William C. Zeigler

William Charles Zeigler, a resident of Berrien County, GA, was among the victims of the Otranto tragedy in the closing days of World War I.

William Charles Zeigler of Berrien County, GA was a victim of the Otranto disaster in the closing days of WWI

William Charles Zeigler of Berrien County, GA was a victim of the Otranto disaster in the closing days of WWI

William C. Zeigler grew up in Lowndes and Berrien county Georgia. It appears that he had a difficult boyhood. He was a son of Jesse William “Jake” Zeigler and Lula Tyson, born October 25, 1889 at Blanton, Lowndes County, GA.   His mother suffered from mental illness and allegedly mentally and physically abused his father before abandoning the family.

For the 1900 Census, the family was enumerated in Berrien County, GA in the 1487 Georgia Militia District, the Sparks district.  William was then ten years old .

1900 Census enumeration of William C. Zeigler in the household of his parents, Lula Tyson and Jesse W. Zeigler

1900 Census enumeration of William C. Zeigler in the household of his parents, Lula Tyson and Jesse W. Zeigler.  https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu180unit#page/n190/mode/1up

Although court testimony later assert that Lula Tyson Zeigler was institutionalized about 1898,  it appears from the census records that she was still with her family in 1900 and was sent to the Georgia State Sanitarium at Milledgeville, GA shortly thereafter. 

State Lunatic Asylum, Milledgeville, Baldwin County, Georgia, ca. 1870-1899 (later known as Central State Hospital). Lula Tyson Zeigler became an inmate of the institution some time prior to 1910.

State Lunatic Asylum, Milledgeville, Baldwin County, Georgia, ca. 1870-1899 (later known as Central State Hospital). Lula Tyson Zeigler became an inmate of the institution some time prior to 1910.

After the institutionalization of his mother, William C. Zeigler continued to live with his father and siblings near Lenox in Berrien County. They were enumerated at Lenox, GA in the Census of 1910. Lenox is situated about 7 miles north of Sparks, GA on the route of the Georgia Southern & Florida Railroad.

1910 Census enumeration of William C. Zeigler in his father's household at Lenox, GA.

1910 Census enumeration of William C. Zeigler in his father’s household at Lenox, GA. https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n774/mode/1up

At the time of the draft for World War I, William Charlie Zeigler  was 27 years old. He gave his home address as Sparks, GA,. He was still unmarried and listed his occupation as farming in the employment of his father. He registered for the draft for WWI on June 5, 1917.  His physical description was medium height, slender build, with grey eyes and light hair.

WWI draft registration of William C. Zeigler, June 5, 1917, Berrien County, GA

WWI draft registration of William C. Zeigler, June 5, 1917, Berrien County, GA

On  July 16, 1918 William Charlie Zeigler was inducted into the Army, along with other Berrien county men at Nashville, GA.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

The men boarded a train at Nashville, GA.  William C. Zeigler along with Early Stewart, Benjamin F. McCranie, Jim Melvin Boyett, John Guy Coppage, Shelley L. Webb, Hiram Marcus Bennett, Lafayett Gaskins, Ralph Knight, James Grady Wright, James M. Deloach and other men of Berrien County were bound for training camp at Fort Screven, GA.

July 16, 1918 induction of William C. Zeigler into the US Army during WWI

July 16, 1918 induction of William C. Zeigler into the US Army during WWI

Colonel Archibald Campbell confirmed the arrival of the men at Ft. Screven, GA on July 19, 1918.  Fort Screven, on Tybee Island, GA was a part of the U.S. Atlantic coastal defense system and served as a training camp. The fort’s six batteries of coastal artillery defended the port of Savannah, GA.

Fort Screven, WWI, Tybee Island, GA. Image source: http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/gastudiesimages/Title%20Page.htm

Fort Screven, WWI, Tybee Island, GA. Image source: http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/gastudiesimages/Title%20Page.htm

Fort Screven in 1917

Fort Screven in 1917

After training, the men were sent to the Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, N.J.  The Embarkation Service reported the steamship Otranto sailed for England from New York, N.Y. on September 25, 1918 at 12:40 P.M. with 699 military passengers, including the men and officers from Fort Screven, GA.

But the troop ship Otranto went down on October 6, 1918  off the coast of Islay, Scotland after a collision with the SS Kashmir. The Army could not immediately produce a list of the soldiers who were on board. It was not until October 18, that a passenger list for the Otranto was finally cabled to General Harbord in Europe.  The name of Zeigler, William C. 2595855 Pvt. was on the list.

Ray City and Berrien County, GA paid a heavy toll in the disaster. Among the hundreds of Otranto dead were dozens of soldiers from Berrien.  For weeks news of the disaster trickled into American newspapers. Facts were sketchy at best –  In some cases, soldiers who perished in the sinking were incorrectly reported as survivors. It would nearly two months before the names of the lost were known to the folks at home…

A number of soldiers, including James Deloach were rescued by the heroic efforts of the HMS Mounsey, first to arrive on the scene.  Many others went into the sea and were lost forever. Only a slim few who went into the water survived the swim to the Isle of Islay, Scotland. The bodies of 489 soldiers washed up on the coast  where the ship went down.

William C. Zeigler, of Berrien County, GA was among the dead recovered at Islay. He and the other American dead from the Otranto were buried in the little churchyard at Kilchoman in wide graves accommodating twenty bodies each.

Military Salute to Otranto Victims,Kilchoman Cemetery, Island of Islay, Scotland. A military salute being fired over the mass graves of American troops killed in the wreck of the Otranto which occured October 6, 1918. Among the dead were two soldiers from Ray City, GA, Shellie Loyd Webb and Ralph Knight.

Military Salute to Otranto Victims, Kilchoman Cemetery, Island of Islay, Scotland. A military salute being fired over the mass graves of American troops killed in the wreck of the Otranto which occurred October 6, 1918. Among the dead were soldiers from Ray City, GA, Shellie Loyd Webb and Ralph Knight, and William C. Zeigler of Sparks, GA.

William C. Zeigler and the other Otranto victims lay in the Bivouac of the Dead at Islay for nearly two years.  In June 1920, the Graves Registration Service made the decision to bring the bodies home, and exhumation began on July 1, 1920.

William’s body was transported on the U.S.A.T. Antigone arriving at Hoboken, August 7, 1920, from Southhampton, Brest and Liverpool.

After the war, William C. Zeigler and other Otranto dead were transported back to the United states aboard the U.S. Army Transport ship Antigone, photographed here during the war while in service as the USS Antigone troop transport.

After the war, William C. Zeigler and other Otranto dead were transported back to the United states aboard the U.S. Army Transport ship Antigone, photographed here during the war while in service as the USS Antigone troop transport.

According to the New York Times, Antigone carried the largest number of coffins brought home on one ship, 1,575 dead soldiers. “The dead were landed at Pier 4, Hoboken, where preparations were completed to forward the bodies to their last resting places in home cemeteries, as has been the custom with all returned dead soldiers.”  There was no ceremony or funeral observance at the pier, as that detail of honor was rendered when the bodies were consigned to their temporary graves in foreign lands.

William’s father elected to have his son’s final interment at Arlington National Cemetery.  The body was accompanied by a guard of honor on the final journey.

World War I service record of William C. Zeigler.

World War I service record of William C. Zeigler.

The re-internment of William C. Zeigler occurred August 20, 1920 at Arlington National Cemetery.  In 1934, a headstone of marble from Tate, GA was ordered for his grave.

Arlington Cemetery internment record, William C. Zeigler

Arlington Cemetery internment record, William C. Zeigler

Grave of William C. Zeigler, Arlington National Cemetery. (The middle initial is incorrectly engraved as

Grave of William C. Zeigler, Arlington National Cemetery. (The middle initial is incorrectly engraved as “O”) Image source: Paul Hays.

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After William C. Zeigler died, his father finally filed for divorce from his mentally ill mother. By this time she had been institutionalized for nearly 20 years.  It was an unusual case; as a mental patient, Lula Zeigler was  deemed not responsible for her actions.  Therefore, any cause brought for divorce  could only be valid if it occurred prior to the time her mental capacity was diminished.

The divorce case was reported in the Valdosta Times:

April 4, 1919 Tifton Gazette: Jesse Zeigler files for divorce

April 4, 1919 Tifton Gazette: Jesse Zeigler files for divorce

Tifton Gazette
April 4, 1919

Unusual Divorce In Berrien.

Husband Asks Separation From Wife Who is Inmate of the State Sanitarium

        Most unusual grounds are given as a reason for securing a divorce in a suit which has been filed in Berrien county.  It is believed that no similar case has ever been filed in the state says the Valdosta Times.
        Mr. Jake Zeigler has filed papers asking for a total divorce from his wife,  Mrs. Lula Zeigler, charging that she treated him in a cruel manner some years ago.  The unusual part of it is that Mrs. Zeigler is now an inmate of the state sanitarium at Milledgeville and has been there for several years, with the prospect that she is a permanent inmate.  It is charged in the petition for divorce  that the cruel treatment occurred before she became an inmate of the sanitarium.
         When the case came before Judge Thomas last week, it being so unusual he passed it until this week.  Judge Thomas designated Solicitor C E Hay to act as attorney for the defendant in the case and also named Rev. L L Barr, pastor of the Nashville Methodist church, and Rev. Jackson H Harris, pastor of the Nashville Baptist church, to act as representatives of Mrs. Zeigler, who could not appear for herself in the hearing.  The designation of these representatives by the court is for the purpose of seeing that the defendant, unable to help herself, may have a fair and impartial consideration of the case from every standpoint.
        Later:  The demurrer prepared by Solicitor Hay in the divorce case of Zeigler vs. Zeigler was sustained, and the case will go to the Supreme Court, says the Nashville Herald.

The case of Zeigler v. Zeigler et al was referred to the Georgia Supreme Court:

Zeigler v. Zeigler et al. (No. 1384.)
(Supreme Court of Georgia. Nov. 14, 1919.)

(Syllabus by the Court.)

Divorce  27(18), 37(5) – Pleading; Cruel Treatment; Desertion.

In the petition for divorce it is alleged: Petitioner and defendant were married in 1889.  Defendant was adjudged to be insane, and was committed to the Georgia State Sanitarium for insane persons in 1898, where she has since been confined as an insane person. In September 1899, defendant struck petitioner, thereby inflicting a serious wound upon his person.  “From October 1, 1897, until May 1, 1898 defendant continued in a constant state of quarreling and cruelly treating petitioner until such conduct became unbearable; and defendant, without cause on the part of the petitioner, left him and remained away until she became insane.”  Petitioner was without fault during the time he and his wife lived together. “Petitioner did not directly or indirectly condone the treatment of his wife, nor did the relation of husband and wife ever exist after she became in the rage and left him without cause.”  Held, that no cause for a divorce was set forth in the petition, either on the grounds of cruel treatment (Ring v. Ring, 18 Ga. 183, 44 S. E. 861, 62 L.R.A. 878; Stoner v. Stoner, 134 Ga. 368, 67 S. E. 1030; Black v. Black, 101 S. E. 182, this day decided), or on the ground of desertion (Civil Code 1910, 2945), as it appears from the petition that defendant was adjudged to be insane within less time after the desertion than three years, and has since remained insane, and therefore not responsible for her acts during that time.  Accordingly, the court did not err in dismissing the petition on general demurrer.

Error from Superior Court, Berrien County; W. E. Thomas, Judge.

Suit for divorce by J. W. Zeigler against L. M. Zeigler. Petition dismissed on general demurrer, and plaintiff brings error. Affirmed.

J. D. Lovett and Story & Story, all of Nashville, of plaintiff in error.
Clifford E. Hay, Sol. Gen, of Thomasville, for defendant in error.

FISH, C.J. Judgement Affirmed, All the Justices concur, except ATKINSON, J., absent.

Jesse William Zeigler, father of William C. Zeigler, died June 6, 1924. He was buried at Long Bridge Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Jesse W. Zeigler, Long Bridge Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Jesse W. Zeigler, Long Bridge Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Lula Tyson Zeigler, mother of William C. Zeigler, died August 22, 1958 at Central State Hospital (Formerly Georgia State Sanitarium) at Milledgeville, GA.   During her time at Central State Hospital, the institution became known as the “world’s largest insane asylum,” housing some 13,000 patients with mental illness. According to an article in Atlanta Magazine, “Doctors wielded the psychiatric tools of the times—lobotomies, insulin shock, and early electroshock therapy—along with far less sophisticated techniques: Children were confined to metal cages; adults were forced to take steam baths and cold showers, confined in straitjackets, and treated with douches or ‘nauseants.‘ …The thousands of patients were served by only 48 doctors, none a psychiatrist. Indeed, some of the “doctors” had been hired off the mental wards.

Some 2,000 cast-iron markers at Cedar Lane Cemetery commemorate the 25,000 patients buried on the hospital grounds, including patient Lula Tyson Zeigler. The markers, with numbers instead of names, once identified individual graves but were pulled up and tossed into the woods by unknowing prison inmates working as groundskeepers to make mowing easier.

Some 2,000 cast-iron markers at Cedar Lane Cemetery commemorate the 25,000 patients buried on the Central State Hospital grounds, patient Lula Tyson Zeigler among them. The markers, with numbers instead of names, once identified individual graves but were pulled up and tossed into the woods by unknowing prison inmates working as groundskeepers to make mowing easier.

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Mamie Langford and John Sheffield Shaw

Mary Washington “Mamie” Langford, daughter of Mary Virginia Knight and William E. Langford, was born August 5, 1883. She married John Shaw  on November 18, 1917. The wedding ceremony was performed by primitive baptist pastor Aaron Anderson Knight.

Marriage certificate of Mary Washington "Mamie" Langford and John Sheffield Shaw.

Marriage certificate of Mary Washington “Mamie” Langford and John Sheffield Shaw.

John Sheffield Shaw was born October 6, 1885 in the Lois community just west of Ray City, GA, a son of William S. Shaw and Mary Parrish Shaw.  After his mother died in 1906 and father died in 1907 he lived with his divorced sister, Alice Shaw, helping her run her rented farm on the Hahira, Cecil and Milltown Road

John S. Shaw was in the Army during World War I. He enlisted at Ft Slocum NY on August 1, 1914.  Other Berrien county men who entered the service via Fort Slocum included Rossie O. Knight who enlisted at Fort Slocum, NY on August 31, 1913, and Carter H. Exum and Charlie Turner, both of Nashville, GA who enlisted June 22, 1914.

John S. Shaw was detailed to the Bakers and Cooks school at Ft Sam Houston, TX.

Wanted! 500 bakers for the U.S. Army, (also 100 cooks). If you can bake bread, Uncle Sam wants you - if you can't bake bread Uncle Sam will teach you how in a government school. [...] Recruiting office: Cor. 39th St. and 6th Ave. (south east corner). - WWI recruiting poster, 1917. Library of Congress

Wanted! 500 bakers for the U.S. Army, (also 100 cooks). If you can bake bread, Uncle Sam wants you – if you can’t bake bread Uncle Sam will teach you how in a government school. […] Recruiting office: Cor. 39th St. and 6th Ave. (south east corner). – WWI recruiting poster, 1917. Library of Congress

He attained the rank of Sergeant 1st Class on June 1, 1917, and Quartermaster Sergeant on August 3, 1917. On August 15, 1917 he was detailed to the School for Bakers and Cooks at Camp Jackson, SC.  where he became a senior instructor in cooking. He received an honorable discharge on October 19, 1918 to accept a commission.

He was appointed 2nd Lieutenant, Quartermasters Corps on October 20, 1918 and was stationed at Camp Sevier, Greenville, SC, apparently taking time off between assignments to come home to Ray City and get married.

John received an honorable discharge on January 7, 1919 and returned to Ray City, GA where he returned to farming. Mamie and John had a mortgaged farm on the Ray City – Milltown road. John worked the farm on his own account. Their neighbors included Paul Knight, and Mamie’s sister and brother-in-law, Thursday  and Albert Studstill. Mamie’s father resided with the Studstills.

Children of Mamie Langford and John Sheffield Shaw:

1. Johnnie Shaw, born December 15, 1918, died April 1, 1925
2. Infant, born and died September 1, 1925

Grave of Mary "Mamie" Langford Shaw, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Grave of Mary “Mamie” Langford Shaw, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Grave of John Sheffield Shaw, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray

Grave of John Sheffield Shaw, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Image source: Michael Dover.

Grave of Johnnie L. Shaw, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City. GA

Grave of Johnnie L. Shaw, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City. GA

Grave of infant son of John S. Shaw and Mamie Langford Shaw, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City. GA

Grave of infant son of John S. Shaw and Mamie Langford Shaw, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City. GA

On the Home Front, Ray City, GA, 1918

WWI HOMEFRONT

As the late summer of 1918 wore on many young men of Ray City and Berrien County, GA were in training, preparing for overseas deployment in World War I. Others had already shipped out, among them Rossie O. KnightHod Clements, Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Lorton W. Register, Private Carlie Lawson, Carlos Boggs, Joe Roberson, John W. Faison, Claudie Whitford and Gordon Williams of Ray City; and many other WWI soldiers and sailors of Ray City, GA.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

By mid- August, over one and half million and doughboys were overseas and another million and a half were in training.  The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto and the drowning of 29 of Berrien County’s finest young men, along with hundreds of other soldiers, was still weeks away.

The headlines were full of war news, including casualty reports. But the tide had turned and the newspapers were focused on the string of Allied victories. The German offensive against  Paris had failed. The Germans were on the defensive, disorganized, demoralized and rapidly retreating.  As the Allies advanced, thousands of German troops were captured.

Atlanta Constitution August 22, 1918 reports route of German army as Georgia soldiers parade before King George.

Atlanta Constitution August 22, 1918 reports route of German army as soldiers from Camp Gordon, GA parade before King George.

In the Wiregrass, many people bowed their heads each day “for it is a [patriotic] duty which is being observed in many towns and cities throughout our grand United States of America; for when the whistle blows every afternoon at  at six o’clock, it is the duty of every citizen … who is able to walk, to uncover their heads and stop still wherever they may be and no matter what they may be doing to ask God’s guidance on our armies on land and sea and to give us a speedy victory.”

In many ways, life in Ray City, GA went on as usual. People tended their crops and worked at  their businesses, children went to school and families went to church.  Business was good; in Ray City, the Clements Lumber Company was experiencing a war boom, and,  other than the waste laid to the cotton by the dreaded Boll Weevil which had invaded the state three years earlier, the “hog and hominy” farming was good, too.

A letter from Ray City resident Josh Jones, published in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918 reported on every day events of the home front.  Jones, apparently a native of Walker County, on the Tennessee-Georgia line, who had removed to Berrien County and was writing to the folks back home.

 

Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918

A Ray City report in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918

Walker County Messenger
LaFayette, GA
August 23, 1918

Ray City, GA

Mrs. A. L. Fowler is able to be up at present.

Ray City is a very promising little town, a good many useful industries being located here.
    Nashville is the county seat of Berrien county, and as Berrien was such a large county it was divided a few days ago, and Cook county was cut off the west side, Adel being made the county seat.  So I am still in Berrien. Valdosta is our nearest market.
    We have a bumper crop of corn, and a fine crop of peanuts. The boll weevil ruined all of the Long Island cotton, and the short staple will average about half a crop.  The melon crop was fine, several cars shipped from here.  This is a fine hog-raising section of the country. Moultrie and Tifton both have branch packing houses of Armour & Co.
    Rev. and Mrs. J. W. Shumate, of Cooper Heights, have the Ray City School, and we cordially welcome them into our midst.
    I received a long letter from Pat McClaskey, which I enjoyed very much.  The Messenger reaches here on Saturday.
     Best wishes to the correspondents and Messenger and staff.

JOSH JONES

Additional Notes:

  • Ray City School, 1918
    At the time Reverend John Wesley Shumate, Jr.and Mrs. Harriet “Hattie” Mudget Shumate came to Ray City, the Ray City School was a wood frame, three-room school, teaching students through the eighth grade. The brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, was constructed 1920-1922.
  • Creation of Cook County, GA
    An Act proposing the creation of Cook County from parts of Berrien County was passed by the Georgia General Assembly on July 30, 1918.
  • The Boll Weevil in Berrien County, GA
    The Boll Weevil had already reached Brooks and Thomas Counties by the summer of 1915. The following summer, 1916, Boll Weevils were found in Berrien  on the farms of Dr. Lovett and Jim Patterson at Sparks, GA. The arrival of the Boll Weevil ended the reign of cotton as the county’s main industry, and forced farmers to shift more to feed and sustenance, or “hog and hominy,” farming.
  • Armour & Co.
    In 1918, both Armour & Co. and Smith & Co. were expanding meat packing facilities in South Georgia, Smith & Co. at Moultrie and Armour & Co. at Tifton, GA.  As the prevailing chaos in the cotton market drove sharply increasing hog production, there was a rush to increase the local capacity of meat packing plants.

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Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter Died in France

Francis Marion Burkhalter (1886-1918), of Ray City, GA.

Francis Marion Burkhalter (1886-1918), of Ray City, GA.

Francis Marion Burkhalter, the eldest son of Isaac Burkhalter, Jr. and Marentha Sirmans, was born December 3, 1886 in Rays Mill (now Ray City, GA).  His father, Isaac Burkhalter, Jr (1863 – 1918) was a farmer of Ray’s Mill, with a 50 acre farm on Lot No. 422, 10th District.  His grandfather, Captain Isaac Burkhalter, was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg while in command of Company G  “Clinch Volunteers”, 50th Georgia Regiment. His mother, Marentha Sirmans, was a daughter of Benjamin J. Sirmans and Nancy A. Shaw.

Francis excelled at studies. He attended the Atlanta College of Medicine, and by the age of 22 had completed a degree in Medicine. He returned to Ray City and set up practice in 1909, joining the other medical professionals of Berrien County.

On Sunday, April 23, 1911, F. M. Burkhalter and Mattie H. Griffin were married by Judge W. D. Buie.  Mattie and her cousin Mary Griffin operated a millinery store in Nashville, GA.  She was a daughter of Kiziah Lenora Knight and Elbert J. Griffin, granddaughter of John and Sarah Knight, and grandniece of General Levi J. Knight.

Francis Marion Burkhalter and Mattie Griffin were married April 23, 1911 in Berrien County, GA

Francis Marion Burkhalter and Mattie Griffin were married April 23, 1911 in Berrien County, GA

That September, 1911, Dr. Burkhalter moved his practice to Howell, GA,  about 24 miles southeast of Ray City ( 13 miles due east of Valdosta) in Echols County.   A drugstore at Howell was operated by Benjamin Franklin Rentz, brother of Dr. Lyman U. Rentz who later practiced medicine at Ray City, GA.

In the spring of 1913, a son was born to Francis Marion and Mattie Griffin Burkhalter, April 11, 1913.  But tragically the infant died that same day. Francis and Mattie took their baby home to Ray City to be buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery.

Grave of the infant son of Mattie Griffin and Francis Marion Burkhalter, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Grave of the infant son of Mattie Griffin and Francis Marion Burkhalter, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Image source: Michael Dover

After two years in Howell, Burkhalter returned to Ray City to resume his practice there.  The Medical Association of Georgia places Dr. F. M. Burkhalter at Ray City in 1917, along with Dr. Lawson S. Rentz.  The Nashville doctors at that time were Dr. William Carl Rentz and Dr. Guy Selman, formerly of Ray City.  Reuben Nathaniel Burch was a doctor at Milltown.

On June 5, 1917, Francis Marion Burkhalter and his brothers, William Thomas Burkhalter and John Allen Burkhalter, all completed their registration for the draft for the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, their registration cards being completed by Lyman Franklin Giddens and Charles Oscar Terry. William Thomas Burkhalter had returned to Berrien County to register for the draft.  At the time he was working in Jacksonville, FL as a salesman for the John G. Christopher Company. John Allen Burkhalter went on to become a veterinarian and lived in Ray City for many years.

F. M.Burkhalter’s physical description was given as age 30, medium height and build, with blue eyes and brown hair.

WWI draft registration of Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Ray City, GA

WWI draft registration of Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Ray City, GA

With America’s entry into World War I, Dr. Burkhalter was called into service, along with many other men of Berrien County. Dr. Lawson Rentz went to Camp Wheeler, then to the Embarkation Service in New Jersey. Dr. Guy Selman was sent to Camp Jackson, SC.   Dr. Gordon DeVane was  busy treating the victims of Spanish Influenza at home in Berrien County; he was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corp, but died before he was deployed.  In the summer of 1918 William T. Burkhalter, brother of Francis M. Burkhalter, entered the Veterinary Corps and served with Veterinary Hospital #16.

Dr. F.M. Burkhalter entered active service on March 25, 1918. He was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, then by July 19, 1918 he shipped overseas to France  with the American Expeditionary Force as a 1st Lieutenant in the Medical Corps.  Dr. Burkhalter  was with the medical detachment of the 50th Engineers, serving in the Defensive Sector and in the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Battle of the Argonne Forest,  was launched  late on the night of  September 25, 1918.  American reinforcements in transit to Europe included hundreds of Georgia soldiers, dozens from Berrien County, who went down with the ill-fated troopship HMS Otranto off the coast of Islay, Scotland on October 6, 1918. Among the Otranto dead were Ray City residents Ralph Knight,  and Shellie Lloyd Webb.

Arriving U.S. reinforcements were strengthening the Allied advance, but by this time the influenza epidemic was also beginning to spreading across the battlefields.  Sammie Mixon of Allenville, GA, who was fighting in the Meuse-Argonne with Company “H”, 18th Regiment, First Division, was wounded in action and died from pneumonia a few days later. Bill Sapp died of bronchial pneumonia on October 6, 1918.  Levi D. Clements of Ray City, serving with the 64th Artillery CAC contracted influenza and broncho-pneumonia and died October 11, 1918.  In the early morning hours of October 8, 1918 Isaac R. Boyett, of Adel, GA was fighting with Company C, 328th Infantry  in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive near the the French town of La Forge when he was severely wounded by machine gun fire.  Later that same day, Boyett’s regimental mate, Alvin C. York, earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in capturing 132 German soldiers at the village of Châtel-Chéhéry.  Boyett died  of his wounds two days later. Carlie Lawson also fought in the Battle of the Argonne Forest with Company G, 11th Infantry; he returned from the war and lived to be 100 years old.  Rossie O. Knight, of Ray City, served with Company C, 1st Division Ammunition Train in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive; he was gassed during the war and never fully recovered.

Shortly after the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was launched  Dr. Burkhalter became a patient himself, contracting lobar pneumonia probably as a secondary infection resulting from influenza.   He was apparently admitted to Base Hospital No. 15, located at Chaumont, France, about 160 miles east of Paris.

Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter died of lobar pneumonia at Base Hospital No. 15, Chaumont, France, WWI

Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter died of lobar pneumonia at Base Hospital No. 15, Chaumont, France, WWI

F. M. Burkhalter died at Base Hospital No. 15, Chaumont, France,  on October 8, 1918.  Of the 4,743,826  U.S. troops serving in WWI,   34,446 died from influenza-pneumonia and another 28,794 died of other diseases or accidents, totaling more than the 53,513  who died as a result of battle.

It was November 4, 1918 before Mattie Burkhalter would be informed of her husband’s death.

The Nashville Herald,
Friday, November 8, 1918

Dr. F.M. Burkhalter Died in France Oct. 8

      A telegram from the War Department, received by Mrs. F.M. Burkhalter, of Nashville Monday, announced the sad news of the death of her husband, Lieut. Frances Marion Burkhalter. Dr. Burkhalter left for France last July, arriving at his destination “somewhere in France” on July 20th. The telegram stated that he died of lobar pneumonia on the eighth of October.
      The news came as a great shock to Mrs. Burkhalter, who before her marriage, was Miss Mattie Griffin, a daughter of the late Rev. Elbert Griffin, and was the climax to a long series of trying experiences. For several weeks she has been in Ray City ill with influenza and during this time her deceased husband’s father, Dr. Isaac Burkhalter, has died, while Mrs. Burkhalter, Sr., is even now so ill with pneumonia that she is not expected to live.
       The telegram containing the news of her husband’s death reached her Monday upon her arrival in Nashville from Ray City. She was one her way to Albany to make her home with her mother, Mrs. Griffin.
       Dr. and Mrs. Burkhalter were married about eight years ago and until the fall of 1917 they lived in Ray City, where Dr. Burkhalter practiced medicine. Moving to Nashville, he practiced here until the call of his country came and he left to join the colors last spring. He was 32 years of age.
       Besides his wife are surviving him his mother, two sisters and one brother at home and one brother, Lieut. W.T. Burkhalter, who has just arrived in Siberia where he serves. 

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

The  WWI service record of Francis Marion Burkhalter documents his entry into the Medical Corps, deployment to France, death and burial.

Francis Marion Burkhalter, WWI Service Card

Francis Marion Burkhalter, WWI Service Card

He was buried in the American Cemetery at Chaumont, France, about 160 miles east of Paris.  His was one of about 573 American graves at Chaumont.

“…the shady road to Neufchateau, curv[es] down the long hillside into the valley of the Marne. At the foot of the hill is the mossy wall surrounding St. Aignan’s Cemetery, with the facade and tower of the ancient church, as old as St. Jean’s itself, half hidden behind the tombstones and the trees growing among them. Beside the wall a by-road leads down toward the Marne where, on a sheltered little plateau above the stream, lies a spot more sacred to the soldiers from the New World than any other in Chaumont—the American Military Cemetery.
      Slumbering in the deep peace of the valley, here lie buried 545 officers and soldiers of the United States Army and among them a few faithful nurses and welfare workers. Some of them died in the camps in and around Chaumont but most of them of wounds or disease at Base Hospital 15. The location and surroundings of the cemetery are most appealing. Close beside the parish cemetery it lies, the shadow of St. Aignan’s stretching across it in the afternoon and the soft tones of her bell floating over it at matins and vespers. Here, with the peculiar tenderness of the French for the places of the dead, come often the people of Chaumont, impartially bestowing their attentions upon these graves of allies and upon St. Aignan’s sepulchres; planting and tending the flowers around the mounds or hanging upon the white crosses at their heads some of those pathetic funeral wreaths of beadwrought flowers and leaves which are the universal tokens of mourning in the cemeteries of France. How much better that they should lie there forever, marshaled with the comrades of their faith and watched over by the kindred people to whose aid they came in the hour of bitter need, than that their dust should be exhumed and sent across the ocean to be scattered in the private cemeteries of city and village and countryside, inevitably to be at last neglected and forgotten! For here they may rest, as the dead in America’s other war cemeteries in France may rest, still active factors for the good of the world as everlasting symbols of the union of free peoples in a high cause. Certainly to Chaumont, knowing scarcely a single American before the great war, the cemetery beside St. Aignan’s is a bond of sympathy with the people and the institutions of the United States more strong and abiding than the most imposing monument.
So, as the lights twinkle out among the trees of the hilltop city and evening with its deep peace comes down over the valley where the fragrance of wild flowers and mown fields drifts above the serried graves and the waters of the immortal Marne whisper at their feet, let us leave both Chaumont and them, assured that here among the hills of the High Marne, fallen comrades and living friends have together reared a shrine to which the feet of Americans will come generations after the last soldier of the World War shall have received his discharge from the armies of earth.

– Joseph Mill Hampton ~ The Marne: Historic and Picturesque

By 1920, Mattie Burkhalter had moved back to Ray City with her widowed mother.  Her mother-in-law, Marentha Burkhalter, survived the pneumonia and continued to reside on the Burkhalter farm at Ray City.  Mattie and her moter made their home next to Francis’ mother and brother, John Allen  “Tete” Burkhalter.  After the war Tete Burkhalter became a veterinary surgeon at Ray City.

In 1919, the United States Army authorized the  Victory Medal in recognition of service in World War I.    Mattie Burkhalter submitted an application for a Victory Medal for her deceased husband.   F. M. Burkhalter, Eugene Rudolph Knight, Leon Clyde Miller, William B. Register, Henry Watts and Rossie O. Knight were among the Ray City men receiving the award.

Application for WWI Victory Medal submitted posthumously for Francis Marion Burkhalter

Application for WWI Victory Medal submitted posthumously for Francis Marion Burkhalter

Despite the tender care shown the WWI dead by the town of Chaumont, France, the grieving families in America were desirous that the bodies of their loved ones should be brought home to rest.  In 1921, the bodies in the American Cemetery, including the body of F. M. Burkhalter, were exhumed and returned to the States. The citizens of Chaumont erected a monument to mark the sacred ground where the fallen American soldiers  had briefly rested.

Beside the road just in front of St. Aignan’s chapel is the site of the American Cemetery, which lay something like two years beside the older French Parish cemetery.

The weeds and rough grass now cloaking the upheaved ground sloping down to the Marne would hardly betray to a stranger that here had been the resting place of the bodies of hundreds of brave men, most of whom died in Base Hospital No. 15, until they were removed for return to the United States or final interment in one of our permanent cemeteries in France. But with the fine delicacy of feeling, so often shown by them in such matters, the French have commemorated the fact for years to come in the dignified monument beside Neuf Chateau road which bears on its face, side by side, the Coats of Arms of the United States and of Chaumont and the legend in French:

“1917-1921. This simple stone will recall to future generations that here has been a cemetery containing the bodies of more than six hundred American soldiers who fought at our sides for right and liberty.”

– Nora Elizabeth Daly ~ Memoirs of a WWI Nurse

Monument to the Americans buried at Chaumont, FR. The bodies were exhumed in 1921 and returned to the States or moved to permanent American cemeteries in France. Image source: Doughboy Center http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/monument.htm

Monument to the Americans buried at Chaumont, FR. The bodies were exhumed in 1921 and returned to the States or moved to permanent American cemeteries in France. Image source: Doughboy Center http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/monument.htm

The remains of Francis Marion Burkhalter was returned to Ray City, GA and re-interred at Beaver Dam Cemetery. In 1934, Mrs. Marentha Burkhalter applied for a military headstone to mark his final resting place.

Application for a military headstone for the grave of Francis Marion Burkhalter.

Application for a military headstone for the grave of Francis Marion Burkhalter.

Grave of Francis Marion Burkhalter, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Grave of Francis Marion Burkhalter, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Related Posts:

Portrait of Rossie O. Knight

Rossie O. Knight as a young Soldier. Born August 28, 1892, Rossie O. Knight grew up in Ray City, GA.

Rossie O. Knight as a young Soldier. Born August 28, 1892, Rossie O. Knight grew up in Ray City, GA. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation http://www.berriencountyga.com

Rossie O. Knight

Rossie O. Knight, a son of Sovin J. Knight and Ann Eliza Allen,  and grew up on his parents’ farm near Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA.   He was one of many young men of Berrien County who served in WWI.  Rossie served in  France with the U.S. 1st Division, where he was engaged in major campaigns at Montdidier, Marne, St. Mihiel and Argonne. After the Armistice he served in occupation of Germany at Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.

Family member Bryan Shaw shares the following:

“Rossie Knight returned home after the war but was plagued with the effects of multiple gas exposures he received while fighting in France. Rossie remained single the rest of his life. He died November 16, 1963 at the age of 71.

“These photos of Rossie O. Knight are very revealing. First of all there is the young Rossie with tousled hair standing tall and almost innocent in his demeanor and facial features.

In the next photo, chest up and three-quarters, he is firm and self confident, ready for any challenge he is faced with, slightly older and more mature looking than the  first photo.

Then, almost a tragic contrast are the last two photos, one standing alone with hat in hand, the other with his two brothers, Mansfield in the center and Leland on the right. Rossie is on the left.

After all he had seen and endured throughout the war, the obvious effects on his mental well being is poignantly captured. He appears almost timid and withdrawn. He had emotional and health problems throughout the remainder of his life. A handsome young man, he came back from the war broken, and he never married.”

He is buried at the Pleasant Cemetery in the Lois community.”

Bryan Shaw

Rossie O. Knight, soldier. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation www.berriencountyga.com

Rossie O. Knight, soldier. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation http://www.berriencountyga.com

Rossie O. KnightImage courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation www.berriencountyga.com

Rossie O. Knight. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation http://www.berriencountyga.com

 

Rossie O. Knight returned to Berrien County after WWI, but never fully recovered from his wartime experiences.

Rossie O. Knight returned to Berrien County after WWI, but never fully recovered from his wartime experiences. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation http://www.berriencountyga.com

Three Knight brothers, left to right: Rossie O. Knight, Marion Mansfield Knight, and Leland Thomas Knight. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation www.berriencountyga.com

Three Knight brothers, left to right: Rossie O. Knight, Marion Mansfield Knight, and Leland Thomas Knight. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation http://www.berriencountyga.com

 

Related Posts:

Rossie O. Knight and Ehrenbreitstein Fortress

Rossie O. Knight. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation www.berriencountyga.com

Rossie O. Knight. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation http://www.berriencountyga.com

Rossie O. Knight

Rossie O. Knight was a son of Sovin J. Knight and Ann Eliza Allen of Ray City, GA.

In the years from 1913 to 1917, Rossie was engaged in America’s preparation for the coming conflict, in military service with the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Hancock, NJ, and working to produce war matériel at the Nixon Nitration Works.

On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress formally declared war on Germany and its allies. By  August 7, 1917 he was serving overseas with the U.S. First Division . He received the Victory Medal with five battle clasps for his service with the 1st Division Ammunition Train in France during WWI.

After the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918  Knight served in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation. On August 6, 1919 he was transferred from the 1st Division Ammunition Train to Company B, 7th Machine Gun Battalion, and on September 17, 1919 he finally got his sergeant’s stripes back.   For the next 18 months, Sergeant Knight was stationed with his company at Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, Koblenz, Germany.

ehrenbreitstein-wwi

First American flag to fly over a German Fort across the Rhine, Ehrenbreitstein Fortress

 

Ehrenbreitstein Fortress (German: Festung Ehrenbreitstein) is a fortress on the mountain of the same name on the east bank of the Rhine opposite the town of Koblenz in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

Ehrenbreitstein was built as part of a strong ring of fortifications around Koblenz, the largest military fortress in Europe after Gibraltar. When the Koblenz fortifications west of the Rhine were dismantled in 1890-1903, Ehrenbreitstein Fortress remained as the main defense of the Rhine crossing.  After WWI it was occupied by the US Army as their headquarters during the Occupation of the Rhineland.

American Flag over Fortress Ehrenbreitstein, Koblenz, Germany, circa 1919

American Flag over Fortress Ehrenbreitstein, Koblenz, Germany, circa 1919

 

In the 1920 census, Rossie O. Knight was enumerated at Fortress Ehrenbreitstein, Koblenz, Germany with Company B, 7th Machine Gun Battalion.

1920 census enumeration of Rossie O. Knight while stationed in Germany

1920 census enumeration of Rossie O. Knight while stationed in Germany at Fortress Ehrenbreitstein, Koblenz, Germany

https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu2040unit#page/n463/mode/1up

 

Review of the American Forces in Germany
On February 14, 1921, the 7th Machine Gun Battalion ceased to exist pursuant to War Department orders.

According to family historian, Bryan Shaw,  “Rossie Knight returned home after the war and was plagued with the effects of multiple gas exposures.  Rossie remained single the rest of his life. He died November 16, 1963 at the age of 71. He is buried at the Pleasant Cemetery in the Lois community.”

Related posts:

Rossie O. Knight and the Nixon Nitration Works

Rossie O. Knight (1892-1963)

Born of the World’s mischance,
Lair bade the newer toys of death,
Mortar, grenade and poison breath-
We smiths of Ordnance.

And none may see the arms we forge,
And laughing pass them by,
Nor do we think to show for sport,
Our ghastly armory.

-anonymous member of the Ordnance Department, WWI

Rossie O. Knight was a son of Sovin J. Knight and Ann Eliza Allen,  and grew up on his parents’ farm near Rays Mill (now Ray City),  before moving to Barney, GA.   From 1917 to 1919 Rossie O. Knight served  in some of the major European campaigns of World War I. He received the WWI Victory Medal with five battle clasps. But Rossie had enlisted in the service well prior to America’s entry into the Great War.  In the years from 1913 to 1917, Rossie was engaged in America’s preparation for the coming conflict, in military service in the Coast Artillery Corps, and working to produce war matériel at the Nixon Nitration Works.

Rossie O. Knight’s service records show he enlisted at Fort Slocum, NY on August 31, 1913. Other Berrien county men who entered the service via Fort Slocum included Carter H. Exum and Charlie Turner, both of Nashville, GA who enlisted June 22, 1914. John S. Shaw, of Rays Mill, GA enlisted at Ft Slocum on August 5, 1914 and went to bakers and cooks school at Fort Sam Houston, TX.

Rossie O. Knight WWI service record

Rossie O. Knight WWI service record

Fort Slocum, New York was a US military post which occupied Davids Island in the western end of Long Island Sound in New Rochelle, New York from 1867 – 1965. In 1913, it was a major Army induction center

Fort Slocum, New York was a US military post which occupied Davids' Island in the western end of Long Island Sound in New Rochelle, New York from 1867 - 1965.

Gun squad at Fort Slocum, New York. Fort Slocum was a major induction point for the U.S. Army during WWI.

After training at Fort Slocum, Rossie O. Knight was assigned  to Fort Hancock, NJ for duty with the Coast Artillery Corp, Third Company.  Fort Hancock, situated on the island of Sandy Hook, was a coastal artillery base defending the Atlantic coast and the entrance to New York Harbor. Fort Hancock was operated in conjunction with the US Army’s Sandy Hook Proving Ground, where newly manufactured artillery was tested.

Aiming a 14 inch artillery gun at Sandy Hook, Fort Hancock, New Jersey,

Aiming a 14 inch artillery gun at Sandy Hook, Fort Hancock, New Jersey.

It was in 1914, when Rossie was stationed at Fort Hancock that hostilities broke out in Europe.  Americans watched with interest, but President Wilson worked to keep the country out of the war; “While armies moved across the face of Europe, the United States remained neutral.”  The United States attempted to continue trade and diplomatic relations amid the rising world conflict, but the production of artillery and war matériel in America became critically important to the belligerents. America was just coming out of the Recession of  1913-14, and the business leaders and industrialists began ramping up their companies to produce the needed supplies.  Among these men was an industrialist and shipbuilder Lewis Nixon, who began construction of the Nixon Nitration Works to produce “gun cotton,”- for use in smokeless gunpowder.

Americans were largely ambivalent about the war in Europe. But on May 7, 1915 a German submarine torpedoed and sunk the RMS Lusitania in route from New York to Liverpool, causing the death of 1,198 passengers and crew. Reports of the sinking were emblazoned across newspaper headlines in the U.S. and caused a storm of protest, as 128 Americans were among the dead.

Lusitania Torpedoed

Lusitania Torpedoed May 7, 1915, banner headline in the Thomasville Daily Times Enterprise, Thomasville, GA

On May 8th, the day after the sinking of the Lusitania, the Nixon Nitration Works began production of gunpowder. Lewis Nixon announced he would turn his full attention to the completion of the plant.

May 8, 1915 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced the beginning of gun cotton production at the Nixon Nitration Works

May 8, 1915 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced the beginning of gun cotton production at the Nixon Nitration Works

The Brooklyn Eagle
May 8, 1915

Huge Nixon War Plant to Turn Out Guncotton

Lewis Nixon has decided to abandon his political activities to give his undivided attention to the huge war plant which he is erecting near Metuchen, N.J. With but a small part of the 400-acre gun cotton plant completed, the manufacture of explosives began today. Contracts have been made with France and England which will take the output of the plants for the next two and a half years, regardless of the duration of the war, delivering at least 100 tons of gun cotton each month during the life of the contract.

The Fatherland, a pro-German newspaper based in New York, reported in August 1915 that Nixon had closed a contract with the British War Office for 1,000,000 lbs. of gun cotton to be manufactured at the plants at Metuchen, N. J. The shipments were to begin April 15th and to be continued at the rate of 20,000 lbs. a day. The Nixon concern receives 70 cents per pound. Mr. Nixon, when interviewed, refused to give any details of his contracts, but intimated, said the New York World, that they called for much more material than was reported. Within six weeks, according to the New York Sun, the Nixon Nitration Co. erected three big structures in Millville, N. J., for the manufacture of gunpowder and other war materials. Seven smaller buildings were erected. Three shifts of men have been kept working 24 hours a day. The Sun reported that three times as many buildings would be constructed, and that the number of employees would be increased from 500 men to 2,000.”

Although men came from all over the nation to work in the Nixon Nitration Works, the company  struggled to find enough workers for the massive gunpowder works.  At one point labor relations were strained to the point of a strike. After two fires occurred  the plant let go a number of foreign nationals who had been employed there, although Lewis Nixon denied that espionage was the cause of the blazes.

Rossie O. Knight took a job at the Nixon Nitration Works in September, 1916 although his service record does not indicate any break in his enlistment. It appears that the U.S. Army was helping out with the labor shortage by placing soldiers on reserve status so they could be employed at the Nixon plant.

According to the National Archives, Woodrow Wilson was elected  for a second term as President on November 7, 1916 , “largely because of the slogan ‘He kept us out of war.’ Events in early 1917 would change that hope. In frustration over the effective British naval blockade, in February Germany broke its pledge to limit submarine warfare. In response to the breaking of the Sussex pledge, the United States severed diplomatic relations with Germany.”  On top of the resumption of U-boat torpedoing of passenger ships came the revelation of German communiques with Mexico intimating the countries were conspiring for the invasion of the United States.

Mexican-American relations  had been tense since revolution broke out in Mexico in 1910, leading the U.S. to engage in several intrusions into Mexico’s internal affairs. The American Ambassador to Mexico was implicated in the 1913 coup in which General Victoriano Huerta assassinated the President and Vice President of Mexico and seized control of the government, throwing the country into violent civil war. Because of the civil disruption in Mexico, the U.S. began garrisoning troops along the border.  At least two Ray City men served on the Mexican Border. Owen Leonard Clements was stationed with the 4th Field Artillery at Progreso, TX, and Owen Adrian Knight served in Company M, 23rd Infantry. The U.S. Navy occupied Vera Cruz in 1914 to protect U.S. interests in the Tampico oil fields. There was a series of subsequent territorial encroachments on both sides of the border. In a comparatively trivial border incursion by U.S. troops in January 1916, Sergeant Clements  was drowned while crossing the Rio Grand. Following Pancho Villa’s 1916 raids  into New Mexico, the U.S. Army launched the Mexican Punitive Expedition, led by General John Pershing, in a futile attempt to track down the Mexican rebel.

“In January of 1917, British cryptographers deciphered a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt, offering United States territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause. ” News of the Zimmermann Telegram was published in the American press on March 1, 1917.

A few weeks later, Rossie Knight wrote home to his brother Leland Thomas Knight (family referred to him as
T.L.). The letter was written on March 28, 1917 from New Brunswick, NJ, while Rossie was working at the Nixon Nitration Works. It expresses Rossie’s anticipation that the United States would declare war on Germany, and that he would be called back into active duty.

Letter of March 28, 1917 from Rossie O. Knight to his brother Leland Thomas Knight.

Letter of March 28, 1917 from Rossie O. Knight to his brother Leland Thomas Knight. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw.

 

Nixon Nitration Works
New Brunswick, New Jersey
March 28th, 1917

Mr. T.L. Knight,
Dear Brother, I will write you a few lines to let you
know that I am still living and to find out how you ar gitting along
I am getting along fine exspecting to haft to go to war every day I am
exspecting to be called back to the army.
Congress will meet the second of april which is next monday and I
think that war will be declared and if it is I will be called back to the
service if I am called back I am going home for a few days before I go
back to the army. so you need not be suprised to see me coming to your
house in a few days. I will only have a few days there but that will be
better than not going at all.
say do you remember how we ust to scrapp. I often laugh about it that
was the happiest days after all wasant it.
when we would get off saturday at noon. and all day sunday off I tell you
that is the best life after all back on the farm for mine after this yea
r. I have been working here seven months and I havent lost a day not one
and I have worked seven days a week no sundays off. I am alowed one day
a month off and that is all I get. and I get that off with pay that is
why I say I havent lost a day.
and I have just ben making a good living and that is all if a man is
making a living any where these days he is doing fine I think but
I am getting in a position now that I think I can save a little money
if I stay here.
If I am called back to the army and dont have a chance to go home
I will let you hear from me.
Give my best regards to all the people I know.
Respectifully,
(signed) Your Brother
Rossie

Transcription courtesy of Bryan Shaw

Rossie O. Knight was correct in his predictions. On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress formally declared war on Germany and its allies. By  August 7, 1917 he was serving overseas with the U.S. First Division .

The Nixon Nitration Works continued to produce war matériel,  throughout the war. The Nixon Nitration Works which included a number of plants, covered about 12 square miles on the Raritan River, near New Brunswick, in what was then officially known as Raritan Township (later changed to Edison) and unofficially known as Nixon, New Jersey. The company manufactured some two hundred million pounds of  smokeless powder for the Allies and the United States Government during WWI. As a collateral activity, it manufactured military pyrotechnics for the army and navy and at the armistice was the largest single producer of such pyrotechnics in the United States.

With the coming of peace, the company converted to manufacturing plastic materials of the cellulose derivative type. Nitrocellulose was a highly flammable plastic used to make film and x-rays, among other things.  One of the buildings at the Nixon Nitration Works was leased to the Ammonite Company, which disassembled artillery shells and reprocessed the gunpowder contents into fertilizer.

1924 Nixon Nitration Works disaster

On Saturday morning, March 1, 1924, an explosion destroyed the Ammonite building. The 11:15 a.m. explosion touched off fires in surrounding buildings in the Nixon Nitration Works that contained other highly flammable nitrocellulose  materials.  The disaster killed twenty persons, destroyed forty buildings, and demolished the industrial town of Nixon, New Jersey.

Special thanks to Bryan Shaw for contributions of content and images.

Related Posts:

Rossie O. Knight and the WWI Victory Medal

Rossie O. Knight (1892-1963)

Rossie O. Knight as a young Soldier. Born August 28, 1892, Rossie O. Knight grew up in Ray City, GA.

Rossie O. Knight as a young Soldier. Born August 28, 1892, Rossie O. Knight grew up in Ray City, GA. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation, http://www.berriencountyga.com

Rossie O. Knight was a son of Sovin J. Knight and Ann Eliza Allen,  and grew up on his parents’ farm near Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA.  He moved with his parents to the area of Barney, GA in 1911. His father, Sovin J. Knight, died April 16, 1911 shortly after the move.

Rossie joined the Army in 1913. He was stationed at Fort Hancock, NJ until August 1917 when he shipped out to France with the 1st Division.

WW1 Victory Medal US 1st Div of the type awarded to Rossie O. Knight.

WW1 Victory Medal US 1st Div of the type awarded to Rossie O. Knight.  Image source: http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/169740-ww1-5-bar-victory-medal/

Rossie O. Knight’s service records show he participated in four major 1918 offensives of World War I: Montdidier-Noyon, Ainse-Marne, Saint Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.  He also served in the Toul Defensive Sector. In recognition of this service he received the WWI Victory Medal with five clasps.

Wikipedia provides the following description of the Victory Medal:

 “The front of the bronze medal features a winged Victory holding a shield and sword on the front. The reverse features ‘THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION’ in all capital letters curved along the top of the medal. Curved along the bottom of the back of the medal are six stars, three on either side of the center column of seven staffs wrapped in a cord. The top of the staff has a round ball on top and is winged on the side. The staff is on top of a shield that says “U” on the left side of the staff and “S” on the right side of the staff. On left side of the staff it lists one World War I Allied country per line: France, Italy, Serbia, Japan, Montenegro, Russia, and Greece. On the right side of the staff the Allied country names read: Great Britain (at the time the common term for the United Kingdom), Belgium, Brazil, Portugal, Rumania (spelled with a U instead of an O as it is spelled now), and China.  Battle clasps, inscribed with a battle’s name, were worn on the medal to denote participation in major ground conflicts.  For general defense service, not involving a specific battle, the “Defensive Sector” Battle Clasp was authorized. The Defensive Sector clasp was also awarded for any battle which was not already recognized by its own battle clasp.”

The Victory Medals were awarded after the end of World War I.  Veterans completed an “Application for Victory Medal” and the medals were mailed to the servicemen instead of awarded in person. For example, the boxes containing the Victory Medals for United States Army World War I veterans were mailed out by the depot officer at the General Supply Depot, U.S. Army, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in April 1921. An outer light brown box with an address label glued to it and its postage area marked “OFFICIAL BUSINESS, Penalty for private use $300” contained an inner white box stamped with the bars the serviceman was supposed to receive on his medal. The inner white box contained the medal, which was wrapped in tissue paper.

 

Rossie O. Knight Application for Victory Medal, WWI

Rossie O. Knight Application for Victory Medal, WWI

Rossie O. Knight WWI service record

Rossie O. Knight WWI service record

Rossie O. Knight arrived with the 1st Division in Europe on August 7, 1917.  According to the First Division Museum at Cantigny:

The 1st Infantry Division was literally America’s first division. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, it had no divisions. President Woodrow Wilson promised the Allies he would send “a division” to France immediately. Four infantry regiments (16th, 18th, 26th and 28th) and three artillery regiments (5th, 6th and 7th) were ordered from the Mexican border in Texas to Hoboken, NJ, to board transports for France. On June 8, 1917, Brigadier General William Sibert assumed command of them as the “First Expeditionary Division.” Organized as a “square” division of more than 28,000 men, the First Division was twice the size of either the Allied or German divisions on the Western Front.

From September 21, 1917 to August 6, 1919 Rossie O. Knight served with Company C, 1st Division Ammunition Train (1 Div Am Tn on his service record).  Fellow Berrien countian John Bullock Gaskins was also serving in Company B, of the 1st Division Ammunition Train. The Ammunition Train was a convoy of trucks and wagons:  “For a Division, the ammunition train consists normally of four wagon companies and four truck companies.  This very important unit carries rifle ammunition to the Infantry, and shells to the Artillery.  Usually, the moving of ammunition is accomplished under cover of darkness, but in the big offensives the ammunition trucks are kept going day and night.”

WWI Soldiers loading ammunition for transportation

WWI Soldiers loading ammunition for transportation

The First Division won the first American victory in World War I at the Battle of Cantigny. Cantigny is a small village north of Paris, in the Picardy region of France. Held by the German Army, Cantigny formed a dangerous salient in the Allied lines. On May 28, 1918, the First Division attacked and defeated the German forces in the village and held it against repeated German counterattacks, despite suffering more than 1,000 casualties. The success raised the Allies’ morale, convinced the British and French that the Americans were capable of operating in independent fighting units, and disproved German propaganda about American incapacity.

From  August 22 to October 18, 1917 the 1st Division Ammunition Train and Rossie O. Knight were attached to the Scottish 15th Division at Le Valdahon, France.  According to the U.S. Army Handbook of Ordnance Data, Valdahon was a Field Artillery training camp, where troops were issued 75-mm guns and 155-mm howitzers, and received technical instruction in their operation.

campvaldahon12

Camp Valdahon, France

 

 

MONTDIDIER-NOYON (June 9-13,1918)

Sergeant Rossie O. Knight and the U.S. 1st Division were assigned to the Montdidier-Noyon sector when the Germans made an offensive  there on June 9-13, 1918.  Service in this sector proved to be typical active trench warfare, and the companies of the Ammunition Train were occupied ferrying small arms munitions and artillery rounds to the front lines.

The German infantry launched an attack on the night of June 8-9, 1918.  Twenty-one German divisions attacked the French on a twenty-three mile front extending from Montdidier, France to the Oise River at Noyon.

Effects of artillery shelling, Montdidier, France, WWI

Effects of British artillery shelling, Montdidier, France, WWI

The main assault was against the left of the French division which was on the right of the U.S. 1st Division; In this action the U.S. 1st Division took artillery fire and repelled diversionary raids. The battle was opened by an intense German artillery bombardment, which began at midnight…there was an extensive use of gas, both chlorine and mustard.  The Germans attempted to neutralize the Allied artillery batteries by firing on them with phosgene and mustard gas. Along the roads shrapnel was used and the front positions were shelled with gas and high explosives. The assault continued during the next five days. Though the U.S. 1st Division was not directly engaged, it was subjected to intense artillery fire and its units participated both defensively and offensively in several raids.  The Germans advanced from 2 to 5 km. (1.2 to 3.1 miles) and came close to breaking the Allied lines. But the French had anticipated the assault, and the counterattack was successful in holding the Germans.  This was the first repulse of a German offensive in 1918, and is regarded by some authorities as the true turning point of the war. Activities then diminished rapidly, relatively speaking, but from the time that the 1st Division captured Cantigny until it turned that sector over to the French, there was continuous heavy shell fire, with gas attacks and many raids, though all of the last mentioned were repulsed successfully.   The fighting was over by June 12, 1918. The fighting capacity of  the  German army was critically damaged with little to show for the heavy losses incurred.  For Rossie O. Knight personally, the Montdidier-Noyon Offensive was up and down. He started out the battle as a Sergeant, but on June 11, 1918 he was busted down to the rank of Private for some unknown infraction.

The Ainse-Marne Offensive (15 July – 6 August 1918)

By the end of June, Rossie O. Knight had at least regained his status as PFC. He continued to serve with the 1st Division Ammunition Train,  keeping the front lines supplied with ammunition through the Allied counter-offensive known as the Aisne-Marne Campaign.  The Ainse-Marne action also known as the Second Battle of the Marne,  began on July 15, 1918 when 23 German divisions attacked the French Fourth Army east of the city of Reims, France.  Just days earlier on July 10th, fellow Berrien countian Lawrence Ryan Judge, a sergeant with the 1st Division’s 26th infantry, was killed in action.

In the Ainse-Marne Offensive, British, French and American troops,  including the U.S. 1st Division, held the Germans back for three days at the Marne River.  Even before the German offensive on the Marne, the Allies had been planning a massive counterattack in the area.

July 1918, men of the US 1st Division waiting to enter the Ainse-Marne Offensive.

July 1918, men of the US 1st Division waiting to enter the Ainse-Marne Offensive.

After three days of fighting at the Marne, it became evident the German offensive was weakening.  The German attack failed when an Allied counterattack led by French forces and including several hundred tanks overwhelmed the Germans on their right flank, inflicting severe casualties.  The Allied counterattack was launched on July 18, with fourteen divisions including the U.S. 1st Division.

 

WWI Ammunition Train, July 18, 1918

WWI Ammunition Train, July 18, 1918

According to J. Rickard,  “All around the line the Allies advanced between two and five miles. That night the Germans were forced to retreat back across the Marne river. The rapid Allied advance threatened German communications within the salient and even offered the chance of trapping the German troops around Château Thierry.”   One Berrien county solider who fought at Château Thierry was Private John Lory McCranie, of Adel, GA.  McCranie was fighting with the 42nd Division and also later saw service at Saint Mihiel, Argonne Forest and Sedan. He died shortly after the war as a result of having been gassed.

1918-7-25-moving-up-to-marne-salient

July 25, 1918. Trains moving up to the Marne salient.

Faced with this massive Allied counterattack the Germans dropped back to form a new defensive line along the line of the Aisne and Velse rivers.  As the Germans fell back and the 1st Division moved up,  Rossie O. Knight also advanced, moving to the rank of Corporal on August 1, 1918.

The new German line began to form up around August 3. On  August 6, the Americans probed the new line and were repulsed, ending the offensive, but the German defeat marked the start of the relentless Allied advance.

Saint Mihiel Offensive (September 12-16, 1918)

Since the fall of 1914, the Germans had occupied the Saint-Mihiel salient, a triangular wedge of land between Verdun and Nancy, in northeastern France. By heavily fortifying the area, the Germans had effectively blocked all rail transport between Paris and the Eastern Front. This position had constantly threatened Paris and forced the Allies to maintain defensive positions. It was at a forward listening post at the front lines of Saint Mihiel that Lorton W. Register, of Ray City, had been killed by artillery shelling in March, 1918.

After the Ainse-Marne Offensive in July, General John J. Pershing and Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch decided that the 1st Army of the AEF should establish its headquarters in the Saint Mihiel sector and challenge the German position there.  The attack at the St. Mihiel Salient was part of a plan by Pershing in which he hoped that the American forces would break through the German lines and capture the fortified city of Metz.  Thus, on September 12, 1918, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) launched its first major WWI offensive operation as an independent army.

The attack began with the advance of Allied tanks across the trenches at Saint Mihiel, followed closely by the American infantry troops. Foul weather plagued the offensive as much as the enemy troops, as the trenches filled with water and the fields turned to mud, bogging down many of the tanks.

st-mihiel2

Stalled ammunition wagon holding up an advancing column on the second day of the Saint Mihiel Offensive, September 13, 1918

 

The ammunition convoys to which Corp. Rossie O. Knight was assigned worked around the clock for 80 hours to  keep the advancing American troops supplied.  Also present  during the Saint Mihiel Offensive were Lieutenant Asbury Joe Hall, Jr. and Private John Bryan Thomas, both of Adel, GA, and Private Carlie Lawson of Ray City.   Lieutenant Hall was attached to Company “H,” 3rd Infantry and had been in France since January 1918.  During that time he had been gassed once and wounded twice;  Hall’s luck ran out on the second day of the Saint Mihiel Offensive, September 13, 1918 when he was struck and killed by an artillery shell fragment. John Bryan Thomas served on the Ammunition Train for the 5th Division. Thomas contracted Influenza which resulted in his death on August 15, 1918.  Private First Class Carlie Lawson fought at Saint Mihiel with Company G, 11th Infantry.

Supply trains during the St. Mihiel Offensive, September 1918

Supply trains during the St. Mihiel Offensive, September 1918

Despite the conditions, the American attack proved successful—in part because the German command made the decision to abandon the salient—and greatly lifted the morale and confidence of Pershing’s young army. By September 16, 1918, Saint Mihiel and the surrounding area were free of German occupation.

Machine gunners and supply trains at St. Mihiel

Machine gunners and supply trains at St. Mihiel

But the U.S. offensive at St. Mihiel faltered as artillery and food supplies were left behind on the muddy roads. Plans for the attack on Metz had to be given up. As the Germans fell back to new positions the American forces immediately shifted further south where they combined with British and French forces in a new offensive near the Argonne Forest and the Meuse River.

Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In the wake of the U.S.-run attack at Saint Mihiel, some 400,000 U.S. troops were assigned to the region to participate in what was to be the final operation of the war, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, also known as the Battle of the Argonne Forest.  Under the command of  General Pershing, the American-led attack began at 11:30 pm on September 25, 1918  with a six-hour-long  artillery barrage against the German positions. The preliminary bombardment, using some 800 mustard gas and phosgene shells, killed 278 German soldiers and incapacitated more than 10,000.  The infantry assault, carried out by 37 French and American divisions, began at 5:30 the next morning with the support of more than 700 Allied tanks and some 500 aircraft from the U.S. Air Service.  Led by the advancing tanks, the infantry troops advanced against German positions in the Argonne Forest and along the Meuse River aiming to cut off the entire German 2nd Army. By the morning of the following day, the Allies had captured more than 23,000 German prisoners; by nightfall, they had taken 10,000 more and advanced up to six miles in some areas. The Germans continued to fight, however, putting up a stiff resistance.

On September 30, Pershing called a halt to the Meuse-Argonne offensive, but operations were resumed October 4.

The Germans were exhausted, demoralized and plagued by the spreading influenza epidemic, whereas arriving U.S. reinforcements where strengthening the Allied advance.  American reinforcements in transit to Europe included hundreds of Georgia soldiers, dozens from Berrien County, who went down with the ill-fated troopship HMS Otranto off the coast of Islay, Scotland on October 6, 1918. Among the Otranto dead were Rossie’s cousin, Ralph Knight,  and fellow Ray City resident Shellie Lloyd Webb.  About that same time Sammie Mixon of Allenville, GA, who was fighting in the Meuse-Argonne with Company “H”, 18th Regiment, First Division, was wounded in action and died from pneumonia a few days later. In the early morning hours of October 8, 1918 Isaac R. Boyett, of Adel, GA was fighting with Company C, 328th Infantry  in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive near the the French town of La Forge when he was severely wounded by machine gun fire.  Later that same day, Boyett’s regimental mate, Alvin C. York, earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in capturing 132 German soldiers at the village of Châtel-Chéhéry.  Boyett died  of his wounds two days later. Carlie Lawson also fought in the Battle of the Argonne Forest with Company G, 11th Infantry; he returned from the war and lived to be 100 years old.

The German troops stubbornly held on in the Argonne Forest for another month before beginning their final retreat. William Wiley Tison, of  Ray City, was with the 51st Infantry, 6th Division, which participated in the Meuse-Argonne operation from November 1-8, 1918. With arriving U.S. reinforcements the Allies had time to advance some 32 kilometers before the general armistice was announced on November 11, bringing the First World War to a close.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was a part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front. It was fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice on November 11, a total of 47 days. The battle was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, and was one of a series of Allied attacks which brought the war to an end. The Meuse-Argonne was the principal engagement of the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War and was “probably the bloodiest single battle in U.S. history”.

1918 Meuse Argonne

1918 Meuse Argonne

~

From May 1918 to the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the First Division suffered more than 20,000 casualties, including killed, wounded and missing. With commanders such as MG William Sibert, MG Robert L. Bullard and MG Charles P. Summerall, the First Division established a reputation for excellence and esprit de corps.

Post Armistice  Activities  November 12, 1918-August 14, 1919
On November 12, the 1st Division moved into Bois de Romagne.  On Nov 13,  the Division moved via Malancourt and Verdun-sur-Meuse into billets near Domremyla-Canne and Gondrecourt, and prepared for the advance into Germany as a part of the Army of Occupation.

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Let Us Unveil

Following the WWI sinking of HMS Otranto , October 6, 1918, Berrien County sought to establish a permanent memorial to the soldiers who perished in the disaster. Of the 25 Berrien men killed in the Otranto disaster, two from Ray City, GA were  Ralph Knight and Shellie Loyed Webb.

 berrien-doughboy

While the country celebrated victory over Germany and the Central Powers, Berrien County struggled for funds to pay for a monument to its dead.  It stands today as an enduring reminder of those young men from Berrien who gave their lives in WWI. Located at the Courthouse Square, West Marion Avenue at North Davis Street, Nashville, GA.

The Art Inventories Catalog of the Smithsonian Institution describes the monument titled “The Spirit of the American Doughboy,”  Viquesney, E. M., 1876-1946, sculptor:

“Figure of a World War I infantryman advancing through the stumps and barbed wire of No Man’s Land. He holds a Springfield rifle in his proper left hand, with peep site in rear, and a grenade in his upraised proper right hand. His uniform consists of an ammo packet, canteen, backpack, bayonet scabbard, gas mask and helmet. The sculpture sits atop granite base with shield shapes on each side and stars and stripes decorations. The granite pedestal sits atop a paved brick footing.”

“Funds for the sculpture were raised by a memorial committee headed by Rev. Perry T. Knight (Ray City, GA). The sculpture was erected between 1920 and 1923 and was dedicated ca. 1921 or 1922. It was left veiled until late 1923, pending completion of fund raising efforts. The sculpture was originally installed in the middle of Marrion Avenue, facing north approximately 50 feet west of where it now stands. It was moved in the early 1950s and rededicated when Marrion Avenue, Georgia Highway 129 was paved. A member of the Parrish family who had a monument carving company in Nashville possibly may have assisted in carving the base.”

 The following paragraphs are extracted from:

1918 Sinking of the Otranto Leads to Purchase of The Doughboy Monument for Berrien

By Skeeter Parker

Fund Drive Begins

As if the flu pandemic in 1918 were not enough, the pall of death hung even heavier over Berrien County at a time when the rest of the country was celebrating the end of hostilities in WWI. However,the local citizenry was determined that the soldiers’ names would never be forgotten, as it says on the Doughboy monument “LEST WE FORGET.” A monument fund was announced on the front page of Nashville Herald on November 29, 1918, and readers were told “Every public spirited man, woman and child in Berrien county should contribute liberally to this glorious cause.”

Because most of the Nashville newspapers from the 1920s were destroyed or missing when microfilming was done, details surrounding the Doughboy statue’s coming to Nashville mostly come from various internet sources. According to one of those sources the statue was ordered in the spring of 1921 and erected in the middle of Marion Avenue in late July or August 1921. Different sources also say that while the monument was installed in 1921 it remained under covers until 1923 when “payment for the sculpture and impressive base was completed.”

This is borne out by a January 18, 1923 article in The Nashville Herald in which the writer said:

“It is an everlasting shame and a matter to cause the people of these three counties to feel badly over that this handsome memorial now stands veiled, because it is not paid for.”

The reader should keep in mind that in October 1918 Cook and Lanier Counties had not been formed yet and were still part of Berrien.

In January of 1923, Reverend Perry Thomas Knight  made a personal appeal to the people of Berrien County to pay off the final balance owed on the statue.  Knight grew up at Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA where he attended the nearby  Green Bay School, and later attended Oaklawn Baptist Academy at Milltown (now Lakeland), GA :

Letter to the Editor
Nashville Herald
January, 1923

Let Us Unveil

   There stands erected at Nashville, Ga., a suitable Memorial to the memory of the World War Veterans, but the veil must be lifted, “Lest We Forget.”

    J. W. E. Powell of Nashville has a complete record of every person who has donated to the Memorial Fund and the amount donated by each.

    If you have subscribed to the Memorial Fund and have not paid your subscription, please do so at once. Our boys did not fail us when they were called to service.

    We are writing the builders of the monument, asking that they give us until Wednesday, Jan. 31, 1923 to finish paying a balance of Two Thousand Dollars.

    Will you contribute $10.00 and by that be one of the Two Hundred to lift this obligation? Just as soon as the amount is sure to be in hand we will announce the day of the unveilling.

    Send your contribution to J. W. E. Powell, Nashville, and tell him what it’s for.  Do that today. We expect to have printed in the Nashville Herald, beginning next week, a list of the donors and amount given, until we reach the $2,000.

    Talk to your neighbor, to the stranger, to the Veteran, to the Everybody until we raise the money. It must be done.

    Send The Nashville Herald a card now saying: “I am one of the Two Hundred and will pay $10.00.”

    P.T. Knight 

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Thomas Jefferson Sirmons Rests at Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery

Thomas Jefferson Sirmons was a son of Nancy Elizabeth Knight (1866-1938) and Moses Greyson Sirmons (1857-1928).  He was a grandson of Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight, and a nephew of Perry Thomas Knight.

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS
Nashville, Ga.

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS Nashville, Ga. Private Sirmons entered service July 16, 1918.  Was attached to Second Unit, Coast Artillery Corps, September Automatic Replacement Draft,  Ft. Screven, Ga. Embarked for over-seas the latter part of September,  sailing on the ill-fated transport “Otranto,” which was sunk off the Scottish Coast in a collision October 6, 1918. Private Sirmons was one of the soldiers drowned.

In 1940, Perry Thomas Knight wrote the following notes about Thomas Jefferson Sirmons:

“Thomas J. Sirmons b. May 26, 1892 enlisted as a soldier in the World War and on his trip over seas on October 6, 1918 went down with the ship Otranto.  His body was buried on the coast of Scotland on the Isle of Isly and two years later his body was exhumed and brought back to his home at the expense of the United States of America and he was buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Berrien County, Georgia.  The compiler of these records attended his funeral. He was buried with military honors.”  – Perry Thomas Knight

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Two years after his death in the sinking of HMS Otranto the body of Thomas Jefferson Sirmons was returned to the United States and re-interred at Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, about 9 miles northeast of Ray City, GA.  Another victim of the Otranto disaster, Shelley Loyd Webb, waited in a grave on Islay Isle for ten years before being brought home to rest.

Grave of Thomas Jefferson Knight, Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Thomas Jefferson Knight, Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA. Image source: Charles T. Zeigler (see http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=90451556 )

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