November 11, 2018, will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of “The War to End All
Wars,” better known today because of subsequent events as World War 1. A Century may seem like a long time, but it’s really no so long ago; in fact, the last American veteran of World War 1, Frank Buckles, only passed away in 2011.
When the United States entered World War 1 in 1917, the Civil War was only some 50-odd years in the past, and there were still a number of surviving Union and Confederate veterans that took great interest in this new conflict. While doing some research recently I found an article about a rally held in Rankin County to encourage local support for the American Red Cross. One of the highlights of this rally was the reading of a speech by Pleasant B. Berry, a Confederate veteran who knew from his own military service the pressing need that soldiers had for high quality medical care. The speech was reported in The Brandon News, December 27, 1917, and is below:
The following was written by Capt. P.B. Berry of Florence, and read for him by Mrs. D. Taylor at the Red Cross rally in Florence last Sunday afternoon. It aroused much attention
and interest and should be published for the benefit of the many in Rankin County who were not present. Capt. Berry is now an old Confederate Veteran and he should be heeded at this time:
“With the experience I have had and what I have been an eye-witness to, I just don’t know how to begin to tell the great need of an organization of the Red Cross, the good it can do in so many different ways on the battle-field, – yes, and on the firing line. Red Cross details are expected to be on the firing line to help take care of the wounded – binding up wounds and administering nourishments, & etc.
Then, in the hospital they can do so much good in caring for the sick. I have been in battle, I have gone over the battle-fields after the battle had been fought, and it makes me shudder until this day, to see so many lying all over the battle-ground, begging for help and begging for water – yes, pleading in so many ways for help. Then we had no Red Cross organization and our poor boys had to lie there and suffer awful pains; and many of them lay there and died for the want of Red Cross nurses.
Now, it’s in the hands of everybody to do their bit. I cannot help believing that everybody who has any patriotism about them will join and help out the Red Cross organization. None of us know whose son, or husband or friend may be in great need of the Red Cross before this cruel war is over. No telling what is going to come to pass. War is a fearful thing; and I, for one, think its high time we were pushing the Red Cross to the greatest height. Nothing like preparedness, be ready to do something when help is needed. No doubt in my mind but much help will be needed before this war is over, and how in the name of common sense can anybody with any kind [of] patriotism stand idle and not try to help our men on the battlefields in their terrible sufferings.
Now, I beg of all to get busy and do something. These men have gone across the water to
fight for us and risk their lives and be exposed to all kinds of danger, while we are at home enjoying ourselves. I was a soldier once for four of the longest years I ever experienced, and I know what I am talking about. Then, we had no Red Cross organization because we were not able to have one. Many lives could have been saved if we could have had their assistance. I could go on and tell much more of my experience in battles, and my seeing, the suffering on the battlefields and in hospitals, etc., but I feel that it is no use to say more, only let me beg of you all to do your bit and help take care of the men that have already gone and those that will be sure to follow very soon. No telling whose Mother’s son will need help and need it bad. I fear but few of our people are realizing the seriousness of this terrible world’s war.
Now it occurs to me to ask what can be done to get the people more interested and brought down to more earnest thinking. As for myself I have had very serious thoughts about this war from the first; and no telling when it will end, nor how many more men may be called on to go. So, I think it’s the duty of everybody to join the Red Cross and do their bit.”
Pleasant Berry’s speech struck a cord, with me, as my grandfather, Lynnly C. Adams, was
from Rankin County, and served in the United States Navy during World War 1. Lynnly was a victim of the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic that killed millions worldwide, and spent time in a naval hospital at Brest, France. According to a story that was passed down to me by my mother, Lynnly was not expected to live, and the doctors at the hospital had him placed outside the building in a tent with other sailors who were not expected to live. There was one nurse, however, who refused to give up on these men and she took care of my grandfather until he recovered from his illness.
Pleasant Boggan Berry enlisted in the “Rankin Greys,” Company I, 6th Mississippi Infantry, in 1861, and the unit was mustered into service on May 4 of that year. Over the next four years the young soldier took part in numerous major battles, and saw more than his fair share of wounded, sick, and dying men. In the 6th Mississippi’s first major battle at Shiloh, Tennessee, the regiment had over 300 men killed or wounded out of the 425 it had taken into the fight. The casualty rate for the 6th Mississippi at Shiloh was 70% – the highest percentage of any Magnolia State unit for the entire war. The regiment had duly won the nickname it carried until the end of the war: “The Bloody Sixth.” (Going to Meet the Yankees: A History of the ‘Bloody Sixth’ Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A., page 98.)
Veterans such as Pleasant Berry knew firsthand how terrible war was, and they worked very hard in their communities to make sure that the “Doughboys” had access to the best medical care available. The United Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy supported organizations such as the American Red Cross, which provided medical care to United States soldiers both at home and abroad. I found the following description of their activities on the American Red Cross website:
Prior to the First World War, the Red Cross introduced its first aid, water safety, and public
health nursing programs. With the outbreak of war, the organization experienced phenomenal growth. The number of local chapters jumped from 107 in 1914 to 3,864 in 1918 and membership grew from 17,000 to over 20 million adult and 11 million junior Red Cross members. The public contributed $400 million in funds and material to support Red Cross programs, including those for American and allied forces and civilian refugees. The Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the military. Additional Red Cross nurses came forward to combat the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918. (http://www.redcross.org/local/florida/south-
Thanks to the advances in medical knowledge and the work of groups such as the Red Cross, World War 1 casualties had a much better chance of surviving than their Civil War
counterparts. In World War 1, there was one death for every 40 soldiers who served; in the Civil War there was one death for every five soldiers. (“American War Dead, by the Numbers” by Paul Waldman – http://prospect.org/article/american-war-dead-numbers)
Because of civilians such as Pleasant Berry who wanted the men fighting in the Great War to have the very best medical care, thousands of soldiers, sailors and marines survived the conflict that might otherwise have died. One of those sailors was my grandfather, who came home to marry my grandmother and have nine children, one of whom was my mother, Lois Anice Adams, born September 1, 1930. We owe these Mississippians who gave of their time and money to support the troops our gratitude, and I am very glad I can highlight their efforts in this blog.