Loudoun Launches World War I Commemoration with “Over There: The Great War in Loudoun’s Memory.”
One hundred years ago, World War I was a war like no other and changed the world. Letters from Loudoun County soldiers to family back home offer a personal look at the war, and were on display along with other historic documents April 7 at the historic courthouse in Leesburg.
In commemorating the hundredth anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary M. Clemens hosted the exhibition honoring Loudoun’s role in the “Great War.”
The Loudoun County World War I Commemorative Committee sponsored the observance with “Over There: The Great War in Loudoun’s Memory”. This display of Loudoun’s contributions to the front lines and home front included draft and war service-related court records, letters, post cards, photographs, the history of poppies to remember the war dead and the wills of Governor Westmoreland Davis and General George C. Marshall, who served in France as a young soldier at the beginning of his military career.
For the next two years, the Loudoun County World War I Commemorative Committee will hold a series of events exploring Loudoun’s role in the war, which began for the United States on April 6, 1917, with a declaration of war on the German and the Austro-Hungarian Empires.
Over the next 19 months, the U.S. would send two million men to fight the war, in addition to food, weapons and financial assistance to our European allies. The United States’ participation in the war would begin a transformation in America’s agriculture, industry, banking, transportation sectors and especially its future role in world affairs.
Loudoun’s contributed manpower, agriculture and community war drives to the effort. A total of 2,224 Loudoun men were qualified for the draft, 591 served and 32 lost their lives. On the home front, Loudoun residents organized war-related fundraising drives, and thousands of dollars in Liberty Bonds were purchased by county residents. Loudoun’s agricultural economy supplied food to U.S. troops and allies.
While court documents provide a historical record of the county’s involvement in the war, letters and postcards provide a personal history and social record, Thomas Balch Library Curator of Manuscripts and Archives Laura Christiansen said. She was looking through meeting minutes of a local garden club and found a quote from the chairman saying he thought World War I would be followed by a long period of peace.
“It really gives you a formal report of what people thought at the time,” Christiansen said.
Also on display were several documents connected to the Oatlands Plantation. The owner at the time, William Corcoran Eustis, was stationed in France and wrote over 200 letters to his wife Edith, Oatlands Director of Programming and Education, Lori Kimball said. The great-granddaughter of original Oatlands Founder George Carter, Grayson Carter Beach, served as a yeomanette in the Navy.
Lastly, Valentine B. Johnson, a descendent of slaves who built the Oatlands mansion, served in World War I and died in the war, Kimball said. His name appears on a plaque by the historic Leesburg courthouse.
To commemorate the war’s centennial, the Clerk of the Circuit Court Historic Records Division has created a World War I Webpage that provides more information on Loudoun’s contribution to the war effort, including links to information about the history of the war and the home front.
The Loudoun World War I Centennial Committee was formed by government agencies and historic sites. Members of the committee include: Black History Committee of the Friends of Thomas Balch Library, General George C. Marshall House, Clerk of the Circuit Court Historic Records, Journey Through Hallowed Ground, Loudoun County Public Library, Loudoun Museum, Morven Park, Mosby Heritage Area Association, NOVA Parks, Oatlands Historic House and Gardens, Purcellville Historical Society, Town of Hillsboro, Virginia’s World War I Centennial Committee, Visit Loudoun, Waterford Foundation