Kentucky in the Great War

By Robin Wallace

The television series “Downton Abbey” and the film “War Horse” are vividly bringing the horrors and heroics of World War I to life this year.  Louisville was, of course, very actively involved in the Great War with the construction of the army training facility Camp Zachary Taylor in 1917, and over 10,000 local soldiers serving in the war.

Norman Kohlhepp (1892 - 1986) enlisted in the French army in 1917, and served in the "Reserve Mallet" in World War I - a transport unit that was created as part of the French Army but later became part of the United States Army's Transport Service. He was also an accomplished artist in painting and print making, studying at the Academy Colarossi and Academy de la Grand Chaumiere. Andre Lhote, the cubist painter, was one of his instructors. Norman was married to artist Dorothy Kohlhepp. He died in Louisville, KY in 1986. Norman Kohlhepp Collection

The National Guard History eMuseum tells us that a total of 84,172 persons from Kentucky served in the United States Army. This total included 80,009 enlisted men, 3,747 commissioned officers, 241 nurses, 153 army field clerks, and 22 United States Marine Cadets. A breakdown of these figures show that there were 12,759 men in the regular Army, 7,518 National Guardsmen, 2,526 in the Reserve Corps, 2,734 volunteers, and 58,635 drafted men. Seven Kentuckians were Army Major Generals, nine were Brigadier Generals, and 23 were Colonels. Distinguished aviators were Major Victor Strohm and Lieutenant Colonel J. O. Creech. Of the overall total 41,655 saw overseas duty, while 2,418 deaths occurred among Kentucky troops, 890 of which were battle deaths.

Place de la Concorde, German tanks surrounded by captured German guns.- Norman Kohlhepp Collection

Sentiments were divided in Louisville at the start of the war, with Courier-Journal editor Henry Watterson vehemently opposing the German and Austro-Hungarian Central Powers in his daily editorials; young men were whipped into a frenzy of volunteering at patriotic meetings.  But the local German-American community  and the German language newspaper the Louisville Anzeiger vocally supported Germany.  And much like “Branson,” the Irish chauffer on "Downton Abbey," many Irish-American Louisvillians were more Anti-English than Pro-German, but also opposed the U. S.’s entry into the war.  The city was, however, united in May of 1917 when a German submarine torpedoed a Louisville-owned cargo ship owend by C. C. Mengel and Brothers.  Louisvillians flooded recruiting stations, German, Irish and otherwise.

Captain John Speed at Fountainebleau during World War I. The Speed Collection

AEF Field Artillery, 1917. The Speed Collection

Camp Taylor opened in 1917 and 150,000 men were trained there.  In addition the casualties of war visited upon the troops, 824 soldiers at the Camp died of the Spanish Flu when the disease struck in 1918.

Barn being burned to make way for the building of Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, KY, 1917

Camp Zachary Taylor under construction, 1917

Kentucky’s last World War I veteran, Robley Henry Rex of Louisville, passed away in 2009.

Contributed by Filson Staff Member Robin Wallace

Filson Historical

8 comments on “Kentucky in the Great War

  1. pamela

    My father Joseph E. Cox was born in 1891 and served as a private 1st class in WWI. He inlisted in Lancaster ,Ky and I believe he did his training in Louisville,Ky. Is there any way to find out more about his service record?? Thank you. pamela day

  2. admin

    Hi Pamela, we’d be happy to help point you in the right direction with researching your father’s WWI service. Please call our library 502-635-5083, or email, to get started.

  3. Valerie Summers

    I am researching the activities of non-military organizations at Camp Taylor during WWI. The War Department’s “Commission on Training Camp Activities” enlisted the help of seven civilian organizations such as the YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board and the American Library Association and all seven organizations built facilities at CZT. I no longer live in Kentucky but would make a trip to the Filson Club if you have records of civilian participation supporting CZT. Would you please tell me what kind of records you have along these lines? Thank you.

    1. Jennie Cole

      Hi Valerie,
      I will be sending you an email with some follow up information on your request on Camp Zachary Taylor. Thank you for contacting us with your questions!

  4. don cline

    looking for list of ww 1 veterans Carter, Elliott, Fleming countys CLINE NAMES

    1. Jennie Cole

      Hi Don! One of our reference staff will be reaching out to you shortly!

  5. Michael Hight

    I’m trying to find information on Willie Hatton (Great Grandfather) who was a PVT in B Co. 164 Infantry (WW1). I was researching him for my mother. He was from Stanton, KY.

    1. Jennie Cole

      Hi Michael, someone on staff will be looking into your question and will respond to you next week. Thank you!


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