Thursday, April 29, 2010


African American Soldiers in WW 1


African American people in Schuylkill County have a military history that they can be proud of. Black soldiers have served from this county during the Civil War, World War 1, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the current conflicts.
Most history buffs who study Schuylkill county military history are familiar with the famous Civil War story of the black man named Nicholas Biddle, a runaway slave who lived in Pottsville and was connected with the Washington Artillerists through their Captain, James Wren, one of the first five companies to come to the aid of the country in April of 1861. While on the march through Baltimore Biddle was struck on the head by a rock thrown by a rebel sympathizer and became the first man to shed blood during the Civil War.
When the United States declared war against Germany in April of 1917, the War Department planners quickly realized that the standing Army of 126,000 men would not be enough to ensure victory overseas. On 18 May 1917 Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring all male citizens between the ages of 21 and 31 to register for the draft.
During this time period and before the actual calling of the draft African American men from all over the country tried to enlist.. They all believed the war was an opportunity to prove their loyalty, and patriotism to the country.
Many African American men were more than willing to serve in the country’s military, but blacks were still turned away from military service. During World War 1 America was still a segregated society and African Americans were considered, at best, second class citizens
Actually when the United States entered the war there were four all-black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. Within one week of Wilson’s declaration of war, the War Department had to stop accepting black volunteers because the quotas for African Americans were filled. At a later point during the war the Ninety-Second Division was formed completely made up of African Americans, to include the 365th , 366th , 367th, 368th Infantry regiments. As bad as this seems these fine soldiers didn’t serve with the U.S. Army as a unit they served under French command utilizing French equipment.

Note the French Equipment Helmets ets.

.When the draft was implemented it seems there was a reversal in this discriminatory policy toward African Americans primarily because there was nothing written in the legislation. Most draft boards required blacks to tear off one corner of their draft registration cards so they would be known and separated from white draftees. But when the draft was fully operational the draft boards were doing everything possible to get them into uniform. Although the Army was far more advanced in race relations than all the other branches of the United States military. African Americans could not serve in the Marines, and could only serve limited and menial positions in the Navy and the Coast Guard.
The following articles were written in the Pottsville Republican newspaper about how Schuylkill County sent off two drafted African American soldiers to the war.

Pottsville Republican April 30, 1918
Courteous in every particular and beautifully splendid was the farewell demonstration given by Pottsville district No. 5 people Tuesday morning at eight o’clock in honor of the departure for camp Meade, Md., of Charles Alfred Williams, the first colored embryo soldier of the U.S. national Army. Selected by this board and sent into training cantonments.
Young Williams, since his name was selected, passed the allotted age of 31 years, but he steadfastly abstained from making a claim for exemption, and was glad to answer the call of his country. He is a Pottsville boy, and spent all his life here with the exception of three years he was a waiter in Phila. And six months in Scranton at the same vocation. Monday night, at Thompson hall, he was tendered a magnificent reception by his fellow waiters of the Hotel Allan. Many friends and invited guests did him the honor there.
Tuesday morning he was up bright and early, and with filled suitcase reported to the local board at the court house on time. Preliminaries were attended and appropriate addresses delivered in the No. 1 court room. The large hall was filled with people who came to honor the first colored soldier sent from this district. After addresses were made the march to Reading Railway, station was taken up at 8:25 o’clock with standard bearers of the Boy Scouts, with flags of the U.S. and allies, County and city officers, Fourth Regiment, Drum and Bugle Corps, of Spanish American War, in khaki; Pottsville local board No. 5 eight colored men bearing a large flag; Charles Alfred Williams, National Army Recruit, on way to Camp Meade, Md. his father John Williams, and Sergt. William Tarr, colored veteran of the Civil War; colored young ladies escorting Mrs. John Williams, mother of the outgoing soldier. In the parade were several brothers of the Williams, and his fellow waiters of the Hotel Allan. Next came citizens several hundred strong, several hundred workmen of the Reading Company shops.
Most of the paraders carried on their shoulders national flags. It was one of the prettiest parades since these parades were instituted, both as to alignment and maintenance of distance between marching units, the delightful music and the respectful enthusiastic attitude of the on looking populace, who lined both sides of the street all the way to Penn Hall Hotel, Howard Ave, and Centre St. Applause was frequent and emphatic. Chas. Alfred waved his acknowledgment and smiled for he is well known and has a host of friends.
In front of the Hotel Allan, the van guard of the parade with the soldier halted on the east side of the street and he reviewed the remainder of the parade as it passed. Here and there along the route and impulsive onlooker rushed out and shook the hand of the departing soldier.
On the train, the Red Cross Canteen committee presented him with a sweater, smokes and other gifts, and when the train pulled out he was given three cheers.
At Port Clinton colored brother soldiers from Tamaqua, and Shenandoah joined, the Pottsville registrant, and at reading another delegation. In Philadelphia the recruits swelled to quite a number.
Charles A. Williams, the outgoing soldier, was the merriest man at the passenger station, before the train started, and kept his friends laughing with his jokes and droll sayings.
They arrived at camp Meade at 4 P.M.
Henry Scott, the only colored man in District No. 1 was sent to Camp Meade on Tuesday morning on the 7:08 train from Shenandoah, and was given a rousing send off. He was led to the depot by the First Lithuanian Band members of the Patriotic League, Public Safety Committee, High School pupils and citizens. The streets were crowded even more so than when the larger numbers left the town of Shenandoah. At the station he got on the train and at the rear platform delivered a short address, thanking the people of Shenandoah for the honor shown him and promised to do “his best”. He was tendered a testimonial banquet by a number of prominent residents of Shenandoah Monday night at the Graham CafĂ©.
The African American soldiers who enlisted from Schuylkill County
1. Benjamin T. Coles Pottsville: MEc 904 T.C. AEF France. Served overseas in France.
2. William Crabb, Tower City: PFC, 849 Co, T.C. AEF France. Served Overseas in France.
3. William Dampler, Auburn: Pvt. CK Company No. 9 ASC . Served overseas in France.
4. James Davis, Tamaqua: Pvt. 804 T.C., AEF. Served overseas in France.
5. Herman Enty, Pottsville: PFC. 803 Co. T.C. AEF. Served overseas in France.
6. Charles Williams, Pottsville Pvt. Co. M 368th Infantry Regiment. AEF Served overseas in France.
7. Henry Scott. Shenandoah: Camp Meade.

Two African American soldiers from Schuylkill County who died while in Service.
1. Jesse Emmerson: Delano: Pvt. 369 Infantry Regiment, AEF France. Died Oct. 1 1918
2. Thomas Wiggans: Pottsville: Trooper, 10th Cavalry. Died February 3rd, 1918

1 comment:

krc56 said...

Great piece! I wonder how many people know about this?