WWI: The Absent Soldier’s Team
Posted On: 10/04/2017 - 12:24pm, Posted By: Scott Gampfer, Associate Vice President for Collections & Preservation
April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. Every other Wednesday, we will present items from our collections that highlight life in Cincinnati, around the nation and from the battlefields during the war.
Among the WWI ephemera in our collection is this card from the Camp Sherman “Absent Soldier’s Team.” The team was a group of African American soldiers assigned to Camp Sherman, Ohio for training during WWI. They wished to participate in the YMCA’s membership campaign, but were not able to help out in person. They instead formed a group to help encourage the women of Cincinnati to sign up boys and men for membership in the “Y” as a way of thanking the organization for the much appreciated services they offered the soldiers while in camp. The YMCA actually had several facilities located on the grounds of Camp Sherman during the war.
The YMCA provided invaluable “welfare” and spiritual services to the troops, both at stateside facilities and with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. They were later joined in this work by other organizations, but the YMCA remained the main provider for the duration of the war.
Absent Soldier’s Team membership card to the “Y” during WWI. CMC Printed Works Collection.
Camp Sherman, named after Ohio-born Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, was built in 1917 at Chillicothe, Ohio in Ross County. It was one of many cantonment or training facilities hurriedly constructed across this country when the United States entered the war. According to the National Park Service, two thousand structures were built on nearly two thousand acres of land at the camp between June and September 1917. It took some 5,000 workers to accomplish this enormous task. The NPS further points out that the camp was built on top of Hopewell prehistoric Indian mounds. Although the Army, at the urging of some Ohio archaeologists and preservationists, tried to make accommodations to avoid unnecessary destruction of the earth works, the fact remains that some smaller mounds were severely damaged and others completely destroyed by the construction.
Close-up view of the men of the Absent Soldier’s Team. CMC Printed Works Collection.
Several regiments of African American soldiers were organized and trained at Camp Sherman during the war. Most of these regiments were later assigned to the all-black 92nd Infantry Division in France. The 92nd Division reached the front lines in France in August of 1918 and saw combat in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which ran from September until the Armistice in November.
In total, over 120,000 men passed through the camp during the war and even for a period after the hostilities had ended. The camp was officially decommissioned by the Army in 1921.