[N.p. ca. 1917]. Panoramic photograph 8 x 46 1/4 inches. A handful of creases and tears, far right 8 x 6-inch section separated vertically and re- attached with tape on verso, minor surface dust-soiling. Good. Rolled. Item #WRCAM54704
A striking and well-composed panoramic photograph depicting the African-American soldiers of the 808th Pioneer Infantry in training at Camp Meade during World War I. The photograph shows the soldiers in closer- than-usual detail, likely because there were less than a hundred men in the unit. The present image shows about eighty-five African- American soldiers posed with their rifles, with one white officer standing at extreme left. The verso of the photograph is signed "Corporal Frederick Pierce Co. 'I' 808 Pion Inf." Pierce was likely the owner of the photograph, as well as one of its subjects. Below his signature is a seemingly unrelated name and address in a different hand. The 808th Pioneer Infantry was organized in July 1818 at Camp Meade, Md. The 808th was the first of the pioneer infantry regiments to arrive in France during the Great War, landing their first troops at Brest on Sept. 7, 1918. The unit served as salvage workers, and constructed roads, railroads, bridges, and hospitals under the Army Engineers. The 808th returned to the United States in June 1919 and was demobilized at Camp Lee, Va. "Unlike other SOS troops, black pioneer infantrymen could at least claim to have been under fire....Alfred Allen arrived in France in January 1918 as part of the 808th Pioneer Infantry. He spent nearly four months on the front lines near Metz, hauling ammunition and cutting barb-wire entanglements, among other perilous duties, and returned home shell- shocked as a result. German shelling and gas attacks killed and injured several African American Pioneer Infantry soldiers, the result of inadequate preparation and a lack of defensice support. J.A. Toliver of the 808th Pioneer Infantry informed W.E.B. Du Bois after the war that his unit survived a gas attack and did not receive instructions on how to use their masks until they were within enemy range. Jerry Marton, also a veteran of the 808th Pioneer Infantry, stated honestly that he was 'scared all the time I was there.' Although not actual combat, it was nevertheless close enough to provide an affirmation for many African American pioneer infantrymen that they did indeed deserve the title of soldier" - Williams. A rare and captivating image of a well-known African-American World War I unit, signed by one of the soldiers. Chad L. Williams. TORCHBEARERS OF DEMOCRACY: AFRICAN AMERICAN SOLDIERS IN THE WORLD WAR I ERA. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), p.114.