History of the Town of Schaghticoke

the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke

Tag Archives: Red Cross

The A.E.F. Arrives in France and the Homefront Responds

The Centennial of U.S. participation in World War I continues. As I wrote earlier, in the months from our declaration of war in April 1917 through the end of the year, the U.S. instituted the draft and planned to add about 700,000 men to the US military, just to begin, mobilized to feed and outfit those new soldiers, took control of the food supply of the U.S., and began to ship soldiers to France. On the home front, volunteers conducted the draft, joined the Red Cross and began to knit, knit, knit for the troops; and everyone began to eat less wheat and meat to meet the request of the government, bought Liberty Bonds to help finance the war, and boosted their patriotism.

A few men from Schaghticoke enlisted in the old 2nd NY Infantry of the National Guard, based in Troy, before the draft of June 5. The 2nd was now nationalized and renumbered the 105th NY of the 27th Division in the U.S. Army.  It began training at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina in September 1917.  Other local men were drafted beginning about the same time. Many of the draftees trained through the winter at the new cantonment at Camp Devens, west of Boston.  A couple of local men had enlisted in units of railroad engineers in Boston and New York, and were among the first US troops to reach France, by fall 1917,  where they were busy constructing the railroads essential to transport soldiers and equipment to the front.

engineers marching in London

U.S. Engineers marching in London, en route to France

On January 10 1918, the Troy “Times” published a report from the US Secretary of Defense: an Army of 1 ½ million men was now training or abroad, “without dislocation of the nation’s industries.” “No army of similar size in the history of the world has ever been raised, equipped, or trained so quickly.” 16 cantonments to train them had been built.  Remember, the US Army had numbered about 100,000 when war was declared, the National Guard about the same. So this was a very impressive increase.

Throughout the war, the front page of the Troy “Times”, the local paper for Schaghticoke, reported news of the different fronts of battle in great detail, from Europe to Russia to Italy to Jerusalem.  The newspaper was the source of news in those pre-radio days, and those who read the paper would have been very informed on what was going on throughout the world.  It printed transcripts of major speeches by political figures, detailed accounts of world events, and maps of battlefields.   Almost daily, there was a photo from the Committee on Public Information, the propaganda arm of the US Government. The photo showed soldiers training, various allied commanders, patriotic Americans doing things which supported the troops, etc. One of the major developments in the world was the Russian Revolution, which was reported in full. With the collapse of the Russian Army on the Eastern Front of the war, the German Army would be free to concentrate its forces on the Western Front in 1918, threatening our Allies France and Britain even more.  As 1918 began, there really was a race to get American soldiers into battle before the French and British Armies were overwhelmed.

 

 

The November 30, 1917 paper reported that National Guardsmen from every state were in France, though it was not permitted to report who and exactly where. As the new year began, the newspaper began to report US killed and wounded.  While newspapers did list casualties by name, they were careful not to say what units they were in and where the men had been wounded or killed.  The French newspapers republished these lists, and there was concern that the information could be used by the Germans to figure out where and how many US troops were based in what part of the front lines. Soldiers’ mail home was censored carefully for the same reason.  As time went on, there was a bit more information given: on February 16, the paper reported that Americans were fighting west of Verdun and east of St Mihiel in France, but gave no further details.

There was almost a daily report on the continuing examination and induction of men into the Army from the list created by the draft of the preceding June 5. Men were called to Hoosick Falls, examined, and accepted or rejected. For example on January 25, the paper announced that a number of men were to report for their physical exam on Tuesday,  including these from Schaghticoke:  Julius Hansen, Andrew Gatzendorfer, Wilbur Simons, Sophus Djernes, John Roberts, Arthur Brundige, Charles J. Welch, and Walter Ralston. Generally, almost half of men were rejected for one reason or another, but all of those men went on to serve.

arthur brundige

Arthur Brundige, a photo he submitted to the NYS Veterans Questionnaire in 1921

And the paper reported daily events designed to raise money for the Red Cross or other organizations supporting the troops through fall 1917 and spring 1918. For example, there was a card party in Valley Falls, a Kitchen Band and “Sinkphony” Orchestra concert at the Presbyterian Church, and a euchre party at St. John’s Catholic Church in Schaghticoke.  The Red Cross unit in Schaghticoke held a sock social with proceeds to be used to buy yarn to knit socks for soldiers. The “Shady Town Minstrels and Jubilee Singers” performed at the Odd Fellows Hall to raise more money.  In January, the YMCA, the American Bible Society, and the Federal Council of Churches reported that 1 million Bibles were needed for the troops.  On February 9 the paper reported that 200,000 Christmas packages had been sent to soldiers in France, a huge number considering that not that many American troops were in France yet.  A new way to support the troops was reported on February 12, “Smileage Books.” They were booklets of tickets to entertainments at theatres at training camps, and could be purchased to send to the men. They were available at a number of retail stores.

The government continued to sell war bonds to finance the war, and in December added the sale of war stamps, seeking to sell $2 billion worth. The stamps were for sale at Post Offices, schools, and banks in 25 cent denominations with plans “to make every school child in America buy at least one…during the first week of the …campaign.” Once a book of stamps was filled, it could be converted to a bond, thus enabling poorer citizens and even children to contribute to the war effort. The 4 Minute Men, volunteers who gave patriotic speeches at theatrical performances and to groups, had the war stamps as their topic in January.  Most ads in the paper added some touch of patriotism or an exhortation to buy bonds or stamps. “Joan of Arc saved France. Women of America Save your Country. Buy War Stamps.”

Joan_of_Arc_WWI_lithograph2

My photo from the WWI Museum in Kansas City

The US government also took further steps to put the country on a war footing. At the end 1917, German aliens were required to register, seeking to “sift out” the few who were “setting fires in munitions plants and grain elevators”, and committing other acts of sabotage. The aliens were not to take ferries, nor live in Washington, D.C. nor go to Panama (where they might threaten the canal), and needed permits to travel. Military enlistees of German and Austrian extraction were to be given duty apart from actual fighting. This was quite a change from the announcements when war was first declared that Germans were to be treated as usual.

On December 18, 1917, the newspaper announced an inventory of food resources in the U.S. issued to food dealers, manufacturers, and “holders of substantial quantities of food”. Then on January 28, 1918 it announced that all families should aim to have “two wheatless, one meatless, and two porkless days per week” and one wheatless and one meatless meal per day.  Cards were given to all households to help families keep track of their meals.  This was voluntary, but commercial bakers were required to manufacture the “Victory loaf”. They would begin by substituting 5% of the wheat flour with a different kind, for example corn meal, rye or barley flour, and increase the amount gradually, reaching 20% by February 24. Shoppers could only buy flour if they bought an equal amount of a flour substitute, like one of those listed.  The goal was for the country to consume 1/3 less wheat than in 1917. On February 5, the Food Administration ordered hotels, restaurants and dining cars on trains to serve 2 ounce bread rations, the same as in Britain.  In addition, “every day…(was) a fat and sugar saving day.” Readers were exhorted to waste no soap, as it was made from fat. On February 22, the paper reported that meatless days had already saved 140 million pounds of beef in four months and that 165 million pounds of beef and 400 million pounds of pork had been shipped to our Allies. Note that neither mutton nor chicken was included in the definition of meat, just beef and pork.

wwi food admin

And in response to an acute shortage of coal in the Eastern states, on January 17, Dr Harry Garfield of the National Fuel Administration ordered businesses east of the Mississippi River to close for the next five days plus the ten following Mondays. Some places were exempt, for example steel plants and schools. Coal was needed for transportation of soldiers and equipment by train in the US and by ship to France, and for manufacture of war materiel. An ad on January 8 exhorted, “Save Coal. Keep your Rooms at 68 Degrees. Uncle Sam Needs it!”   In the end, the heatless Mondays ended February 14, as the shortage had eased, but this would have been quite a sacrifice for a number of businesses- and presumably workers, who would not have been paid.

 

 

The U.S. Government also nationalized all the railroads in the U.S. on December 27. By this I mean that it ran the railroads, not that it took over ownership of them.  The newspaper had a number of articles about the logistics of this- but efficiency was essential in transport of soldiers and their equipment, plus transport of material needed for ship building and manufacture of other essential war materiel. Railroads were the major way that everything was transported in these pre-truck days. In our capitalist country it still must have been revolutionary for the government to take control of the railroads from their millionaire owners.

Once the new Army was trained, the troops needed to get overseas. The US Navy was tiny. The US seized all German ships in US ports as soon as war was declared in April.  German Ocean liners were repurposed as troop transports, along with US and British ships. The US immediately started building ships, but in the meantime- and as it turned out, for the bulk of the war- British ships transported most American men and materiel.  Our German foes planned to sink many of these transports to prevent the American Army from even reaching France. I have read several books about World War I which stated that no American troop transports were sunk by German U-Boats, but this is untrue.  According to “The American Army in France” by James G. Harbord, the “SS Antilles”, an American ship chartered by the US Navy for troop transport was sunk by a U-Boat on October 17, 1917.  Fortunately she was on her way home after discharging her troops in France, but 67 men drowned. Others were rescued by other ships in the convoy.

ss antillesss tuscania

“S.S. Antilles”, sunk by a U boat                 “S.S. Tuscania”, also sunk by a U-boat

And the Troy “Times” of February 6, 1918 reported that the “SS Tuscania”, a liner of the British Cunard Line being used as a troop transport, was sunk by a German U-Boat off Scotland’s Isle of Islay. The ship carried about 2,000 US troops, mostly Engineers, and a crew of about 400. 210 men drowned, and were buried in various small towns on the Scottish coast, where their bodies had washed up. My research shows that at least three more troop transports were sunk in 1918, each with small loss of life. But the bottom line was that virtually all of the US Army reached France, ensuring the defeat of Germany by the Allies.

I will close this chapter of the history of my town and its men in World War I here. The people on the home front were definitely affected by the war by March of 1918, one hundred years ago. There were voluntary restrictions on what they ate. They had bought war stamps and bonds. They were attending fund raisers for supplies for the troops. Some workers had missed work when factories closed during the coal crisis.  And they were seeing their friends, neighbors, and sometimes their sons, go off to train for war. As yet, just a few U.S. soldiers were in harm’s way. In a few months, I will relate the events of the months when U.S. troops were fighting fiercely, up to the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

 

 

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Centennial of the U.S. Entry into World War I: the Schaghticoke response

WWI statue

the World War I memorial in the village of Schaghticoke. My husband John Kelly imitating it. 

Before beginning this story, I need to urge you to go to the New York State Museum in Albany and see the World War I exhibit there. There are great objects and the posters are incredible. The exhibit will be there through spring 2018.

War in Europe had raged between the Allies and the Axis since summer 1914. By spring 1917 there had been almost two years of fierce fighting in Europe, with thousands and thousands and thousands of soldiers slaughtered on both sides. Meanwhile, the U.S. had stayed neutral. President Woodrow Wilson had attempted unsuccessfully to broker peace. Public opinion in the U.S.was divided on our entry into the war. German immigrants were of course opposed to fighting their former country. Many Irish immigrants did not want to support Britain, which was also fighting the independence of Ireland. This was the height of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and many women were in favor of peaceful solutions. There were many other pacifists in the country.  But many descendants of British immigrants, industrialists, and others supported US entry into the war on the side of Great Britain. Others were appalled at the atrocities committed by German troops against civilians in Belgium. Through 1915 a “Preparedness” movement developed in the US, with many figuring that we would enter the war on the side of the Allies eventually and should begin the buildup of our military.

hun

1917 found the Allied and Axis Armies entrenched facing each other across the Western Front, which stretched from Belgium in the north, south eastward through France. Who knows what would have happened next, but finally the U.S. declared war on German on April 6, 1917. The Troy “Times”, which would have been the most important local paper here in Schaghticoke reported the debate in the U.S. Congress fully, quoting the text of the war resolution. The immediate reasons for the declaration were German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare- meaning they would attempt to sink any non-German ship, civilian or naval- and the Zimmerman telegram, in which German offered an alliance with Mexico if she would declare war on the U.S. Mexico would regain the territory lost in the Mexican-American War after their victory.  This almost surely would not have happened, but it was an example of German intentions world-wide that startled the U.S., to say the least.

 

But the declaration of war didn’t mean that U.S. troops would get to Europe any time soon. The Allies wanted U.S. troops to be integrated with the French and British armies, but U.S. commanders resisted that strongly. They had seen the seemingly callous sacrifice of thousands and thousands of young men in meaningless battles and wanted U.S. commanders to have control over their own troops. In addition, in 1915 the U.S. Army only numbered 100,000, the National Guard only 112,000. It would take time to build a military big enough for the war.  14,000 troops reached France by the end of June, 1917, but this was a token force.

Certainly there had been planning in case the US entered the war, but the day after it happened, action began. Locally, the 2nd Regiment National Guard, based in Troy, was called to duty to protect railroad stations, bridges, and canals, which could be sensitive to sabotage. Schools held exercises where children could demonstrate their patriotism and loyalty. The newspaper gave instructions on how to hang the American flag properly. And a preemptive measure called for all German subjects in the country who obeyed U.S. laws to be protected from harassment. There was a Naval preparedness parade to encourage enlistment in that service. People were urged to transform vacant lots into gardens. Very locally, April 13, the Melrose Grange announced a meeting for the following week, with patriotic speeches and music. As many people as possible were requested to carry flags and express loyalty to the country “in every way.”

On April 5, the U.S. Army and Navy requested 3,400,000 men. More realistically the government sought to raise an Army of one million in one year and two million in two years. Part of this would be through filling the National Guard to war strength of more than 500,000 by instituting the draft, unless there were enough volunteers. And part of this would be by drafting men to the regular Army and Navy. The initial goal was to assemble the first 500,000 draftees for five months of training by August or September, then 500,000 more by April 1918.

Front and back of the draft card of Sophus Djernes of Pittstown.

On May 26, the Troy “Times” announced there would be a mandatory registration for the draft of all men aged 21-30   throughout the entire country on June 5. All men of those ages must register that day, unless they were already in the military. Though this was boosted as a PUBLIC DUTY, it was pointed out that those who did not register would be subject to imprisonment. Those absent from home could register where they were and have the registrar mail the card home. The registrars themselves were volunteers. I looked at two in Schaghticoke. John Butler was a 24-year-old cigar maker and auto mechanic. He was a draftee himself, but died of pneumonia on the ship to France. Elbridge Snyder was in his forties, a food merchant in town.  And the National League for Women’s Service supplied 250 volunteers locally to tabulate the results, set to work from June 10 to September 10. (In the event, the task was done much more quickly.) On June 4, the paper printed a sample card, and on June 6 it reported that the draft had gone smoothly.

Incredibly, more than 10,000,000 men registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 across the nation. This was a huge task organized and completed incredibly quickly it seems to me. Of these 1 million would be drafted, with a goal of 687,000 passing the minimal physical and not being declared exempt. The Troy “Times” reported that “several Spaniards in Pittstown refused to register at first,” but soon complied. Who were they??? Meanwhile, there were many voluntary enlistments in the 2nd Infantry, the local National Guard regiment at Troy. 3,455 men registered in Rensselaer County outside Troy. The pre-draft estimate had been about 1,000 more than that.

The June 6 Troy “Times” reported that “registrars came to the County Clerk’s Office last night to file their returns.” The Sheriff provided coffee, sandwiches and salads and cigars. Schaghticoke district 1 had 77 men, District 2, 43, District 3, 54, and District 4, 48, for a total of 227. Pittstown district 1 registered 53 men, district 2, 43, district 3, 27, district 4, 34, and district 5, 15, for a total of 172 men. Half the men who enrolled claimed exemptions. In general men who were married were granted exemptions, but many others were not. I have come across a number of local farmers who asked for agricultural exemptions, which were not granted. Other sons asked for exemptions as the support of aged parents. Those do not seem to have been granted either. Of course some men were rejected for disability of some sort.

The June 7 Troy “Times” announced a further state military census, of all men 16-51, to be taken on June 11. I write about this because the census takers, more volunteers, were women from an amazing list of organizations: the Home Defense League, the NYS Women’s Suffrage Party, the Salvation Army, the National League for Women’s Services, the Troy Auxiliary of the NYS Association Opposed to Suffrage, the Soldiers’ Welfare League, the Ladies’ Catholic Benevolent Association, the Philip Schuyler Chapter of the DAR, the Women’s University Club, and American Society of Civil engineers, and school teachers. Suffrage for women passed in November 1917, hence the presence of the pro- and anti-suffrage groups in the list.

By June 23, the newspaper reported that everyone who had registered for the draft had been assigned a number. The numbers would be drawn in Washington, D.C., and would be telegraphed to the home districts, with men next on the list stepping up in the case of exemptions. The exemptions were to be left up to each draft board. It seems to me that there wasn’t adequate thought behind how this would all work. The draft districts were of vastly different sizes across the country, up to over 10,000 men, so numbers couldn’t be called fairly easily. Not all districts had a number 1000, for example. Finally a very complicated two tier system was assigned, which I don’t fully understand. It took two columns of newsprint to explain.  Numbers were drawn in Washington on July 19 in a marathon 16 hours.

July 28 the first lists of men to be drafted were published. Our district, Rensselaer County outside of Troy, had a quota of 103 men. 206 men were to be called to fill that. Some of the first men from the area to be called were Sophus Djernes, William Engel, Robert Couser, William Roberts, and Charles Madigan of Valley Falls; Earl Cooley of Melrose, and Levi Warren and Walter Ralston of Schaghticoke. Of these men, only Sophus Djernes, Charles Madigan, and Walter Ralston actually served. Earl Cooley failed the physical.  William Roberts had a wife and two children. Charles Madigan claimed a farm exemption but was denied, so he, Sophus, and Walter reported to Hoosick Falls on September 7 and left the next morning by train for Camp Devens, at Ayer, Massachusetts, which had become a military training camp. Wisely, I think, the military started out small, calling only 5% of the quota that first time. I’m sure this let the system get established, and allowed the training camp staff to get used to the process.

Meanwhile, the second contingent of men were being interviewed at their exemption boards day by day. They numbered 40% of the total number to be called in this first draft. This larger group left September 22 from Hoosick Falls, this time with a send-off. A crowd of 3000 gathered at the municipal building in Hoosick Falls, led by the Old Guard Fifes and Drums and other bands. The new recruits paraded to the train station with Provisional Company A of the National Guard in Troy, the members of the Exemption Board, the GAR Post (Civil War veterans), the fire departments, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

In mid- August, the “Times Union” began publishing a “Home Reading course for Citizen Soldiers,” developed by the War Department. There were thirty lessons, one a day, designed to prepare men to be soldiers- and perhaps to let their families understand what would be expected of them as well.

The third contingent of men, 100,000 nationally, began to report to camps on October 3. Again there was a big send-off in Hoosick Falls on October 6. Ray Sherman of Melrose was one of two men in charge of the group of recruits, who paraded to the train station watched by 4,000 spectators and accompanied by the GAR, fire companies, the St. George Lutheran Society, the Hibernians, and hundreds of citizens, amid the din of many auto horns, whistles, and bells. The local men were Hamlin Coleman, Charles Rubeck, Francis O’Connor, and James VanDetto of Schaghticoke, and Arthur Turner of Melrose. Arthur was killed in battle the following July.

James Van Detto pic

James VanDetto

Meanwhile, on July 15, 1917, the National Guard was called into federal service, to report August 5. First, the soldiers reported to their armories, then went on to be trained at various forts. Our local National Guard unit, the 2nd Infantry, had already been active as stated above, guarding sensitive locations like bridges and reservoirs. And in 1916 some of the men had been deployed in the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa on the Mexican border, so they had a bit of experience. The 2nd, which was renamed the 105th US Infantry, was to be sent to Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina, as part of the 27th Infantry Division.

In what may have been the first local fatality of the war, James B. Davis, a new recruit in the 2nd Infantry- soon to be the 105th– was killed in a cannon firing on the lawn of the Valley Falls House for the 4th of July. Though the cannon was not loaded with a cannon ball,  the powder keg was left in the path of the cannon, and when he jumped to move it, the cannon fired, the wadding hit him and the keg, and it exploded. This story appeared in the July 5 Troy “Times.” I repeat it, but cannot find a trace of a man by that name in the records. I don’t doubt the event occurred, I just think that the paper got the name wrong. Certainly the second local fatality was Paul Speanburgh of Pittstown, one of three brothers who served in the Army. Paul also enlisted in the 2nd in June. On July 11, he was guarding a bridge in Ballston Spa when he was hit by a passing freight train in the middle of the night and killed. He left a young widow, Grace Lohnes Speanburgh, who lived on until 1979. Paul is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.

As August 1917 wore on and the 2nd Infantry prepared to leave for South Carolina, the city of Troy finally organized a parade to say good-bye. By this time the men had reported to a temporary camp in Schenectady, which had planned its own parade. The parade in Troy took place August 26, just two days before the men left for South Carolina.  It started at Union Station, where the men got off the train from Schenectady, and took a very back- and- forth track from there to the main school. Residences and businesses were urged to fly the flag and other patriotic decorations. Families with men serving displayed service flags like we use today, with one star for each man in the family serving. Just the soldiers, about 600, marched in the parade. At the school, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Soldiers Welfare League and the National League of Women’s Service served sandwiches, cake, ice cream, soda and cigarettes. Some of the men went home for the night, others stayed on to attend a baseball game and dance in State Street. Officers were treated to a vaudeville show at Proctor’s. The next day the men returned to Schenectady and departed for the south.

On August 28 the regiment reached a temporary base near Marble Hill in Brooklyn, passing the train ride with a “continuous round of pleasure: singing, reciting, playing jokes,” with food, but, the only problem, no water supplied. On August 30 they participated in a grand parade of the whole 27th Division in New York City. It took them six hours to march from 110th Street to Washington Square. “5th Avenue was packed with humanity” cheering them. All of this was reported in the Troy “Times.”

27thDivParade1

27th Division Parade in New York City

The 2nd/105th went on to camp in South Carolina. The men began strenuous training: trench practice; grenade, bayonet, musketry, sniping, and automatic arms schools; use of machine guns, and the Stokes mortar; gas defense and camouflage. Families could visit the men through the winter, and the men enjoyed the music of seven regimental bands. Popular songs were “Pack up your troubles”, “the Long, long trail,” and “Joan of Arc.” Rather than singing while they marched, the men whistled as a group. A correspondent for the Troy “Times” went to South Carolina and gave frequent reports on the men to the folks back home. For example, in October he reported that each tent in camp had a small stove, ready for winter.

At the same time that the country was working to grow the Armed Forces rapidly, it was also acting to pay for the war. One way was through the Liberty Loan program, the first time the U.S. government issued bonds.  The first Liberty Loan Act, enacted April 24, 1917, just a couple of weeks after war was declared, issued $5 billion in bonds at 3.5% interest. These bonds were sold to citizens. Apparently the loan was not subscribed to with enthusiasm by the country, but you wouldn’t know that from the articles in the Troy “Times,” which reported that bonds were selling well. There was a Liberty Loan rally at the Troy Music Hall on June 9, with patriotic speeches and songs.

The Troy “Times” of October 1 announced that Congress had passed a new war tax on incomes and corporations of about 2%. Postal rates were to go up and further fees were expected. A second Liberty Loan campaign was announced at the same time, with the local amount to be raised pegged at over $7 million. Bonds yielded 4% interest and were payable in 25 years.  This time the government realized that a vigorous ad campaign would be needed to fulfill the target. The newspaper was full of ads of all sizes for the loans, and government representatives came out to organize all the businesses and organizations to go out and urge citizens to buy the bonds. Each type of business had a committee to organize sales, which were made at all the local banks. I have been told that Boy Scouts sold Liberty Loans, but I have not found evidence in the newspaper of that. Bond could be bought in very small denominations, making their purchase possible for nearly everyone.

4 minute men

The federal government had a “Committee on Public Information,” whose purpose was to educate the public on important issues of the day- patriotism, the war. We might call it a propaganda arm of the government. It was certainly one more way to inform more people, and out loud rather than in the newspaper.  Part of this was a group of volunteers organized all over the country, “the 4-minute men,” who delivered the desired content in short talks. In Rensselaer County, a group of “4-minute men”, local businessmen volunteers, were trained to go to organizations, meetings, theatrical performances, churches, etc. to give a four-minute talk on the need to buy bonds. The Troy “Times” reported their presence in theaters in Troy, and at regular meetings of organizations throughout the county.

liberty bonds 2

Bonds were even sold to the troops in training camps.  Slogans included “Every Liberty Bond spikes a German gun,” “If you cannot go across, come across,” and “Liberty Bonds + Liberty Bullet = Victory.” One full page ad showed a caricature of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany in a spiked helmet with a skull and cross bones on the front. On October 14, the newspaper reported that the Liberty Loan was oversubscribed by more than 50% in Rensselaer County.  Valley Falls residents bought $50,000 worth of bonds.

Another new activity for the country was to support the men of the rapidly growing armed forces. There were plenty of people who remembered the unmet needs of the Civil War soldiers for at least the first year of that war, and the organizations which had grown up only gradually to help them with nursing and personal items. Until that happened, U.S. soldiers had suffered horribly. In this new war, almost immediately the main organization which stepped up was the Red Cross, which had been small up until this time. By the start of June 1917, the Troy “Times” reported the Red Cross was raising money to help take care of soldiers, with a goal of $150,000 in Rensselaer County. This goal was exceeded in less than a month. An article on June 23 reported that an entertainment in Melrose had raised $45. The June 27 Troy “Times” listed all the contributors, most of whom gave $3-$5 each, a considerable sum, though Alexander Diver, the town undertaker, gave $25. The money was to be used in part for yarn and needles for knitted items for the troops, comfort kits for new recruits, and hospital supplies.

Besides raising money, the Red Cross sought to grow its membership.   Through August and September, the newspaper reported the plans of the Rensselaer County organization to fan out around the county and recruit.  Many of the members needed to be women, as a major Red Cross effort was to knit for the troops. I’m not saying men couldn’t knit, but most wouldn’t/didn’t.  The Rensselaer County quota was 5,000 sleeveless sweaters, mufflers, socks, helmets (to be worn under the metal helmets), and wristlets, to be sent to France as soon as possible.  Mrs. T. A. Bryson was the head of the Red Cross knitting unit formed in Schaghticoke. The Troy Soldiers Welfare Division of the Red Cross planned to make 700 knitted sets for the men of the 2nd NY (now the 105th US), including a sweater, scarf, helmet, wristlet, and fingerless mittens. They needed funds of $2000 for the materials, but had plenty of knitters. The Valley Falls Political Equality Club put on a number of card parties whose proceeds were to buy yarn to knit for the local boys in France and Camp Devens.

red cross knitting

By October, a group of Red Cross volunteers set off across the county to recruit members. The men were assigned to speak to any gathering of people, the women to make home visits. They were urged to “make plain what this country would face should Germany win the war,” and talk about the “hardships of the troops in the trenches,” pleading “that everything possible be done to alleviate their suffering.” George Patrick and E. Harold Cluett came out and spoke at the Schaghticoke Odd Fellows Hall one Sunday and the Honorable Frederick Filley and Duncan Kaye spoke at the Melrose Grange. (Troy “Times” Oct 5)

Yet another issue for the country as it mobilized for war was food- its price and availability. From the start, the U.S. Government and its Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, the future President, were concerned about proper rations for troops, food for both civilians and allied soldiers in Europe, and both proper food for people at home and its availability at appropriate prices. Price gouging was nothing new. In August 1917 Congress enacted the Food Control Act to address all of the preceding. During the summer, food prices in the country had increased by 100%.    Measures were taken for the U.S. government to buy the whole upcoming wheat crop of the country and to stabilize the price of sugar. Domino Sugar ads suggested using sugar sparingly- not hoarding but not overusing. The wheat crop in 1917 was very small, aggravating the problems of supply and cost. The Food Administration began by suggesting, then mandating substitution of things like corn meal in recipes demanding wheat to make the crop go farther. The emphasis was on volunteer adoption of regulations by producers, wholesalers, and retailers, but as the year went on, more and more of the preceding were licensed and controlled by the Food Administration. Prices were at first suggested- with “reasonable” profit allowed, then set. Canned goods, so important to the troops, were in especially short supply.

wwi food admin

The Food Administration also addressed consumers. The Troy “Times” printed a series of “Menus that Help the Food Administration”.  They were day-by-day menus for a week that would both help local citizens deal with the “high cost of living” and “increase the supply of staples for our allies and famine stricken countries of Europe.” The menus included the awful-sounding dried bean and peanut butter loaf- using less meat- and corn chowder- which sounds good. Posters urged people to “Win the War by Service in the Home,” and “To Save Democracy: eat less wheat.” Advice was given on eating less wheat, meat, fats, and sugar, using perishables efficiently and canning and drying them, and preaching “the Gospel of the Clean Plate Club.”

Of course war could be profitable for many. The US Government still allowed food producers and processors to make a “reasonable” profit. The newspaper reported that Troy and Cohoes companies were making tents, camp stoves, underwear, hosiery, shirts, and engines for the Army. The Watervliet Arsenal planned to add 3,000 new mechanics to their work force from October 1917 to March 1918, making large caliber field artillery, and needed housing for them and their families. Building that housing would also provide local employment, of course. And of course the workers would spend their paychecks locally.

In Schaghticoke, the effects were mixed. The powder mill, in business since 1813, had been a subsidiary of Hercules Powder since 1912.   Hercules was a huge corporation. In an Army publication a history of explosives used in the war, the author explained that the company made two kinds of black powder: B and rifle. The latter, which was made in Schaghticoke, was more prone to explosion. Hercules claimed this was just a superstition, but when the need for black rifle powder for the Army outstripped the capabilities of the Schaghticoke plant, men at their other sites were scared of changing. A few men from Schaghticoke were imported to the plants in California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to make the changes needed in the process and teach the workers how to make the powder as safely as possible. Clearly, Schaghticoke was working at full capacity.

On the other hand, another industry essential to the local economy, the Cable Flax Mill, in the village of Schaghticoke, essentially came to a halt.  Its supply of flax came primarily from Belgium, and Germany seized the shipments. It had already had difficulties making the change to using electricity rather than water as a power source- which it had had to do following the construction of the G.E. power dam in 1907, and the lack of flax sounded its death knell.

So in six months, the U.S. Government had declared war, mobilized an Army and outfitted it, and gotten the country’s food supply under control, while its citizens had volunteered and been drafted to fight, organized to help the new soldiers, and adjusted to the new reality of limited food. I will leave the story here, and take up the actual fighting of the U.S. troops in France later.