U.S. Army infantry troops, African American unit, marching northwest of Verdun, France, in World War I.

U.S. Army infantry troops, African American unit, marching northwest of Verdun, France, in World War I.


(July 28, 1914 – November 11, 1918)

The Participants

The Central Powers: Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey)

The Allied Powers: Belgium, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, the U.S.

The Early Years of the War: U.S. Neutrality

July 28, 1914 – April 6, 1917

The Complex Beginnings of the War

The politics surrounding the First World War were, to put it lightly, complicated, steeped in the quagmire of European politics and territories. To put it as simply as possible, on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This was retaliation for a Yugoslav revolutionary assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. The Yugoslav revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip, was Serbian, associated with the Black Hand secret society, which wished to unite all South Slavic-majority territories not held by Serbia or Montenegro. This included a portion of Austria-Hungary, which they wished to merge with Yugoslavia. 

After the assassination, Austria-Hungary was incensed, and issued an ultimatum to Serbia with a list of objectives that Serbia could not accept. However, as European nations began to choose sides between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, President Woodrow Wilson declared the U.S. a neutral party. 

The War of Attrition

A War of Attrition is a conflict in which each side seeks to gradually wear out the other by a series of small scale actions. World War I ushered in a new era of warfare – it was the first introduction of tanks and the first large-scale use of chemical warfare. The Western Front, the region between occupied and unoccupied France, was the scene for massive-scale trench warfare, beginning the War of Attrition. 

One of the methods of small-scale attack was gassing. The Germans introduced a number of chemical attacks to the battlefield, including the incapacitating tear gas and the fatal gases: chlorine and phosgene. Mustard gas soon became a popular chemical for the Germans to use against the Allies. Mustard gas was fatal in some cases, if inhaled, and left the victim with terrible blisters and burns. The allies fought back against these attacks by innovating and improving gas masks. 

The Preparedness Movement

The U.S., at this time, responded to rising dangers in Europe by campaigning to strengthen the military in what became known at the Preparedness Movement, led by former president Theodore Roosevelt and Leonard Wood. Pacifists and other groups opposed this movement, though President Woodrow Wilson eventually conceded to increasing the size of the U.S. Navy. 

Bradley County Enters the War

“The Americans who went to Europe to die are a unique breed… (They) crossed the seas to a foreign land to fight for a cause which they did not pretend was peculiarly their own, which they knew was the cause of humanity and mankind. These Americans gave the greatest of all gifts, the gift of life and the gift of spirit.” – President Woodrow Wilson

Bradley County entered the war in 1914 in a response to cries for relief from Belgium. Two citizens of Bradley County, Reverend T.S. Stivers and W.A. Kincannon, volunteered to join their war effort. 

The War to End All Wars: The U.S. Enters the War

April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.” – President Woodrow Wilson, April 2, 1917

The sinking of the Lusitania, a passenger ship, in 1915 by a German U-Boat (submarine) caused a political uproar in America, as 128 American passengers had been killed. However, President Woodrow Wilson refused to declare war. 

In 1917, two incidents incited the Unites States for finally enter the War – German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare and the Zimmermann Telegram. The Zimmermann Telegram was a coded message sent to Mexico from Germany regarding the German intention to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans wished for Mexico to enter the fray as an ally, promising them U.S. territory.

On April 6, 2017, the U.S. declared war on Germany.

Bradley County During World War I

“Realizing the fact that we were going to France to do our share of the fighting, to spend sleepless nights in the mud and water of the trenches, to go maybe days without food, seemed not to worry me very much.” – Clarence Richmond, May 1918

The people of Cleveland and Bradley County, whether or not they were sent to the trenches, were diligent in supporting the war effort. In response to a need for food, Mayor Columbus A. Mee spearheaded a campaign to increase food production. Locals grew “victory gardens” and recognized the need for conservation by observing “meatless” and “wheatless” days. In order to conserve fuel, citizens were encouraged to cut down on “pleasure riding.” Filling stations and automotive repair shops were closed on Sundays. 

The County sponsored four Liberty Loan drives. With an outpouring of support, Bradley County exceeded the third Liberty Loan drive goal by $75,000. During the Victory Loan drive of 1919, Bradley County was the first county in the Chattanooga district to exceed its goal. The county shouldered the financial burden of the war under tax increases and purchasing war bonds, many of these through the 28 thrift clubs organized in Bradley County. In 1917, the people of Bradley County also created the first local chapter of the Red Cross. 

Women began to take on new positions – moving into traditional “men’s work” as these jobs were vacated by draftees and volunteers. Women served not only as nurses on the warfront, but as yeomen, radio operators (termed “Hello Girls”), and performed military services on the home front in place of men now fighting overseas. However, after the war ended, women were once again banned from entering the army as anything but nurses until World War II. 

War on the Western Front

“The sound of those shells brought a realization not to be forgotten of what we were about to enter.” – Clarence Richmond, June 1918.

The first draftees from Bradley County were announced in September of 1917 and these men were sent off with a great celebration. Warren Henderson, a member of the Negro contingent, was the first man of Bradley County to be wounded in World War I and Calvin C. Climer was the first to be killed. All in all, 19 men from Bradley County died in World War I. 

A Local Hero

Clarence Richmond was “Bradley County’s Most Highly Decorated Soldier,” having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the French Croix de Guerre for his actions during the war. He also left a memoir about his time during the war. 

Wartime Propaganda

Posters were a popular form of propaganda during World War I. They encouraged the purchase of war bonds, the creation of so-called “victory gardens” to provide more food during wartime, encouraged enlistment by men and women, the latter of whom could now serve in a wider range of roles in the military. Posters frequently featured the patriotic symbols of Uncle Sam, Lady Liberty, and Columbia, a female personification of American ideals. Posters also elicited donations for various causes: the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, various war relief funds. 

The End of the War

November 11, 1918

The War began to turn against the Central Powers beginning with the Hundred Days Offensive, launched against Germany in August of 1918. The Allies pushed through German lines and chipped away at their flanks, causing Germany to retreat further and further against Allied offensives. The German High Command quickly realized the war was lost as their own allies began to deteriorate in strength and quickly shuffled to create peace treaties. However, these attempts at peace were rejected. Germany finally surrendered and reorganized as a republic on November 9th. Two days later, the armistice (meaning an agreement to stop fighting) between Germany and the Allies went into effect, marking a victory for the Allies.