Maryland and World War I
Over 62,000 Marylanders served in WWI, nearly 2,000 of whom lost their lives. During the war, Fort McHenry became the site of U.S. Army General Hospital No.2 while military installations such as Fort George G. Meade and Aberdeen Proving Grounds were created. Private Henry G. Costin and Ensign Charles Hammann received the Medal of Honor.
Returning Maryland Veterans made important contributions. House of Delegates member Millard E. Tydings became a Lt. Colonel in the Army and later represented Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. SGT James Glenn Beall of the Army Ordnance Corps later served in the State Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. These were just two distinguished veterans among the thousands that returned to Maryland.
America’s declaration of war against Germany in April 1917 found the nation unprepared for the multitude of tasks that had to be performed before an American Army could contribute in any meaningful way to an international land war on the scale of the fighting in Europe. The U.S. industrial base had barely begun to shift to a war footing, mostly as a result of business contracts to support the war requirements of England and France. As a result, U.S. combat forces were largely reliant on French and English military equipment, much of which was unavailable for training purposes—much less combat—until the American units reached France.
It was not the habit of the United States to maintain a large standing army. Instead, the U.S. maintained a small army reinforced in time of emergency by federalizing National Guard units from the various states. Additional manpower could be raised through the draft. However, National Guard readiness for mobilization varied widely and units would have to be pulled together to undergo training and equipping before sailing to France. New inductees, either through the draft or volunteering, would require significantly more training before their readiness to participate in the collective tasks of combat or support units. Training camps to manage the influx of millions of young men were established throughout the U.S., including Camp Meade, southeast of Baltimore (now Fort Meade), and Aberdeen Proving Ground north of Baltimore.
The first U.S. infantry division did not enter combat until April 1918. Others soon followed, but most U.S. divisions deployed to France during the spring and summer months of 1918, arriving only in time for the final offensives in September through the end of the fighting on November 11, 1918.
Building these divisions, of approximately 20,000 men each, began when the government federalized the state national guards, including the Maryland National Guard, on August 5, 1917. Just under 6,900 Maryland national guardsmen mobilized and deployed to Camp McClellan, Alabama, where they became part of the 29th Division.
In addition to the national guard, the U.S. implemented the Selective Service—the draft. Maryland eventually provided more than 34,000 inductees through this program, the first of whom were sent to Camp Meade on September 26, 1917. Marylanders inducted through this program constituted a large part of the 79th Division. However, the demand for trained soldiers, especially officers and non-commissioned officers, throughout the AEF was so severe that the 79th—and other divisions still in the U.S.—were constantly losing those who had recently undergone training to fill the gaps in divisions either in France, or deploying sooner.
Men and women from Maryland served throughout the military, including the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Maryland was especially noted for its contribution of medical officers to high positions in the American Expeditionary Forces.
The 29th Division was known as the ‘Blue and Gray’ Division because its combat regiments came from both northern and southern states. Maryland contributed the 115th Infantry Regiment, and the 110th Artillery Regiment. Together with the 116th Infantry Regiment from Virginia, this constituted the 58th Infantry Brigade—the Gray part of the division. New Jersey provided two infantry regiments that formed the 57th Infantry Brigade—the Blue part. After forming at Camp McClellan, the division finally deployed to France in June 1918. After training in quiet sectors of the front, the 29th Division fought in the final major battle of the war--Meuse-Argonne Offensive that began in October 1918. In its 21 days of combat, the division suffered more than 30% killed or wounded.
The 29th Division returned to the U.S. in May, 1919, demobilizing at Camp Dix, New Jersey at the end of that month. The 29th remains a National Guard today, and includes units of the Maryland National Guard.
The 79th Division was one of the new national army divisions. It followed a path similar to that of the 29th, though its ranks were filled with the new inductees rather than national Guardsmen. It was formed in August 1917, sailed to France in July 1918, and fought with the American Expeditionary Force in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. As a result of its service in France, the division was nicknamed ‘The Cross of Lorraine Division.’ Like the 29th Division, the 79th suffered about 30% killed and wounded during the offensive. It returned to the U.S. and demobilized in June, 1919.
More than 11,000 African Americans from Maryland also served in the US military in World War I. The military at that time was largely segregated and, to a large extent, African Americans served in non-combat logistics roles in the rear areas. While unglamorous, the functions they performed were critical to military success, and literally kept the wheels of the American Expeditionary Force turning. African Americans helped move supplies from French seaports to warehouses, along railroad tracks they laid or maintained, and then distributed the supplies to forward areas to the combat units.
Others served in combat units, including the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions, formed with African Americans from every state. Included among these were soldiers of the Maryland National Guard’s 1st Separate Company. After being mustered into active service with other National Guard units in July 1917, this unit became part Company I of the 372nd Infantry Regiment in the 93rd Division. Regiments from the 93rd Division were assigned to French divisions, trained with and used French equipment, and fought gallantly during several major battles of 1918. As a result of their service during the Second Battle of the Marne, the division was nicknamed the ‘Blue Helmets’ and wore a patch with the familiar blue helmet of the French ‘poilu.’ The 372nd Infantry were assigned to the French 157th ‘Red Hand’ Division. The 92nd Division was wore a patch with a buffalo, in honor of African American cavalry units on our western frontier who were called ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ by Native Americans.
Maryland also contributed its share to the naval forces, supporting the regular navy and Marines as well as the Naval Reserve and Coast Guard with nearly 11,000 servicemen, including more than 500 African Americans. In July, 1917, the U.S. navy also took over a small maritime organization belonging to Maryland’s State Conservation Commission. The ‘Oyster Navy,’ as it was called, was redesignated as Squadron 8, Fifth Naval District. With about 100 men and 19 small craft, it patrolled Maryland waters until early December 1918, after the war ended. The city of Baltimore also became a navy center for a variety of activities, including recruiting, naval intelligence, and securing the region’s waterways.