Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

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Centennial of the Rainbow Division

One hundred years ago on August 12th the 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Division was formed at Camp Mills, near Garden City, NY. You can read more about the Rainbow Division and its Kansas connection here.

Heavily involved in WW2, the 42nd saw no combat service between 1947 and 2001. Today it is made up of National Guardsmen from New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. more

KCK’s Rainbow Boulevard is a WW1 memorial

After the US declared war on the Central Powers on April, 6th, 1917, the War Department faced a herculean task in building and organizing the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) as a military unit suitable for the type and scale of Western Front warfare.

At the time, the regular US Army numbered about 133,000 soldiers plus there were still about 65,000 National Guardsmen on federal duty under the 1916 National Defense Act. The remainder of the Guard numbered about 117,000, some of these not fit for combat service. Nevertheless, in May Congress enacted authorization to federalize the entire Guard, although this wasn’t achieved immediately due to a lack of everything: training space, gear, weapons and men. more

The Annals of Kansas, #60

The 60th installment seems like a good place to end the annals, as World War I events became fewer and fewer as 1919 wore on.

It also seems like a good idea to release this now, in case it might help anyone who may be interested in the aftermath of the war. We hope you enjoyed these glimpses of Kansas during the war years. more

The Annals of Kansas, #52

(The following is a summary of the war as produced in The Annals of Kansas, 1886-1925.  This is the first part.)

One hundred years ago in Kansas…

November 11, 1918

  • The Armistice was signed. Kansas celebrated with parades and prayer services.

Approximately 83,000 Kansans served in the war, including those in the Army, Navy, and Marines, and in the armies of Great Britain, France and Canada.  Many enlisted in the early years of the war, and several distinguished themselves in foreign service.  Kansas had little trouble filling her quotas.  The bulk of the men were in the Thirty-fifth, Eighty-ninth, and Forty-second Divisions.  The Thirty-fifth was a Kansas-Missouri organization composed of National Guard units.  It was trained at Camp Doniphan, Okla., and took part in the Battles of St. Mihiel and the Argonne.  The Eighty-ninth was organized and trained at Camp Funston by Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood and also participated in the St. Mihiel and Argonne battles.  The 117th Ammunition Train, sometimes called the Kansas Ammunition Train, was part of the Forty-second, known as the Rainbow Division.  Ten thousand Kansans served in the Navy, and Kansas was the first state to fill its quota in that branch.  One of the largest military camps was established at Camp Funston near Fort Riley.  It had a training capacity of 70,000 men.  Among the outstanding generals in the A.E.F. were Brig. Gen. Harry Smith, Atchison; Brig. Gen. Wilder S. Metcalf, Lawrence, and Maj. Gen. James G. Harbord, Manhattan, who was chief of staff to General Pershing.

Two Kansans, George S. Robb, Salina, and Erwin R. Bleckley, Wichita, received the Congressional (sic) Medal of Honor, Bleckley’s being posthumously awarded.  The number of Kansans killed or wounded was about 2,680.

The 353rd ‘All Kansas’ Infantry at St. Mihiel – Wickersham

John Hunter Wickersham (he was called Hunter by his family and friends) was born in New York City on Feb. 3rd, 1890. He grew up in Denver, Colorado and is recognized today on the Colorado WW1 centennial webpage.  But perhaps we can claim him as an honorary Kansan as well? Here’s why.

Wickersham attended the first Officer’s Training Camp held at Ft. Riley, Kansas in the summer of 1917. After his commissioning he was sent to Company H, 2nd Battalion, 353rd ‘All Kansas’ Infantry Regiment, 89th ‘Rolling W’ Division, which was being formed a short distance away at Camp Funston, Kansas.

After their arrival in France in June, 1918 hundreds of men from the 353rd  were transferred to replace the losses of other units, but shortly before the St. Mihiel Offensive they gained replacements from the 86th Division, mostly draftees from Iowa and Nebraska. At the Armistice the 353rd was still 60% Kansans.

2nd Lieut. Wickersham is particularly remembered for two things. First, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on Sept. 12th, 1918, at the start of the St. Mihiel Offensive. The 353rd had little prior combat experience, having only been exposed to desultory shelling during a brief stint at Saint-Blin on the Vosges Front in August, but they were placed in IV Corps along with the battle-tested 1st and 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Divisions. They were in the van of the attack on the southern side of the salient, under German artillery fire directed by observers on Mont Sec.

Wickersham’s Citation reads:

‘Advancing with his platoon during the St. Mihiel offensive he was severely wounded in four places by the bursting of a high-explosive shell. Before receiving any aid for himself he dressed the wounds of his orderly, who was wounded at the same time. He then ordered and accompanied the further advance of his platoon, although weakened by the loss of blood. His right hand and arm being disabled by wounds, he continued to fire his revolver with his left hand until, exhausted by loss of blood, he fell and died from his wounds before aid could be administered.’ more

The Yankee Division at Seicheprey

The 26th (Yankee) Infantry Division was formed on July 18th, 1917, under the command of Maj. Gen. C.R. Edwards. The component units were selected from the National Guards of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Due to the proximity of these units to the port of Boston, and the political necessity of getting troops ‘over there’ expeditiously, the 26th was the first National Guard unit to embark for France, arriving on Sept. 21st, 1917, more than a month before the 42nd Division. As a result of this hasty departure, the division needed months of training, which was conducted by the French.

In January 1918 the 26th, along with the 1st, 2nd and 42nd, was constituted as I Corps and shortly thereafter they began front-line service in ‘quiet’ sectors in relief of French units. The 26th was moved into the line between Aprémont and the Bois de Jury in the St. Mihiel Salient sector on April 3rd.

The Germans had been watching the insertion of American units with interest, and their headquarters decided to stage a battalion-sized trench raid to test the fighting ability of these green Americans who had been trained by the French. The burning questions were: would they stand and fight, and if so, how well?

The fortified ruin of the small village of Seicheprey (it’s still small, the population is 81) was selected as the target, a piece of the line held by elements of the US 102nd Infantry regiment, mostly men from the Connecticut National Guard. The Germans delivered a 36 hour box barrage, including the heavy use of gas, and on April 20th a battalion of stoßtruppen infiltrated the gaps in the defenses. The line was breached in places but the defenders rallied and the attackers then withdrew as was their tactical directive. The 102nd lost 80 killed, 424 wounded and 130 prisoners; two rifle companies and a machine gun company were rendered hors de combat. The regiment’s mascot, the famous dog called ‘Sgt. Stubby’, was injured by grenade shrapnel, but recovered. The Germans lost about 150 or ¼ of their assaulting force, so one of the scarce, elite stoßtruppen battalions was sidelined as well.

To the American command, this action was a victory. Their troops had, to use modern football parlance, bent but didn’t break. The experience was a successful employment of the strategy known as ‘Defense in Depth’, a significant achievement for an unseasoned unit.

From the German perspective the attack wasn’t successful, as the Americans had fought tenaciously, withstanding a box barrage, heavy gas, flamethrowers, infiltration and hand-to-hand combat. Not wanting to admit that the experiment was unsuccessful, the Germans instead made a great show of the number of Americans taken prisoner.

Here’s an informative article from the New England Historical Society.

The 26th then went on to serve under French command in the Aisne-Marne Offensives, in a supporting but important role guarding the eastern flank, a task that Pershing didn’t like to entrust to the French.

At St. Mihiel in September, the 26th played a critical role, linking up with the Big Red One (1st Division) to complete the encirclement of the salient on Day 3. After a brief respite for reinforcement they participated in the last phase of the Meuse Argonne Offensive, ending their war near Ville dévant-Chaumont, once again holding Pershing’s eastern flank.

Unique amongst all of the US memorials on the Western Front is the 26th Division Church in the village of Belleau, not far from the wood of the same name. The village was captured by the 26th on July 18th, 1918, during the Aisne-Marne Offensives, several weeks after the Marines had secured Belleau Wood. The current structure was reconstructed in the 1920’s with funds donated by the 26th Division’s veterans and their friends and functions both as the local parish church and a war memorial. The Massachusetts National Guard Association has continued to be a supporter of the church, having recently raised donations totaling €40,000 for roof repairs.

The Annals of Kansas, #39

100 years ago in Kansas, March 30 – April 7, 1918:

March 30, 1918

  • Five students at Haskell Institute had died and 457 were ill with a disease called “strepo-grip.”
  • The Department of Justice moved to dislodge large stocks of wheat and flour held on farms.  A secret service agent had put 7,000 pounds of flour and over 10,000 bushels of wheat from Pawnee county on the market.
  • Daylight-saving time went into effect.  Clocks were set an hour ahead to give more daytime for gardening and to save fuel used for electric lighting.
  • Meatless day regulations were suspended for 30 days because of an oversupply of meat.
  • At K.S.A.C. (Kansas State Agricultural College) 300 men were learning to be tank drivers.
  • more

    Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War

    This is described as “an exhibit remembering the prophetic insights and personal courage of World War I peace protesters.”  The exhibit was organized and is available for traveling through the Kauffman Museum at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas.

    The exhibit was available this past weekend at the Muted Voices conference at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.  After a short stay at the Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, it will be back at the Kauffman Museum from October 31 until January 21, 2018.  It is well worth a look.

    For more information, including booking information, see the link:


    The Annals of Kansas, #23

    100 years ago in Kansas, August 27 – September 7, 1917:

    August 27, 1917

  • The Kansas Grange and the Farmers’ Union asked for special consideration of exemption claims by farm workers.
  • Women went to work in the upholstery department of the Santa Fe shops, Topeka, taking the places of men who had gone to war.
  • more

    100 Years Ago in Kansas

    In the mid-1950s the Kansas State Historical Society published The Annals of Kansas, 1886-1925.  It appeared in two volumes, with the first published in 1954, the second two years later in 1956.

    The Annals are an almost daily account of life in the State of Kansas. Most entries are only a sentence or two and deal with organizations meeting somewhere within the state, special events, crimes, and more.  For the World War I years, they provide snippets of life on the home front.

    The following was compiled by Kansas WWI Committee Member and Kansas State Historical Society Museum Curator, Blair Tarr.

    February 19, 1917

    • “Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston died at San Antonio, Tex.  He was born November 9, 1865, at New Carlisle, Ohio, and came to Allen county with his parents in 1867.  He lived in Iola for many years and attended the University of Kansas.  He became a botanist and worked as a special agent for the Department of Agriculture in 1891,  He took part in the Death Valley expedition of 1891, was later sent to Alaska where he paddled a canoe 1,500 miles down the Yukon river, and wrote a paper entitled, “Botany of Yakutat Bay, Alaska.”  Funston fought for 18 months with Cuban insurgents, 1896-1897, and rose from captain to lieutenant colonel.  When the Spanish-American War broke out he was made colonel of the Twentieth Kansas Regiment, which distinguished itself in the Philippine insurrection.  He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for action at the battle of Calumpit on April 27, 1899.  In 1901 Funston planned and carried out the capture of Aguinaldo, Philippine guerilla leader.  This won him the rank of brigadier general in the regular army.  He was stationed at San Francisco during the earthquake of 1906 and was given much credit for handling the emergency.  General Funston was in command of the U.S. force that was sent to hold the city of Vera Cruz during the United States intervention in Mexico.  Shortly before his death he was sent to Texas in charge of soldiers on the border.”

    February 24, 1917

    • The Legislature and state officers held memorial services for General Funston.

    March 10, 1917

    March 14, 1917

    When the Legislature adjourned four days later, this is what they had accomplished:

    • Required approval of the Public Utilities Commission to build bridges or dams across navigable streams or rivers.
    • Required approval of the State Board of Health for building vaults or mausoleums.
    • Provided for the adoption and regulation of the city manager form of government by cities wanting it.
    • Regulation of streetcar traffic.
    • Provided for condemnation and appropriation of land by oil and pipeline companies.
    • Authorized counties to levy taxes to pay for extermination of grasshoppers.
    • Prohibited the sale, giving away or advertisement of cigarettes or cigarette papers.
    • Provided for a Kansas Water Commission to investigate and control flood prevention, drainage, water power, and irrigation.
    • Set the minority age of both men and women at 21.
    • Created the office of State Fire Marshal.
    • Provided for the protection of game birds.
    • Authorized the State Board of Health to make regulations for control of diseases.
    • Made it unlawful for any person to have intoxicating liquor in his possession and prohibited the transportation of liquor, except for medicinal uses.
    • Provided for compensation for injures workmen.
    • Provided for an eight-hour day in lead and zinc mines.
    • Created a State Highway Commission and prescribed its duties.
    • Provided for distribution of federal funds for vocation education.
    • Established a State board of Administration to manage state institutions.
    • Established a State Industrial Farm for women.

    March 27, 1917

    • Anna Folkland, fourth grade pupil at Wichita, was suspended from school for refusing to salute the flag.

    March 28, 1917

    • The Deutscher Verein Assn., Atchison, disbanded “until the international situation is clarified.”

    March 31, 1917

    • Governor Capper appealed to the people of Kansas to mobilize every possible source of food supply and, in addition, to observe the greatest economy in food consumption.  With the nation nearing war, Kansas faced a food shortage, and wheat prospects were poor.  The Governor urged a vegetable garden in every back yard, a potato patch in every vacant lot, and an extra half-acre of potatoes on every farm.

    April 2, 1917

    • President Wilson asked Congress to declare that a state of war existed between the United States and Germany.
    • Telegraph offices in many Kansas cities and towns were deluged with messages against war, addressed to the President and congressmen.

    April 3, 1917

    • Armed guards were placed around the pumping station of the Wichita Water Co. following advice from federal agents that German spies were in the city.  This was an example of the wave of spy-hunting which swept the country.
    • At KU, 150 girls enrolled in Red Cross training classes.

    April 5, 1917

    • Missouri troops were guarding railroad bridges as far west as Manhattan on the Union Pacific and southwest to Hutchinson on the Santa Fe.

    April 6, 1917

    • Congress formally declared that a state of war existed with Germany.
    • Loyalty day was observed by parades, pageants, and patriotic speeches.  Governor Capper spoke at Topeka; a fife and drum corps of Civil War veterans paraded at Dodge City; ten thousand children marched in a parade at Wichita, and at Neodesha employees of the Frisco railroad sent up a large flag attached to a kite.

    April 7, 1917

    • The State Board of Agriculture urged immediate mobilization of 70,000 school boys, age 15 to 20 years, to get maximum food production in the state.

    April 9, 1917

    • Food prices soared.  Sugar at Topeka went to $9.50 per 100 pounds and flour to $3.00.  Prices of lard, butter, eggs and soap advanced.  Potatoes went up 25 cents a bushel.
    • President Henry Jackson Waters, K.S.A.C. (Kansas State Agricultural College), said the country’s visible food supply would be gone before another harvest. He urged that grain used for liquors should be held back as feed for livestock.
    • Because of the national emergency the State Board of Administration urged state schools to hold simple, dignified commencement services.

    April 11, 1917

    • The Kansas State Bankers Assn. met at Kansas City.  Members agreed to handle government war loans without interest.

    April 12, 1917

    • Compulsory military training for every able-bodied male student at Washburn College was adopted by the faculty after a petition by 200 students asked that military training be made part of the college course.  Intercollegiate athletics were abolished.

    April 13, 1917

    • Governor Capper began a nation-wide fight for prohibition during the war.  He wired President Wilson, urging the use of food materials in manufacturing liquor be prohibited.  He asked Governors of all states to take similar action.
    • Dr. Henry J. Waters, K.S.A.C. president, was named chairman of the State Council of Defense, composed of prominent Kansans appointed by the Governor.
    • The Blue Goose, a Bennington club and smokehouse where recruiting officers gathered, was dynamited by fanatics who believed Europe’s war was “not our business.”
    • Towns, schools, clubs, churches, lodges, and individuals adopted French orphans.  It cost $36.50 to support an orphan for a year.

    April 16, 1917

    • Four thousand acres at seven state institutions were being put under cultivation in line with the governor’s “food drive.”
    • Washburn college offered three courses in Red Cross training.
    • The price of wheat went to $2.74 on the Topeka Board of Trade.

    April 17, 1917

    • The State Council of Defense met at Topeka and declared war on extravagance, luxury, unused land, gophers, chinch bugs, Hessian flies, hog cholera, bad marketing facilities, market gambling and grasshoppers, and urged that a census be taken on resources and needs of every county.

    April 18, 1917

    • Public school students who enlisted or who were recruited for food production or defense work would be given credit for a year’s work, the Superintendent of Public Instruction announced.

    April 19, 1917

    • Many tractors in the state were equipped with headlights and operated on a 24-hour schedule as part of the increased food program.

    April 20, 1917

    • Kansas became the first state to furnish its full quota of men to the U.S. Navy.

    April 23, 1917

    • Governor Capper wired President Wilson asking that the federal government regulate the price of foodstuffs, seize the seed held by speculators and guarantee the farmers a minimum price for his products as well as fix a maximum price for the consumer.
    • The U.S. Marshal for Kansas was directed to order enemy aliens to turn in firearms and to arrest violators.

    April 25, 1917

    • Corn went to $1.67 per bushel on the Topeka board of trade.

    April 26, 1917

    • Governor Capper asked 300,000 school children to help the war effort by growing garden crops, raising chickens, feeding pigs and increasing dairy products.

    May 1, 1917

    • J.P. Carey, division superintendent of the Union Pacific, was appointed military supervisor of Kansas railways.

    May 12, 1917

    • Men at officers’ training camp, Fort Riley, drilled with brooms and mops.

    May 15, 1917

    • K.U. offered special war-time correspondence courses to men in service camps and defense work.

    May 19, 1917

    • Dr. H.A. Dykes, Lebanon, secretary of the State Board of Medical Registration and Examination, was seriously injured by a bomb received in the mail.

    May 21, 1917

    • Enlistment of hundreds of men and the federal literacy law, which stopped immigration from Mexico, had caused a serious labor shortage affecting the railroads and the increased crop production program, the State Labor Commissioner announced.

    May 22, 1917

    • The Thirteenth U.S. Cavalry, after four years’ service on the Mexican border, returned to Fort Riley.

    May 25, 1917

    • An army medical school was established at Fort Riley.
    • William G. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury, spoke at Topeka for the Liberty Loan drive.
    • The State School Fund Commission voted to buy $50,000 in Liberty bonds.

    May 27, 1917

    • Heads of 18 colleges met at Topeka and unanimously endorsed compulsory military training.

    May 31, 1917

    • One hundred tractors were plowing in Scott County in an effort to increase the wheat acreage one third.
    • Four Topekans were arrested by federal authorities, charged with being ringleaders in a plot to hinder draft registration. Two persons from Kansas City, one from Lawrence, and one from Olathe were also arrested.  (See Thom’s previous post: )

    June 4, 1917

    • Joseph L. Bristow, editor of the Salina Journal and chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, refused to retract his charges of “grab and plunder” and said he would not keep quiet about excessive contract prices for munitions and cantonments.  Bristow had written in the Journal on May 26 that there were “hundreds of contractors, salesmen, manufacturers and railway officials . . .  out to get their share of the $7,000,000,000 authorized by Congress for financing the war.”  In answer to a statement that “this is no time to be knocking the government,” Bristow retorted:  “This is no time to be robbing the people.”  Later the Kansas City Star said of him:  “Bristow made life hard for those who believed public funds were legitimate plunder.”

    June 5, 1917

    • Registration day for male citizens born between June 6, 1886, and June 5, 1896, inclusive, was marked by parades and patriotic speeches.

    June 6, 1917

    • Frank A. Werner, editor of the Axtell Standard, was forced to apologize for alleged unpatriotic remarks and to kiss the American flag while the band played the Star Spangled Banner.

    June 8, 1917

    • The Santa Fe bought $5,000,000 in Liberty bonds.

    June 12, 1917

    • Kansas State institutions faced a serious food problem.  Appropriations did not cover rising food prices.  Potatoes were eliminated from the bill of fare.  All delicacies and many necessities had to go.

    June 14, 1917

    The Military Sisterhood of Kansas was chartered.  Its purpose was to aid families of service men and to send the men articles not considered necessities by the government.  (Note:  Papers of the organization can be found in the Archives of the Kansas Historical Society [ ] and some letters and papers can be found at the National World War I Museum and Memorial [ more

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