Patterson Joins the War Effort in World War I


The first global war began in Europe in 1914, sparked by a political assassination, and precipitated by nationalist sentiments and a system of mutual defense treaties that drew a long list of combatants into the fray. The United States enjoyed peace during the early years of the war. President Woodrow Wilson was an isolationist, and was determined to keep his country neutral. In a speech before Congress on August 19, 1914, Wilson stated his position of neutrality:
"The people of the United States are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war. It is natural and inevitable that there should be the utmost variety of sympathy and desire among them with regard to the issues and circumstances of the conflict. Some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite passion and difficult to allay it. Those responsible for exciting it will assume a heavy responsibility, responsibility for no less a thing than that the people of the United States, whose love of their country and whose loyalty to its government should unite them as Americans all, bound in honor and affection to think first of her and her interests, may be divided in camps of hostile opinion, hot against each other, involved in the war itself in impulse and opinion if not in action....

The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men's souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments, as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another."

America Joins the War

Like many wars, what many world leaders thought would be a short, local skirmish quickly snowballed into something much bigger and bloodier. President Wilson ran for a second term in 1916, using the campaign slogan, "He kept us out of war". The slogan helped him win a second term, but events of 1917 would prevent Wilson from fulfilling his promise to keep the United States neutral and isolated. In 1917, most of the world had already been at war for three years. Pressure was mounting on the U.S. to enter the conflict as a result of events of early 1917.

Both Great Britain and Germany had violated the neutrality of U.S. ships. Britain stopped and searched ships sailing under the flags of neutral countries, including the U.S. Britain claimed that it needed to confiscate any cargo that might fall into German hands and help its war effort. But it was Germany that drew the ire of the American public. In the early days of the war, England had enforced a naval blockade against Germany. Germany responded by using U-boats, or submarines, in an attempt to blockade England. Ships were torpedoed without warning and without regard for the lives of the crew or passengers. Any ship in the war zone was considered fair game. Neutral countries, including the U.S., protested the aggressive use of U-boats, which were proving to be a great danger to the ships of neutral countries that needed to cross war zones. In 1915, the British cruise ship Lusitania was sunk, with the loss of 1,195 of the 1,959 on board, including 123 Americans. In 1916, the French steamer Sussex was torpedoed, resulting in 80 casualties, including two Americans wounded. The U.S. government threatened to break diplomatic ties with Germany. Germany then agreed to give warning before attacking passenger and merchant ships in a policy that became known as the "Sussex Pledge". Any relief offered by the pledge was only short lived. Six American ships were attacked in February and March, 1917, and Wilson authorized the arming of American merchant ships.

Two World War I posters. The first was part of a campaign to conserve food. Food supplies were needed overseas for American soldiers and their allies. This poster notes that many dairy products can be substituted for meat, which was in short supply. The second is part of a war bond campaign. The bonds were known as "Liberty Bonds".

In January 1917, the British intercepted a cable sent from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Ambassador to Mexico, von Eckhardt. The cable informed von Eckardt that unrestrictive submarine warfare would resume, but that an attempt would be made to keep the U.S. neutral. Zimmerman indicated that he expected that this attempt might not be successful, and he directed von Eckardt to approach the Mexican government, and inform it that if the U.S. were to enter the war against Germany, that Mexico would be welcomed to enter the war as an ally of Germany. In return, Germany would offer support to Mexico in regaining territory it lost to the U.S. in the previous century. Germany saw an opening, aware that U.S./Mexico relations were already strained:

The American press published news of the cable on March 1, and the indignation of the American public was enormous.

American sentiment had mostly been with England after the outbreak of war. Americans had a natural affinity with Britain because of its shared culture, language, and history with America. Americans also thought favorably of the French, remembering the help given by France to the colonists during the American War of Independence. And during the English blockade of Germany and its allies, the U.S. could only trade with England. This trade was very lucrative for U.S. businesses, but also helped to influence public opinion to side with England and France.

On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress formally declared war on Germany and its allies.

Patterson Answers the Call to Arms

The first call for soldiers was a call for volunteers. When the number of volunteers proved inadequate, the Selective Service Act was passed in May, 1917 to institute a draft. Putnam County was given a draft quota of 97 men. 937 men registered the first day that enlistments were accepted, including 152 aliens and 15 black Americans. The Putnam County Draft Board was housed on the 3rd floor in the Putnam County Office Building. Arthur Newcomb, future County Sheriff and Patterson Town Supervisor, represented Patterson District 1 on the Board. Towner Kent represented District 2. Hamilton Fish, who later became a Putnam County Congressional Representative, helped organized the first "colored" National Guard regiment to be organized in New York State.

The first Putnam County draftees were selected in July 1917. Early draftees were treated as heroes. Carmel was the gathering point for County draftees, and it is where they spent their first night. That night was spent at Smalley's Inn or the Lakeside Inn, and the establishments served a special dinner. The induction ceremony followed the next day at the County Courthouse. The early inductions were quite a celebration, and the men were treated to speeches, prayers, and even a concert by the Carmel Brass Band. After the ceremony, the men made the short trip to the Carmel Station of the New York Central's Putnam Division, where they boarded a special train to take them to Camp Lipton on Long Island. Most of these men had never been away from home before.

Alan Seeger, noted poet from Patterson, was the uncle of famed folk singer Pete Seeger, who was also born in Patterson. Alan Seeger wrote about the horror - and boredom - of war, and the privilege of dying for a noble cause. Seeger was living in France at the outbreak of world War I. He wanted to fight for France, but could not join the French army because he was an American citizen. He joined the French Foreign Legion instead and fought on the western front. He was killed by German machine gun fire at Belloy-en-Santerre as he charged up a hill in 1916. Alan Seeger was born in 1888, and graduated from Harvard University in 1910. He moved to Greenwich Village where he lived for two years and wrote poetry. Most of his poetry was not published until 1917, a year after his death. His most famous poem was entitled, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death".

America needed to raise funds to pay for the war effort, and war bonds were created to allow ordinary people to join the funding effort. The bonds were called "Liberty Bonds" and could be purchased at local banks. In October, 1917, Putnam County was assigned a goal of $58,000. Patriotic sentiment was high in the County, and the goal was exceeded by more than $40,000.

School children were encouraged to be part of the war effort too. They were encouraged to buy War Savings Stamps, which were a variant of the war bond program, and were sold in small denominations. Children were also encouraged to perform service work in the community to help with the labor shortages that resulted as men were sent to the battlefront. Typical tasks deemed suitable for children included farm and garden work. Children joined groups with patriotic names like "Victory Boys and Girls" and the "Junior Red Cross".

Schools were organized into Red Cross Auxiliaries, and all of Putnam County's schools were enrolled in the program. A fee of 25 cents/student was charged. Students participated in community fundraisers, such as bake sales and tag sales. Patterson had 225 students enrolled and raised $102 in 1917. This money was used in the Town's schools for purchasing supplies and for other school expenses.

Men who could not enlist and men who were not subject to the draft were still required to provide service in the war effort. Those men, and all women, were required to work at home. When Congress declared war in 1917, Putnam County's town supervisors called on all the able-bodied to join the Home Defense League. The Patterson Weekly News said in an editorial:

It may not be possible for all to be Majors or Generals, but there is work for one and all...Let us see if we can't have one large and enthusiastic an organization as the women folk have made the Red Cross."
Women did their part for the war effort by forming Red Cross chapters across Putnam County. The Red Cross raised money that was used to buy materials to be made into bandages and surgical dressings, and muslin bags for field hospitals.

Draftees pose on the steps of the Putnam County Courthouse in this photo from the August 10, 1917 edition of the Putnam County Courier. Local merchant Eaton-Kelly Co. sponsored this ad for War Savings Stamps in the March 1, 1918 edition of the Putnam County Courier.

Food was needed overseas for both American soldiers and for allied soldiers. An agricultural census was taken in the U.S. in April, 1917 to determine how much food could be produced. Putnam County's results were sent to New York State and Federal government authorities. Farmers were urged to cooperate with the census takers, who were typically local schoolteachers. Farming was still very labor intensive in 1917, and a serious shortage of labor resulted as more men were drafted into military service. In May, 1917, the governor signed a novel "anti loafing" bill in an effort to make sure that all men were involved in the war effort in some capacity. Experienced farm labor was in short supply, and women were again enlisted to fill the gap. Women had always been involved in farm work in agricultural regions like Patterson, but most lacked the farming knowledge to run entire farms by themselves. A southeast resident named Edith Diehl decided to organize area women to work the farms. She formed the Women's Land Army to train agricultural supervisors who would manage the women who were called to work the County's farms. Diehl was a famous bookbinder and feminist who had also formed many local Red Cross chapters, and founded the Brewster Public Library in 1896. The war work of the nation's women undoubtedly helped women win the right to vote in 1920.

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic

In 1918, the American military forces were fully participating in the War, and the conflict was turning in favor of America and her allies. But the world faced another major threat. A global influenza pandemic swept through the world from 1918 to 1919, and caused more deaths than the war itself. Estimates of the total worldwide deaths vary, with some estimates as high as 70 million. An estimated 450,000 deaths occurred in the United States. The pandemic remains the most devastating disease epidemic recorded in world history, even exceeding the Black Death / Bubonic Plague of the middle ages. It is ironic that the pandemic struck as the war was finally winding down and many soldiers were starting to think about the time when they could return home to their families. The flu was particularly devastating to people in their 20s - 40s, who were in the prime period of their lives, unlike more modern flu strains that are most devastating to young children and the elderly. Possibly half of America's war dead were flu-related deaths rather than combat deaths.

The Putnam County Courier reported on the flu epidemic in October, 1918.

The flu was known by many names, such as the "Spanish Flu" because it first appeared in Spain. It was most likely brought to America via troop ships. The symptoms mimicked a simple head cold at the start, followed by a short period of fever, usually followed by a quick death. The disease quickly overpowered the body's immune system, causing severe hemorrhaging in the lungs that caused the victims to drown in their own bodily fluids. A cure was never found, and the disease disappeared mysteriously in mid-1919.

Patterson was not unaffected by the flu outbreak. The effects - and fears - of the disease caused the cancellation of the Danbury Fair in 1918. The Fair was similar to a modern county fair, and many Patterson farmers looked forward each year to exhibiting their livestock and entering livestock in competitions. The Fair was cancelled because of the concerns of exposing a large number of people to the flu.

The Burr McIntosh Convalescent Home

World War I was arguably the bloodiest and cruelest wars of the 20th century. Poison gas was widely used, much of it was fought in hand-to-hand combat, troops were forced to live outdoors in trenches, and, in 1918, a global influenza outbreak claimed more lives than the War itself. Many of America's returning soldiers suffered a variety of physical injuries. But even those who escaped physical injury could not escape the psychological injuries of the horrors they had witnessed.

During the War, a volunteer organization known at the Hall of States worked to boost the morale of troops leaving or returning from the battlefields. The Hall had offices at the various debarkation points, and was staffed by volunteers from each of the states. The premise was to provide the soldier with a visit from someone from his home state to make him feel more comfortable. The Hall's volunteers also visited wounded soldiers at military hospitals, and performed such volunteer work as writing letters to the soldiers' families. The volunteers of the Hall of States helped an estimated 400,000 soldiers. The organization disbanded when the War ended, leaving the returning soldiers without a vital mechanism to ease their transition back to civilian life.

A former Hall of States volunteer, Elizabeth B. Dexter, became a member of a new organization, All States Hall Incorporated, and worked to find ways to take care of the disabled servicemen. Dexter was visiting some of the disabled when she met Mrs. Chester W. Chapin of Towners, also a member of All States. Dexter spoke to Chapin about her dream for a rest home in the country for the returning disabled soldiers that would help the men deal with their injuries and their eventual return to civilian life. Mrs. Chapin realized that the Chapin Farm in Towners would be a perfect site for such a facility, and her husband agreed to set aside a portion of the farm to be used for the new facility. The camp was established on the part of the Chapin estate formerly known as the Kimble Farm. It was considered a picturesque area rising 1000 feet and providing breathtaking views in all directions. Its location was described as 3 miles south of the Towners village and 3 1/2 miles north of the Carmel village, with easy access to the State Road. Long time Patterson residents remember the location of the farm being near Baldwin Road and Mooney Hill Road, closer to the Patterson hamlet than the Towners hamlet.

The Burr McIntosh Convalescent Camp in Towners. A postcard photo of the entrance to the Chapin Farm Convalescent Camp taken around 1920. The woman in the picture is not identified but may be either Elizabeth Dexter or Mrs. Chapin.

The first servicemen were moved to the farmhouse in July, 1920, and Dexter planned to eventually house 200 men in the camp once proper housing could be constructed. She believed the site was large enough to successfully care for as many as 6,000 men, but planned to only care for 200 to keep the facility manageable and cost effective. Dexter became the director of the camp, and Mrs. Chapin became chairwoman of an honorary committee in charge of the camp. Other committee members included Mrs. Oliver Harriman and Mrs. Maude Wetmore. Mr. Chapin provided vegetables and milk for the men, and also employed many of them to work the farm. The work was seen as therapeutic and beneficial to the men. All of the men residing at the site had recovered medically from their physical injuries and were no longer qualified for hospital stays, but were not well enough to return to normal life. The fresh country air, the magnificent views, and farm work to occupy their time, were believed to be the final requirements for full recovery. The Camp included a reading room in the farmhouse for the men, and the men themselves built a swimming pool.

The Camp was dedicated at the end of July, 1930, and was named after famed silent film star Burr McIntosh, who was one of the dignitaries attending the dedication ceremony and served as master of ceremonies for the dedication ceremonies. More dignitaries arrived on a special Harlem line train that brought them to the Towners Station. Miss Dexter arranged for volunteers of local Patterson residents to transport the dignitaries from the train station to the Camp. The Camp's remaining patients were also arriving the weekend of the dedication. Music was provided by the American Legion Band from New York City, and was comprised of 40 ex-servicemen who were picked from various bands that served overseas during the War. Vaudeville singer and dancer Constance Alma entertained the crowd. The Putnam County Red Cross Chapter helped with refreshments for the visitors. Four motion picture cameras were used to film the ceremonies, and the films were shown in theaters in New York City. The films were intended to spark interest in creating similar camps in other areas of the United States.

The dedication ceremonies began with a parade led by two New York State Troopers on horseback. They were followed by the colors and the band, and by Mr. Chapin, his daughter, and the servicemen-patients, Burr McIntosh, Elizabeth Dexter, and Joe Hoyt. Speakers included McIntosh, Dexter, Mr. Chapin, and Clayton Ryder of Carmel. At the end of the ceremonies, McIntosh auctioned a paper knife that was forged from the metal from an American cartridge and a German shell. The knife was won by Mrs. H. H. Vreeland of Brewster.

The Aftermath of the War

The "war to end all wars", as it was known, resulted in 115,000 American casualties and 48,000 killed in action. Globally, almost 10 million soldiers were killed and 20 million wounded. Millions of civilians were killed either through combat injuries or from disease or starvation. The global cost of the war is estimated at $350 billion, which wrecked the economies of most nations and disrupted international trade.

The war brought major political changes in the world. The stage was set for revolution in Russia, with Communism to become a new form of government. The huge empires of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Germany were broken up and new nations created. These new nations gave rise to nationalism based on ethnic lines, and dictatorships were created in many of them as the new nations tried to control the political and economic forces threatening them. The United States, which entered the conflict late and was left virtually untouched by war, emerged as the dominant military, political, and economic power in the world.

The victorious allies wanted to severely punish the defeated Central Powers, and imposed harsh reparations and military restrictions on them. The reparations caused an economic crisis in Germany, and helped create a global depression in 1929. Historians have regarded the harshness of the peace treaty as one of the primary causes of Germany's remilitarization a decade later, and for a new rise in nationalism in Germany. Thus the stage would be set for a second world war less than two decades later.

Putnam County Court Judge J. Bennett Southard wanted to create a record of the war experiences of the returning soldiers. Local soldiers were given a questionnaire to complete. This questionnaire was completed by Patterson resident Hudson Lucius Ritch. (The Putnam County Historian) Returning veterans received this medal from Putnam County.

President Wilson was an idealist who saw himself as a peacemaker, and he wanted to be remembered in history as the man who brought peace to the world after the "Great War". Wilson proposed a "League of Nations", a predecessor to the United Nations, through which disputes could be settled through diplomacy and discussion. The League was formed, but Congress would not permit the United States to join. Without U.S. participation, the League was weak and without any real power or influence.

Patterson's returning soldiers were treated as the heroes they were. Putnam County created a special medal to award to each of the County's returning soldiers. Astonishingly, the Putnam County Clerk refused to allow the County seal to be used on the medals; a Native American head was substituted for the seal. Only 200 of the 550 Putnam County World War I servicemen attended the ceremony, which was held before an audience estimated at 2,000 people. Patterson celebrated the return of its soldiers on November 1, 1919. A monument commemorating the soldiers was dedicated as part of the full-day of activities. The "M. M. M." club of young women raised the funds for the honor roll. Fred Smith of Orchard Street raised money to pay for the band. A parade was formed at the railroad station on Front Street, and featured the returning soldiers, the Home Guard, the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, the Grange, the Patterson Town Board, children from the school, and other citizens riding in automobiles. A band from Dover Plains provided the music. The parade ended in front of the Christ Episcopal Church, and was followed by speeches and dedication of the monument. An afternoon rain and the resulting muddy roads prevented the parade from proceeding further. The parade did march to the home of Charles Seeger, in honor of the late poet Alan Seeger, who was killed in France at the outbreak of the war. Later in the afternoon, the servicemen were treated to a chicken dinner at the Grange, and each was permitted to bring two guests. The day closed with a dance at Judd's hall, with music provided by Wright's orchestra. Professional decorators were hired to decorate the homes, churches, stores, and homes along the parade route, and flags were hung throughout the Town.

The War Memorial monument was a simple concrete block measuring 5 1/2 feet by 7 1/2 feet at the base and tapering slightly as it reached its height of 10 feet. Arthur L. Newcomb was in charge of the concrete work. It was set on top of several small boulders for support. The boulders were brought from the Whaley Lake area and were delayed because of the work on the road now known as NYS Route 292. Before the concrete was set, the bronze honor role plaque, listing all 50 Patterson men who served in the War, was displayed in the window next to the post office. The plaque was attached to the front, listing the names of all of Patterson's soldiers who served in the War. A bronze eagle was added later at the top of the monument. The names of the three soldiers from Patterson were killed are included on the plaque: Harold Ett, Howard T. Matthews, and Henry Pope. The plaque is still displayed on the south side of the War Memorial at the intersection of NYS Route 311 and Maple Avenue, in the Patterson hamlet.

Putnam County's World War I soldiers were honored in this full-page memorial appearing in the May 25, 1923 edition of the Putnam County Courier. Alan Seeger is listed among the Patterson dead, even though he died before the United States entered the War.