Sgt. Joseph Alton Barnes, Engineer Gunner in WWII


Sgt. Barnes is 4th from the left with a B-17 behind them.

Joseph Alton Barnes was recently featured in the Wilson Times for receiving his high school diploma at the spry age of 92 through a program called Operation Recognition.  Not long after the article appeared, Alton’s daughter, a staff member at WCPL, brought me his WWII photos to be digitized.  They will soon be on his page at Wilson County’s Greatest Generation: The Memories of the World War II Veterans of Wilson County, N.C. at DigitalNC.  But here are a few to hold you over.


Mission Record


Sgt. Barnes on a downed German plane (maybe a Junkers Ju-88 night fighter) in France.


One of the B-17s Sgt. Barnes flew in combat.


Another B-17 that Sgt. Barnes might have used.



Part of the British, Chain Home coastal radar system?


I’m not going to tell you what this is.


Alton in training in Louisiana?

What is this Building?

jesuit-universityThis  is photograph of an unknown building  from the Monk Moore collection.    Does anyone out there have any ideas as to what it is?  The double barred crosses on the wall are called the cross of Lorraine and are associated with the Lorraine region of France. It is also a symbol of the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church.  At first glance, I thought the smeared writing at the bottom said “Dear old State School.”  But now I’m not so sure.

Edit: I just realized it is the symbol of the American Lung Association.  So maybe the  writing says Dear old State Sanitarium.  Hmm maybe.

Edit: Yeah that is probably what it is .  The North Carolina State Sanitorium was built in Hoke County between Aberdeen and Raeford in 1908 for patients with tuberculosis, hence the American Lung Association symbol of the cross of Lorraine.

In 1913, the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home was opened for the treatment of African Americans with tuberculosis and was one of only three hospitals in the state for African Americans.  It was later renamed Mercy hospital.

Lt.Robert Anderson: letters from the front in WW1

unknowns_robert_paul_andersonIn 2014 the 100th anniversary of the First World War arrived. It has become a war that feels nearly as distant as the Civil War or the American Revolution. It is a war that was known for its high death toll as modern technology introduced machine guns, airplanes, and tanks to the battlefield. It is important to remember the men of that war as individuals, not merely numbers on a tally.
Among those men was First Lieutenant Robert B. Anderson of Wilson, North Carolina. Robert was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cantigny on May 29th, 1918, dying at an aid station a short time later. For his bravery he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (US) and the Croix DeGuerre (France).

. RBA_medals


The Anderson family has preserved keepsakes of Lt. Anderson’s service. Most cherished among these are three written before his death.
The first was to his father written on New Year’s Day, 1918. In it Robert speaks about his deep respect for his father, and the influence his father left on his life. While not dramatic in its words you can nonetheless feel certain intensity as Robert reflected on his father while looking at the war he was to fight. With his father he shares his pride in being a soldier, as well as being proud of his father.Anderson_1918_3rd_letter_1

New Years letter to Father

New Years letter to Father

The other two letters were written the same month he died. The first is a Mother’s day letter. Among other things, he describes how everyone in his unit felt how important it was to send a letter for Mother’s day. He goes on to speak of how well written some of his men’s letters were. Robert himself had enough duties that he apparently had to squeeze in the letter throughout the day just finishing in time for lights out. It has a warm and hope filled tone.



Mother's Day letter

Mother’s Day letter

The last letter was written to his mother on the 27th, just two days before his death. He was suffering from the Spanish Flu, and preparing himself for the upcoming battle. It was almost as if he knew ahead of time that he was not going to survive the fight. The letter talks about his life insurance policy ($11,000 which is a goodly sum for those days). He goes into detail that he hadn’t received all his pay so there should be back pay coming to his family should he fall in battle. Robert tells his parents to “do what they like with the money”. He then follows this practical advice with spiritual words. He says that if he dies for them to remember, “I will be in safe keeping, waiting for when God calls you and Dad and we will…be together.” Apparently, he must have felt bad for having sounded so serious and then tries to say how everything will be alright and the place he is going to be will be in the papers; a place called Cantigny.



Last Letter of Robert Anderson, two days before his death

Last Letter of Robert Anderson, two days before his death

Death Notification of  Lt. Anderson

Death Notification of
Lt. Anderson

Johnnie Zolman
Guest Blogger/Library Intern
Wilson Public Library

Attack on Cantigny


Lt. Robert Anderson playing baseball for Trinity College and in his army uniform.


Another in my series of people giving Power Point presentations. This one is of the author, Matthew Davenport, giving a superb talk on his book. There were many veterans in attendance in including a Medal of Honor winner from the Battle of Ia Drang.

We had a great program last Thursday with  Matthew J. Davenport, former JAG lawyer and now a criminal defense attorney in Greenville, NC who is the author of the book, First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America’s First Battle of World War I. 

This battle has a certain significance to Wilson, NC because one of its sons, Lt. Robert B. Anderson, was killed in the fight leading his troops against entrenched German forces to the south of the city of Cantigny.  Robert was the brother of Wade Hampton Anderson who married Lalla Harper of the Luby Harper family that I wrote on recently.

The battle was important because of the pressure on the Americans from the British and French to prove themselves in battle before they trusted them with holding any part of the front lines that were seriously under threat as the Germans poured in troops from the eastern front for their giant offensive.

The Americans proved their mettle as they took the town from the Germans with the help of 10 French Schneider tanks, a creeping barrage of hundreds of artillery guns (including gas shells), flame throwers and 4000  American and French troops.

The Battle of Cantigny on May 28-31, 1918 was the first act for the American troops that then led to the larger battles of Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood  and the eventual, final defeat of the Central powers on November 11, 1918.

World War I American Expeditionary Force


We have some interesting World War I materials in our collection that are just gathering dust in our vault so I wanted to shed some light on a few items.  First off we have a little book titled, Popular Songs of the AEF.  The book was given out to enlistees to foster an esprit de  corps among the men as they sang these songs together.  Whether they actually did that while singing Beware of Chu Chin Chow (actual song in the book about a Chinese burglar) or the many Irving Berlin standards  I don’t know, but from the line printed inside the front cover, It’s the songs we sing and the smiles we wear that make the sunshine everywhere, I wonder if they thought they were about to join a German glee club rather then fight battle- hardened stormtroopers.

Also in our collection is the English-French Hand Book for the use of United States Soldiers and is a helpful guide for soldiers in the trenches on leave in France.  So after a long night out drinking absinthe in Paris you may need to ask De quel cote se trouve la caserne? (Which is the way to the barracks?).  And if you are in really bad shape you may say J’ai gangrene (I have gangrene).  On the last page are the words and translation to La Marseillaise,  which is a song that I’m sure came in handy  on the eleventh of November, 1918.

These artifacts were the property of Sergeant J.W. Springer.  We also have about 15 of his letters that he sent to his sister, Anne, during the war.  I am currently reading them and I will post something about the letters at a later date.




An envelope that carried one of JW Springer’s letters from France to his sister Anne.

The Black Count, General Alex Dumas


dumas museum

Alexandre Dumas Museum, Villers-Cotterets, France

I was expecting a good read in the The Black Count by Tom Reiss, considering it won the Pulitzer Prize, but I didn’t expect it to be as exceptional as it was.  The book follows the extraordinary life and military career of General Alex Dumas.  You may be saying “that guy wrote the Count of Montecristo.”  No, that was his son, Alexandre Dumas.  But his father was the inspiration for Alexandre’s novels, a wronged warrior in search of some sort of justice in a France that had transformed from a republic to a dicatatorship.   Like any good drama the book starts with the author hiring a safe cracker to open a safe in the Alexandre Dumas Museum in Villers-Cotterets, France because the museum curator has died.  In the safe, the author finds a rich trove of correspondence between Alex Dumas and his wife.  The author soon shifts from the present to the French sugar colony of Saint Dominique (Haiti) in 1762 where Alex Dumas was born to a fugitive French nobleman named Alexandre Antoine Davy, the Marquis de la Pailleterie and an African slave named Cessette Dumas.  The first ten years of his life was spent in a land where people of mixed race were upwardly mobile and large numbers of biracial women were shopkeepers and plantation owners.  This was all made possible by the Black Code issued by Louis XIV in 1685 that made the children of unions between African and French eligible for protections of the French state and possibility of full freedom.   Although some people of mixed raced parentage got on rather well the African slaves lived in a world of toil under some of the harshest conditions in the Western hemisphere.

Alex’ father was able to come out of hiding after his brother died and decided to return to Normandy to claim his title, but incredibly he sold his son and his daughters into slavery in order to pay for the journey.  When he arrived in France he purchased Alex back from the Captain he sold him to but not his sisters.  As soon as Antoine gained his inheritance he lavished Alex with money and clothes and sent him to Paris to school to live the life of gentleman.  In Paris Alex thrived in a life of extravagance and rakishness that was expected of the young gentry of the time.  This lasted until his father got remarried to his house servant and cut Alex off.

Something in Alex changes at this point in his life and he creates his own identity away from his self-serving father by joining the military as a common soldier and not as an officer as his father would have wished.  He also drops his father’s name and from there on goes by his mother’s name of Dumas.  This is the dawn of the revolution in France and this is also where the author shines as he seamlessly entwines the fortunes of Alex Dumas with rise and fall of the French Revolution from a republic of liberty to a paranoid dictatorship.

In the military Alex finds his calling.  His superior physical strength and sharp mind make him an exceptional soldier.  His prowess in swordsmanship and horseplay are second to none.  He becomes one of those legendary battlefield figures such as Sir James Douglas (also known as Black Douglas or Douglas the Good), Sigfried Sassoon, Audie Murphy, or Carlos Hathcock where a combination fearlessness, uncanny luck and superior skills create an individual of mythic proportions.

While Alex was still a private he falls in love with Marie Louise Laboret, his landlord’s daughter, and asks her to marry him.  Her father says that they can marry only after he becomes a sergeant.  They don’t have long to wait as Dumas quickly rises from a private in the Queen’s Dragoons to a Lieutenant Colonel of the Black Legion to Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Alps.   They were soon married and from their letters it is very evident that they were deeply in love their whole life.


Siege of Mantua

As the leader of the Army of the Alps, he wins a major victory over Austrian forces dug into the precarious Saint Bernard Pass.  The victory opens up the Piedmont of Italy to invasion by the Republican army.  During Dumas’ ascension in the ranks, the French Revolution unfolds creating significant opportunities for advancement in the military as France seeks to spread the revolution to other countries, but conversely contains deadly traps for public figures that were constantly in danger of being brought before the Committee of Safety to face charges of treason.  Revolutionary opportunities came with revolutionary risks as the author, Tom Reiss states.  And Dumas is accused of treason just after his victory at Saint Bernard Pass but manages to delay his visit to Paris long enough to avoid the Great Terror as Robespierre is executed.  Here Dumas’ duel identity created a bit of confusion for the Safety Committee, he was noble by blood and therefore suspect but he was also a slave by blood which would make him irreproachable.  He embodies a contradiction, but in the end his denunciation of his title and his Revolutionary zeal causes his African persona to win over his politically dangerous noble one.

In a year, Dumas had gone from a corporal in the dragoons to being made a general of a division, which is a command of ten thousand troops.  And while sieging the city of Mantua, Dumas intercepts a secret message stating that a superior Austrian force was en route to break the siege.  Dumas successfully deploys his French troops against the twice as large Austrian force.  Leading from the front, Dumas has two horses shot out from under him as he slashes away at the enemy and successfully repels the Austrian reinforcements, therefore halting the breakout.  However, Dumas’ siege saving maneuver is left out of an after action report sent to Paris by Napoleon, which infuriates General Dumas.  But this would not be the last time that Dumas is at odds with the rising Corsican.  In Dumas’ next engagement he single-handedly beats back an entire squadron of Austrians on a bridge in the Tyrol.  This instance he is not overlooked by Napoleon who names  Dumas “Horatius Cocles of the Tyrol”.  Napoleon also shows his gratitude by sending him a set of pistols and makes General Dumas the head of the cavalry in the Tyrol.  This will be about the last time that Napoleon praises Dumas for  Dumas’ steeped belief in the Revolution of 1790 would put him at increasing odds with Napoleon’s policies and consolidation of power.


Battle of the Pyramids

In 1798 General Dumas is made the commander of all cavalry of the Army of the Orient in Napoleon’s disastrous campaign to conquer Egypt.  Again Dumas serves with distinction in the Battle of the Pyramids and is at the vanguard of repressing a revolt in Cairo, where he even charges into the Al-Azhar Mosque.  Napoleon has a painting created of the episode years later but he replaces Dumas with a white man.  Dumas’ relationship with Napoleon becomes completely ruptured when he gets wind of seditious musings by Dumas and other generals.  General Dumas was not one to mince words and he thought the whole expedition was a catastrophic farce that left France vulnerable.  But he was proven right after the self-serving Napoleon abandoned the army the following summer after the French fleet was defeated at the the Battle of the Nile.  When General Kleber learned that Napoleon had flown the coop and left him in charge he said, That bugger has left us here, his breeches full of shit.  We’re going back to Europe to rub it in his face.

Dumas didn’t get a ship to leave Egypt until almost a year after Napoleon and unfortunately it was hardly seaworthy.  They had to put in for repairs at Taranto, Italy, a place where they thought was still controlled by the French.  But to their misfortune the Neapolitan monarchists had regained control and Dumas was imprisoned by the zealous Holy Faith Army.  During this time his wife impassionedly wrote letters to Napoleon and the French government to get him released, but it took two long years for him to be freed and by that time Dumas’ health had spiraled downward, possibly due to poisoning.


Alexandre Dumas fil

When Dumas finally returns to France he finds most of the societal changes wrought by the Revolution to be wiped away, especially in terms of race.  Dumas now found his marriage to his French wife to be illegal and slavery was reinstituted.  Napoleon had met with former Caribbean slave owners and realized how much money he was losing now that there were no more slaves to harvest sugar cane and rolled back all the social progress that made France a beacon of hope for many around the world.  The General was also unable to receive his pension and his protestations went unheard.  Alex Dumas died a broken and bitter man but his son Alexandre would become obsessed with his legacy which drove his art.  His father was the inspiration for the character Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo with Napoleon being the main reason behind the character’s abuse and imprisonment.  Also the swashbuckling adventures of The Three Musketeers is based on his father’s strong moral character and dueling prowessTom Reiss has done the world a great service in bringing to life an important and forgotten Black hero who led 10,000 Frenchmen to battle in an age when Africans in the Western world were enslaved and who epitomized the promise and failure of the French Revolution.   Unfortunately there is no monument to General Alex Dumas in France.  The one that did exist was blown up by the Nazis during the occupation.

Sgt. John Gray Lamm, 36th Armored Infantry


Just created a splash page for an interview that I did with WWII veteran Sgt. John Gray Lamm.  This will be a part of the Digital NC Wilson County’s Greatest Generation project.

Marie Antoinette’s Mitochondrial DNA thwarts Pretenders to the French Throne


Marie Antoinette as seen in better, more cake-filled days

After the French Revolution and the mysterious death at age ten of Marie Antoinette’s only son Louis Charles, there were many people who came forth claiming to be the little prince.  The most famous was a German clock maker named Karl Wilhelm Naundorff.  Naundorff even had the backing of Louis Charles’ nanny and Louis XVII was written on his gravestone!

Now enter good ole science.  Naundorff’s body was exhumed and his mitochondrial DNA was tested and compared to mDNA from locks of the executed Queen’s hair and her descendants.  And voila, no match.  Poor Louis Charles had died in prison and didn’t escape to make clocks.

Source I09