Welcome to the Georgia WWI Commission site
"To Honor, Educate and Commemorate"
World War I in Georgia
Courtesy of the New Georgia Encyclopedia
Original entry by Todd Womack, Wiregrass Historical Society, 07/28/2005
Georgia played a significant role during America's participation in World War I (1917-18). The state was home to more training camps than any other state and, by the war's end, it had contributed more than 100,000 men and women to the war effort. Georgia also suffered from the effects of the influenza pandemic, a tragic maritime disaster, local political fights, and wartime homefront restrictions.
War Sentiment in Georgia
As newspaper headlines around the world reported the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914, Georgia papers paid very little attention to the news. The assassination provoked an immediate response from several European countries, however, all of whom were concerned about the growing political instability and the possible shift in power on the continent. In early August, hardly a month later, war broke out in Europe after Germany attacked Belgium. U.S. president Woodrow Wilson was determined to keep the United States out of the conflict. On August 19 he delivered a speech defining America's stance on the war. "Every man who really loves America," he said, "will act and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned. . . . The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name."
Nearly a year later, the torpedoing of the transatlantic liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, again caused little outcry in Georgia, although voices from the North were quick to call for America's entry into the war. Hoke Smith, a U.S. senator from Georgia, said that war was not needed to avenge the deaths of a few "rich Americans" who had gone down with the ship. Local newspapers in Savannah and Athens also warned the public against hastily supporting the case for war, which had already hurt the state's economy. A curtain of Royal Navy ships, forming the British blockade of Europe, prevented Georgia cotton, tobacco, timber, and naval stores from reaching potentially lucrative German and Austrian markets.
The events of the war also contributed in large part to what is known as the Great Migration, during which African Americans moved from the South to urban areas in the North. New war-related jobs suddenly available in northern cities, coupled with the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and mass lynchings across the South, spurred this flight. The Great Migration reached its peak between 1915 and 1930, by which time Georgia had lost more than 10 percent of its black population.
The Declaration of War and the Selective Service Act
On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, thereby entering World War I. For about two years, Georgia's newspapers had been writing against the war because of its negative impact on the state's economy, yet almost overnight the media changed their tune, becoming anti-German and strongly patriotic.War fervor in Georgia sometimes raged to the immediate detriment of common sense. Soon state newspapers were warning readers to be on the "lookout for German spies."
The loyalty of some Georgians suddenly became suspect: state labor leaders, teachers, farmers, and foreign immigrants were scrutinized for their "patriotism." Poorer farmers, especially the ones who still professed Populist leanings, were pressured into buying war bonds, signing "Declarations of Loyalty," and draping American flags over their plows while they worked. The state school superintendent encouraged all students and teachers to take a loyalty oath and to plant and tend what would become known as "liberty gardens"; teachers stopped covering German history, art, and literature for fear of being thought disloyal.
Loyalty pledges and flag-waving aside, President Wilson soon realized that volunteerism alone could not sustain an army capable of defeating Germany, so on May 18, 1917, he approved the Selective Draft Act (popularly known as the Selective Service Act) to remedy the problem. On June 5 all of Georgia's and the nation's eligible men, of ages twenty-one to thirty, were required to register for the draft.
Many white men in Georgia sought to prevent black men from being drafted. As in the Civil War (1861-65), when some planters refused to loan their slaves to the Confederate government for various kinds of war work, some land-owning whites in 1917 refused to allow their black sharecroppers to register for the draft or to report for duty once they had been called. Many black men were arrested and placed in camp stockades for not heeding draft notices that they had never received from landowners. Selective Service officials blamed Georgia's white planters for many such delinquency issues; for most of the war, local draft boards "resisted sending healthy and hard-working black males" because they were needed in the cotton fields and by the naval stores industry.
The very idea of conscription was abhorrent to many Georgians, including U.S. senator Thomas Hardwick, Rebecca Latimer Felton, and Thomas E. Watson. Watson even challenged the Selective Draft Act in federal court, when he announced his intentions of defending two black men who were jailed in Augusta for failing to register for the draft. Donations poured in to help support the case. On August 20, 1917, the trial took place outdoors in order to accommodate the large crowd that came to hear the old Populist's oratory. In the end the judge upheld the constitutionality of the act, and more than 500,000 men were registered in Georgia.
Federal installations and War Camps
The state had five major federal military installations when the United States entered the war in 1917. The oldest garrison was Fort McPherson, located south of Atlanta, which opened in 1889; the newest was Fort Oglethorpe, constructed near the Tennessee border just a few years after the Spanish-American War in 1898. Fort Screven, a large coastal artillery station on Tybee Island, guarded the entrance to the Savannah River. Augusta housed both the South's oldest federal arsenal, the Arsenal at Augusta, and the army's second military airfield, Camp Hancock.
Georgia had many war-training camps as well. The large national army cantonment at Camp Gordon, which opened in July 1917, was located in Chamblee, northeast of Atlanta, and was the training site of the famous Eighty-second All-American Division. The division included men from several different states, but Georgians made up almost half its number. National Guard training camps were based in Augusta and Macon; Augusta's Camp Hancock was home to the Twenty-eighth Keystone Division, while Camp Wheeler in Macon hosted the Thirty-first Dixie Division, which was entered by almost all of Georgia's National Guard. Eventually more than 12,000 Georgians were active in the Thirty-first. Specialist camps, such as Camp Greenleaf for military medical staff, Camp Forrest for engineers, and Camp Jesup for Transport Corps troops, were scattered around the state. At Souther Field, located northeast of Americus, a flight school trained almost 2,000 military pilots for combat in the skies over France.
The Otranto Disaster
On the morning of September 25, 1918, about 690 doughboys (infantrymen), mostly Georgians from Fort Screven, boarded the old British liner Otranto, which set sail with a large Allied convoy bound for England. The Otranto was a medium-sized, prewar passenger liner that, like so many others, had been pressed into military service by the British Royal Navy. As the convoy entered the Irish Sea on October 6, still a day from port, a storm developed with gale-force winds. A tremendous wave struck the Kashmir, a converted troopship within the convoy, causing it to break ranks and veer hard. It rammed at full steam into the unsuspecting Otranto and caused severe damage to the liner. With a gaping hole in her side and a loss of power, the Otranto was helpless against the strong, storm-driven current, and she began to drift toward the nearby Scottish island of Islay and its rocky coast. The Otranto began to sink slowly before a huge wave pushed the ship onto Islay's rocks. The ship broke apart and quickly sank. Approximately 370 men were killed, an estimated 130 of whom were Georgians.
For intricate details, see Many Were Held by the Sea: The Tragic Sinking of the HMS Otranto, by R. Neil Scott, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012, 288 pp., available on Amazon).
In late September 1918, new draftee replacements for the Fort Screven Coast Artillery units began reporting to the infirmary seriously ill. Within a few days, it became clear that the men had contracted the dreaded Spanish flu. On October 1 the number of ill at Augusta's Camp Hancock jumped from 2 to 716 in just a few hours. The next day, Camp Gordon near Atlanta reported that 138 soldiers had contracted the virus. On October 5 Camp Hancock was quarantined with 3,000 cases of flu, but the quarantine came too late, as 47 cases had already reached the nearby city; by evening, more than 50 soldiers were dead, while many more had contracted pneumonia. Though seriously affected by the Spanish flu epidemic, Georgia escaped the massive numbers of sick and dying counted in other states along the East Coast.
Remembering the War
World War I officially ended on November 11, 1918, which was after known as Armistice Day. Most Americans wanted to remember the war and the sacrifice of the men who had fought in it. This spirit of remembrance led to Armistice Day being recognized as a new national holiday. The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto had stunned many Georgia communities, perhaps none more than the small town of Nashville. The seat of a sparsely populated and agricultural Berrien County, Nashville lost twenty residents in the Otranto sinking and another twenty-seven young men to combat or disease. At the war's end, the citizens of Nashville decided to erect a monument honoring the community's fallen heroes.
Sculptor Ernest M. Viquesney, an Indiana native living in nearby Americus, designed a statue of
an American doughboy in combat. The seven-foot-tall bronze soldier stands in bronze mud amid broken stumps and tangles of barbed wire. The town of Nashville paid $5,000 for the public sculpture, which was first unveiled in Americus in November 1921.
As word of Viquesney's statue spread, representatives from other towns visited Americus to see the monument. New orders poured in, and Viquesney went into business, making the statues he now called the Spirit of the American Doughboy. The sculptor would go on to produce more than 150 statues between 1921 and 1943 and deliver them to towns all across the nation.
In 1922 two of America's war dead received special recognition and a large memorial site in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. These fallen young men represented America's Unknown and Known Soldiers, comprising the nation's unknown or missing dead and all of the known troops killed during World War I. Congress chose Rome's Charles Graves, who had been killed in combat at the age of eighteen and buried with full military honors in France, to be America's Known Soldier, and plans were made to create a monument and coordinate his reburial in Arlington. Graves's mother, however, wanted him buried at the family cemetery near Rome. Congress honored the mother's wishes and sent the body to Georgia. The following year, Graves was buried once again, this time in a more prominent memorial at Rome's Myrtle Hill Cemetery. Later, three World War I machine guns were placed around the site to "guard" Charles Graves for eternity. The city planted thirty-four magnolia trees around the cemetery to honor each of Floyd County's lost lives.
In 1921, the State of Georgia published a “Memorial Book” which was adopted as the official record of the state’s involvement in the Great War. In the introduction, Governor Hugh M. Dorsey writes “Georgia was the only state, so far as I know, to send engraved cards of sympathy to the families of the deceased soldiers; in Georgia the first monument was erected in memory of the fallen heroes in that great conflict; in Georgia was held the first Memorial Service to which the relatives of the deceased heroes were invited, and it is a matter of gratification that through the labors of those responsible for this publication, Georgia is also the first to have published an authentic record of its heroic dead.” A copy of the book is in the Kenan Research Center of the Atlanta History Center.
Activities of the 31st Division, Camp Wheeler, Macon, Georgia, circa February 1918.
From the National Archives.
The World's War is Georgia's War, 1917 - 1919
February 21, 2017 - January 28, 2018
At the Georgia Southern Museum
World War I Exhibitions to Spur Local Interest in the ‘Forgotten War’
Starting March 6 the Atlanta History Center is to have a series of World War I exhibitions.
“Article published by Global Atlanta, February 17, 2017, reproduced here with permission.”
A recreated trench for the Belgian World War I exhibition coming to the Atlanta History Center in March.
World War I may be “the forgotten war,” overshadowed in U.S. history by the Civil War and World War II, but its consequences continue to be felt this day.
The loss of 10 million-plus who died in the conflict with twice as many injured may be only a faint memory. Yet the collapse of empires, the creation of new nation states, the launch of the United States as a world power, the rise of Communism and the Soviet Union, Hitler’s reign, World War II, the Holocaust and the continuing chaos in the Middle East can all trace their origins to World War I.
In an effort to overcome this amnesia, Congress created the World War I Centennial Commission to develop and execute educational programs with the goal of commemorating America’s involvement in “the Great War.” Four former presidents are serving as honorary chairs.
Atlanta resident Monique Seefried, the wife of Ferdinand Seefried, the honorary consul general of Austria, is one of the members of the national commission created in 2013 to develop and deliver programs commemorating the war and its human sacrifice.
Dr. Seefried, who has a doctorate from the Sorbonne University in Paris, founded and has served as executive director of the Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education (CASIE) and as chair of the International Baccalaureate of Governors.
She is the federal representative on the Georgia World War I Commission, which was created two years after the national commission by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly. The Georgia Commission is chaired by Billy Wells, senior vice president for leadership and global engagement at the University of North Georgia (UNG). He is joined on the Georgia commission by Rick Elder of Sylvania, Samuel Friedman of Atlanta, Thomas Lacy of Peachtree City and John Morrow of Athens as well as Dr. Seefried
Thomas H. Jackson Jr., the Heritage Communications executive for the University System, has been appointed the commission’s executive director.
Dr. Jackson told Global Atlanta that the Centennial of the U.S. entry into the war in April 1917 will provide numerous educational events geared at increasing the understanding of how the cataclysm 100 years ago affects the world today.
Georgia was heavily involved in the war because it already was the site of five major federal military installations including Fort McPherson, south of Atlanta; Fort Oglethorpe near the Tennessee border; Augusta’s arsenal and Camp Hancock and Fort Screven on Tybee Island.
Once the U.S. entered the war, the War Department also opened Camp Gordon in Chamblee, the training site of the 82nd All-American Division and Camp Benning in Columbus, eventual home of the U.S. infantry. Meanwhile, Souther Field near Americus prepared almost 2,000 pilots for European combat and Georgia’s National Guard trained at Augusta’s Camp Hancock and Camp Wheeler in Macon.
Events focused on the war already have taken place. At the Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, artist John Cleaveland in late January gave a retrospective of the war’s battlefields. He currently is undertaking a series of paintings which he considers “memorials” tied to specific times, places and combatants.
An ongoing exhibit from February 2017-January 2018 at the Georgia Southern University Museum in Statesboro includes stories of Georgia soldiers, civilians, training camps and communities that will highlight the state’s involvement in the war.
The National Archives in Morrow also held an event on Feb. 11 that focused on the role of African Americans in the war. A memorial reviewing the career of Eugene Bullard of Columbus, who has been described as “the most unsung hero of World War I” is in the works.
The Atlanta History Center, however, is assuming the main role in providing World War I focused exhibits with a broad view of local and international perspectives. Three of the exhibits are to be presented in partnership with Belgian, French and British organizations.
Michael Rose, executive vice president of the center, told Global Atlanta that the institution took on the exhibitions because of its “long record of chronicling and exploring the experience of America’s veterans,” and “to confirm the incredible value of U.S. involvement in the war and to honor the veterans of battlefield and home front in their sacrifices to ‘make the world safe for democracy'.”
From March 6-April 30, “The Great War in Broad Outlines,” which is to include 30 panels from a Belgian touring exhibition, recounts the war from an international perspective.
The panels are to chronicle a variety of aspects of the war including the invasion of neutral Belgium and its consequences, the Christmas Truce of 1914 between Allied and German troops along the Western Front, and the efforts of Herbert Hoover as head of the U.S. Food Administration, in providing humanitarian relief to starving Belgians.
The center is to enhance the exhibition with flour sacks from American mills among countless others that were embroidered or otherwise decorated by Belgian women then sold to raise funds for war charities. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum exhibition on loaning the sacks was a demonstration of the type of humanitarian support the U.S. provided.
The exhibition also is to focus on Moina Michael of Walton County, who was responsible for turning the red poppy into a universal symbol of war remembrance.
Anne Morgan’s War: American Women Rebuilding France from 1917-24 to be held at the center from April 6-Sept. 30 is being organized by the Franco-American Museum, Chateau de Blerancourt, France, with the support of American Friends of Blerancourt and the Florence Gould Foundation.
The museum and chateau was founded after World War I by Anne Morgan, financier J.P. Morgan’s daughter, who founded the American Committee for Devastated France. The committee brought back livestock, planted crops, rebuilt homes and provided needed services for children in the Picardy region of northeastern France, which had been ravaged by the war.
This exhibition is to feature 31 World War I photographs and silent film footage bringing to life the work of 350 American women volunteers, who left comfortable lives in the U.S. to devote themselves to humanitarian work in France.
From May 20-March 2018, the center will feature the exhibition, Uncle Sam Wants You! — World War I and the Poster, which will showcase more than 60 World War I posters.
For this exhibition, the center is to combine its holdings from its permanent collection with the collection of Atlanta historian Walton Rawls, author of the book, “Wake Up, America: World War I and the American Poster.”
Originally resistant to entering the war, the American public’s attitude was turned around in part due to the artists who created the “pictorial publicity” for the war effort, including recruiting, war relief and food and fuel conservation.
From March 16-July 5, 2018, the center is to exhibit the World War I battlefield photos of the acclaimed Irish photographer Michael St. Maur Sheil. The exhibition is to be installed throughout the 33 acres of the center’s Goizueta gardens juxtaposing archival images alongside those of Mr. Sheil.
For more information, call Howard Pousner, manager of media relations, at 404-814-4033 or send an email to email@example.com.
THE COLUMBUS MUSEUM COMMEMORATES WWI CENTENNIAL WITH EXHIBITION OPENING
COLUMBUS, GA- In coincidence with the national effort to commemorate the United States’ entry into World War I,
The Columbus Museum will present a week of events related to the exhibition “From Flying Aces to Army Boots: World
War I and the Chattahoochee Valley.” The opening celebration will begin March 14, with an artist meet and greet and the
Annual Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series, and continue with Third Thursday program, March 16. The exhibition
opens to the public March 15 during regular Museum hours in the third floor galleries and will remain open through
August 27. This exhibition is generously sponsored by the Columbus Cultural Arts Alliance and the Columbus
Convention and Visitors Bureau. It is endorsed by the United States World War One Centennial Commission.
Beyond military history, “From Flying Aces” will look at the social and political climate of the region during the first
years of the war, 1914-1917, and changes to the home front during 1917-1918, which included the formation of Fort
Benning. It will also highlight the experiences of local soldiers, African Americans’ service in the war, the life and career
of Columbus native and French flying ace Eugene Bullard, and women’s volunteer service. Alongside artifacts from
public and private collections, a special installation by contemporary artist Danielle Frankenthal will include paintings
inspired by World War I and what she calls “the ceaseless cycle of war, suffering, glorifying, and forgetting.” The
installation, A War Room, is based in part on the classic poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by Canadian
Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. Danielle Frankethal will open the series of exhibit-related events, Tuesday March, with
a meet and greet for Museum members at 5:30 p.m.
Opening events will continue with the Annual Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series Lecture*, Tuesday, March 14 at
6:30 p.m. This event is free and open to all ages. Dr. Jennifer Keene, a specialist in American military experience during
World War I and President of the Society of Military History will present the talk “ ‘A War for Democracy’: The
Experience of African Americans and Women in World War I.” Keene is a published author of several books. Her book
World War I: The American Soldier Experience will be available for purchase and signing in the Museum Shop shortly
after the lecture. A reception will follow the program.
The opening celebration week will culminate with the Third Thursday program, Thursday, March 16. “From the Great
War to the Big Band” will feature music of the World War I era leading up to World War II by the Columbus Cavaliers, a
big band orchestra. The program will begin at 6 p.m. with music, tours of the World War I exhibition, and light
For more information about the World War I exhibition or The Columbus Museum, visit www.columbusmuseum.com.
*The Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series is made possible by a generous bequest from the late Norman S. Rothschild (1917-
1998) in memory of his parents Aleen and Irwin B. Rothschild. The fund allows the public the opportunity to attend and participate in
programming, including lectures by nationally recognized speakers, beyond the normal scope of activities.
UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU! WORLD WAR I AND THE AMERICAN POSTER
Open May 20 - December 3, 2017
One hundred years ago, Americans were reluctant to get involved in what they viewed as Europe's war. When the United States finally entered the war in April 1917, public opinion had to be turned around. The U.S. government mobilized an incredible cadre of artists to create "pictorial publicity" for all aspects of the war effort -- from recruiting to war relief to food and fuel conservation. Artists of the caliber of James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy, Charles Dana Gibson, J. C. Leyendecker, and N.C. Wyeth produced an impressive body of art. Unfortunately, all but a handful of these posters have long since been forgotten.
This exhibition combines artifact holdings from the Atlanta History Center with the magnificent poster collection of Atlanta historian Walton Rawls, whose landmark book Wake Up, America!: World War I and the American Poster was published in 2001. The result is a fascinating look at American posters of World War I, both as graphic masterworks and as illustrations of a tragic historical episode. Uncle Sam Wants You! WWI and the American Poster is part of a series of exhibitions at Atlanta History Center in 2017-2018 commemorating the centennial of World War I