South Carolina

World War I

"The Great War"
(1917-1919 for the U.S.)

President WilsonTHE U.S. ENTERS THE WAR IN 1917
After remaining neutral for three years, the United States reluctantly declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917, entering what was hoped to be "The War to End All Wars." In declaring war, President Woodrow Wilson committed the nation to join the Allied countries, headed by England and France, in their efforts to defeat the Central Powers, headed by Germany.

President Wilson won a second term on the platform of "He Kept Us Out Of War." Why join the Allies when we had remained neutral for so long? There is no simple answer but certainly Germany's submarine warfare was a major factor. Americans were outraged in the Spring of 1915 when a German U-boat torpedoed the British passenger ship, the Lusitania which had sailed from New York, destination England. The ship carried over a thousand passengers, over one hundred of them were American, and almost everyone aboard was lost. The U-boats continued to sweep the Atlantic Ocean, threatening all vessels which dared to sail its waters, regardless of neutrality. The German Command said it would torpedo any ship that did not sail in certain sea lanes it identified. The final straw came early in 1917 in the form of the Zimmerman telegram.

The United States was almost completely unprepared to participate in the war. The manpower and supplies needed to field an expeditionary force were at their lowest numbers since the Civil War. The strength of the United States Army in April 1917 was about 200,000 -- 80,000 of whom served in National Guard units. 1

America was forced to build an army based on volunteer enlistments and the draft. To insure that there would be enough servicemen for the war, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, or draft law. This law required every man between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for service and to serve if called. More than 24 million men registered for the draft, and almost 2.7 million men were furnished to the U.S. Army by conscription.

More than four million "Doughboys" entered the service during the war, and more than two million served overseas, either in the Navy or in the famous A.E.F., the American Expeditionary Force.

1 Mitchell Yockelson, NARA Prologue 1998

American gunners battle through the Argonne Forest.
(NARA, 111-SC-95980)

Fighting in Argonne Forest
(Note the weapons, metal helmets, and knapsacks.)



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