On the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:00 am in 1918, by agreement, the guns of the nations at war since 1914 fell silent. At its conclusion, the total military dead was 8.5 million. Estimates of civilian casualties range from 6 to 13 million. The Beaufort District Collection has materials and provides access to databases that can help you learn more about individual American Doughboys who served during the Great War, the War to End All Wars.
This image is from the Beaufort Gazette newspaper, June 22, 1917, pp.4 and 8. This is a "Complete Official Draft Registration List of Beaufort County," including these precincts: Barrel Landing (left); No. 1 or "A"; No. 2 or "B"; Bengie Point; Bluffton; Brick Church; Hardeeville; Hilton Head; Ladies Island; Port Royal; and, Tomotley. Over 1200 men are listed. (To see the entire list on microfilm, visit the BDC or the Beaufort Branch Library).
For point of illustration, I chose to investigate "Henry Buncomb" of Barrel Landing. What can I find out about him from Library resources?
The official roster of South Carolina soldiers, sailors and marines in the World War, 1917-1918 is in the BDC Research Room for family historians to find a synopsis of an ancestor's WWI service record. Volume 1 lists the white folks; Volume 2 lists the "Colored" folks.
Q: Can I tell Henry Buncomb's race from the newspaper list?
A: No. There does not appear to be any separation by race in the newspaper list, so it is prudent to check both volumes. Arrangement is alphabetical by surname. Volume 1 does not include the name "Buncomb, Henry." Volume 2 (for Black men) has this entry on p. 1233:
BUNCOMBE, HENRY. 4134177 Res Bluffton SC NA Beaufort SC Aug 12/18. Br Bluffton SC May 10/95. 156 Dep Brig to Sept 18/18; Co A 431 Res Lab Bn to disch. Pvt. Hon disch Dec 21/18
Translating the abbreviations into regular English: "Buncombe, Henry. Service registration number 4134177, resided in Bluffton SC, joined the National Army in Beaufort SC on August 12, 1918. He was born in Bluffton on May 10, 1895. He was attached to the 156th Depot Brigade to September 18, 1918. I think that he was part of Company A, 431st Reserve Labor Battalion until his honorable discharge three months later on December 21, 1918. His rank was Private.
His Army Service number may allow me to secure his service record from the National Archives.
This record series is particularly important because in 1917 and 1918, approximately 24 million men living in the United States completed a World War I draft registration card. These registration cards represent approximately 98% of the men under the age of 46. The total U.S. population in 1917-1918 was about 100 million individuals. In other words, close to 25% of the total population is represented in these records.
From the description of the WWI Draft Registration Cards database I learn that: On 6 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and officially entered the Great War. Six weeks later, on 18 May 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed authorizing the President to increase the military. As a result, every male, ages 18 to 45, living in the United States was required to register for the draft. Because the "Complete List" was published in June 1917, we know that the men listed there were part of the First Registration of men aged 21 to 31 years old.
The card used for the first registration (sometimes called the "Twelve-Question card") includes name, age, address, date and place of birth, citizenship status, employer's name and address, dependent information, marital status, race, prior military service, and physical appearance.
From Henry Buncomb's WWI Draft Registration card I learn:
Henry Buncomb is 22 years old. He was born at Okatee on May 10, 1895. He is a self-employed farmer. He is married but the couple has no children. His race is listed as "African." He asks to be exempted from the draft because of his "dependent wife." The registrar describes Henry's physical features: Medium height, medium build, black eyes, and black hair. He is not bald. Henry has at least one eye from which to see, both hands, both feet, both legs, and both arms. He cannot be exempted from the service due to physical disability. Henry registered June 5, 1917.
Not bad for about 20 minutes worth of research is it?
- We also maintain an obituary file which includes notices of local men killed during the War. Unfortunately, we do not have an obituary for Henry Buncombe in our obituary files.
- We have a vertical file headed History--World War, 1914-1918.
- The BDC postcard collection contains a number of contemporary postcards about the training of Marines on Parris Island during the period.
Reminder: "The Shaping of South Carolina" traveling exhibit from the South Carolina Historical Society is on display during our regular hours of operation.