WWI Reedsburg

Reedsburg’s 32nd Division preparing to leave for World War I in 1917.

World War I, or the “Great War,” as it was known then, began in 1914 in Europe; and the United States entered the conflict in 1917. When America finally did declare its intentions, the lives of many men and boys across the nation would be changed forever. The citizens of Reedsburg were no exception.

On July 15, Reedsburg’s Company A, 1st Wisconsin Infantry, was called to duty, and at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 2, 170 men left for Camp Douglas. A farewell ball was given at the Armory the previous evening. An article in the Reedsburg Free Press describes the departure: “The city awoke bright and early this morning and crowds of people were waiting around long before it was time for the train, to give them a rousing send off.” The reporter also wrote of their parents’ dread of the things that were to come.

After a short training period at Camp Douglas, the troops left for Camp McArthur, Waco, Texas. Here the Wisconsin and Michigan companies were reorganized into the 32nd Division.

The company left for France on March 4, 1917. On May 1, the soldiers were sent to the trenches a few miles from the Swiss border. Reedsburg’s men were among the first troops to occupy German soil.

The great conflict that embroiled Europe and thrust most of the world into war, was felt on the home front too. The separation of families and loved ones was one of the greatest hardships endured, but none the less, all worked together to help win the war.

One of the first drives the citizens of Reedsburg were asked to participate in was to gather reading material for the troops.

“They need books and current magazines for study, recreation and diversion in lonely moments,” noted an item in the Aug. 16 Free Press. “DO YOUR DUTY by immediately bringing to the Public Library such books as you wish to donate.”

Sauk County female German aliens reported for registration in June to have their fingerprints and photos taken. Male Germans had been registered earlier.

By September, 1918, supplies of gasoline were being rationed. The people of Reedsburg, and all those east of the Mississippi, were asked to observe “Gasoline less Sundays” as a “necessary and practical act of patriotism.” All classes of automobiles, motor boats and motor cycles were to remain stationary on Sundays until further notice. Emergency and freight vehicles were exempt.

The Red Cross was active in the city too, and in Sept. a street dance was organized to help raise funds for the war effort, with the Reedsburg High School band providing music.

“Although the night was a little cold, it was bright moonlight and people stood around and listened to the music or enjoyed the novelty of dancing on the brick pavement until nearly midnight when they dispersed for their homes,” noted the Free Press. Two hundred dollars was raised.

The war raged on for five long years, and the citizens of Reedsburg continued to provide aid for the conflict and the soldiers who were fighting for their freedom.

Bill Schuette has served on the board of directors at the Sauk County Historical Society since 1993. He lives in rural Loganville.