By Mick Woodcock

Although Congress approved a gradual expansion of the United States Army and National Guard in 1916, the numbers were very low when war was declared. The Army was at 121,000 men and the National Guard 181,000. This was much less than the target of one million. When voluntary enlistments produced only 73,000 additional servicemen, Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917.

The Act required men age 21 to 30 to register. This was amended in 1918 to include men 18 to 45 years. There were three registrations. First was June 5, 1917 for men between 21 and 31. Second was June 5, 1918 for men who had turned 21. Third was September 12, 1918 for men 18 through 45.

There were five classes of registrants: 1. eligible and liable for military service; 2. temporarily deferred, but available; 3. temporarily exempted, but available; 4. exempted due to extreme hardship; 5. exempted or ineligible for induction. First draftees were to be drawn from class 1. By the war’s end, two million men had enlisted and 2.8 million men had been drafted.

Arizona contributed 12,000 fighting men, more per capita than any other state. Arizona’s quota in the first draft was 3472 men, including 398 from Yavapai County. By January 1918 there were 5000 Arizonans serving in the Army. By October of 1918 nearly 53,000 Arizona men were registered for the draft with 5868 enrolled from Yavapai County.

As might be imagined, the Selective Draft Law was not necessarily popular. There were several court cases filed by men trying to stay out of service. These took two differing but similar approaches to dodging the draft. The first argument was that the law violated the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition of involuntary servitude. The second argument was that it violated the First Amendment's protection of freedom of conscience. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 1918, in a case known as Arver vs. United States, 245 U.S. 366, that it was legal for the country to draft men into the armed forces.

Since the last draft had been 50 years previously during the American Civil War, those writing the legislation wanted to make sure that one of the provisions of that earlier law was not followed in 1917. The part of the 1862 law in question stated that a draftee could pay someone else to take his place, thus making it possible for richer men to legally evade being drafted. This was eliminated in the 1917 version. All men living in the United States had to register. It was up to the local draft board to decide what category a man fell into.

Another area of contention in Congress regarding the draft bill was the drafting of African-American men. The Army had been segregated since the 1860s. The current standing army had four African-American regiments, the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry and the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Infantry. These units had proud histories of service on the American frontier and also during the War with Spain in 1898.

Some Southern congressmen did not favor drafting African-Americans, but they were out-voted. These men ultimately made up nearly ten percent of the American fighting force. As with the rest of the army at the time, they were in segregated units. The Marine Corps did not accept African-Americans while its parent organization, the Navy, did. Within the Navy these men were generally given duties that today would be described as menial labor.

The Army created the Ninety-second and Ninety-third Infantry Regiments for African-American draftees. The 92nd had a non-commissioned officer cadre drawn from the four regular army African-American regiments. Organized in October 1917 at Camp Funston, Kansas, the unit was formed with African-American soldiers from all states. Before leaving for France in 1918, the buffalo was selected as the divisional insignia due to the "Buffalo Soldiers" nickname, given to African-American cavalrymen by Native Americans in the 19th century. The "Buffalo Soldiers Division" nickname was inherited from the 367th Infantry, one of the first units of the division organized. Each regiment would serve under and alongside the French Army after both the main American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) refused to have African-American soldiers serve in combat under them.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlothallmuseum.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.