30th Division Leaves for France 100 years Ago

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

This week of May 6-12, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the shipping out for Europe of the U.S. Army division containing the largest number of North Carolina soldiers: the 30th Division. From May 7-19, 1918, the majority of the units of the 30th Division, U.S. Army—which was the federalized division in which the North Carolina National Guard had been assigned—began leaving from the United States aboard troop transport ships for France to join the combat in World War I. The 30th Division was stationed at Camp Sevier, S.C., at the end of April 1918 and the start of May 1918. From there at various points between April 29-May 9, units of the 30th Division would march, take trains, and be trucked to various camps in New Jersey and New York, in order to be prepared for embarkation to England.


The most direct route—one taken by the 119th Infantry, 30th Division—to their camp in preparation for embarkation were trains from Greenville, S.C., traveling through Charlotte, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, Pa.; and Jersey City, N.J. However, some trains traveled through Richmond, Va., as well.

The primary camp for a lot of the 30th Division was Camp Merritt, N.J. After several days at Camp Merritt, 30th Division men would most commonly take a train to Hoboken, N.J., where they boarded their various U.S. Army troop transport ships to leave through the New York City Harbor.

North Carolina soldiers, such as Roy V. Martin of Gaston County, N.C., would document the process of leaving for and boarding ships between May 9-17, 1918, or take a few minutes to write a last letter from the U.S. to their loved ones. Some soldiers would drop a quick postcard, too, to their families to let them know they arrived safely in New Jersey and would be leaving soon.

Exact dates and locations of leaving the country for Europe could not be shared due to federal secrecy laws to protect military operations and troop movements. Most soldiers would write letters aboard the transport ships, which could not be mailed until they landed safely in Scotland, Ireland, or England. The journey from the United States to Scotland, Ireland, or England, could take between 10 and 14 days on average by ship.


From England, the men would march or take trains to various English ports, awaiting being shipped to France. This would be one of the most dangerous parts of the journey to the front lines for American soldiers, as German U-boats and mines laid in wait in the English Channel to destroy the Allied troops coming to mainland Europe.


The majority of the 30th Division units would return to the United States from Europe—including from occupation duties after the Armistice in November 1918—between February and April 1919.


This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.


Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.