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Notable American Volunteers of the Great War

In the fall of 1914, the United States had three ambassadors in Paris...

Alan Albright

IN THE FALL OF 1914, the United States had three ambassadors in Paris: Robert Bacon, who had returned to take charge of the American Ambulance, Myron T. Herrick who, at the request of a newly-elected Wilson, had remained to complete work begun on the eve of the war, and the newly-appointed William G. Sharp. The latter's diplomacy was put sorely to the test as, having been named Ambassador to France in June 1914 and having arrived in France in early September, he did not actually take over from Herrick until three months later.

William Graves Sharp (1859-1922) (1), a Democrat, had been ranking member of the House committee on foreign affairs before Wilson nominated him first for an ambassadorship in Russia--which that country rejected--and then for one in France where he was to spend practically the whole war. Not only was Sharp supportive of all the American relief work in France, but he conscientiously performed the delicate diplomatic work required of the representative of a neutral nation in a country beset by war. After April 1917, Sharp cooperated with the American Expeditionary Force as well as the highly organized relief efforts of the American Red Cross and the YMCA, among others. Finally, in April 1919, at the end of demobilization, Sharp returned to his business activities in the United States where he died in 1922. In the words of Joffre, he was "a good, honest man".

While Sharp's service spanned almost the entire Great War, he was never able to escape the shadow of Myron Timothy Herrick (1854-1929) (2) who had preceded him in those dramatic first months of the conflict. The German Army had overrun Belgium and was racing to capture Paris, as its Prussian predecessors had done. The French government had fled to Bordeaux, along with a good many nervous French citizens and ambassadors of other nations. But Herrick remained. "Paris belongs not only to France," he said, "it belongs to the world!" His words -- and deeds -- were long remembered. Today, down the slope from Bartholdi's large sculpture of Lafayette shaking hands with Washington in the gardens of Paris' Place des États-Unis, and up from the monument to American Volunteers, there stands a bust of Myron T. Herrick, former governor of Ohio, whom President Taft had appointed as ambassador to France in 1912 to replace Robert Bacon(3).

When war threatened in late July of 1914, Herrick's first concern was to organize in anticipation of the coming chaos. He mobilized the elite of the American Colony in Paris into a Volunteer Committee, whose first task was to help stranded tourists... obtain money. No one was interested in exchanging currencies at this conjuncture. But the problem was quickly solved, along with a good many others, and visiting American citizens soon found themselves safely on their way home, while those remaining set about to prepare for war. Herrick initiated or inspired, oversaw or gave his blessing to, almost all the major volunteer enterprises that sprung up at this time to bring aid and relief to the French, beginning with the creation of the American Ambulance(4).

Shortly before handing the reins to Sharp, Herrick got the idea of creating a clearing house in Paris for the processing and distribution of gifts and donations coming from the United States(5). With the help of his predecessor Robert Bacon, he formed a Committee around H. Herman Harjes, resulting in the creation of the American Relief Clearing House in mid November 1914. Sharp finally traveled to Bordeaux on December 1st to present his credentials to the French government and Herrick and his wife, Caroline Parmely Herrick, sailed for the United States. There they would play active roles in American volunteer activities, beginning with Herrick's creation of the War Relief Clearing House in New York, a counterpart to the Paris organization, and his wife's campaigns on behalf of the American Ambulance(6).

While both Sharp and Herrick were from Ohio, Robert Bacon (1860-1919) (7) came from an old Boston family. Bacon had gone to Harvard with Theodore Roosevelt where he was a football hero and for four years president of his class. His subsequent career took him into banking, where he proved his mettle in negotiating complicated affairs at home and abroad for both the Morgan bank and Philadelphia's Drexel & Co. It was due to these banking and business skills that William Taft named him first as Assistant Secretary of State under Elihu Root and then Ambassador to France. Bacon was greeted by the great Paris floods of January 1910. He was soon appreciated in his new assignment but when his beloved Harvard offered him the post of Fellow(8) in 1912, he resigned the ambassadorship

Bacon, as fellow Republicans Roosevelt and Herrick, was an avid Francophile, was impatient with the Democratic administration's reluctance to enter the war, and was eager to get down to work. While his wife set about spearheading fundraising for the American Ambulance, Bacon returned to France to direct operations for that organization. It was then that he saw the opportunity to draw young Americans into the war effort as ambulance drivers. Three men soon had that same vision: Richard Norton, Abram Piatt Andrew and Henry Herman Harjes --the first two sharing Bacon's connection with Harvard, the second two, his connection to the Morgan Bank. But it was Piatt Andrew who would collaborate directly with Bacon at the American Ambulance. At the end of 1915, Bacon returned to the United States where he threw himself into the campaign for military preparedness. In May of 1917, he was appointed a major in the U.S. Army and, in June, sailed for France with General Pershing(9).

Richard Norton (1872-1918) (10) did not hail from the world of law, banking or business, as did the three American ambassadors, but from the intellectual spheres of art and archeology(11). His father, Charles Eliot Norton, was a celebrated Harvard professor of the history of fine arts, while he himself pursued a career in archeology. It was while observing the transport of the wounded at the American Ambulance in Neuilly in September 1914, that Norton got the idea of forming an ambulance corps.

Norton's contacts, however, were in London, not Paris. and it was in the English capital, with the backing of his father s literary friends, Henry James(12) and Edith Wharton(13), that he organized his corps as an Anglo-American unit of the St. John's Ambulance. The latter had a long tradition of service going back to the Knights of Jerusalem and was the active arm of the British Red Cross. Norton called this new service the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps and appealed to his alma mater, Harvard, for volunteers

The first cars of Norton's service arrived in Boulogne-sur-mer in late October 1914 and, after serving the British and Belgians, were attached to the French as Sanitary Section No. 7. Later, in 1916, they merged with Harjes' American Red Cross unit -- Sanitary Section No. 5 --but, when confronted with militarization after the United States entered the war, dissolved by common accord(14).

Despite a common link to Harvard, there never seems to have been any contact between Richard Norton and Abram Piatt Andrew (1873-1936) (15), the director of the rival American Ambulance Field Service. Andrew had first of all been a Princeton man, before completing his doctorate in 1900--including studies abroad in Germany and France--at Harvard, where he taught economics for nine years. His activities as monetary expert and editor of National Monetary Commission publications, but especially the monetary crisis of 1907, drew him out of academia into political activities. Along with banker Harry P. Davison , he became one of the inner core of advisors in the drafting of the famous Aldrich Plan which would lead to the creation of the Federal Reserve System. Under the William Taft government, he was appointed first Director of the Mint (1909-1910) and then Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (1910-1912). It was here that he took on as an assistant Robert Low Bacon, the son of his colleague from the State Department(16). During the period 1910-1912, Piatt Andrew was also the treasurer of the American Red Cross. In the fall of 1914, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress, at the conclusion of which he wrote Robert Bacon at the American Ambulance, volunteering his services.

After a month in the field as a humble ambulance driver in the north of France, Piatt Andrew was read to organize what would become the American Ambulance Field Service, somewhat inspired by Norton's example. Taking advantage of a contact in the French army--Gabriel Puaux, who had been a fellow student in Germany --, Andrew was able to convince the authority in charge of the eastern front, Général de Montravel, that the presence of neutral American ambulance drivers at the front would bring both practical and morale advantages to the French cause. Henceforth, the American Sanitary Sections -- including both Norton's and Andrew's corps--would be attached directly to the Transportation Service of the French Army. In 1916, after several years of petty rivalry with the Ambulance's Paris Transportation Service, the American Ambulance Field Service freed itself from its Neuilly attachment and was installed on magnificent grounds in the Passy area in Paris. It was then renamed the American Field Service. There, a close collaboration was formed with the nascent Lafayette Flying Corps and, in 1917, a sub-unit was organized to drive munitions-laden trucks--the Réserve Mallet--, once the United States had officially entered the war.

Andrew was a man of vision, seconded by the organizational talents of his Gloucester neighbor and friend, architect Henry D. Sleeper. Sleeper ran the entire infrastructure of personnel recruitment and fundraising in the United States up until AFS's militarization in late 1917, after which he managed its headquarters in France. When the AFS became part of the Expeditionary Force, Andrew was given military rank, first major, then lieutenant colonel. At the end of the war, through the intermediary of Myron T. Herrick, he added his organization's name and remaining funds to a university-backed initiative to create scholarships for young Americans to study in France(17): the American Field Service Fellowships for French Universities. Andrew insisted, however, that French students be able to study in the United States under this program(18). He also participated in meetings in Paris in 1919 to organize the American Legion, before returning to the United States, where he served in Congress until his death in 1935.

Henry Herman Harjes (1875-1926) was the third American to organize an ambulance corps. Although his group of American Red Cross ambulances was in the field in October 1914 --later merging with the Norton corps--Harjes is best known for his role as president of the American Relief Clearing House. Harjes' father, John, had come to Paris in 1864 to establish the Paris subsidiary of Philadelphia's Drexel Bank, the Drexel-Harjes which, in 1895, became the Morgan-Harjes. Herman followed his father into banking. Both were upstanding members of the American Colony, church-going Episcopalians at the Holy Trinity, and among the founders of the American Hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

As director of the Morgan-Harjes bank, H. Herman Harjes was quickly drawn into the thick of things when was broke out. Myron T. Herrick wasted no time in naming him secretary of his Volunteer Committee. It was Harjes' idea of appealing to the French government's need for dollar credits, which ultimately permitted the Morgan to set up an account to enable stranded Americans to obtain French francs. Harjes was also on the Board of Governors of the American Hospital but, for reasons of financial liability, quickly distanced himself from the risky undertaking of the Ambulance Committee. His wife, on the other hand, continued on as one of the stalwarts of the Ambulance up until the end of the war. But if his stature as pillar of American volunteerism in France brought him great respect, Harjes' major contributions to the French took place far more privately, in his capacity as banker. Already by the end of December 1914, the Morgan-Harjes in Paris was suggesting to the Allies that the Morgan become their official intermediary in the United States(19).

Naturally, one cannot evoke the Morgan Bank, without referring to its prime mover in New York, John Pierpont. Morgan, Jr. (1867-1943) . After graduating from Harvard in 1889, Morgan had proved his capacity through, among other things, his negotiation of the purchase rights to the Panama Canal in 1903 and, after J.P.'s death in 1913, J.P., Jr. took over the bank from his father. Beginning in 1916, the Morgan negotiated a series of extremely large loans to France and to England, becoming their exclusive purchasing agent and financier in the United States. The latter effort merited J.P., Jr. a brush with death, as a German "sympathizer" broke into his Long Island home in July 15, 1915 and shot him. J.P. Jr. quickly recovered and his bank continued to be a major financial force in the war.

While financial matters were handled quietly, the focus of attention on American activity in France was continually drawn to the American Ambulance in Neuilly whose president was Samuel Newell Watson (1861-1942) (20) the dean of the Church of the Holy Trinity, who also held the degree of doctor of medicine. As his predecessor, Rev. W.O. Lamson had done with the American Ambulance of 1870-1871, Watson devoted himself entirely to the cause(21). Others of note at the Ambulance were Laurence V. Benét , inventor of improvements to the Hotchkiss machine gun, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris, who was active in the transportation service, along with his wife, Margaret Cox Benét, who played an important role in the nursing corps. At the heart of the Ambulance were, of course, the doctors, many of high repute, the staff, such as Magnin, Gros, DuBouchet, Blake, and others who came for tours of service, some bringing along their staff of assistants and nurses, such as: Harte, Murphy, Taylor, Addison, Hutchinson, Asgood, Crile, Cushing, Judd(22).

Another driving force behind the Ambulance from the beginning was Anne Harriman Vanderbilt, daughter of Edward Harriman and wife of W.K. Vanderbilt. While Mrs. Vanderbilt's main activity was her management of the nursing corps, she was involved in many other volunteer activities. The Vanderbilts did not hesitate to quietly finance worthy causes, from the first ten automobiles purchased for the Ambulance, to the first Nieuport aeroplanes manned by the Lafayette Escadrille.

It was thus with the financial backing of the Vanderbilts and the diplomatic skill of Dr. Edmund L. Gros that the improbable enterprise of a group of Americans engaging Germans in aerial combat, while their two countries were not at war, became a reality. A number of adventuresome Americans had first enlisted on an individual basis in the French Foreign Legion, before transferring to the aviation corps, some as early as the end of 1914: William Thaw, James Bach, Raoul Lufbery. A movement was then started to bring the American pilots together in a single unit. Despite German complaints, the Lafayette Escadrille finally materialized in April 1916, the first pilots being: Victor Chapman, Kiffin Rockwell , Norman Prince and James McConnell, the last of whom had previously served in the American Ambulance Field Service. The Field Service's medical director, Edmund L. Gros, proved to be an able recruiter: almost half of the pilots who flew for the Escadrille during the war had first driven ambulances. The Lafayette Escadrille ceased to exist in February 1918 when its pilots were taken over by the United States Air Service. All in all, 180 American pilots flew at the front in French uniform, serving in 93 different squadrons (including the Escadrille). Almost a third of these American volunteer aviators, known collectively as the Lafayette Flying Corps, were killed in action.

Although great numbers of Americans came from German or Irish family stock and should have been hostile to the Allied cause, the cultural sympathies of America proved to be with France(23). One reason for this, apart from the grateful memory of the French participation in the War of Independence, was the large number of Americans, generally from elite backgrounds, who had come to France since 1870 to study art and architecture(24). The Warren brothers, for example, cousins of the Whitneys, had studied architecture at Paris' École des Beaux-Arts. Whitney Warren was indefatigable in his efforts to promote France's cause through lectures, pamphlets and concrete action. He founded the Comité des étudiants américains de l'École des Beaux-Arts to help drafted students and their families, and, among other things, was a member of the New York War Relief Committee. Their cousin, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a sculptor, financed many activities around the Ambulance, particularly its extension in the reconverted College of Juilly (Seine-et-Marne). Other artists, like painters Ridgway Knight and Anna Klumpke, converted their residences into temporary hospitals or rest homes, or, as Knight, went to work for one of the volunteer organizations like the ARCH.

Widespread French cultural influence at the time in the U.S. intellectual community at large undoubtedly explains why so many students of prestigious American universities participated in volunteer activities in France. James Hazen Hyde, son of the insurance tycoon, had already established the first lecture and professor exchange between Harvard and the Sorbonne, long before the war. The support of the intelligentsia was important in French eyes, as Samuel Watson remarked, commenting that French recognition of his efforts focused more on his promotion of the French cause among Americans, than the concrete relief activities he was involved in. The same might be said for Professor James Mark Baldwin or, again, James Hazen Hyde, who gave lectures or wrote pamphlets and books, as did Edith Wharton. Finally, the American Colony of Paris, with all its connections with the homeland, threw its full weight into efforts to help France. Families like the Hydes or the Edward Tucks would transform their homes into hospitals and contribute time and finances to relief activities.

After April 1917, the nature of American efforts in France would change, with most of the various activities subordinated to the greater aim of military victory. Relief work -- from volunteer Ambulances to medical evacuation services--would be largely "militarized" under the American Red Cross whose new director, Henry P. Davison(25), a trusted partner of J.P. Morgan Jr., was recruited for his financial skill, as vast sums of money had to be raised. Welfare work would be carried out in the same organized spirit by the YMCA(26), seconded by private initiatives such as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Club, financed by Rodman Wanamaker(27). The latter was run by the former dean of the Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) Cathedral, Frederick W. Beekman , and his wife, Margaret Auchmuty (Mackay) Beekman . Rev. Beekman also served in official capacity as a chaplain in the United States Expeditionary Force, where he held the rank of Captain. While the Beekmans were helping "doughboys" feel at home in Paris, Rev. Beekman also began to give a helping hand to an overworked Dr. Watson at the Holy Trinity Church and after the war, when the Watsons retired to California, Beekman was appointed dean of what would become the American Cathedral(28).

While the thrust of this new movement was to coordinate American volunteer efforts with the overall aims of the American military, there one organization that already began to focus on reconstruction of French civilian life as though the war was already over: the American Committee for Devastated France, an extension of the American Fund for French Wounded. Moreover, it was under the aegis of the French High Command that this small group of American women was installed in temporary barracks in an area of Upper Picardy recently evacuated by the Germans. This American committee, called the CARD after its French acronym, was led by two active members of the AFFW, Anne Murray Dike and Anne Tracy Morgan, J.P. Jr's sister; and took on a wide variety of tasks, from driving ambulances and trucks to educating young mothers, from repairing vehicles to delivering needed supplies, --all accomplished by women.

A whole new group of Americans would now come to the fore in France, beginning with the chief of the American Expeditionary Force, John Joseph Pershing (1860-1948) , who arrived in France on June 14th, commander of a non-existent army which he demanded be considered--when it materialized in the future -- as a "distinct and separate component of the combined forces". The U.S. Army grew from 200,000 in early 1917 to over 4 million, 2 million of which would serve "over there" as a distinctly American force, but under the orders of Supreme Commander for the Western Front, Marshal Ferdinand Foch. In 1917, Americans had not anticipated the Russian Revolution, the end of the Eastern Front and the Picardy Offensive of March 1918 by a reinforced, but desperate Germany Army. Despite their advances the aggressors were held off, allowing time for the Doughboys to arrive in larger numbers and prove themselves at Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Woods in June, and the turning point in July, the second Battle of the Marne. By now, 85,000 American troops were engaged. The summer was punctuated by Allied offensives, ending with the St. Mihiel Salient, a successful U.S. military operation involving a half million troops. The AEF was then relocated to the Meuse River-Argonne Forest region where their offensive was brought to a halt by the Armistice of November 11th. The Great War was over. A generation of young men had been lost, including almost one and three quarter million Germans, one and a half million French, three quarters of a million British. For the brief time the Americans were on the field, battle casualties had totaled less than 50,000, although far more soldiers than that had died in the influenza-pneumonia epidemic that had swept U.S. military camps in France.

This article was first published in the exhibition catalog of "1853-1947, The Americans of the Legion of Honor", 23 juin - 18 octobre 1993, Musée national de la Coopération franco-américaine, Château de Blérancourt, Véronique Wiesinger, Exhibition curator.


(1) See: Warrington Dawson, The War Memoirs of William Graves Sharp, American Ambassador to France 1914-1919, London, 1931.

(2) See T. Bentley Mott, Myron T Herrick, London, 1930.

(3) At this time also, there were briefly two American ambassadors in Paris, Herrick's indulgence allowing Bacon to cancel his scheduled return to America on the Titanic.

(4) Later, as the Germans drew closer to Paris, Herrick found himself saddled with the responsibilities of protecting the interests of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Turkey, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Japan in France-- he was the representative of a neutral nation--and those of Great Britain as well, leading Lord Northcliffe to comment that his conduct was one of the most remarkable achievements of any man during the war. See Yves-Henri Nouailhat, France et États-Unis, Août 1914-Avril 1917, Paris, 1979, p.74.

(5) See Percy Mitchell, The American Relief Clearing House, Paris, 1922.

(6) After the war, Herrick was again named Ambassador, this time by Warren Harding, and returned to France in 1921, where he was on hand to welcome Charles Lindbergh out of the skies in 1927 and where, in 1929, after insisting upon walking and remaining standing throughout the ceremonies surrounding Foch's funeral, he succumbed to ill health.

(7) See James Brown Scott, Robert Bacon, Life and Letters (1860-1919), New York, 1923.

(8) i.e. University administrator.

(9) Bacon then performed valuable service as chief of the American military mission at British General Headquarters. Promoted to lieutenant colonel at the end of the war, he returned exhausted to the United States, where he died in May 1919 of over-exertion and strain.

(10) The Richard Norton papers may be found in Harvard's Houghton Library.

(11) After studying at Harvard, in Germany and at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, he was director of the American School of Classical Studies in Rome from 1899 to 1907, during which time he participated in archeological digs in Central Asia and Cyrenaïca. In 1910-11, as director of the Archeological Institute of America, he led a Boston Fine Arts Museum expedition to excavate the ruins of Cyrene.

(12) See Leon Edel, Henry James: the Master, 1901-1916, Philadelphia, 1972 and Henry James, "The American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance Corps in France: A Letter to the Editor of an American Journal", in Within the Rim, London, 1918.

(13) See R.W.B. Lewis, Edith Wharton: A Biography, New York: Harper & Row, 1975 and Alan Price, Edith Wharton and the First World War, New York, 1996.

(14) "It was obvious that Col. Kean had come with an entire misapprehension as to what the men want to do. He was much surprised to learn that the whole plant of cars, men and material could not be turned over to him at once, lock, stock and barrel. I point out of course the difficulties--such as the fact that Section VII is incorporated under the Law of England and although wound up and disbanded, its property can only be turned over to a charitable institution and even the Colonel could scarcely consider the U.S. Army came into that category." From a letter of Richard Norton to his brother Eliot, August 25, 1917, copied by Watson C. Emmet into his personal diary (presently in the possession of his son, Edouard Emmet, of Paris). Some of the drivers went on to the American Red Cross in Italy. Others joined the French artillery. During the three year existence of his corps, Norton was a beloved elder brother to his men, a true humanist, and highly appreciated by his French collaborators.

(15) Andrew wrote or edited: With the American Ambulance Field Service in France, Paris, private printing, 1916; Letters Written Home from France, Boston, 1916; Friends of France, Boston, 1916. See also, History of the American Field Service in France, 3 vol., Boston, 1920.

(16) See Andrew Gray, "The American Field Service", in The American Heritage, December 1974.

(17) This initiative first took form as a Franco-American Committee which promoted the establishment of the doctorat d'université to enable American university students to obtain some sort of credit for their studies. Associated with the efforts of James Hazen Hyde to fund professorship exchanges between the Sorbonne and Harvard, the movement grew into a growing concern to attract American university students to France for further studies. In 1917, the Society for American Fellowships in French Universities, led by Charles H. Grandgent of Harvard and John H. Wigmore of Northwestern University, edited Science and Learning in France with a Survey of opportunities for American Students in French Universities. In 1918-1919, through the diplomatic efforts of Myron T. Herrick, this movement attached itself to the highly visible--and thus renowned on both sides of the Atlantic--American Field Service which, to boot, contributed the remainder of its funds. See also: Charles Petit-Dutaillis, Relations universitaires de la France avec les États-Unis, Paris, 1919.

(18) The first of these was Pierre Lepaulle (1893-1979) who studied at Harvard University Law School in 1920-1922. He did pioneer work in the study of trusts and went on to found a large international law firm in Paris. The weakness of the French franc for several years prevented the fellowships from being awarded to a French scholar and thus the second French Fellow thus did not materialize until the year of Andrew's death, 1936: Maurice Pérouse (1914-1985), Inspector General of Finance in the French Government and for the last few years of his life treasurer and then president of les Amis de Blérancourt.

(19) For details see Yves-Henri Nouailhat, op. cit., chapter IV.

(20) See Samuel N. Watson, Those Paris Years: With the World at the Cross-Roads, New York, 1936 and Jeannette Grace Watson, Our Sentry Go, Chicago, 1924. The Watson Papers may be found at Stanford University's Hoover Library.

(21) See Cameron Allen's unpublished dissertation, The History of the American Cathedral from its Origins until 1918, a copy of which may be found in the Cathedral archives and at the Museum of Franco-American Cooperation at Blérancourt.

(22) See Nicole Fouché, Le Mouvement perpétuel, histoire de l'Hôpital américain de Paris 1906-1989, Toulouse, 1992.

(23) See J.-J. Jusserand, Le Sentiment américain pendant la guerre, Paris, 1933.

(24) See V. Wiesinger ed., Paris Bound. Americans in Art Schools, 1868-1918, Paris, 1990.

(25) See Thomas W. Lamont, Henry P. Davison, The Record of a Useful Life, New York, 1933.

(26) See Frederick Harris, ed, Service with Fighting Men, An Account of the Work of the American Young Men's Christian Associations in the World War, New York, 1922.

(27) An earlier backer of the American Artists' Club which was involved with the work of the Holy Trinity Church among American art students on Paris' Left Bank. See Cameron Allen, op. cit., chapter IX.

(28)Idem, pp. 502-507.


Myron T. Herrick