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.
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.