University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
A NURSERY OF PATRIOTISM:
THE UNIVERSITY AT WAR, 1861-1945

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The University in World War I - Carolina Men in Service

Shortcuts: Letters from Camp | Letters from the Front
 

During the war, 2,240 university alumni and students served their country in the military branches; twenty-six of them were members of the faculty. Fifteen of these men were killed in action, another eighteen died of disease, and twenty-one others were wounded. Many, many more experienced things they wanted never to experience again. The university did an admirable job of tracking the whereabouts of its men in service and of providing encouragement to them. President Graham wrote to and received letters from many of them. The Southern Historical Collection is fortunate to have other letters from some of these men, written primarily to their families. In this part of the exhibit are letters and other items reflecting the experiences of Carolina men in military service, both at military training camps and at the front in France.

For What Military Service Are You Best Prepared?
For What Military Service Are You Best Prepared?
The Alumni Review, March 1917, North Carolina Collection
In February 1917 the university joined the Intercollegiate Intelligence Bureau, a national association of colleges pledging themselves to help the government identify resources that might be useful in case the nation entered the war. The first step was a comprehensive listing of those resources, including men. This questionnaire was published in the March 1917 issue of The Alumni Review and was also sent by mail to the two thousand alumni whose addresses were available. It urged alumni not to let Carolina lag behind the other colleges. The response was nearly unanimous.
At Oglethorpe with the Alumni
At Oglethorpe with the Alumni
1918 Yackety Yack, North Carolina Collection
Many Carolina alumni attended the officers' training camps at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., just outside Chattanooga, Tenn. and bordering on the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. The young men in the middle right photograph are sitting on the base of a monument in the park, and those at the bottom right are perched on a Civil War cannon a few yards from the monument. The three-month intensive training was directed by officers of the regular army and reserve corps and was designed to develop commissioned officers out of untrained citizens. Each applicant to the camps agreed to accept a commission if one was offered to him.
Members of the Class of 1917 at Fort Oglethorpe
Members of the Class of 1917 at Fort Oglethorpe
The Alumni Review, June 1917, North Carolina Collection
A considerable number of the Class of 1917 was admitted to the first officers' training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., which began on 8 May and continued through 15 August. Consequently they missed Commencement, which was on 6 June. At the ceremony in old Memorial Hall, President Graham paid tribute to them. Their diplomas and Bibles were sent to them at camp.
Samuel James Ervin Jr.
Samuel James Ervin Jr.
1917 Yackety Yack, North Carolina Collection
Dysart, Ervin, Johnston, and Ranson were four of the 250 Carolina men who trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., between 8 May and 15 August 1917. All received commissions as lieutenants, and all eventually served in France. Two returned, and two did not. Letters from or about them can be seen in the flat exhibit cases on either side of the tall case, along with letters from other Carolina men in service.
Samuel J. Ervin Jr.
Samuel J. Ervin Jr.
A Good Man: The Life of Sam J. Ervin by Dick Dabney (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976)
Sam Ervin finished the training at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., in August 1917 as a second lieutenant. By September he was on his way to France with the 28th Infantry of the 1st Division. During the fall and winter they trained at Gondrecourt, and in February they went into the trenches. Ervin was in charge of a group of men, many older than he was, and he felt he did not have their confidence. He tried to win it by setting examples rather than giving orders. The trenches filled with water, feet froze, and it was impossible to sleep. Ervin had the flu but kept going in spite of it. He arranged with the lieutenant in charge of a nearby platoon, whose dugout was dry, to allow some of his men to leave their sector and go to the dry dugout to sleep. Unfortunately, as one of these men was returning, a sentry mistook him for an enemy and killed him. The senior officers relieved Ervin of his command but allowed him to re-enlist as a private. Humiliated, he spent the remainder of the war trying to redeem himself. He was wounded twice and received both the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross.
John Oliver Ranson
John Oliver Ranson
1917 Yackety Yack, North Carolina Collection
Dysart, Ervin, Johnston, and Ranson were four of the 250 Carolina men who trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., between 8 May and 15 August 1917. All received commissions as lieutenants, and all eventually served in France. Two returned, and two did not. Letters from or about them can be seen in the flat exhibit cases on either side of the tall case, along with letters from other Carolina men in service.
Eric Alonzo Abernethy
Eric Alonzo Abernethy
The Alumni Review, May 1918, North Carolina Collection
Eric A. Abernethy had been in charge of the university's infirmary since 1904. He was a member of the Medical Reserve Corps and was called to active service on 31 May 1917. He trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., until 8 September, when he was assigned to Camp Dix, N.J., as assistant division surgeon. Promoted to major, he went overseas with the 78th Division, eventually serving as the commanding officer of the 303rd Sanitary Train.
Captain Louis Graves
Captain Louis Graves
Louis and Mildred Graves Papers
Captain Louis Graves '02 was one of the instructors at the first training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. A native of Chapel Hill, he had been working as a freelance writer in New York City prior to the war. This photograph was taken on 18 May 1917 at Fort Oglethorpe. Graves' arm was bare because he had just received a vaccination.
John Overton Dysart
John Overton Dysart
1916 Yackety Yack, North Carolina Collection
Dysart, Ervin, Johnston, and Ranson were four of the 250 Carolina men who trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., between 8 May and 15 August 1917. All received commissions as lieutenants, and all eventually served in France. Two returned, and two did not. Letters from or about them can be seen in the flat exhibit cases on either side of the tall case, along with letters from other Carolina men in service.
Joseph Henry Johnston
Joseph Henry Johnston
1910 Yackety Yack, North Carolina Collection
Dysart, Ervin, Johnston, and Ranson were four of the 250 Carolina men who trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., between 8 May and 15 August 1917. All received commissions as lieutenants, and all eventually served in France. Two returned, and two did not. Letters from or about them can be seen in the flat exhibit cases on either side of the tall case, along with letters from other Carolina men in service.
John Burt Hill
John Burt Hill
John Burt Hill Papers
John Burt Hill, from Louisburg, N.C., attended Horner Military Academy and the University of North Carolina. He left the university in 1916-before graduating-joined the North Carolina National Guard, and served briefly on the Mexican border. In 1917 he entered the officers' training camp at Camp Stanley, Tex., but did not receive a commission. He was then assigned to Camp Sevier, S.C., where he trained with the 30th Division until May 1918, when the division left for Europe. He served as a wagoner for the division's 60th Infantry, a position that kept him attached to headquarters and behind the front. He wrote frequent, long, and interesting letters to his parents in Louisburg.
Quincy Sharpe Mills
Quincy Sharpe Mills
One Who Gave His Life: War Letters of Quincy Sharpe Mills by James Luby (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1923)
Quincy Mills '07 was from Statesville, N.C. He was editor-in-chief of the Tar Heel during his senior year. After graduating he secured a position with The Evening Sun in New York City. He received military training at Plattsburg, N.Y., and was commissioned a second lieutenant. On 23 November 1917, he sailed for France as part of the 168th Infantry of the 42nd Division. He was killed on 26 July 1918 during the Chateau-Thierry Offensive.
The Burial Party
The Burial Party
U.S. Official Pictures of the World War, Volume I (Washington, D.C.: Pictorial Bureau, 1927)
This photograph, taken during the Chateau-Thierry Offensive, shows members of the 168th Infantry preparing to bury their dead. There is no way to know whether this is the site of Quincy Mills' death, but the photograph suggests what it may have been like.
Statement of Private Edgar Lee Bell...in reference to the death of Lieut. Joseph H. Johnston, 15 October 1918
Statement of Private Edgar Lee Bell...in reference to the death of Lieut. Joseph H. Johnston, 15 October 1918
"The Old North State and 'Kaiser Bill': North Carolinians in World War I" (website), North Carolina State Archives
Associate Professor of Education Joseph Henry Johnston, called Henry by his friends, was the only faculty member killed in the war. A native of Orange County and 1910 graduate of the university, he had his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. He trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. and went to France with the 322nd Infantry of the 81st Division. On the afternoon of 15 October 1918, he was leading a patrol of nine or ten men behind the enemy line near the village of Frapelle when German machine gunners opened fire on them. Lt. Johnston was cut down almost immediately. He was still alive when his men pulled him to a trench, but he died shortly afterward.
Members of the 81st Division in France, November 1918
Members of the 81st Division in France, November 1918
U.S. Official Pictures of the World War, Volume III (Washington, D.C.: Pictorial Bureau, 1927)
The 81st, or Wildcat, Division was made up of men from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. The 27,000 North Carolinians in the division included many Carolina men-among them, Overton Dysart, Henry Johnston, and William B. Umstead. The Wildcats were organized at Camp Jackson, S.C. in September 1917. They sailed for Europe on 30-31 July 1918 and subsequently were assigned to the St. Die sector on the Lorraine front. On 6 November they were transferred from St. Die to the front east of Verdun, where they became part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On the morning of 9 November they began attacking German positions; they kept up their assault until 11 a.m. on 11 November, when the Armistice took effect. In these three days the 81st Division suffered 1,032 casualties.
Overseas Cap
Overseas Cap
North Caroliniana Gallery
This cap belonged to Lieutenant William B. Umstead (later Governor Umstead) of the 317th Machine Gun Battalion of the 81st Division. Umstead was a member of the Class of 1916 and one of the 250 Carolina men who attended the first officers' training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. The revolver is a 45-caliber, U.S. Army Model 1917, manufactured by Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Mass. The cap is wool with an inner leather sweatband. Note the silver first lieutenant's bar and the Wildcat patch.
Revolver
Revolver
North Caroliniana Collection
 
Letters from Camp
Charles Spurgeon Harris to Edward K. Graham, 4 June 1917
Charles Spurgeon Harris to Edward K. Graham, 4 June 1917
University Papers
Still using his Tar Heel letterhead, C. S. Harris, '17 wrote to President Graham from Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. He was happy to report that "Here in our company we have Capt. Graves '02 and Capt. Pond '99, and all the men...are just crazy about them." Since he missed Commencement, Harris looked forward to receiving his diploma and hoped that a Bible would come along with it. For many years the university gave Bibles to graduating seniors.
Joseph Henry Johnston to Edward K. Graham, 19 June 1917
Joseph Henry Johnston to Edward K. Graham, 19 June 1917
University Papers
Associate Professor of Education Joseph Henry Johnston was one of several faculty members who attended the first training camp at Fort Oglethorpe. Here he wrote to President Graham, expressing the hope that Graham would be able to visit the camp before the summer ends. "If you do decide to come I should be glad if you would let me know...There are so many Carolina men here who would want to see you, and they're so badly scattered throughout the camp, that I'd like to know in time to let them know when you are to be here." He ended with "I don't think trench digging or Flanders mud will have any terrors for us when we get there. It has a habit of raining nearly every day here."
Louis Graves to Ralph Graves, 26 July 1917
Louis Graves to Ralph Graves, 26 July 1917
Louis and Mildred Graves Papers
Captain Graves wrote to his brother from Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., describing the process by which the men were examined to determine whether they would receive commissions. Some men would end up on an "out list" and "leave camp with a 'good-bye - God bless you.'" Graves was thankful that he had not been much involved in the process. "It is a terrible thing to have to sit even in partial judgment on these eliminations," he wrote.
Charles Walter Tillett Jr. to Edward K. Graham, 18 September 1917
Charles Walter Tillett Jr. to Edward K. Graham, 18 September 1917
University Papers
C. W. Tillett, Jr. '09 attended the second officers' training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. Here he described the pace of the training. "In 3 weeks they have given us what the ordinary private requires about 6 months to learn...The other day an army rifle was thrust into my hands for the first time in my life. Thirty minutes later I and my comrades were expected to be masters of the entire manual of arms."
John Overton Dysart to Mrs. Charles S. Mangum, 24 September 1917
John Overton Dysart to Mrs. Charles S. Mangum, 24 September 1917
Mangum Family Papers
Overton Dysart '16 had boarded with the Mangum family when he was a student at the university. During the war, he wrote frequent letters to them. Commissioned a first lieutenant at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., Dysart proceeded to Camp Jackson, S.C., where he participated in the training of the draftees who would make up the 81st Division. Here he described those draftees. "They are not the class of men I thought we were going to get...These men are probably representative of N.C. rural population; and while they aren't highly developed, I think they are going to develop into good fighting units."
Thomas Benjamin Pritchard to Charles T. Woollen, [20]? November 1917
Thomas Benjamin Pritchard to Charles T. Woollen, [20]? November 1917
University Papers
Before he was drafted into the army, Ben Pritchard worked at the power plant in Chapel Hill, which was under the direction of university Business Manager C. T. Woollen. Pritchard wrote from Camp Jackson, S.C., to Woollen, "I hated to leave you for I had rather work for you than anyone...if I ever do get out of this army, I would like to work for you again." He went on to say that his unit, the 316th Field Artillery, would have "a big ball game" with the 317th Field Artillery on Thanksgiving followed by a "big dinner."
John Burt Hill to his mother, n.d. [probably late April or early May 1918]
John Burt Hill to his mother, n.d. [probably late April or early May 1918]
John Burt Hill Papers
After his unsuccessful attempt to obtain a commission, John Burt Hill was assigned to Camp Sevier, S.C., where he trained with the 30th Division until the division left for Europe around the beginning of May 1918. In this letter, he told his mother that the division had already begun to move. He was "not supposed to tell this but...The camp has been crowded with...mothers and sweethearts who think only that their boy is to be killed and he will never be seen again...I'm proud of the fact that I have a mother like the old Civil War mothers and one that is glad and proud that she has a son in the army...."
Godfrey Hajek to Charles T. Woollen, 13 June 1918
Godfrey Hajek to Charles T. Woollen, 13 June 1918
University Papers
Godfrey Hajek was the baker in the university's dining hall before he was drafted and sent to Camp Jackson, S.C. Business Manager Woollen and President Graham tried unsuccessfully to get him deferred. Hajek wrote that he was anxious to start drilling but had not been able to do so because he had been assigned to pastry cooking.
 
Letters from the Front
Quincy S. Mills to his mother, n.d. 1918 [probably February 1918]
Quincy S. Mills to his mother, n.d. 1918 [probably February 1918]
Quincy Sharpe Mills Papers
Lieutenant Quincy Mills' unit, the 168th Infantry of the 42nd Division, reached France in December 1917. The winter was quite cold and, when Mills wrote his mother on 29 December, there was a foot of snow on the ground. The 168th stayed behind the lines, training and waiting for the weather to moderate. Then in February they went into the trenches. Before going, Mills wrote the letter exhibited here and left it in his trunk, which was stored in a warehouse behind the lines, in case he did not come back.
Quincy S. Mills to his mother, 20 July 1918
Quincy S. Mills to his mother, 20 July 1918
Quincy Sharpe Mills Papers
Mills wrote this brief note during the Chateau-Thierry Offensive, which is regarded as the beginning of the end of the war. From 24 to 31 July, the fighting was fierce. On 25 July, the 42nd Division relieved the 26th Division. The next day it attacked, and at about 4:00 in the afternoon, Mills' company, Company G of the 168th Infantry, was ordered to back up Company F in an attack across an open field. Every officer in the company, except one, was killed or wounded; Mills lost his life when an artillery shell exploded near him.
Eric A. Abernethy to William C. Coker, 4 August 1918
Eric A. Abernethy to William C. Coker, 4 August 1918
William Chambers Coker Papers
Dr. Abernethy thanked Professor Coker for trying to calm Mrs. Abernethy after she learned that her husband had been wounded. He explained that he was lucky to have escaped serious injury. "The x-ray...showed that the chunk of steel which was apparently resting near my left hip joint was a hematoma...A purse, filled with 200 francs in small change (thank God for the paper currency of France) and a collection of cards probably saved the joint." He went on, "May I bore you with a description of the front?" and elaborated for four pages on "the most God-forsaken spot on earth." At the time he was wounded, Abernethy was somewhere in Belgium.
Samuel J. Ervin Jr. to his mother, 6 September 1918
Samuel J. Ervin Jr. to his mother, 6 September 1918
Sam J. Ervin Papers, Subgroup B
Sam Ervin was wounded at Cantigny on 28 May 1918 and again at Soissons on 18 July 1918. In the first instance he was shot in the foot while leading a carrying party, a group of men carrying barbed wire and ammunition to supply the soldiers who were attacking German positions in Cantigny. He was in hospital for a month, but by mid-July his foot had healed-just in time for the Second Battle of the Marne. On 18 July in the midst of the assault on Soissons, one of the lieutenants in Ervin's company went down. Another officer asked Ervin to take charge of the lieutenant's men. Ervin did so and led them in taking out a machine gun nest. He was wounded in the hip and again found himself in hospital. He was still there on 6 September, when he wrote this letter to his mother, informing her that he had just been allowed to go outside for the first time in seven weeks.
John Burt Hill to his mother, 26 September 1918
John Burt Hill to his mother, 26 September 1918
John Burt Hill Papers
John Burt Hill wrote to his mother that he was closer to the front than he had yet been, in a place where "it is best to live underground." Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, he said, "A dugout is far more comfortable than one would ever imagine." He then explained that he was in "recaptured territory, over which there was some 'big' fighting." He was struck by the extent of the destruction done by the Germans. "It is horrible to go through a city the size of Richmond after he has been within a few miles of it." At the time he wrote this letter, Hill's division, the 30th, was participating in the Somme Offensive, which subsequently broke the Hindenburg Line near Bellicourt.
George Blackwell Smith Jr. to Mrs. W. J. Ranson, 10 October 1918
George Blackwell Smith Jr. to Mrs. W. J. Ranson, 10 October 1918
Ranson Family Papers
Lieutenant Smith wrote to console Mrs. Ranson on the death of her son Oliver, who had been Smith's classmate at Carolina. "Though your son has made the supreme sacrifice for his country, and humanity, you have every right to feel proud, for it was met brilliantly and nobly in the fiercest fighting Champagne has ever seen. The capture of the little French town was due largely to the success of Oliver's platoon." Oliver Ranson was commissioned a first lieutenant at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., and was assigned to the 371st Infantry, an African-American unit whose officers were white. The 371st was highly commended for its action in the Champagne. Between 28 September and 6 October 1918 (Ranson was killed on the 29th), it lost 1,065 men. Smith explained that Ranson was shot by a German sniper, "but Ratty's men were on him before he could get away, needless to say he is no prisoner now."
John Burt Hill to his father, n.d. [probably prior to 19 October 1918]
John Burt Hill to his father, n.d. [probably prior to 19 October 1918]
John Burt Hill Papers
Hill probably wrote this letter sometime between 30 September 1918, when the 30th Division broke the Hindenburg Line, and 19 October 1918, when it was pulled out of combat. The 30th, which included more North Carolinians than any other division, lost 3,000 men in this offensive. Hill described to his father what he had seen in the captured German defenses. The dugout "I am occupying at present . . . was built by Fritz probably in 1914 . . . It is a 6 x 4 tunnel running straight into the side of a great hill . . . boarded with 8 x 3 plank on all sides, tight enough to keep every thing out but the 'cooties.'"
John Overton Dysart to Charles S. Mangum Jr., 16 November 1918
John Overton Dysart to Charles S. Mangum Jr., 16 November 1918
Mangum Family Papers
Lieutenant Dysart described the final combat of the war to Mangum, a boy of sixteen. "In the small wood, where 'B' co ended the war still holding the front line of attack, no larger than the inner university rectangle, we captured 6 machine guns, 2 officers and 8 men, 10 killed...Sunday morning [11 November] we entered these woods, and the Boche was in such a hurry to get away he left his coffee steaming on the stove...." Dysart and company watched the minutes go by from 9:25 until 11:00, when a "little Frenchman" ran up, "so happy he could hardly talk...'Capitain, le guerre finis, le guerre fini-ouze heure-official communiqué.'"
 
 
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