The Missouri National Guard Prepares for War

5, August 2017

When the United States entered World War I, it had a standing army of fewer than 130,000 troops, with an additional 70,000 troops in the reserves. To put that in perspective, at the start of the war in 1914, Germany had a combined standing army and reserve force of 4.5 million.

Color poster designed to recruit soldiers to the 5th Missouri InfantryPoster to recruit soldiers to the 5th Missouri Infantry, nicknamed the Joffre Regiment, 1917. Missouri History Museum.

The United States took a three-pronged approach to building and training a fighting army: It introduced a vast propaganda campaign to encourage volunteers, instituted a draft, and activated the National Guard for federal service. The National Guard anticipated this last tactic and prepared for it by forming new regiments throughout the summer of 1917. In St. Louis men were recruited to join the 5th Missouri Infantry, nicknamed the Joffre Regiment in honor of French military commander Marshal Joseph Joffre, who had visited St. Louis earlier that year as part of a French delegation.

On August 5, 1917, 8,500 National Guardsmen from Kansas and 14,765 National Guardsmen from Missouri became the 35th Division of the U.S. Army. St. Louis guardsmen of the 1st and 5th Infantry and 1st Field Artillery formed the division’s 138th Infantry and 128th Field Artillery, respectively. Through the rest of 1917 and the winter of 1918, additional recruits were drafted and added to the division, bringing it up to a full complement of 27,000 soldiers. During this time, the men of the 35th Division trained at Camp Doniphan in Oklahoma.

Black-and-white photo of train carrying 138th Regiment soldiers through St. LouisTroop train carrying the 138th Regiment as it passes through St. Louis, 1918. Missouri History Museum.

The Missouri and Kansas guardsmen shipped overseas in May 1918. They arrived at the front lines in the quiet Vosges Mountains in June and remained there until September when they were assigned to form the left flank of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest offensive in U.S. military history.

Color scan of the Meuse-Argonne OffensiveMeuse-Argonne Offensive map, November 20, 1918. Missouri History Museum.

Communication and leadership breakdowns plagued the division from the offensive's launch on September 26. St. Louis’s 138th Regiment led the attack but suffered constant fire and ultimately failed to achieve its objectives. By October 1, five days after the offensive began, more than 20,000 Kansans and Missourians were sent back from the front lines and saw only limited action for the remainder of the war. Despite this, many members of St. Louis’s 138th Infantry distinguished themselves overseas, among them Medal of Honor recipient Alexander R. Skinker and future U.S. president Harry S. Truman.

You can learn more about the 35th Division and St. Louis’s contributions to the war effort in the exhibit World War I: Missouri and the Great War, open at the Missouri History Museum through June 17, 2018.

—Patrick Allie, Military and Arms Curator

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