I 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!
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).
In 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).
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.
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
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
Death Notification of
Guest Blogger/Library Intern
Wilson Public Library
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.
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.
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.