Cecil County, Maryland WWI memorial. Courtesy, Cecil Daily.

100th Anniversary of U.S. Entrance into WWI

04/06/2017
By Nicholas A. Redding

After years of neutrality, on April 6, 1917, the United States made the fateful decision to enter the fighting in World War One. The decision sent shock-waves across the world and changed the lives of millions of Americans – including many Marylanders.

In addition to a rising American nationalism, several distinct factors in early 1917 led to the April 6th Declaration of War upon the German Empire. In particular, the release of the Zimmerman Telegram, a message that suggested in exchange for Mexican support, Germany would help Mexico regain territories lost to the United States during the Mexican-American War (1848) coupled with German U-Boats targeting American ships in the North Atlantic ultimately served as the primary catalysts for the declaration. All across the nation, the declaration put the country on a war footing — and in Maryland the impact was felt quickly.

The formal declaration also found the United States military extremely unprepared for the task ahead. The United States lacked both a large standing army and the industrial ability to produce the weapons and materiel of war. As a result, the first American troops would not enter combat until April of 1918 – a full year after war was declared.

Camp Meade Barracks, Ca. 1917, Library of Congress.

In Maryland, training camps sprang up to oversee the indoctrination and training of new recruits. Camp Meade (today Fort Meade) and Aberdeen Proving Ground both were created as a result of the U.S. entry into the war. Camp Holabird, in Dundalk, also served as a critical embarkation point for the industrial might of the U.S. Army — tanks, trucks and weapons of war departed this depot in the Port of Baltimore. Nearby Fort McHenry also served a new purpose; it became site of U.S. General Hospital No. 2.

Baltimorean WWI soldiers, 115th Infantry Regiment, Courtesy Portraitofwar.com

In terms of troops, Maryland provided over 62,000 soldiers, including 11,000 African-American soldiers, to the war effort. An additional 11,000 recruits served in the Navy, Naval Reserve, Marines and Coast Guard. Of those sent to war, nearly 2,000 were casualties of the fighting, including Henry Gunther, of Baltimore, who has the dubious distinction of being the last American soldier and last of any belligerents to be killed during the war.

Today, the impact of World War One is felt across the state in the military installations that still support our national defense and in the dozens of monuments that stand in silent testimony to the lives lost.

Learn more about the Centennial Commemoration of World War One

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Nicholas A. Redding · Executive Director

Nicholas A. Redding is Preservation Maryland’s Executive Director and between announcing major organizational updates, he often blogs about Maryland and Civil War history.

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