Tragedy after the Unknown’s Funeral”). Authors included subject matter experts from other federal agencies as well as ANC staff and contractors. Within a ninety-day period preceding the centennial on November 11, 2021, ANC’s website received more than 2.5 million views.
In addition, ANC developed a year-long social media campaign to publicize and interpret the Tomb centennial on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The #Tomb100 digital campaign produced 123 posts across these platforms, with a net of more than twelve million impressions. On November 10, our Facebook live video of the flower ceremony went viral, receiving more than 1.2 million views.
Granddaughter finds hidden WWI treasure in a box
By Judy Bruckner
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
Judy Bruckner’s lifelong passion for family history began at a young age. An interest sparked by a multi- generational collection of stories, photographs and countless afternoons with her beloved grandparents who cared for it all. Every Tintype, Daguerreotype and Cartes des Visites was a window peering into the past, every enthralling story a chance for Judy to reach through time and touch the fabric of her family's history.
Most prized amongst this collection of treasure; a black, leather-bound album containing photographs, letters, documents and a one-year diary by a 19- year-old ambulance driver named Charles C. Leonard, Judy's grandfather. This vast collection of memories allowed her to experience WWI through Charles' eyes during his time as a volunteer for the American Field Service organization (AFS), which was taken over by the US Army shortly after he arrived in France in July 1917. Charles served as an ambulance driver until May 1919.
Judy knew the unique experiences Charles collected during the final years of the Great War needed to be preserved so upon gaining access to the deteriorating album, she went to work. Between a career and motherhood, she spent the next 8 years digitally repairing the 1000+ fading photos, transcribing journal entries, and exhaustively researching broader events of the war to support the magnificent memories Charles preserved. This book is the achievement of Judy and her grandfather’s work.
The time spent unlocking the mysteries of her grandfather’s experiences broadened her appreciation about a war that before she had only a slight knowledge about from school. Her research brought her closer to the men who served alongside Charles as she translated stories preserved from French books from 1922, old newsletters, and documents preserved by the AFS Virtual Museum and French Museum archive sites.
When asked about her experience, Judy comments:
“Writing a book was much more challenging and rewarding than I ever imagined. I became absorbed in learning as much as I could about USAAS 644 (old SSU 32) and the French infantry division 37 (DI 37) to which they were attached. I translated French books about DI 37 into English to read diaries and to track their journey as they chased the enemy back to Germany. It was hard to leave some of their touching stories out, but I wanted to focus on Charles and his experiences. Even still some of the final moment of the war can only be captured by one who there and so an Algerian solders’ memory was added to the book. The commitment and bravery of these Algerian fighters and their French Officers helped me to understand the sacrifice of all who serve at wartime.
"As I learned about SSU 71 and SSU 32, I decided to create a pictorial roster of these brave men. This would help confirm some of the photos of people taken by Charles but left unlabeled. My challenge was finding a military roster. In 1973 the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri had a fire in the Military Personnel Record Center in which most WWI service records were stored. All information about USAAS 644 was lost in that fire. Through research using the documents I possessed and online sites I was able to find most of the men and recreate the roster.
How Much Was World War I About… Bread?
By Scott Reynolds Nelson
the Literary Hub web site
Stories about the Great War of 1914 to 1918 often begin with an account of German aggression. But the war’s cause also had roots in the cheap grain cast upon the waters every spring and summer to feed Europe’s working classes. The Turkish-German alliance threatened European gullet cities: it combined the grain-bottling Bosporus, which could block Russian grain, with Germany’s ship-destroying U-boats, which could block grain from Argentina, Australia, and America. Together Turkey and Germany could starve Europe.
Grain was key to almost every stage of World War I. Fearing the threat to its grain exports, imperial Russia helped provoke this global conflict. During the war the British underestimated the threat of Istanbul and overestimated their ability to overcome it. As the conflict dragged on, Germany, also suffering from a dearth of cheap bread, found a unique path to Russia’s bountiful harvest. German success in 1917 and most of 1918 would rely on the un-likeliest of allies: a communist grain merchant with an ax to grind.
World War I has been characterized as a “great powers” conflict with Germany as the aggressor. A Serbian assassin killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to Austria-Hungary’s throne, leading that empire to declare war on Serbia. Russia backed Serbia, mobilizing its army near the Austro-Hungarian border. Germany, itching for conflict, supported Austria-Hungary and demanded that Russia demobilize. When Russia refused, Germany invaded Belgium to attack France—Russia’s ally and financial backer. In the same month the Germans and Austrians attacked Russia near Tannenberg, wiping out the Russian First and Second Armies. England joined the side of the Franco-Russian Allies after Germany invaded Belgium. The Ottomans only joined the Austrian-German Central Powers two months later.
That’s an oft-told story, but for scholars of the pathways of grain around the world, the war’s history begins a little earlier and much farther east. In 1911, Italy invaded what would become Libya, taking it from Turkey. The day after the fighting stopped, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro took advantage of the conflict to invade Turkey. Then, crucially, Turkey closed the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits to commerce, blocking all Russian grain and oil exports. Russians, fearing that Bulgaria or Greece might capture Istanbul, put both their army and the Black Sea fleet on alert.
Russian agriculture minister Alexander Krivoshein, who then dominated the Tsar’s council, reorganized the Russian cabinet in 1914 to prepare for a global war. From the cabinet’s perspective, this coming conflict would be the seventh Russo-Turkish war since the reign of Catherine the Great, yet another attempt to protect Russia’s precious grain-export trade.
Together Turkey and Germany could starve Europe
Krivoshein saw in Istanbul an existential threat. He recognized that Germany, in helping build up Turkey’s military, was drawing Istanbul into its orbit. The paranoid Russian cabinet saw signs of this German-Ottoman alliance everywhere. German officers had been training the Ottoman army since 1883, and Prussian officers organized the placement of the artillery that Parvus had purchased on city walls in Istanbul and Adrianople. Most concerning was that, in July 1914, the Turkish state would receive its first dreadnought: a costly state-of-the-art ship from the English firm Vickers & Co., with other ships on order.
Teaching Ohio's Forgotten WWI Heroes
By Paul LaRue
via the Ohio History Connection web site
Nearly 8,000 Black Ohioans served in the United States Army and Navy in World War I; many made the ultimate sacrifice. The story of these heroes is often overlooked. In today’s classroom, teachers are often forced to balance the volume of content against limited time. World War I content would likely be covered in one to two weeks of class time. A teacher once told me they could cover the World War I content in three class sessions; apparently, they are a much better time manager than I ever was!
The World War I Centennial has provided teachers with an infusion of fresh World War I material and resources. The Ohio History Connection and the Ohio World War I Centennial provide content aligned to the Ohio model curriculum. These lesson plans are free and online. The United States World War I Centennial Commission and The National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places series also offer free quality online lesson plans and resources, aligned to national social studies standards, and with a focus on Black World War I Soldiers and Sailors.
Below are five statements about Black World War I Soldiers and Sailors, their connection to Ohio, with a corresponding lesson plan to help your students explore this rich history!
The 93rd Division saw more combat than any other Black Division. The Division contained the famed 369th Regiment, better known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” The Division also contained a combat regiment with a significant number of Ohioans, the 372nd. The 93rd Division served under French, not United States command.https://ohiomemory.ohiohistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Searching-for-Homer-Lawson-Lesson-Plan.pdf
Of the approximately 380,000 Black World War I Soldiers only 42,000 served in combat regiments. Nearly 340,000 Black Soldiers served in labor regiments. These men dug trenches, unloaded trains and built roads. Several of these regiments were organized and trained at Camp Sherman near Chillicothe, Ohio.https://ohiomemory.ohiohistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/African-Am-Labor-for-Victory-Lesson-Plan.pdf
WWI Museum calls on Black families to donate artifacts from war
By Ryan Whirty
via the Louisiana Weekly newspaper web site
In a 1980 oral history interview, African-American Army veteran Robert L. Sweeney related his experiences during World War I while serving in France as a supply clerk with the 317th Sanitation Train of the 92nd Army Division.
Sweeney recalled that, unlike white American citizens in the United States, the French treated him and his fellow Black soldiers equally, a situation symbolized by the ability of the servicemen’s ability to mix with white women in France.
Sweeney said such equitable, open-minded treatment gave Black soldiers a sense of dignity that was denied them back home.
“When the French people welcomed us with open arms, that is the only time that I ever realized what a real American soldier was,” Sweeney said in the interview. “The French people had no prejudice what[so]ever. Negro soldiers fraternized with the French girls just like the white soldiers did.…we had some trouble with those white boys from the South…But that was the only time we had any trouble with the white soldiers.”
Sweeney’s narrative is one of thousands of interviews, documents, personal diaries and letters, photos, uniform items and other artifacts archived at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, which has launched an ongoing project to diversify its collections by calling on family members or other people related to Black World War I soldiers to donate their loved ones’ treasured items from the war. The armed conflict ran from 1914-1918, the last year or so of which included American troops of all ethnicities serving overseas.
Museum representatives hope that by collecting such materials, the institution can further document, chronicle and tell the stories of soldiers of color on the front lines and behind the scenes, as well as the millions of African Americans stateside who contributed to the war effort through work in industries, fundraising activities and volunteer services.
The museum’s initiative is also soliciting and archiving materials from World War I belonging to Indigenous Americans and women.
“The museum has always been very committed to collecting objects and archival material of African Americans, both in service and on the homefront, from all nations involved in the war,” said Doran Cart, the senior curator for the museum. “It’s one of the areas of interest in making sure we’re always enhancing our collection.”
Cart said the collection initiative began before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when museum board members took the lead and cultivated contacts and sources of materials in the local area and across the country.
Since then, museum representatives have been successful in collecting archival materials of people of color, especially from folks who are stuck at home because of the pandemic and have had the opportunity to uncover artifacts while exploring their attics and storage spaces.
Cart said that about 370,000 Black men were called to service through the draft and volunteering, with about 150,000 of them going overseas for the war effort. In addition, millions of people of color contributed at home, including by filling industry jobs that had been previously unavailable to them because of racist hiring policies.
“African Americans were well represented, both on the battlefield and the homefront,” Cart said.
‘Don’t You Know There’s A War On?” Rationing In WWI
via the SOFREP web site
Wartime is a crisis not only because men and women are being sent into a warzone where untold numbers may be killed, but also because resources diverted to the war effort mean privation and shortages for the folks back home.
Those who were left had to make sacrifices too, in ways they might never have imagined. So with that in mind, here are some of the conservation measures made during wartime that really hurt. While the United States did not have to resort to food rationing during WWI, Americans were encouraged to conserve food as best they could. Americans were told to “Eat more Fish, they feed themselves” and leave nothing on their plates after a meal, waste nothing was the mantra. In the countries of Europe however, the shortages were much more severe and were done for some of the oddest reasons you could imagine.
Alcohol Production and Consumption
I know, right?!
When the US entered the chaotic scene of World War I, Yale economist Irving Fisher pointed out that the barley used in brewing beer could instead be used in baking bread for the American soldiers. He was seconded by others who said that alcohol was not a necessity but rather was a luxury that also hindered the wartime factory workers from performing at their best (You know, no one returns to work on a Monday morning with full-on energy when they partied hard the night before.) The proposition succeeded, so in 1917 until 1918, everything related to alcohol was limited— sale of alcohol, especially around military bases and munitions plants, and the allocation of grain to the beer brewers.
And it wasn’t just the US. Russia might have had the most drastic move in prohibiting alcohol by banning the sale of vodka, as well as its production. The order lasted way long after the war until 1925.
WWI facts: The Real History of The King’s Man
By David Crow
via the Den of Geek web site
Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Man is on streaming now. That’s a quick turnaround since its Christmastime release last year, but perhaps it’s for the best. With the largely underappreciated (and under-seen) Kingsman prequel making its debut on HBO Max and Hulu, there’s a chance the strange action mash-up may finally find its audience.
Indeed, the film’s pitch always seemed a bit niche, even for this franchise. By eschewing the modern class conflict of the first two Kingsman movies, which created a dynamic of “street” versus posh spy, the World War I-set The King’s Man travels back in time more than a hundred years to tell a story that has more in common with Rudyard Kipling novels than Ian Fleming. The King’s Man is about the last gasps of the Empire, and a global conflict that destroyed the 19th century world order, including British dominance.
In fact, The King’s Man is so steeped in World War I history that the truth behind many of its larger-than-life characters and story beats could surprise casual audiences. So below we’ve gathered some of the basic facts that Vaughn’s action romp touches on in its stuffed, breakneck two-plus hour running time.
Power parity in produce: Women’s History Month
By Leslie Halleck
via the Produce Grower web site
March being Women’s History Month and all, I of course find myself thinking about where women stand today in the world of agriculture, and society.
In case you didn’t know, the official theme for Women’s History Month in 2022 is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” This theme is meant to be a tribute to caregivers and frontline pandemic workers. But if you think about it, this is the sort of thing women are typically called upon to do in times of national or global duress … and while we’re at it, every minute of every day of our lives in our own homes and families.
While we clearly still have a long way to go to achieve the kind of power balance that will benefit everyone, I try to stay encouraged by looking over my shoulder now and then at all the women who worked and struggled so hard to pave us a better path to parity today.
It’s always illuminating to discover new stories of significance, as most never make it into our traditional educational history books.
On that note, have you ever heard of the Women’s Land Army (WLA)? Me neither! Given my immersion in the worlds of horticulture, agriculture and women’s empowerment, I’m shocked at myself that these incredibly important and impactful movements somehow slipped by me.
I’m sure some of you out there either remember or have studied these organizations — especially any of you who studied landscape or garden history — but for those of you not aware, I thought I’d shine a little light on these tough and resilient women of agriculture.
When World War I escalated as America entered the fray, the surge of men leaving the home front left a huge void in the farming and agricultural sectors. Who was going to tend to the fields and the livestock?
In Britain, the government was having a tough time filling the gaps, so it was left to the women at home to pick up traditionally male farming and agricultural roles. The Women’s Land Army was formed as a civil organization and recruited close to 23,000 women to feed the country. There were three divisions within the organization: agriculture, forage and timber cutting. Many worked as field workers and milkers, carters, ploughwomen and gardeners for local markets from 1917 through 1921. The WLA was restarted in World War II, with over 200,000 women employed between 1939 and 1950.
America quickly copied the organization during World War I with its own government-sanctioned Women’s Land Army of America (WLAA), putting 20,000 women to work in similar fields such as sowing and harvesting. Not only were women doing the heavy lifting, but they were also managing the workforce. During WWI, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter, became the WLAA director. Many of the leaders involved with women working in agricultural areas were also suffragists and believed that doing their patriotic duty in the agricultural sectors would also help the suffrage movement.
Spotlight on The National World War I Memorial, Washington, DC
Daniel Sharp: Taps at the National World War I Memorial has been an honor
By Kathy Abbot
Through rain or shine, and this winter heavy snow too, rotating buglers fulfill the Doughboy Foundation mission to sound “DAILY TAPS” at the National World War One Memorial in Washington, DC. This month one of our dedicated buglers, recruited by Taps for Veterans, Daniel Sharp shared his story with us.
I was born in Bryan Texas and grew up in San Antonio. Now I live in Rosemary Hills Maryland with my wife Amy and three kids.
I began playing TAPS, and other calls, at a young age as bugler of my Boy Scout Troop. More recently I recognized a gap in the region in providing live TAPS for military funeral honors. I support several Navy commands responsible for providing funeral honors as a TAPS bugler and occasionally represent the Navy playing TAPS at events commemorating past battles and conflicts.
Formerly, I was a Surface Warfare officer in the U.S. Navy and remain active in the Navy Reserve. My wife and her father also served in the Navy.
There is a tradition of playing Taps at military funerals and other veteran ceremonies, and there is not enough military buglers to support all of these. When played live, Taps is a tune that touches many and can allow people to cry if they need to.
Live Taps at each military funeral and commemoration, I feel, is always appreciated by several in attendance, including other members of the military detail.
Taps has become very meaningful to me, and I continue to practice playing in pursuit of perfection.
Playing Taps at the National World War I Memorial has been an honor. A few times I have shared with people walking by that Taps would be played at 5 PM and the response has been, “We know. That’s why we came.”
World War Wednesday: Bacon Fat Soft Molasses Cookies from WWI
By Sarah Wassberg Johnson
via the Food History Blog web site
I first ran across bacon fat gingersnaps in the Christmas cookie collection the New York Times posted for December, 2021. Although I'm not a NYT Cooking subscriber, I did a google and found an article about the original recipe, which indicated the recipe was likely historic. Even though I'd just finished my Christmas cookies research, the bug bit again and the hunt was on.
I found several historic recipes for bacon fat cookies, some of them gingery, some of them not (scroll to the bottom for the gallery of recipes), but because I am a World War I historian, I decided that the recipe I was most interested in at the moment was the "Soft Molasses Cookies" listed as a "Conservation Recipe" in the February, 1918 issue of American Cookery, formerly the Boston Cooking School Magazine. And it seemed appropriate to be baking them in February, 2022!
The recipe is not written in a way we're used to today, but is fairly straightforward. It reads:
Put in a measuring cup four teaspoons clarified bacon fat (not browned in the least); add three teapsoonfuls boiling water, then fill the cup with N.O. [New Orleans] molasses. Add half a teaspoonful salt, half a teaspoonful ginger or spices to taste and one teaspoonful [baking] soda sifted with one cup of flour; mix and add enough more flour to make a soft dough. Roll rather thick. Cut in rounds. Bake in a moderate oven.
This recipe is sugarless, eggless, and butter-less, and it uses fats that might otherwise go to waste, making it the perfect conservation recipe during a time when Americans were asked to save wheat, sugar, meat, and fats for the war effort. The use of New Orleans molasses was specifically to save space on cargo ships and support American sugar production (molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane processing). By using bacon fat, normally a waste fat, Americans could save on lard and butter.
Pritzker Military Museum & Library On War Military History Symposium March 31 – April 1, 2022
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
The Pritzker Military Museum & Library present their 2022 On War Military History Symposium featuring Dr. Margaret MacMillan, recipient of the 2021 Pritzker Military Museum & Library’s Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. The symposium will consider the current state of military history under the theme of “What is Military History Today?”. Individual panel sessions will explore and identify today’s challenges in researching, writing, and presenting military history, and how they are impacted by the needs and interests of diverse audiences. Perspectives from the academic community, military professionals, and the general public will be considered.
This year’s Symposium will take on a hybrid format with an option to join in person or virtually online. Sessions include: What is Military History Today?, Museums and Memorialization; Violence, Atrocity, and Restraint in War and Military History of the Post-Cold War. Pricing for member and non-member, in-person and virtual attendance is available on our website.