Monday, December 3, 2018

The B&O Railroad Goes to War

Part VII: September -- November 1918
The Great War came to an end in the fall of 1918. In Europe, the allies advanced along the Hindenburg Line and launched the Meuse-Argonne offensive. In the United States, William G. McAdoo, Director-General of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA), visited several railroad systems and delivered stump speeches to encourage the purchase of additional war bonds and raise morale of railroad workers at home. He famously declared to Pennsylvania Railroad employees in Altoona, Pennsylvania: "Every bad order locomotive is a Prussian soldier." McAdoo traveled on the B&O and delivered speeches in Cumberland, Keyser, Grafton, and Charleston.

[B&O Railroad Museum Collection]

At this late stage of the war, employees in the service continued to perish in combat and fall to the Spanish Influenza outbreak. More than 25,000 Americans in the service fell victim to this worldwide epidemic. Even with the war winding down, employees continued to leave their jobs to serve in the military.
Pfaff, formerly an employee within the Valuation Department in Baltimore, served in France with the 539th Engineers, U.S. Army. On October 15, 1918, Pfaff became another victim of the Influenza epidemic. [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]
Even with the war winding down, employees continued to leave for the service. In the office of the Auditor of Passenger Receipts in Baltimore, a total of twenty five employees left to serve during World War I. [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]
In late September – early October, just weeks before the armistice, General John J. Pershing, commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, wrote to the war department, demanding immediate assistance in straightening out his military railroads in France. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, reached out to who he felt was the best railroad man in the country: President Daniel Willard of the B&O Railroad. Willard immediately accepted a colonelcy in the U.S. Army Engineers and was ordered to the front as soon as possible. Local Baltimore tailors were called in to fit him with a uniform. 

Willard never got the chance to go to France or fulfill his role in the U.S. Army. On October 5, his eldest son Harold Nelson Willard died. On October 9, Harold’s wife DeVoe Holmes Willard also passed away. Both were taken by the Influenza epidemic. Stricken with grief, Dan Willard was unable to accept his army appointment. 

As early as September 29, Germany approached the United States seeking a cessation of hostilities. It was not until November 11, 1918 that the Armistice was signed ending World War I. [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]
By wars end, the B&O Railroad Company sent 6,794 employees into military service. Of those, ninety seven did not return. Another one hundred and three employees were wounded. One employee is known to have earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second highest medal for gallantry. The railroad transported hundreds of thousands of troops along the eastern United States and serviced several Army cantonments as well. 

The B&O performed exceptionally under government management of the nation's railroads. American railroads regained control over their companies in March of 1920. Though politically opposed to Woodrow Wilson and federal control of the railroad, Dan Willard was a valued leader in the industry and did everything asked of him and the B&O during the war period. At home and abroad, the B&O Railroad played a critical role in American involvement during World War I. 


By Harrison Van Waes
Curator, B&O Railroad Museum

The B&O Railroad Goes to War is a multi-part blog series commemorating the centennial of American involvement in World War I. This is the concluding section. Thank you for following along during this anniversary.


Baltimore & Ohio Employee Magazine [September 1918 - December 1918]

Hays T. Watkins Research Library & Archives, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum


No comments: