United States and American History: 1918

About the history of the United States in 1918, President Wilson's fourteen points, daylight saving time starts, battles of World War one, influenza epidemic spreads.


Jan. 8 President Wilson's idealized proposals for future peace, the "Fourteen Points," were delivered to Congress. The credit for the itemized approach belonged to his press agent, George Creel, head of the Committee of Public Information. Creel's man in St. Petersburg, Russia, Edgar Sisson, had cabled that Wilson's long speeches describing his war aims and peace proposals were too difficult to translate into a form easily understood by the German and the Russian commoner. Before any attempts were made to reach these people with propaganda leaflets, Sisson suggested that the facts for these leaflets be reduced to a simple placard-type style. Wilson, apprised by Creel of Sisson's advice, grasped its logic immediately and followed the suggestion.

Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, was not impressed by the proposals. Noting that Wilson had listed 14 points, he said: "Even God Almighty has only 10!"

Mar. 20 An Executive Order recognized the rights of men who objected to war service on grounds other than religious. Pvt. Richard Stierheim benefited: A 3-time deserter sentenced to be shot, because he refused to kill while serving in France, he so distinguished himself under enemy fire by saving wounded men that Wilson canceled the death sentence and restored him to noncombatant duty.

Mar. 31 The nation's clocks were set ahead one hour, marking the start of Daylight Saving Time.

June 6-25 Milestone Battle: Belleau Wood. U.S. Marines, with army elements joining them, fought a bitter one-week battle for one sq. mi. of forest and lost 55% of their effective strength. Their victory, well-publicized in the U.S., earned the Marine Corps much praise from the people, and decades of rancor from the Army, which felt slighted from nonrecognition. The ill-feeling persisted through Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur in W.W. II, who both commented about the battle.

July 8-Aug. 6 Milestone Battle: the Aisne-Marne Offensive. In a 4-week-long counterattack, 250,000 U.S. troops drove the Germans back to the Vesle, marking the turning point for the Allies in the war.

Aug. 8 Grover Cleveland Bergdoll did not report to his local draft board. The war's most infamous draft dodger was not caught until January 7,1920, although he had been living in Hagerstown, Md., under various assumed names. Sentenced to 5 years in prison, he somehow secured permission to retrieve a gold cache of $105,000 he claimed to have buried, convinced his military escort to travel to the reported hiding place via his Philadelphia home and evaded them there, to effect a permanent disappearance.

Aug. 10 General Pershing was given Allied consent for his independent command of the American Expeditionary Force-the AEF-in France.

Sept. 26-Nov. 11 Milestone Battle: Meuse-Argonne. In a massive drive, 1,200,000 U.S. troops-the largest number committed to the attack in army history-surged forward in the St. Mihiel sector in the 1st American offensive. Their objective: to cut the Sedan-Mezieres railroad which supplied the entire German army opposing them. The Germans reeled under the blow, all along the Hindenburg Line, and went into a general retreat that continued until the Armistice on November 11. The AEF lost 120,000 in casualties in this drive.

Sept. 28 The 4th and last Liberty Loan Drive began. Aided by prominent entertainers such as Douglas Fairbanks, over $18 billion in Liberty Bonds was sold to over 1/2 of the adult population. In other home-front mobilization to "do your bit," home gardens and wheatless-meatless days were promoted.

Oct. 1 The death rate in the influenza epidemic hit a peak of 202 deaths daily. In the poorer sections of the cities, the dead lay unburied for days because of coffin shortages. Nearly 1/4 of the U.S. was sick, and almost 500,000 died in 46 States before the disease had run its course in early 1919. Approximately 130,000 cases raged through 20 army camps, killing about half as many as died in combat in France. War plants shut down and panic spread from coast to coast, with citizens scanning the long lists of the dead in the newspapers, published side-by-side with rules for preventative hygiene.

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