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Carolina Boys Go To War: Part II

Old Memorial Hall, UNC Chapel Hill

Student life at UNC-Chapel Hill was transformed by the United States’s entrance into World War I.  The university encouraged students to become soldiers not only through military training (see Part I of the series), but also through the philosophy it adopted.  The school embraced the idea that the war was necessary for the defense of democracy, a concept that was imparted on the student body.

Part II: Student to Soldier

Soon after the United States declared war on Germany, famed journalist Frederick Palmer spoke to a packed house in Memorial Hall about his experiences on the Western Front.  Students and residents alike filled the room, eager to hear Palmer’s first hand account.  UNC’s newspaper, The Tar Heel, reported on the lecture, stating that Palmer “sketched the general progress of the war” using “many delightful anecdotes,” one of which being:

Everybody is cheerful at the front.  Bullets kill a pessimist just as quickly as an optimist.

The Tar Heel went on to state “It is rare indeed that a single man can hold an intelligent audience for three hours.”

UNC students were already engaged in military training, but the United States’s entrance into World War I intensified the war fervor spreading across campus.  This desire to be part of the war effort was fully supported by UNC faculty.

At the opening of the 1917-1918 school year, Dean Stacy addressed the students, stating:

Hitherto, the University has thought and existed as a community practically independent and uninfluenced, but now the University must think in terms of world thought, and govern its course, not by our own desires, but by the needs of our country.

UNC President E.K. Graham commented on the drop in student body numbers:

Youth is the raw material used by both the colleges and the war.  Whatever losses we sustain, we accept as the necessary consequences of this grim fact.

During the previous spring and summer, many students had attended officer’s training at Camp Oglethorpe, in Georgia.  UNC faculty voted to give full credit to students who enrolled in the camp before finishing the term.  Former UNC students made up one-tenth of the overall number attending the camp, and over 200 of them received commissions.

In addition to the students, eleven faculty members enlisted over the summer.

UNC Professors

The war impacted the school in other ways.  Due to the amount of time devoted to military pursuits, varsity football was cancelled for the season.  The Tar Heel reported:

A vast change has come over our athletics since last year.  The time necessary for military training has made it impossible for inter-collegiate football to be carried on, and so our team will not have a chance to repeat last year’s most successful season. Practically the whole student body, however, has registered for the course in military science.

President Graham also noted this in his President’s Report:

In order to get the time for the drill and the ground space necessary, and to enable the students to concentrate their interest on the military training, the major athletic schedules were cancelled.

It is high praise for the genuine worth of the military instruction and the spirit in which it has been conducted to be able to say that the college community has apparently not missed the previously absorbing interest of intercollegiate football.

A September 28, 1917 Tar Heel article expressed this new attitude adopted by many UNC students soon after beginning their military science courses:

There is a spirit of seriousness which strengthens the morals of the whole student body seriousness bred of responsibility.  It has expressed itself in a constructive manner in campus customs.  College might strike a new and deeper note than had been sounded before.  Tardiness at meetings and classes has been reduced by half.  Fun and pleasure there is in plenty; but it is rid of its boisterousness.

This spirit cannot be called the result of military training.  But military training has disciplined it, and directed it into constructive channels.

Uniforms soon replaced civilian clothes, though the university did not provide them.  Students went out and purchased their own so that they could look the part of a soldier while drilling.  Bonfires and pep rallies were still held, but instead of “Beat Duke” rallies, there were “Beat Germany” rallies.  The Carolina boys took part in Liberty Loan parades, demonstrating the skills they had gained through their military instruction.  At least one Liberty Loan parade had a collegiate feel, with a large bonfire outside the Franklin Street post-office.

As the school year progressed, more and more UNC students enlisted to join the fight in Europe.  The Tar Heel kept the student body informed of which Carolina boys, both past and present, had joined up.  Carolina’s yearbook, the Yackety Yack, decided to devote their annual issue to the school’s military training, and reiterated the university’s philosophy towards the war.  Fortunately for historians, this book provides a great deal of source information about this era at UNC, as well as a wealth of photographs (which are not found in the Tar Heel).

When graduation day arrived in June, 1918, the graduating class had been “cut to fifty or sixty due to the men leaving for service,” according to the Tar Heel, which added “still they will all be here in spirit and will have all the regular exercises.”  Men who had gone off to fight were mailed their diploma and Bible, which were given to each student during commencement.

Class of 1918 in front of South Building

A total of 2,240 UNC students, faculty, and alumni served in the First World War.  Out of that number, 15 men were killed in action, 18 died of disease, and 21 were wounded.  By the spring of 1919, UNC-Chapel Hill had returned to its normal school schedule, and military training was abandoned.  But the Great War had left its mark on the history of the university, and on its students.

Part III of the series describes the war experiences of some of UNC’s students.

Sources: Carolina Goes to War: A Lesson from Campus History, 1915-1919 by Glenn Hutchinson, A Nursery of Patriotism: The University at War, 1861-1945, UNC Archives/North Carolina Collection


Filed under Carolina Boys Go To War, Carolina history, World War I

Carolina Boys Go To War: Part I

When I began forming the idea for The Education of Eve, I knew I wanted to set it in the First World War, and to chronicle the early days of women attending UNC-Chapel Hill.  I learned during my research that the history of UNC during World War I is a fascinating story in its own right.  This series will chronicle the transformation the university underwent during the Great War.


UNC student battalion, 1917

The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.  But war fervor struck the campus even before the country officially entered the conflict.  In January a petition had gone around campus declaring the need for military training.  500 students signed it and by the end of March they were receiving military instruction.  Drills were led by faculty and alumni who were members of the National Guard, and were held for two hours every afternoon on the athletic field. Students also volunteered for additional training in flag signalling and wireless telegraphy.

Two weeks after the US entered the war, the students gave their first exhibition drill.  A crowd of 1,000 packed into Memorial Hall to hear UNC President Edward Kipper Graham speak, so they could learn what UNC’s involvement in the war would be.

The single thought of the University is to cooperate in every intelligent way with the government.  To this end it offered several weeks ago its all–every resource and equipment, means and men.  It organized military training under competent instruction…Our larger task is peace; our immediate task is war. ~E.K. Graham

That summer President Graham sought an officer who had experience with the war to head the newly formed military department in the 1917-1918 school year.  He finally found the man he was looking for in Captain James Stuart Allen, who had fought in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in France before an injury put him out of active service.  Captain Allen would be responsible for instructing students signed up for military classes in musketry, bayonet fighting, trench warfare, signalling, bombing (grenade throwing), and military engineering.

Out of 820 students attending UNC in the fall of 1918, 565 enrolled in the military courses, along with 8 faculty members.  Those not enrolled were either women, men who were disqualified for physical reasons, or men who had to devote so much time to lab work that they could not participate.  Captain Allen requested that Graham acquire as many rifles as possible to use while training.  250 Civil War-era carbines, courtesy of Julius Cone, were used at the beginning of the school year, and later, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (a UNC alumnus) donated 25 up-to-date rifles.  Land for a rifle range was donated by a Mr. C.L. Lindsay.

The university’s school schedule was altered to fit in large-scale training.  In the President’s Report the new schedule was laid out:

In order to provide the time in what already appeared to be a crowded schedule, we now begin the college day at 8 a.m., the first period for all the six days being given to military work, and two hours every other day from 4 to 6 p.m.  This additional work gives a full day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for practically all undergraduates.

The Report went on to detail the courses offered in the fall ’17 semester:

The courses covered from September 15 to December 20 [1917] included: (1) close-order drill, (2), open-order drill, (3) manual of arms, (4) maneuvers of attack by day and night, (4) construction of trenches, wire obstacles, and shelters.  The lectures dealt with these and other essentials of modern warfare.

Perhaps the most noteworthy accomplishment of the military department was the construction of a trench system for the students to use in practice.  Land was donated by the Order of the Gimghouls (a secret student society formed in 1889) and was located near Raleigh Street, where many of the boarding houses catering to the school were situated.  In the university newspaper, The Tar Heel, an article entitled “Trenches Beginning to Look Quite Warlike” gave details on the work being done:

Capt. Allen says these trenches will be exact duplicates of those in Flanders with not the slightest detail omitted.  The parapets and paradoes will be supported with planks to prevent caving in, “A” supports will be placed and “bath mats” [duckboards] put in.  When all is done modern trench warfare will be practiced and will include relief, which comes at night.  An attack will also be launched at night when sky rockets, lights, and search lights will be used to signal, adding a touch of realism.

It took approximately one month to complete the trenches.  No detail was spared, including barbed wire and dug outs “furnished with all modern conveniences.”  The students staged mock engagements, practiced grenade throwing, and even had local Red Cross relief stations set up to serve coffee and donuts at the “front-lines.”  The Tar Heel reported:

It doesn’t take a strong imagination for one to believe that he is standing in a sector of the front line trenches around Ypres and that the Boche is liable to come charging out of those woods at any moment.  It can’t be helped; the thing looks so real…that particular spot of the erstwhile corn field is now really “No Man’s Land:” even little Judge’s dog keeps away, for his former haunts now look so unfamiliar.

Trenches were not the only location for staged attacks.  Professor William C. Coker (of the botany department) wrote a letter to President Graham complaining of a UNC company that ran through the arboretum one afternoon, doing considerable damage to the shrubbery and other plants. Graham assured Coker that such an act would not happen again.

Bombing practice involved dummy hand grenades hurled at various targets.  The Tar Heel wrote that “grenades of the Mills type which the Canadians have used on the western front with such great success will be used here and every man will be taught the correct way to lob the little machine.”  Bombing practice was often observed on the quad near Franklin Street.  However, students also used their lobbing skills during a snowfall in the winter of 1918, “bombing” the walls of Gerrard Hall with snowballs.

"Bombing" Gerrard Hall

While the 1917-18 school year was military-intensive, it was only a prelude to what would follow.  At the start of the following school year, UNC became a government camp as the Student Army Training Crops (SATC) took over the campus.  Over 150,000 men in 500 colleges across the country were a part of the SATC in the fall of 1918.  Lieutenant G.W.S. Stevens of the US Army took over the university, and under his leadership, dormitories were renamed barracks, the dining hall became the mess hall, and Memorial Hall became known as the Armory.  The liberal arts curriculum was thrown out, and the courses students enrolled in depended on the branch of service they planned to enter.  11 hours of military training and 3 recitation hours in the study of war were required.  A course in military French was even added by the French department.

On November 11, 1918, the First World War ended.  The rigorous military training at UNC finally came to an end in December 1918 when the SATC was demobilized and the university campus finally returned to normal for the spring 1919 semester.

Part II of the series focuses on the changing atmosphere on the UNC campus and how it impacted student life.

Sources: Carolina Goes to War: A Lesson from Campus History, 1915-1919 by Glenn Hutchinson, A Nursery of Patriotism: The University at War, 1861-1945, UNC Archives/North Carolina Collection


Filed under Carolina Boys Go To War, Carolina history, World War I