Sunday, November 25, 2012

Robert E. Lee's Daughter Laments the Great War

When the maelstrom of war swept through Europe during the summer of 1914, many vacationing Americans were caught up the in tide of events and found themselves unwitting witnesses to the opening rounds of the First World War. One such Americans was none other than Mary Custis Lee – the oldest daughter of the famous Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Ms. Lee had been travelling abroad for nearly a decade by the time that war broke out and had resided in France, Germany, Italy, and even Egypt. She happened to find herself in Germany when that country violated Belgian neutrality and the dominoes began to fall, ensuring that what many thought would be a short European war would develop into a global conflict. Wisely deciding that she had better return to the United States, Ms. Lee managed to work her way through Holland to London, where she gave a fascinating interview to the New York Times as she awaited transport to the U.S.

Mary Custis Lee, 1914
The interview took place at Hyde Park Hotel on October 21, 1914. By this point in the early days of the war, the “Miracle of the Marne” had taken place and the race to the race to the sea had just finished. The horrors of large-scale trench warfare that would define the conflict had not begun, yet Ms. Lee speaks of the soldiers suffering in the trenches.
From the 22 October 1914 issue of The New York Times:

LONDON, Oct. 21.—Miss Mary Lee, the only surviving daughter of Gen. Robert E. Lee, has just reached London from Hamburg via Rotterdam, and to-day she gave the correspondent of THE NEW YORK TIMES a striking interview at Hyde Park Hotel, where she will stop until she sails for America.
I am a soldier's daughter," she said, "and descended from a long line of soldiers, but what I have seen of this war, and what I can foresee of the misery which must follow, have made me very nearly a peace-at-any-price woman."

A battalion of Lord Kitchener's new army was marching by directly beneath the room in which Miss Lee was speaking. They started to sing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," and Miss Lee, who had never heard this now imperishable music hall ballad, went to the window and stood for some time silently looking at the column of khaki-clad men below her. When she turned to speak again there were tears in her eyes, and her voice broke.
"My father often used to say," she said, looking straight at a table on which was a picture of Lord Kitchener, autographed by "K. of K." himself no longer ago than last Christmas, "that war was a terrible alternative, and should be the very last. I have remembered those words in the last three months, and I often wonder and wonder with many misgivings if in this case war was the last alternative. As I say, I am a soldier's daughter, and got my first full view of life in the dark days of one of the world's great civil wars, but it has been an altering experience for me to watch, one week in Germany and the next week in England, the handsome, the strong, the brave of both countries marching away to kill or to get killed, perhaps to return no more, perhaps to return maimed and useless men. My father used to say it was not those who were killed in battle—often a quick and always a glorious death for a soldier—but those who, crippled and mangled and enfeebled, faced after the war a world that they could not understand and that had no place for them.

"I think of all of this and ask myself why must it be? What can be worth it? I feel close to the English people, and particularly close to the English Army. I have known many English officers and their wives and daughters. Last Winter, in Egypt, I had the privilege of seeing something of Lord Kitchener, and I have a high admiration for him. But much of what I see in the English press seems hysterical and without reason. The spy mania, for instance, and the senseless calling the Germans Huns and Vandals. I have known many German military men, and I cannot believe that these men are what the English imagination has painted them.
"From the beginning of the war I have been neutral. I have tried to follow President Wilson's advice in word and deed. My sympathy is with suffering wherever it exists—with the brave men who are fighting and suffering in the trenches and the brave women who, in practically all the homes of Europe, are waiting and suffering."

Mary Custis Lee, the last surviving child of Gen. Lee, would live to see the full realization of trench warfare and even lived to see the Armistice. She passed away on November 22, 1918.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

International Centennial Conference at the National World War I Museum


An International Centennial Planning Conference: March 22-24, 2013

The National World War I Museum is honored to host the International Centennial Planning Conference on World War I in the spring of 2013.
This 3-day conference will provide a unique opportunity for participants to conduct preliminary discussions, formulate commemorative plans and encourage collaborative initiatives for the Centennial. Guests will include ambassadors, representatives of consular offices, scholars, museum professionals, film producers, and heritage specialists from around the world.

Attendees will network and build relationships that may serve as the foundation for coordinating a variety of international initiatives. Panel and roundtable discussions will be conducted with featured remarks from acclaimed professors and noted historians throughout the Conference.
Keynote speakers include Annette Becker, Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Michael S. Neiberg, and Sophie de Schaepdrijver Thorp.


Individuals and organizations are encouraged to submit a short written summary of initial plans and projects for the Centennial which will be shared electronically at the Conference. This information should be no more than 1,000 words and is due no later than March 1, 2013. Send information to and title the email “Centennial Plans.”


As the Centennial approaches, the need to re-examine what many consider a forgotten war is crucial, as is the exploration of the war as an international event shaping the 21st century. Such consideration is intended to provide methods for institutions around the world to enhance understanding of the truly global nature of this conflict.

The National World War I Museum invites participation proposals from those individuals and organizations involved academically, politically and socially with the international commemoration of the First World War. Proposals may include papers, panels and roundtables. See below for specific details on opportunities.

Please email all proposals to Curator of Education Lora Vogt at Include with your proposal the title, presenter’s name(s), email address and institutional affiliation. Notification of all accepted proposals will be emailed by the dates listed. All attachments should be sent in .doc format.

Individuals chosen for panels and roundtables will have their conference registration fee waived or refunded.

Individual/Co-author Paper Proposals
Please submit abstracts, no longer than 500 words, describing original completed scholarship to be considered for an electronic publication to be provided at the conference. Please title the email “Paper Proposal Submission.”  Include a one page CV for author(s). Please title your document “Yourlastname_Abstract_WWI_2013.doc”. Individual paper proposals will receive a blind review by an international scholar board.

Abstract submission deadline: Monday, January 7, 2013
Notification of acceptance: Friday, February 8, 2013

Completed papers due: Monday, March 4, 2013
Panel Proposals

Submit a summary, no longer than 250 words, of the focus and purpose of the panel and how it contributes to the conference objective. Provide a one page CV for the panel chair, along with the names of the panelists and a title for the panel and a 30 to 50 word description of your proposal to be used for promotional purposes. Panels should be prepared to allow at least 25 minutes for questions and answers. Please title the email “Panel Proposal Submission.”
Submission deadline:  Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Notification of acceptance: Friday, December 28, 2012
Roundtable Discussions

A roundtable should include 4 or 5 participants and provide an overview of a current issue or element regarding the Centennial of the Great War or its commemoration. Participants should not prepare or read a paper but engage the audience in an active discussion. Please submit a proposal, no longer than 250 words, describing the specific issue(s) to be addressed, precise enough to indicate the scope and intent of the discussion and the title of the roundtable. Also include a 30 to 50 word description of your proposal to be used for promotional purposes. Please title the email “Panel Roundtable Submission.”

Submission deadline:  Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Notification of acceptance: Friday, December 28, 2012

*Please note that a moderator will help guide discussions during all panel and roundtable discussions.*

Early registration is $275.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Modern Americans may find themselves scratching their heads when they read that American infantrymen who fought in World War I were referred to as “doughboys”.

Why on earth would soldiers name themselves after chunks of dough?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is still unknown.

Theories have abounded ever since 1917 as to how this strange nickname was applied to Uncle Sam’s troops, and historians still can’t seem to agree on where the term originated. We do know that American soldiers were referred to as “doughboys” as far back as the Mexican War of 1846-48 and the term was commonly used during the American Civil War.

Theories as to why that was the case during the First World War include:

  • American soldiers were fond of donuts, hence the nickname “doughboy”
  • Uniform buttons from the time period resembled globs of dough
  • Soldiers used a white pipe clay to polish their uniforms that could turn into a dough-like substance whenever it rained
  • Foot soldiers marching in Northern Mexico stirred up so much dust that they took on the look of the abode buildings of the region. “Adobe” was shortened to “dobe” which somehow got mangled into the term “doughboy” (the great chronicler of the AEF, Laurence Stallings – himself a doughboy – held to this view)
One thing we do know is that the term was in common use as soon as the American Expeditionary Forces arrived in France.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another Take on a National WWI Memorial

From The Washington Post:

The Right Way to Remember the Great War

By William N. Brown
As we pause this Veterans Day to remember Americans who have served in the armed forces, I’d like to draw attention to an unresolved legislative issue that casts a shadow over an important moment of remembrance that will soon be upon us: the World War I centennial.

This year, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) finally set aside a long-standingattempt to “nationalize” the D.C. World War I Memorial on the Mall. Unfortunately, the plan Poe has put forward in its place isn’t much better. He now seeks up to $10 million to create a World War I memorial on the other side of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, in Constitution Gardens. The time and effort it would take to proceed with this initiative — not to mention the $10 million — would go a lot further if it were used instead to enhance the existing John J. Pershing Memorial and Pershing Park in time to mark the centennial of the Great War.
With the centennial just around the corner, there is little time to waste. The funding could be used to add statuary (perhaps in honor of the “the last doughboy” Frank Buckles, who died in 2011, as well as representatives of the other service branches), interpretive signage, a reproduction tank or biplane, and a modest visitors center. In fact, space on the ground floor of the John A. Wilson Building, adjacent to the park, could be set aside to serve as a volunteer-staffed National World War I Memorial Visitors Center, just as the Commerce Department houses the White House Visitors Center.

The result would be a full re-envisioning of Pershing Park as the National World War I Memorial in the nation’s capital. The Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia supports this vision for two compelling reasons:

First, the congressionally established American Battle Monuments Commission already considers its memorial to Pershing to be the national World War I memorial. Do we really need another?
Second, the Commemorative Works Act prohibits the addition of memorials on the Mall, and according to recent congressional testimony by Stephen Whitesell, the regional director of the National Park Service’s National Capital Region, Poe’s Constitution Gardens plan is in conflict with the intent of the act.

If we move forward now, the centennial offers an ideal timeline for reimagining Pershing Park. We propose the following sequence of events:
●July 28, 2014: Pershing Park is rededicated as the new National World War I Memorial to mark the centennial anniversary of the start of the war, and the winner of a design competition is announced.

●April 6, 2017: Interpretive signage is unveiled at a ceremony commemorating the United States’ entry into the conflict in Europe.

● Nov. 11, 2018: New sculpture and displays are dedicated to mark Armistice Day, the end of the war.
 “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds,” Gen. Pershing said of those who served under him. To keep faith with these words, we must commemorate the centennial of World War I in an appropriate and timely manner. Will we rise to the occasion? Poe’s bill marks the third attempt in Congress to pass legislation to establish a National World War I Memorial on the Mall. If history is any indication, it will not pass — and in the meantime a window of opportunity to commemorate the Great War the right way will close. Pershing Park is a better answer.
The writer is the president of the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Photo of the Week


Press Release from the World War One Memorial Foundation

For Immediate Release


David DeJonge 616-540-4922

Edwin Fountain 202-879-7645

World War One Memorial Foundation challenges lawmakers to show America the change they promised and pass the law for the National World War One Memorial.

 WASHINGTON, DC- November 9, 2012- In 2008 an effort for a National WWI Memorial spearheaded by the late Frank Buckles was launched in Washington DC. Today the WWI Memorial Foundation has released it's latest video narrated by Emmy Award Winning actor Richard Thomas. Titled 'Ultimate Honor' is an 8-minute film that shows the history and challenges of this effort.

With this films release another call to action for the politicians. "The politicians have advanced the law this far which is exciting. We have no lobbyists or major veterans groups that have stepped forward to help. But will congress pass a bi-partisan bill to honor 5 million veterans that does not cost the taxpayer a dime?" Questioned David DeJonge the groups President.

HR6364 replaces the plan to add additional elements near the DC War Memorial and instead grants use of a small portion of property to the north of the WWII Memorial on the National Mall for a WWI Memorial to the veterans that served during the first World War.

 Europe has already surpassed 100 million dollars in financing to remember World War One. America's only official effort to honor these veterans is still locked in committee after nearly 4 years of effort.

"This law has now officially been stalled in congress longer than America was in World War One. As we approach the Centennial of WWI, America is the only major Nation to not be preparing to recognize The Great War." Stated David DeJonge co-founder of the foundation.

A documentary on the memorial process and the life of Frank Buckles is slated for release in 2013 and is titled 'Pershing's Last Patriot'. The two hour documentary will walk the world through the 110 year life of Frank Buckles and show exclusive footage of the memorial effort.

Veterans day was started in honor of the Armistice of World War One 94 years ago this Sunday.

WWI Ultimate Honor (Veterans Day 2012)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Upcoming Centennial of the First World War

When I first started this blog I was in the throes of researching what was, for myself anyway, a mammoth undertaking – a museum exhibit that told the story of one American county’s experience during the First World War. This project was my “baby” from start to finish, and the massive amount of research that I did to familiarize myself both with the general aspects of America’s involvement in the war on down to the local story I was trying to tell led me establish Over There.

While other obligations have made this blog suffer from severe neglect, one thing that has been lingering in the back of my mind is a simple question – how will America commemorate the centennial of the Great War? Will begin with a whimper…and end with a whimper?
So far the effort to get a substantial centennial commemoration underway has led to bickering ,a proposal for silver coins, and a bill that has pretty much gone nowhere. It should come as no surprise that the situation in Europe is different, and planning of all sorts is already underway for the commemoration “over there.”

So it appears as if the efforts to commemorate America’s involvement will be a bit of an uncoordinated effort of local historical societies, museums, and great scholarship done by the relatively small group of academic historians who specialize in the topic.

One exception to this seemingly impenetrable malaise is the brand new Journal of the World War One Historical Association. I received my first issue in the mail yesterday and there is a great opening article entitled “Too Soon to Tell? Some Thoughts on the Meaning of World War I” by one of America’s leading scholars on the topic – Dr. Michael S. Neiberg. Dr. Neiberg is the author of such well-respected works as The Second Battle of the Marne and The Great War: A Global History and he deftly lays out how modern scholarship has put some old longstanding myths about the First World War to rest.

Neiberg talks of the prevailing wisdom among Americans and Europeans alike that the World War I generation was “supposedly so much dumber than our own that they let a calamitous war needlessly happen [and] then fought it with breathtaking incompetence.”
In terms of how the war is remembered, Neiberg states: “Even if those most passionately interested in the war have a sense of what we think the memory of World War I should not be, we have not agreed on what it should be. Nor are we likely to do so.” He concludes by stating that, “although centennials frequently inspire reflection and a quest for meaning, World War I was simply too large and too complex to provide a single set of answers.”

And therein lies the rub. Centennial commemorations are not likely to draw large crowds or garner much excitement because the event that is being commemorated is virtually unintelligible to modern Americans. It’s casually dismissed as being “too depressing” to contemplate or it’s relegated to a subordinate position due to the World War II craze that has captured the public’s imagination. Sgt. York and his buddies in the 82nd Division were neat, but it’s Private Ryan and Easy Company that really get people excited.

Let us hope that the centennial can at least partially alter that perception and spawn a new generation of historians who seek to better understand the American experience in the First World War.