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Carolina Men in Service

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 Sunin 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

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

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 Carolina Collection 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 cap is wool with an inner leather sweatband. Note the silver first lieutenant's bar and the Wildcat patch.