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Commemorating the U.S. Entry into World War I

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To follow North Carolina’s history in World War I on social media, use the hashtag #NCWW1 (note: use the number “1” not an uppercase letter “I”)!

Today marks the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, at the time called the “European war”.  On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson requested a declaration of war from the U.S. Congress. Four days later on April 6, Congress voted to declare war on Germany.  It was the 4th time the Congress had enacted a declaration of war. Several months later on December  7, the U.S. declared war on Austria-Hungary.

Iredell County World War I Memorial, Statesville, NC. From North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.

Iredell County World War I Memorial, Statesville, NC. From North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection, UNC Chapel Hill. More information on the memorial is available from Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina in NCpedia.

Wilson’s used the phrases “a war to end all wars” and “make the world safe for democracy” to confirm both a sense of the moral urgency to enter the conflict and some sense of optimism that war could even accomplish these goals.  World War I surely didn’t end the prospect of war for future generations, but it was truly a war that changed everything — from the devastating loss of a generation of young men who went to war, to loss of children and families, homes, towns and cities and culture to the very way war came to be fought.  It changed the course of science and technology.

For its part, North Carolina sent more than 80,000 soldiers overseas to the war effort and made many contributions and sacrifices from the home front. The U.S. Senate approved the declaration with a vote of 82-6, with both of North Carolina’s senators in support.  In the House of Representatives, sentiment was not nearly as unilateral, with a final vote of 373-50.  Congressman Claude Kitchin, a supporter and ally of Wilson, made a bold declaration against entry into the war.  He is remembered for delivering a passionate speech against when called on for his vote. He was applauded by both supporters of the war and those who stood with him and was later both renounced and revered for his stand. You can read more about him here in NCpedia. And of the war, the state’s governor, Thomas W. Bickett, who led the state through the troubled time said: “This is no ordinary war. It is a war of ideals.”

From now through the centennial of the conclusion of the war in 2018, we will be contributing to the commemorative effort by sharing North Carolina’s history in World War I — from its men and women who served on the battlefield to efforts on the home front.  We will try to bring you closer to stories, events, people and places by sharing collections and resources that bring the history a little closer to home.  Along the way, we’ll also share resources and collections that might help family history researchers locate records from family members who served.

Today we’ll go ahead and share some background resources from NCpedia, the state’s online encyclopedia, that will give some brief overviews on the events of April 1917 and background on the war.  We’ll also include here links to collections we’ll be drawing from as the commemoration progresses.

Readings from NCpedia on World War I

Approach of World War I — originally published in the N.C. Museum of History’s publication Tar Heel Junior Historian, this article is a good introduction to events leading to the war and is geared toward readers from 5th grade up — and the vote of North Carolina’s congressional delegation for the war declaration and includes links for additional resources:  http://www.ncpedia.org/approach-world-war-i

World War I — originally published in UNC Press’s Encyclopedia of North Carolina, this multi-part article includes sections on North Carolina’s response and contributions from the home front; also includes links to additional resources: http://www.ncpedia.org/approach-world-war-ihttp://www.ncpedia.org/approach-world-war-i

North Carolina in World War I, an Introduction — originally published in the Tar Heel Junior Historian, this article is a good introduction into North Carolina’s participation in the war and it is geared for readers from 5th grade up, also includes many links to additional information and collections: http://www.ncpedia.org/nc-wwi

NCpedia articles related to World War I —  This goes to a listing of NCpedia articles related to World War I: http://www.ncpedia.org/category/subjects/world-war-i

Online collections for historical documents, photographs, letters and other artifacts

World War I Collection from the State Library and State Archives of North Carolina: http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/home/collections/wwi

North Carolina in World War I Blog, from the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources: https://www.ncdcr.gov/blogs/world-war-i

North Carolinians in the Great War, from Documenting the American South at the University of North Carolina: http://docsouth.unc.edu/wwi/

World War I: America Heads to War, from the Digital Public Library of America (great primary source sets for teachers): https://dp.la/primary-source-sets/sets/world-war-i-america-heads-to-war

North Carolina Monuments and Memorials related to World War I, from Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina at the University of North Carolina: http://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/results/?subject=7 (and in NCpedia: http://www.ncpedia.org/category/entry-source/commemorative)

Kelly Agan, North Carolina Government & Heritage Library

 

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