North Carolina and the Great War Centennial

North Carolina During World War I
LeRae Umfleet

World War I began when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Serbian nationals on June 28, 1914.  Even though the US sought neutrality in the early years of the war, North Carolinians rallied to the cause of democracy in France and were involved in early fighting. These men and women were awarded service commendations such as the French Croix de Guerre for bravery, sacrifice, and heroism.

Once the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917, North Carolinians supported the war effort and rallied behind President Woodrow Wilson when he said that America was fighting for democracy in what would be called “a war to end all wars.”  Training camps for new soldiers were set up throughout the country, including three in North Carolina: Camp Greene near Charlotte, Camp Bragg near Fayetteville, and Camp Polk near Raleigh.

The state’s greatest sacrifice came when it sent its young men into military service. Stirred by patriotism, many North Carolinians volunteered for service. During the war North Carolina sent 86,457 soldiers off to fight for the United States. While North Carolinians served in the army, navy, and marines, and throughout the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France, the greatest concentrations of white Tar Heels were in the 30th (Old Hickory) and 81st (Wildcat) divisions, whereas most of the North Carolina African Americans who served in combat were in the 93rd Division.

North Carolinians served in all of the major battles on the Western Front in 1918. As part of the American Army they fought in the battles of 2nd Marne, St. Mihiel, and in the Meuse-Argonne, the last major campaign of the war. As part of the British Army, Tar Heels in the 30th Division fought in Belgium and in France in severe fighting.

North Carolina lost 828 men killed and 3,655 wounded. Another 1,542 North Carolinians died of disease while serving in the nation’s military, mostly from influenza.

It has been argued that World War I created the modern world by undermining European aristocracy, shifting national borders, industrializing warfare, and expanding the public realm of women, among other effects. The war also changed North Carolina and North Carolinians. North Carolina emerged from this first global conflict less rural, more worldly, and better equipped to serve the nation through industry, military installations, and shipbuilding enterprises at our ports.

The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources’ World War Centennial Committee launched the state’s official four-year-long Centennial Commemoration of World War I on August 2, 2014 by holding a wreath-laying ceremony at the North Carolina Veterans’ Monument in August 2014. For more information and to learn more about commemorative activities, please visit our website: