The United States didn’t want to get involved in World War I. The conflict that had arisen on the European continent felt far away from the every day bustle of the average American. At the time, the United States wasn’t the largest economic power in the world. The fledgling country was still recovering from the Civil War and remained heavily divided on the issue of race. What the Europeans did was their own business.
WWI in Europe
Europe had been at a breaking point for quite a long time. Before the 20th century, Germany had been a grouping of various kingdoms, states and duchies, and through a series of small skirmishes and political moves officially became a unified nation in 1871. The princes of the German states gathered together to declare one unified German Empire under Emperor Wilhelm I.
They held this meeting in the Palace of Versailles in France, after Germany had annexed the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine from France during the Franco-Prussian war. The newly created empire became known as the Deutsches Reich, or German Realm.
In a complicated series of treaties throughout the end of the 19th century, the economic powers of Europe inadvertently drew battle lines, with France and Russia aligning themselves economically against Germany. Great Britain and Germany became involved in a massive arms race, each increasing their military spending by 50 percent.
Nationalism was spreading throughout Europe, and political conflicts on the continent created a tense atmosphere. The taut string of tension broke on June 28, 1914 with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Within weeks, countries across Europe began declaring war against each other. The Allies — Great Britain, France and Russia — were aligned against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Italy, Japan and the United States would eventually join the Allies while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria showed solidarity with the Central Powers.
Trench warfare and the Western Front
WWI was marked most by trench warfare. Soldiers dug a long series of trenches along the Western Front of France. Military leaders on both sides of the conflict had not developed tactics to keep up with newer war technology, and because of these two reasons, a stalemate was created on the Western Front.
Barbed wire was used as a defensive mechanism at the beginning of the war, but quickly turned into a deadly instrument. Soldiers had originally laid out the barbed wire as an extra layer of security for their trenches, but soon developed strategies for laying out the wire that would trap enemy Soldiers.
The real military advantage was with artillery. Soldiers could stay in their trenches and still attack each other. Fragmentation and high explosive shells were often used, and the British experimented with thermite incendiary shells. The downside to using artillery, however, was the lack of available shells after the first year. Artillery technology became more advanced during the war, causing the need for more highly trained artillery units.
For two years, the Germans and the Allies fought against each other in the trenches, with the Germans developing chlorine gas for their artillery shells and the Allies developing tanks.
Through a bitterly fought four years, both sides sustained heavy losses without changing the landscape of the battle lines significantly.
United States enters the War
In May 1915, a German U-Boat sunk the British Liner RMS Lusitania with 128 Americans aboard. President Woodrow Wilson said that “America was too proud” to join the fight against Germany. He attempted to mediate a solution with Germany but was not successful. Wilson did tell Germany that the U.S. would join the war if they continued to fire on American ships. Germany did stop firing on passenger ships, but continued to needle the U.S. with their submarine warfare.
In January 1917, Germany attempted to send a missive, known as the Zimmerman Telegraph, to Mexico asking them to join the war as their ally. In return for this, Germany offered to give Texas back to Mexico.
The U.K. intercepted the message and showed it to President Wilson, who made it public. The people of the U.S. saw this as a true declaration of war, and supported entering the conflict. On April 6, 1917, the U.S. congress declared war against Germany.
The U.S. had a small Army, and issued a draft to boost up their numbers. 2.8 million men were drafted, and by the summer of 1918, 10,000 U.S. troops were sent to France every day.
On the U.S. homefront, Families planted Victory Gardens and raised money for war bonds. These bonds, known as “Liberty bonds,” were used to fund supplies and training to the now growing Army.
The need for Fort Bragg
With the draft and the increased size of the Army, more training grounds across the United States would be needed. Training camps were hastily erected all over the United States, the majority of which were decommissioned after the war. Camp Bragg, however, would be allowed to continue as a military installation.
The area of the training camp that would be Camp Bragg was scouted heavily by Gen. William Snow, the Chief of Field Artillery. As artillery was becoming more and more sophisticated on the Western Front, Snow realized that having an artillery training area would be very beneficial to the U.S. He chose the land around Fayetteville because of the terrain, rail facilities, access to fresh water and a good climate for year round training. It was named “Bragg” after Confederate general and North Carolinian Braxton Bragg.
Six artillery brigades were to be stationed and trained on Camp Bragg, and the land was built around training these brigades. An airfield was set up on the camp for aircraft and military balloons. The airfield was called Pope Airfield after 1st Lt. Harley Halbert Pope, who had died when his aircraft crashed in the Cape Fear River. The camp was fully finished by November 1919, although training had began in 1918.
Prior to work on Camp Bragg being finished, WWI ended on November 11, 1918. An estimated 70 million military personnel were involved in the war, four million of which were U.S. troops. The U.S. had 110,000 casualties in the war. The casualties of war were hard felt across Europe where close to 16 million people — civilians and combatants — had died.
The cost of war was great, but it had also launched a boom in military technology. Tanks became more sophisticated, barbed wire wreaked havoc on enemy lines and the airplane began to be viewed as a viable war machine. Germany employed the use of submarine technology with their U-Boats to great effect and artillery became more targeted and precise.
The war was the reason why Camp Bragg came into existence, however, the War Department ordered that Camp Bragg be closed on August 7, 1921. Gen. Albert Bowley campaigned for the installation to remain open as an artillery training ground and was successful.
On Sept. 16, 1921, the closing order was cancelled, and on Sept. 30, it was renamed Fort Bragg. The following February, the Field Artillery Board was transferred to the installation, marking the fort as an artillery stronghold.
(Editor’s note: Information for this article was provided by www.encyclopedia.com, www.northcarolinahistoryproject.org, and Dr. David Clay Large, Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, Berkeley.
The Paraglide will publish a series of articles on the history of Fort Bragg throughout the year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the installation.)