Images from the Frierson-Warfield and Karl Kleeman collections, providing a look at the Western Front.
The photographs in this online exhibit, selected from the Frierson-Warfield Papers and Karl Kleeman World War I Photographs, provide a thoughtful look at the Western Front during World War I from an American perspective. The photographs were chosen for their high quality and because they present a visual history of the 30th (Old Hickory) Division. Those researching this collection may find some of the images disturbing, especially the ones of dead soldiers. Some of the pictures were taken by individuals fighting in the war, while others were made by the U.S. Army Signal Corps and mass produced. Both types are striking in their portrayal of the horrors of the Great War.
"It was a splendid barrage," wrote Horace Frierson in the middle of the attack on the St. Mihiel salient. "The whole heavens were lit up by the flashes of our guns." Major Frierson of Maury County, Tennessee, was not long arrived in France when he was put to work commanding the 2nd Battalion, 114th Field Artillery Regiment, 30th (Old Hickory) Division. It was a storied regiment. Among its officers were a future governor and former senator. The battle for the St. Mihiel salient, a deep bulge in the German lines near Verdun in northeastern France, was an important victory for the Allies. For three long years, the Germans had held their positions. American and French forces endured bitter fighting but deflated the bulge in three days. The quote from St. Mihiel is from Frierson’s war journal. Frierson remained with his regiment for the duration of the war and participated in the grand Tennessee homecomings given to the 30th in 1919. His journal is important for students of the war and their understanding of life as an American soldier during World War I.
Major Horace Frierson’s World War I diary and more than 200 photographs are found in the Frierson-Warfield Papers at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The other half of the papers, including photographs, belonged to Francis B. "Dolly" Warfield, also of Maury County. Warfield, later an architect, served in France as a first lieutenant assigned to the 105th Engineers, 30th (Old Hickory) Division. Each division had a regiment of combat engineers whose work was critical to the success of a campaign. They built roads, depots, barracks, railroads, and airfields. All maps were provided by the engineers. In the autumn of 1918, Warfield took part in fighting at the front around Ypres, Belgium, an area often remembered as Flanders Fields. The pictures in the Warfield portion of the papers portray the work of wartime engineers. The images of shelters built by the 105th at Ypres are vivid in detail. The Hindenburg Tunnel, an old Roman fortress, aerial shots, improved roads, and a view of fortified Verdun all reflect the interest of an engineer. The empty shells of buildings echo one of Warfield’s captions, "Another case of shooting up the town."
The remaining photographs are from a war album compiled by Karl Kleeman. He was said by his daughter-in-law to be a sergeant in the 115th Field Artillery, 30th (Old Hickory) Division. According to historian John Terraine, World War I was an artillery war in which big guns determined the outcome. The Karl Kleeman World War I Photographs collection contains seventy-seven photographs and is the more graphic of the two collections. The new warfare is illustrated in the pictures of Allied and German artillery, tanks, bi-planes, and several dead Boche. "Boche" was a derogatory term for Germans. Most of the Kleeman pictures appear to be of the souvenir type, are captioned, and show war scenes predating and concurrent with U.S. involvement. The range of photographs is impressive and depicts bleak war-torn landscapes, aircraft, weaponry, rural and town scenes, and details of trench warfare. The scenes of devastation are tragic. Also pictured are General John J. Pershing, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, and French Premier Georges Clemenceau. One of the few light-hearted shots is of Fritz the dog wearing the service and wound stripes awarded to him after he survived a gassing.
Complex pressures of nationalism, militarism, and imperialism had brought the major European powers to the brink in 1914. The faraway assassination of an Austrian prince in Bosnia set in motion a series of events from which there would be no recall. "Some damn foolish thing in the Balkans," as Hindenburg had prophesied. The excellence of nineteenth-century diplomacy and a sustained belief in collective security were irretrievably broken by the summer of 1914.
An intricate system of alliances heightened European tensions, causing hatreds and jealousies to boil over. The two major rivalries were the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey) and the Allied, or Entente, Powers (Great Britain, France, and Russia). By the end of the fighting, three dynasties would have collapsed and the sun was setting on another. Ten to twenty million lives were lost. Estimates vary widely.
The United States had remained officially neutral since the beginning of the conflict, and in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson campaigned for reelection on the slogan, "He Kept Us Out of War." It was not easy maintaining neutrality. America was in an isolationist mood but German provocations and outrages continued to mount. By 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare, disruption of U.S. commerce, and interception of a secret telegram, known as the Zimmerman Note, had taken their toll on German-American relations. The cable offered Mexico a chance to reclaim lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona if it would help Germany win the war. It was the final insult, so Wilson went to Congress asking for a declaration of war in April 1917. In a phrase now famous, Wilson said, "the world must be made safe for democracy."
American "doughboys" arrived in France in 1917 under the command of General John J. Pershing, and the first Yanks reached Paris in the summer. Not until the spring of 1918, however, did the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) participate in a significant action. The battles, Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, became known for the staggering number of casualties on both sides. In mid-July came the 2nd Battle of the Marne (River). Here the Allies turned back a major German offensive and helped reverse the tide of the war.
Allied offensives in August 1918 at the Somme River and Ypres were followed by the capture of St. Mihiel in September. Later that month, a costly assault was made in the difficult terrain between the Meuse River and Argonne Forest. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Horace Frierson’s men suffered a gas attack. For over a month, the Americans inched their way across the shell-pocked earth of the forest and formidable defenses of the Hindenburg Line. Artillery was used heavily during the long assault. Fourteen trainloads of shells were used every day to pound the German lines. With the Germans surrounded on all fronts, the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Frierson was on leave in Paris at the time and wrote about the chaos. He had never been "so kissed in my life. The night was one never to be forgotten.... [T]he people were wild with joy."
Though it cannot be stated that the United States "won the war," it certainly did its part to defeat the Central Powers. On the home front and at the Western Front, Tennesseans contributed significantly to that victory. Five of them were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. Among them was Alvin C. York of Fentress County, the war’s most famous common soldier. York was cited for heroism in the Meuse-Argonne campaign.
Total American losses have been estimated at more than 112,000 dead and 230,000 wounded. Tennessee casualties have been estimated at 3,836 dead and 6,190 wounded. The war left the Continent in ruins. Displacement, starvation, and disillusionment cast a pall over European society. Compared to the other Allies, France suffered an unequaled amount of loss and destruction. Despite the gloom, the Allies believed they had defeated an evil enemy.
In the United States, the doughboys were welcomed home as heroes. Twenty-eight thousand troops, including much of the 30th, came home aboard the USS Finland throughout 1919. The postwar port of disembarkation for the 30th was Newport News, Virginia. Traveling by train, it was on to Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga where great celebrations were staged to honor the veterans. The welcome parade in Knoxville drew 30,000 people. Other, smaller towns saluted the troops with similar enthusiasm. In Nashville, a miniature Arc de Triomphe was constructed near the Capitol and the reception was overwhelming. At the end of his journal, Frierson, in capital letters, wrote "NO MORE WAR FOR ME," a sentiment shared by tens of millions throughout the world.
The Treaty of Versailles ending the war was signed in 1919, though the United States never ratified it. The harsh terms imposed by the treaty are often cited as a major cause for the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Versailles also created the League of Nations, Wilson’s visionary brainchild, intended to prevent future wars. Ironically, only one generation of uneasy peace lay between this world war and the next.
Related Primary Sources at the Library & Archives