Photograph of James Rogers McConnell, from “Flying for France. With the American Escadrille at Verdun,” published 1917.
By Kelly Agan, NCpedia Digital Media Librarian
This year the world collectively participates in a commemoration: one hundred years ago on August 4 the major powers of Europe were officially at war, with the entrance of Great Britain into World War I. This week as I began looking through NCpedia for items related to North Carolina in the Great War, I was struck by the amount of North Carolina content we’re able to provide and how we continue to develop new content and to make our existing content more relevant and meaningful. And the power of the digital environment is always front and center, with a single thought coming to mind: NCpedia, 300 years of history at your fingertips! If you have a smartphone, 300 years of history in your pocket!
Recently NCpedia put more history and more connections at your fingertips by partnering with UNC’s Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina, adding nearly 400 new entries to the encyclopedia. We dramatically increased our ability to make content and contextual connections, to give readers access to digitized photos, books, speeches, newspaper accounts. By adding a new historical perspective on the local history of monuments and memorials, we provided even more relevance and meaning to our existing content, making it more specific and more local. One connection Commemorative Landscapes allowed us to make is to the history of James Rogers McConnell, World War I aviation hero from Carthage.
Although it would be three more years from 1914 until the U.S. ended its neutrality in April 1917, from the outset Americans independently joined up with British and French military groups or with the American Ambulance Corps. James Rogers McConnell was one such independent who joined up with the American Ambulance Corps in Vosges, France in 1915. Not long after that he joined the Escadrille Americaine in the Lafayette Escadrille, the elite French fighting pilots. McConnell was killed over France on March 19, 1917 during an air battle with German fighter planes.
Buried and honored in France, his service was honored locally in Carthage by both the citizens of his adopted town and by the French. On April 17, 1917, Carthage dedicated a granite obelisk in front of the historic Moore County Courthouse, where it still stands today. Sometime during 1917, a second memorial was dedicated to McConnell in Carthage – a plaque sent by the French people – and installed at the old town hall. Today this plaque sits in front of the Gilliam-McConnell Airfield in Carthage, built and named in honor of James Rogers – known as “Jacques” to the French – McConnell. The substance of letters he wrote home also found permanence in 1917 in a book under his authorship, Flying For France With the American Escadrille at Verdun.
“Flying for France” by James R. McConnell
Observances like a centenary will doubtless put new monuments on the landscape while old monuments are dusted off and revisited. As I think about the McConnell monuments, a few things strike me. First, how quickly news traveled and, moreover, how quickly communities mobilized to commemorate, with just a month between McConnell’s death and the commemoration. And then how quickly the French people conveyed their commemoration back across the Atlantic. How exactly did that come about? I wish we knew! I am also struck by how quickly McConnell’s thoughts and experiences from France were immortalized in print.
And as a digital librarian, I am excited by the power of the online encyclopedia to be able to connect local terrain with digitized documentary collections to let readers experience the history for themselves. Visit us at NCpedia to learn more about James Rogers “Jacques” McConnell, read his biographical entry, visit the history of his monuments in Carthage, and read his letters home from France — or take a drive out to Moore County with NCpedia in your pocket. The digital world doesn’t get much better than that!
And learn more about North Carolina in World War I from these articles on NCpedia