Losing a son and brother: A Quincy family and World War I

Published: 17 February 2024

By Lynn Snyder
via The Herald-Whig newspaper (IL) website

Pvt. Edward Harrison Perkins framed

This is the only known photograph of Pvt. Edward Harrison Perkins, as it appeared in the Quincy Daily Journal, Thursday, June 30, 1921, p. 3. (Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County)

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the U.S. Army was generally small, inexperienced and poorly equipped for warfare on the European front. In contrast, National Guard units, including the all Black, Illinois 8th Infantry Regiment organized in 1898, had battle experience, including federal service in the Spanish-American War and in 1916 on the U.S.-Mexican border. This experience proved valuable to these men as well as their country, when in 1918, as the reorganized 370th Infantry Regiment — assigned to the 93rd Division, they arrived in the European theater of war. Designated as “Provisionary” or “Pioneer” Divisions, they were assigned either to support/supply duties, or direct combat duty embedded with French troops, often on the front lines.

As former members of Company I of the Illinois National Guard or conscripts chosen by the Selective Service program of 1917 and 1918, Black men from Quincy, Adams County, the state of Missouri and even farther away took part in what became known as the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” The experiences of the Perkins family, of Quincy and Northeast Missouri are part of that story.

According to his draft registration form, filled out in June of 1917, Edward Harrison Perkins, a 27- year- old “natural born” “Ethiopian” living at 819 Elm St., in Quincy, was employed as a teamster by John McHaffey. Born in 1889 to Mason and Fannie Perkins in Palmyra, Mo., Harrison was one of a family of five sons and four daughters. From census data it appears that after the death of her husband in 1914, Fanny brought Harrison and other members of her family to Quincy.

Following his induction into the Army through the Selective Service program and training at Camp Dodge, Perkins was assigned to the all-Black 804th Pioneer Infantry and sent to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces, arriving in France sometime in fall 1918. For the remainder of the year, Harrison survived his war-time duties, writing occasionally to his family that he was well. With the end of combat operations on Nov. 11, 1918, Harrison and his unit remained in Europe, assigned to clean up and general field operations.

Three months after the armistice, on Feb. 12, 1919, as he participated in the clearing of an ammunition dump near Mars-La-Tours, France, Perkins was killed by an explosion of abandoned German ordinance. The adjutant general on Feb. 25 notified his mother Fanny of 828 Chestnut St., of his death and burial in France.

Read the entire article on The Herald-Whig web site here.
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