The Great War – WWI

The US declared war on Germany on April 6th, 1917. The Virginia Guard was home from Texas just over a month before they were activated again in February 1917. On July 25, Guardsmen from the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Regiments were told to report to Roanoke and a month later they arrived in Anniston, Alabama for their training.  The men training at what became known as Fort McClellan were assigned to the New 29th Division.  The Division was assigned 4 Infantry Regiments: the 113th and 114th from New Jersey, the 115th from Maryland, and the 3 Virginia Regiments were grouped into the new 116th.  Because the Division contained a mix of Northern and Southern Guardsmen, it became known as “the Blue and the Gray.”  On December 14, 1917, the 29th Division became the first Army Division to have an approved symbol.

The 116th sailed from Hoboken, NJ on June 15, 1918 and arrived via the USS Finland 11 days later in St. Nazaire, France.  At the end of August they moved into the southernmost part of the Allied Line near the Swiss border.  Here, the 29th Division was used as a feint to distract the Germans from the upcoming St. Mihiel Offensive. Our reconstructed trench contains examples of American and German weapons as well as German, French, and U.S. combat uniforms from the Great War.

On October 8, 1918, the 116th joined in the Meuse Argonne, which demonstrated the United States’ capacity to wage war and forced the Germans to an Armistice on November 11th.  It was here that Sgt. Earle Gregory earned his Medal of Honor and the 116th its motto, “Ever Forward.”  At the end of the gallery is a reconstruction of the Victory Arch in Newport News, which greeted members of the 116th on their return to Virginia on May 20, 1919.

As part of our annual World War I Tour, we visit all the major battlefields of the Western Front, including where Sgt. Gregory earned his Medal of Honor, and the sites in and around Paris.

Next – World War Two & D-Day