In 1914, the world witnessed the outbreak of a conflict which resulted in death and destruction on a grander scale than anyone could have ever imagined.
Intense nationalism, imperialism, militarism and secret treaties came together to pit the major nations of Europe against each other. The Allied Powers, consisting of England, France and Russia, struggled against the Central Powers, composed of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Because of the scope of the fighting, initially it was called, “The Great War,” but is now known as World War I.
Although the war seemed far away from the United States in terms of geography, it soon became a focus of discussion throughout the countryside. It also would involve many area residents in a very direct way.
On May 18, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act authorizing the President to call men into military service. The Selective Service System then began the process of selecting young males for induction into the military service. The organizational structure was gigantic in size from territorial offices to local boards. A call for a definite number of troops was issued, with each state being notified to contribute a certain proportion. State authorities in turn then determined allotments for the political subdivisions.
After local boards were established in each county, they began to register, provide serial and order numbers, classify, and finally call the draftees into the national service.
Altogether, during World War I, there were three registrations — on June 5, 1917, on June 5, 1918, and on Sept. 12, 1918. All males not in active military service residing in this country who were between the ages of 18 and 45 had to register. It made no difference whether they were native born, naturalized or alien. That meant that all men born between 1872 and September 1900 filled out draft registration cards.
Initially, 1,356 registered in 1917 in Effingham County. Of that number, 836 claimed exemption. By war’s end, Effingham draft officials had issued 3,702 selective cards.
Soon participation in the war effort became part of the news. Newspapers across the country in May of 1917 reported that “Dieterich, Effingham county, Ill., the center of a German-speaking community, has a population of 600 and has enrolled 76 in a machine-gun company being organized for the Fourth Illinois infantry.” By the fall of the year, new stories focused on area soldiers being trained in Texas, or awaiting orders for deployment into battle areas. With the latter move, of course, also began the news of battle casualties.
A news headline screamed: “EFFINGHAM BOY DIES IN FRANCE” and then went on to talk about Sergeant Rutherford Alcock, son of Mrs. Ada Alcock of Efflngham, a 20-year-old who had enlisted in Effingham and was a member of Co, C 130th Infantry at the time of his death. Another news story told that “Relatives of Lewis Brewster of Montrose received word that he died ... in France on the western battle front. He went with one of the drafted men’s companies from Effingham.” Still another article dealt with the activities of three local soldiers who also were brothers — Clem, Leo and John Wiedman, all members of the 130th Infantry. Two of the three were severely wounded.
Similar news items were repeated time and again in the local and statewide press. According to the book, “Effingham County Illinois Past and Present” (Hilda E. Feldhake, editor; Effingham Regional Historical Society, Effingham, Illinois, 1968), servicemen from the county who died during World War I included Charles Thoele, son of Mrs. Mary Thoele, Effingham; Levi Bishop, son of Mr. and Mrs. George Bishop, Dexter; Alfred Meyers, son of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Meyers, Teutopolis; Roscoe Dunlap, brother of Mrs. May D. Smith, Effingham; Theodore Hoffman, son of Mrs. Margaret Hoffman, Effingham; Ferdinand Delker, brother of Miss Elizabeth Delker, Teutopolis; Ralph Norris, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Norris, Watson; Rutherford D. Alcock, son of Mr. and Mrs. George Alcock, Effingham; Edward Buenker, son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Buenker, Teutopolis; Bert Norris, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Norris, Mason; Chester Manuel, son of Mr. Taylor Manuel, Rt. 2, Effingham; Harry Jurgens, son of Mr. and Mrs. Jurgens, Teutopolis; Louis Brewster, brother of Charles Brewster, Montrose; Louis Hankins, brother of Art Hankins, Effingham; S2/c August J.F. Grobengieser, brother of Arthur P. Grobengieser and Mrs. Henry P. Wurl, Altamont; Otto Feldhake, son of Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Feldhake, Effingham; and Edward Hoeflinger, son of Mrs. Mary Hoeflinger, Effingham. Many paid the supreme sacrifice.
There was also much activity on the local home front. There were patriotic rallies held periodically to honor the war effort. One such rally was held by members of the Daughters of the American Revolution in October 1917 at the Effingham Methodist Church. The families of the men in Company G, which was then in Texas, were guests of honor. Another marvelous rally occurred on Oct. 9, 1917, when nearly 2,000 school children from the county’s 50 schools marched in the Effingham County School Rally Day, a gathering of unquestionable success. Those children marched by a crowd estimated at nearly 6,000 who lined the parade route. The State Superintendent of Schools, Francis Blair, delivered a well-received speech. And then during the afternoon, contests were held to build a spirit of devotion and a sense of community.
War requires money, so a lot of energy went into fundraising efforts, such as selling Liberty Loan Bonds. In the fall of 1917, Effingham County took much pride in the fact that the citizens were $3,000 over the goal. Local employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad had purchased over $5,000 worth of bonds by themselves. This fundraising success continued until the war’s end. In July of 1919, a headline boasted “EFFINGHAM LEADS IN W.S.S. SALES,” then went on to say that Effingham County was at the top on a list of 63 counties in the sale of war saving stamps during the month of May of that year. The total sold was $2,575.73. Other monetary support was not on as large a scale. For instance in September of 1917, a card party was held at the armory to raise money for the Company G fund.
The county was determined to show the soldiers that the local area supported them. When local National Guard units left for camp, local businesses closed down.
The Red Cross demonstrated similar community spirit through its membership drives. The county was very supportive of humanitarian work. At the end of September in 1917, in one week, the women of the Effingham chapter of the Red Cross collected $85.10, a considerable sum for the time. The money was used to purchase comfort kits for the soldiers. Local merchants cooperated with the Red Cross workers and allowed the women to have the articles for use in the kit bags at wholesale prices, or about $1.35 for each bag.
Some matters were less serious in tone. In August of 1917, residents of the county were thrilled by a visit from the nationally known “Flying Circus,” a group which toured the country to build support for the war effort.
Besides the money raised, there were other types of home-front sacrifices: In 1918, on July 26, the fuel administrator for Illinois notified the county fuel administrator that Effingham County, along with all the counties in the southern part of the state, could not be supplied with any anthracite or hard coal for the coming winter.
Although these items were part of normal day-to-day activities for county residents, other circumstances were not.
One rather unusual story concerned major world figures who came to Effingham via the railroad. Most famous was Marshal Joseph Joffre, the very popular French Chief of Staff who was considered the “Savior of France” after the First Battle of the Marne. With him were former French Premier Viviani and some other officials. Joffre and Viviani especially were assigned major diplomatic roles, one of which was that of leading the French Mission to the United States in 1917, a major effort to get American support for the Allied cause. When the five steel passenger cars and two large engines pulling them traveled through Illinois, the train stopped at major sites, such as Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield. After a big celebration at Decatur, the Mission started on its way again, but when it got near Arcola, the train derailed. When railway officials investigated the track at the wreck site, they found a broken rail near the point where the first marks on the ties of the wheel flange of the tender of the engine derailed appeared. From their observations, they concluded that the flange cut off the bolts of the fish-plate which bound the ends of the rails. That in turn caused the rails to spread which then led to the derailment. But some of the French Commission members suspected that area German plotters had caused the crash. An Arcola farm boy added to that suspicion when he spoke about seeing a mysterious man near the wreck scene a short while before the accident.
Very quickly another train was sent to the site to carry the delegation on its way toward Effingham County, where they arrived in the pre-dawn hours. Long before daylight, small groups of people began to gather about the Effingham station in the hope of obtaining a glimpse of the international guests. Upon the advice of the State Department, the French officials stayed long enough to permit local citizens to greet the distinguished visitors. And then they were on their way east into Indiana as their goodwill journey continued.
A second unusual set of experiences concerned the great suspicion which permeated much of the United States during the First World War. Persons of German ancestry were thought to be potential threats to this country. A strong spirit of intolerance was in the air. Everything German was suspect whether that was the German language, or German religious services, or even German food.
The suspicion was reflected in political matters. For example, among Republicans, former president Theodore Roosevelt warned against “hyphenated-Americans.” For the most part, he was talking about German-Americans. Within the Democratic Party, the 1916 party platform contained a section devoted to “Americanism,” based on the need to divorce oneself from loyalty to any culture other than the one found in this land. The obvious implication was that some American citizens had a divided loyalty.
Hatred of things German abounded and that hatred was often close at hand. On a certain Sunday in October of 1917, a funeral service at the Lutheran church in Shumway was marred by an altercation over the choice of undertakers. The undertaker, a member of a committee to stop potential German sympathizers from sabotaging the war effort, had severely criticized the pastor of the congregation, charging that the minister had uttered seditious statements on more than one occasion. The ill feeling between the two led to an embarrassing display of bad conduct on the day of the funeral.
Locally, the focus often was on churches. There was suspicion of German Lutheran churches, of German Methodist churches, and German Catholic churches. All these groups, of course, were well-represented in Effingham County and in surrounding counties. Anything which could be interpreted as un-American was sure to bring a sharp exchange. The classic example of the intolerance was found in the suspicion directed against Teutopolis which was, according to W.H. Kerrick, an emissary from the United States Department of Justice sent to the local community to investigate pro-German activities, “the hotbed of and stormcenter of all the anti-American and pro-German plotting and agitation” in Effingham County, a county which contained “the most dangerous pro-German group in the whole state of Illinois.”
The story of the Department of Justice investigation of Teutopolis was described in detail in a series of articles written by Theodosius Plassmeyer, pastor of the Teutopolis church during the World War I era, and printed many years later in Social Justice Review. According to the priest, soon after President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election in 1916, propaganda generated by the federal Committee for Public Information stirred great hostility toward everything German. The hatred was further stirred by local invective, such as that in an article published in a Newton newspaper. Charges against Teutopolis were quite mean-spirited and caused deep resentment within the community.
A public letter-writing exchange ensued. And then two strangers appeared in the Effingham County town. The men indicated they were in the area as vacationers who wanted to do a little hunting and fishing, but their stay consisted of a number of visits to the various businesses in the village. They asked a lot of questions regarding how the local citizens felt about the war. Father Plassmeyer got involved by delivering an eloquent sermon dealing with Christian citizenship and the need for people to be patriotic. Shortly after Plassmeyer’s message, the two men disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. But then, Kerrick came onto the scene.
On the very day the federal agent arrived in the town, Pastor Plassmeyer and the local teachers, the Notre Dame sisters, had the school children participate in a large Decoration Day (Today we call the day Memorial Day) celebration. Patriotism was the central theme. There was a parade with American flags in fantastic numbers. There were uplifting, patriotic songs galore. Then came the special ceremony at the cemetery during which the school children decorated the graves of soldiers from the Civil War and Spanish-American War. Kerrick saw first-hand the loyalty and devotion which the townspeople had for the United States of America, their land in which they took great pride.
In the aftermath of the great celebration, Plassmeyer still had to answer the other charges, which Kerrick had been ordered to investigate. All those charges were easily discounted by the priest as he discussed the character of the people of his parish.
There was no need to fear that Teutopolis would be a center of enemy sabotage.
One final matter remained, however. The State Committee of Defense ordered the mayor to arrange for a Loyalty Demonstration on April 14, 1918. Again, the local pastor played a major role in the affair. As at the Decoration Day celebration, the assigned demonstration was on a glorious scale. Music, flags, grand oratory, and a general atmosphere of patriotism filled the air. There was no question about loyalty. The citizens of Effingham County showed their colors — literally and figuratively. The county showed that it was true red, white and blue.
That is a great part of the local heritage. It is reflected in our remembrance of those who have paid the supreme sacrifice in defending American liberty. Reflect on the past. Learn from it. Take pride in it.
Books and booklets:
Altamont Area Centennial 1871-1971
Hilda E. Feldhake(Ed.). Effingham County Illinois---Past and Present. Effingham: The Effingham Regional Historical Society, 1968
Sigel Centennial 1863-1963
Teutopolis Centennial Souvenir Program and Historical Sketch
Newspaper and Journal articles:
Theodore Plassmeyer. “Propaganda Foiled: A Contribution to the Study of Prejudice
and Intolerance.” Social Justice Review, April 1949.
The Fort Wayne Daily News May 8, 1917
The Gettysburg Times May 8, 1917
The Daily Northwestern May 8, 1917
The Newark Advocate May 8, 1917
The Decatur Review May 8, 1917; May 9, 1917; May 13, 1917; September 7, 1917; September 25, 1917; September 28, 1917; October 2, 1917; October 5, 1917; October 17, 1917; October 26, 1917; November 1, 1917; July 26, 1918; April 17, 1919; and July 1, 1919
The Daily Review June 5, 1917 and June 7, 1917
Sandusky Star-Journal May 18, 1917
The Racine Journal-News May 8, 1917 and May 23, 1917
Warren Evening Times Aug 24, 1918
Washington Post August 25, 1918