Artifact of the Week: Burton M. Curtis Bible

Author: 
Jessica A. Bandel

World War I veteran Burton McKinley Curtis was born one of ten children to James Madison Curtis and Susan L. Miner in Caldwell County, North Carolina on December 9, 1897. After the United States formally declared war on Germany in 1917, Curtis enlisted with the 113th Field Artillery Regiment on August 6 and was assigned to Company E as a cook.

Following advanced artillery training in Camp de Coetquidan, France, the regiment took up a position in the front lines near the German stronghold at Saint-Mihiel located outside of Verdun. At 1 AM on September 12, the 113th Field Artillery, in coordination with other American and French artillery and infantry units, began a four-day assault on the German lines. Allied forces advanced as quickly as the Germans retreated and, at some point during the battle, Curtis came under direct fire.

The Bible reportedly saved Curtis’s life by absorbing the impact of a bullet or shrapnel, the damage of which is still evident. The event likely took place on the first day of fighting when Curtis’s company came under fire by German artillery, resulting in two killed, five wounded, and one mortally wounded.

After serving overseas for approximately ten months, Curtis received an honorable discharge on March 28, 1919. He returned to North Carolina and worked for a time as a bailer at a cotton mill. Curtis donated the pocket-sized, war-worn New Testament to the Hall of History on November 16, 1920. It is presently in the great care of the folks at the State Archives of North Carolina.