Local African-American soldiers make WWI contributions

Special Photo/Reggie Davis Sherman Miller, one of Douglas County’s World War One soldiers wrote home in 1918 about a “soul winning campaign” held at Chamblee’s Fort Gordon where many of Douglas County’s men were sent for training. Historian Lisa Cooper located this image from that event. Perhaps some of the men in this image are from Douglasville!

Last week I published the names of Douglas County's black World War One soldiers and members from the Douglas County Red Cross auxiliary hoping families would contact me with pertinent information that could help with a possible future exhibit at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art. This week, as promised, I'm sharing extracts from letters received from three of these men. These letters were published in the Sentinel in 1918.

Lucius Ellington was born in Douglas County in 1894, and was just 25 years old when he was inducted into the U.S. Army in October, 1917. His draft card indicates he was a farmer and employed by the Upshaw brothers who operated a general mercantile store on Broad Street.

Of the three men who had their letters appear in the Sentinel, Ellington actually spent his World War One service in France as a stevedore. A letter Ellington wrote to Lucius Upshaw was published in the Sentinel on Oct. 4, 1918, thanking the businessman for writing a letter to Ellington which was dictated to Upshaw by Ellington's mother. Ellington states, "Of course, you know that I was glad to hear from you all and it will always be, because it lets me know I have friends behind which I left when I crossed the deep blue waters. I am well satisfied here, and I have a good many of the boys here with me from home - Aron Shropshire, Hobert James, J.C. Gorman, J.B. Billingsley, and several others. Tell all the good people of Douglasville that I am trying to help win this war fighting under the red, white, and blue for the right of my people and myself. I often think of the old names of Douglasville."

My research indicates Ellington remained in the Douglasville-Powder Springs area raising a family of ten and is buried at New Hope Cemetery in Powder Springs.

William S. Miller, who probably went by the name Sherman was born to Simmie Miller in 1896. He was only 22 when he entered the service in April, 1918 and like many was sent to Camp Gordon in Chamblee. Four of Miller's letters appeared in the Sentinel from May to September, 1918.

Miller wanted folks back home to know he was well cared for and had plenty to eat. He wrote of a "soul winning campaign" that was to be held at the camp beginning May 27th and continuing for ten nights. His letters often made reference to the life of a farmer stating he had "just returned from a five mile hike and feel sore … I feel worse than the boys back there after punching old Mack [probably the plow mule] in the side all day…I hope the crops are looking fine. I haven't seen any cotton or other growing crops for a month."

Miller also stressed, "The boys of America are offering their all in all while you are enjoying the comforts of home sweet home. We must show the Kaiser that we are a nation of truth and that we are going to stand up before the sight of Almighty God and fight for his word … I would be very glad to look upon old Douglas, but as everything is today, I have no idea of when I will have that pleasure. Be a truthful and praying town and country."

In June, 1918 Miller was able to relate most of the Douglas County boys with him at Fort Gordon had shipped out to France. Miller missed their departure because he was in the base hospital suffering from a case of the mumps, and just a few weeks later in September he wrote he was dealing with a bout of the measles as well.

I don't think poor Sherman Miller ever left the grounds of Fort Gordon, but following the war my research indicates he moved to Warren, Ohio where he had a career working for Republic Steel.

The third gentleman who had a letter published in the Sentinel was Enros Knight who it appears used the name Henry. He was the son of Elbert and Eliza Knight, born in Douglas County in 1890.

His letter was dated April, 1918 and makes reference to the items the Red Cross group in Douglasville gave him stating, "We…are sure proud of them and thank them very much", and he had a word of advice for further draftees saying, "Now to the next selectmen of Douglas County….should there be more -- go and get the words of instruction and also what the Red Cross ladies have for you…Those needles, thread, buttons, and cigars come in handy."

After the war Mr. Knight returned to farming in Douglas County through the early 1920s, before moving north to Illinois where he worked for Atlantic Steel. It's interesting to note that Mr. Knight also registered for the draft during World War Two at 52 years of age.

As we move towards Veterans Day in November, I'm hoping I can discover more about these men and their service to our nation.

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