Joseph Davis Pridgen papers, 1917-1984 (bulk 1917-1919) 1 Linear Foot — 300 items
Chiefly letters written by Pridgen to his mother, father, sister, and an occassional family friend while serving with Company M, 120th U.S. Infantry, 30th Division, commonly referred to as the "Old Hickory"Division, of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.
Letters of August 1917 through May 1918 primarily describe his life at Camp Sevier: meals, discipline, pay, his duties as supply sergeant, and the arrival of new conscripts. He also describes several episodes of desertion, a measles outbreak and resulting medical quarantine, and soldiers suffering from pneumonia and spinal meningitis. Other topics include occassional trips into Greenville and Spartanburg where he and other soldiers were hosted by local families, attended picture shows, including "Birth of a Nation,", and fraternized with other soldiers.
Letters of May 1918 through July 1918 describe preparations for his division's embarkation to France. He notes the transfer of his division to Camp Merritt, New Jersey and stops along the way in Washington, D.C and Philadelphia, PA where Red Cross women handed out post cards, fresh apples and cigarettes to the troops. He also describes nights out in New York City, NY and a visit to the Kinney-Duke branch of the American Tobacco Co. with other soldiers from Durham. Letters of July 1918 warn recipients of future cencorship of letters. There is also a postcard of July 1918 with an image of his division's transport ship and date of embarkation.
Letters of August 1918 through November 1918 describe active duty in France. Due to censorhip of letter content, most letters are relatively consice and his exact whereabouts are never disclosed. However, he does describe his duties behind the lines assisting a mess sergeant, transportation of food to soldiers at the front, some references to conditions, and, due to the potential presence of German aircraft, a strict lights-out policy after dark. He also briefly describes duties at the front including a nineteen day stint in the trenches and the deaths of several soldiers including a friend from Durham. He also describes coursework at an engineers training school where he completed classes on camouflage, gas, mining and pioneering, and bridging. His notebooks from these courses are present in the collection.
After the armistice his letters touch on a variety of topics including descriptions of holiday dinners in camp, his transfer out of the 30th Division, rumors surrounding which divisions will sail home first, and the influenza outbreak in the United States. After his division's transfer to Le Mans, France prior to embarkation he describes his anxiousness to return to the States, his observations of French people, attending a baseball game and his disillusionament with the Y.M.C.A., noting the arrest of two staff members for stealing money.
The collection also contains some military papers and ephemera including several General Orders, cartoon clippings from a Camp Sevier newspaper--one of which depicts Pridgen, assorted print material including a pamphlet on recent military operations, divisional shoulder patches, and a tag with Pridgen's name and division number. Also present is a small amount of legal and financial papers relating to Pridgen's automobile dealership opened after the war and assorted clippings from World War I and several documenting post-war commemorations.