The Start of World War I – July 28th, 1914

World War I, also known as the Great War, began 100 years ago today. The United States did not enter the war until 1917, but by the summer 1918, the U.S. was sending 10,000 soldiers to France every day, which would help turn the tide to an ultimate Allied victory in November 1918.

Soldiers were drafted from all over the United States, including Syracuse, New York, some of whom trained at the New York State Fairgrounds before departing to Europe.

WWI - Fairgrounds Camp - soldiers

The first man killed in the war from Syracuse was Homer Wheaton. Born in Pompey, he moved to Syracuse as a teenager and graduated from St. John’s Military School in Manlius. He never married, and worked for a time as an editor with the Worcester Gazette in Massachusetts before joining the Army.

Homer Wheaton

On February 27, 1918, Corporal Wheaton’s unit was stationed at the front, about 80 miles northeast of Paris. It was cold, dark and they were being shelled.  Preparing for a German attack, Wheaton was distributing hand grenades in the trench. Suddenly, one of the soldiers accidently dropped a live grenade.  Wheaton acted quickly, felt for it in the dark and attempted to hurl it away “an instant before it detonated.”  He was killed on the spot. His heroic act, however, saved eight lives. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously.

On the home front, Syracuse residents were asked to support the war by purchasing stamps, war bonds, and “Victory Liberty Loans.” Money from this would be added to a War Chest, which is a collection of funds used to help support organizations such as the American Red Cross during times of war.

Help Syr War Chest

American deaths from the war exceeded 117,000, but the total killed from all nations reached over 16 million, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.

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Private David Nelson – July 28th 1864

Thursday July 28, 1864

In camp all day.  Have inspection at 3 o’clock by Colonel Curtis. No parade tonight. Jacob goes to convalescent camp so that I am in tent alone now. Go to the front at dark.

Private David Nelson

117th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Petersburg, Virginia

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Private David Nelson – July 25th 1864

Monday July 25, 1864

This morning we arrange our camp.  Now that we have a camp it appears quite home like. There is considerable artillery firing on the right this morn. Write home.

Dress parade at 5 o’clock. Tonight I hear that the 2nd Corps has left.

Private David Nelson

117th NY  Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Petersburg, Virginia

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Private David Nelson Civil War Journal Entry

Sunday July 24, 1864

Came off picket at day break this morn.  Today our Regiment is covering the whole front of our Brigade.  Now after a 48 hour trip, we shall have 4 days in camp. Tonight we have rain.

Private David Nelson

117th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Petersburg, Virginia

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Private David Nelson Civil War Journal Entry

Saturday July 23, 1863

Nights rather cool now but are warm enough.  This morning got a letter from Libbie & Anson.  Came also pencil & tea.  Go out on picket tonight.  All quiet in our front.

Private David Nelson

117th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Petersburg, Virginia

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Private David Nelson Civil War Journal Entry

Friday July 22, 1864

Our Regiment, after being to the rear for 48 hours, go the front.  The war news from Sherman is quite favorable.  He is now moving upon Atlanta.

Private David Nelson

117th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Petersburg, Virginia

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Private David Nelson Civil War Journal Entry

Thursday July 21, 1864

Do my washing this morning.  After dinner go to 2nd Corps to see Leroy.  We go to the 5th Corps & see E. Dean.  We all write to Libbie.  See General Warren and Lieutenant Fuller, one of our Regiment.

Private David Nelson

117th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Petersburg, Virginia

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