African American Doctors of World War I


WWI docsI was just sitting at my desk and up came an amazing couple, W. Douglas Fisher and Joann H. Buckley, bearing me a gift.  That gift was their new book, African American Doctors of World War I: The Lives of 104 Volunteers (2016).  And on the top right of the cover was Wilson’s own Maj. Joseph Henry Ward (1872-1956).  Also included in  the book is a doctor who practiced in Wilson, Dr. Thomas Clinton Tinsley.  Doug and Joann split their time between Washington DC and Florida and Wilson is right on their route, so they wanted to stop by.

And not only did they give me a book, they also want to do a program on WWI in November on their return trip to Florida!

World War One Camp Jackson, SC

Fort Jackson Co

Fate Watson is seated on the front row, the eighth from the left. Not sure where Frank Lamm is located.

One of my patrons just let me scan two WWI panoramic photos that include her father, Lafayette (Fate) Watson and her uncle, Frank Lamm, both from the Black Creek area of Wilson County.  Her father served on the board of trustees and was very integral to getting the Wilson County Public Library built in the late 1930’s with the help of the Works Progress Administration.  His name is on a plaque at the old front of the library (now the new back).

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.

Finding a Lost Son of Wilson


Lisa Henderson in another one of my award winning photographs of presentations.

Last night the Wilson County Genealogical Society had  its best presentation that I have seen.  Lisa Henderson’s program about finding her cousin Dr. Joseph H. Ward was like a tightly crafted novel, except in this case it was true.  She truly showed her gift for research when she recounted all the different sources she used to pin this man down and figure out who his father was (a plantation owner), his mother (a former slave) and how the enslaved  and free persons of color of Wayne and Wilson intermarried or cohabitated.  Some of the sources she used were digitized newspapers, voting records (free persons of color could vote if their grandfather was a registered voter), cohabitation records, census records, and even a Confederate field map.

Dr. Ward rose up from the cotton fields of Wilson to get his medical license and open up the first African American hospital in Indianapolis, IN.  When WWI broke out he became the head of the Colored Medical Corps. and eventually became a Lt. Colonel and the highest ranking African American in the US Army.

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.

Recent Reading


Here is a selection of books that I have read in the past six months or so.  This was a very good crop of materials and I recommend all of them.

The Last Duel- Eric Jager–  I don’t usually engage in hyperbole but The Last Dual is the most thrilling nonfiction book that I have ever read.  The author, Eric Jager, a medieval literature professor at UCLA, is a maestro of building tension.  When I was reading the climax of the book on a road trip, I had to stop reading for a bit because I was getting too tense (I had also swilled a lot of coffee which didn’t help).  I’m far from being a Vulcan but I’m a pretty even keel kind of guy.  Nevertheless,  I was so consumed by the dramatic tension of the climactic duel that I had to remember to breathe.

The Last Duel involves a Norman Knight named Jean de Carrouges and a squire (a squire in medieval France was not a lowly as one in England) named Jacques Le Gris.  They both begin the book as fast friends but soon politics and royal favor intervenes with the temperamental and politically obtuse Jean falling out of favor with King Charles VI while Jacques rises at Jean’s expense.   Then enter a vivacious young woman named Marguerite whom Jean marries, but allows Jacques to kiss on the lips while they are attending a royal function.  Jacques becomes obsessed with her and thus plants the seed for the fatal duel.

Jean takes part in an expedition to Scotland in order to raid England in hopes of turning his finances around, but unfortunately it is an unmitigated disaster.  The Scots don’t want the French there and refuse to give them much help in their raids and sieges.  The French, after a few successes,  get routed by the English and Jean barely makes it home alive and is in worse financial shape than when he left and is probably sick with malaria.  After Jean returns to France and when he is away meeting with the King, Jacques forces himself into their chateau and rapes Marguerite.  Or does he?  Marguerite tells her husband, which at the time was a risky thing to do in that wives were property and the husband had to champion them as if the crime was committed to the husband themselves.  They do not receive the proper deference from the authorities so they challenge Jacques LeGris to a duel to the death.  This is where the tension goes through the roof as the de Carrouges navigate the hurdles of the late 14th century French legal system.  The duel is allowed and here is where there is doubt thrown on whether Marguerite was actually raped or not when you realize the rewards that Jean will reap if he kills Jacques in the duel.  His lifetime of setbacks will be gone in an instant.  But if he loses the pregnant Marguerite will be burned to death on the pyre overlooking the duel.  You see what I mean about tension.  The duel itself is as brutal as anything I’ve ever read and I will not spoil who wins.   I cannot recommend this book enough.  Also, Eric Jager has a new nonfiction book that came out last month called Blood Royal which is also set in medieval France and is a detective, murder-mystery and I cannot wait to devour it.

Shaman: A Novel of the Ice AgeKim Stanley Robinson -A majestic novel imagining life during the Aurignacian Period in France by the great futurist Kim Stanley Robinson.  His highly researched book really transports you to the time period of mammoths, bitter cold, shamans and Neanderthals.  His depiction of an escape from a slave society with the help of a Neanderthal friend and a chase across what seems to be all of Europe is relentlessly page-turning.  Also his portrayal of the how the cave paintings in Chauvet cave were made and their symbolism is ripped right out of the scientific journals. (Also I think he was inspired by Werner Hertzog’s doc.  Cave of Forgotten Dreams)

Life of Samuel Johnson–  James Boswell– Samuel Johnson was the author  of the first English dictionary, a Dictionary of the English Language,  and was also irascible, witty, a poet, essayist, and if he deemed you worthy, a great friend.  James Boswell’s book is supposed to be the greatest biography (or at least an important milestone in the writing of biographies) ever written and I did enjoy it,  but  it is more of an accumulation of charming anecdotes than a structure that most are used to when reading a biography.  But within these anecdotes are idioms by Johnson that have attained a permanent place in the English speaking world, including: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”  (I always thought Allen Ginsburg coined that one) and “Hell is paved with good intentions.”  Maybe one of the most interesting aspects of the biography is the fact that James Boswell, a Scot and a serial philanderer, ever became such a great companion of Johnson’s in the first place, a man who was a famous hater of Scots (especially David Hume) and a strict Anglican.

Laurence in Arabia–  Scott Anderson-I am only about a third of the way through this book but so far it’s a great read.  It is not only about the inscrutable T. E. Lawrence, archaeologist turned Arab freedom fighter and son of a Irish baronet who ran away with his daughters’ governess to raise an illegitimate family of five sons including T.E., but also about the German agents, Jewish spies, Turkish officials, American oilmen and pompous British officers who made one of the stupidest blunders in military history by landing in about the only place in Turkey (Gallipoli) that the poorly maintained Turkish army could defeat them (this is the part I just read).  *bonus Scott Anderson also wrote another recommendable book that I read about the horrors of the 1995 war in Chechnya and the Texan who died trying to stop it called The Man who Tried to Save the World

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil WarJohn Stubbs–  The image of the Cavalier of the English (really British) Civil War has usually been of dandy fop monarchist with cascading love locks.  The main perpetrators of this stereotype were men such as Prince Rupert and William Cavendish.  But the author, John Stubbs, wants you to take another look.  Sure some of them wore silk and colorful ribbons but others were as plain and teetotaling as any puritan roundhead.  Case in point, King Charles for all his failures had a strong work ethic and was as prudish as they come.  That being said the author concentrates on Cavaliers who were more into writing and drinking than swashbuckling.  John Suckling, Ben Jonson, William Davenant, Thomas Carew, Richard Lovelace and Robert Herrick are the subjects of this book with John Suckling and William Davenant getting most of the attention.  These men were no puritans, but hard drinking and womanizing playwrights and poets who drank together and traded verse and gossip in Cheapside bars such as The Mermaid.  William Davenant succeeds the dour Ben Jonson as the king’s dramatist and suffers a truly gruesome bout of syphilis where his nose falls off.    But the only one to fight in the war was John Suckling.  Suckling was probably the most stereotypical cavalier.  He dressed his soldiers in silks and owed giant sums to his tailor.  But as with all the Cavaliers Stubbs covers, Suckling was more complex than just that.  It is said that he invented the game Cribbage,  served with Gustavus I, the King of Sweden, during the Thirty Years War, invaded Scotland with King Charles I in the first Bishop’s War, and even sat in the Long Parliament. They all were talented writers that believed that one should not rebel against a king even if that king is a despot for even a tyrant is better than anarchy or in this case Puritan rule.  William Davenant returned to prominence after the Restoration but Suckling committed suicide in France after the Civil War, a broken man deep in debt.

John Donne:  The Reformed Soul- John Stubbs– Not finished reading but just as good as Reprobates so far

Breaking Loose Together: The Pre-Revolutionary Regulator Rebellion in North Carolina– Marjolene Kars- The Regulator rebellion in NC was a an agrarian movement that was a response to rampant land speculation and government corruption in the Piedmont region of North Carolina in the 1760’s and early 1770’s.  The author, Marjolene Kars, got her MA in history from Duke University but is also a Dutch national, so this gives her a unique perspective on this neglected period of North Carolina history nestled between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution.   And what she has written is a social history of the common folk of the Piedmont North Carolina who were profoundly influenced by the Great Awakening, a movement that was diametrically opposed politically and religiously to the Anglican elite of the Colony.   They first address their grievances through the legal system but when they are thwarted by Colonial officials they turn to irregular means of restitution such as forcibly closing Colonial courts.  Governor Tryon raises a militia to answer these threats to his power and roundly defeats the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance in 1772 thus ending the rebellion but planting the seeds for the Revolution only four years later.  This book is a great companion piece to A Very Mutinous People by Noeleen McIlvenna (a book that I reviewed on this blog) about the first conflict between the ordinary folk of NC and the Planter elites.

Alexander HamiltonJohn Chernow-  This book made me like Alexander Hamilton a lot.  My view of him had been jaundiced by Gore Vidal’s Burr and David McCullough’s John Adams.  It also reintroduced John Laurens to me as Hamilton’s best friend and comrade.  So instead of thinking of him as a belligerent bean counter I now think of him as the economic and civic wunderkind that the created many of our institutions and saved us from economic collapse after the Revolution.

John Laurens and the American Revolution– Gregory D. Massey- An great book about a complicated and overlooked Revolutionary War figure.  Massey examines three major traits that about this scion of South Carolina and son of the President of the Constitutional Congress, Henry Laurens; his republican, liberal idealism, his suicidal recklessness in battle and his anti-slavery beliefs.  I will be writing a longer piece about this book in the future.