Lewis E. Shaw papers
Language of Materials
Lewis E. Shaw served as a 1st Lieutenant in the 369th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army (known as the Harlem Hellfighters) during World War I. His letters to his mother, dated November 12, 1917 to January 27, 1919, tell of his experiences with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France.
Lewis E. Shaw served as a 1st Lieutenant in the 369th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army (known as the Harlem Hellfighters) during World War I.
Letters arranged chronologically.
Folders one and two contain letters; folder three contains official papers and a map.
Scope and Content Note
Lewis Shaw's letters to his mother, dated November 12, 1917 to January 27, 1919, tell of his experiences with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France during the first World War.
Shaw's first several letters describe his journey to and arrival in France. He offers brief details about his training at the First Corps School; he had advanced courses in machine gun and artillery firing. Because of military censorship, Shaw writes mostly of personal, family, and monetary matters. One letter dated December 12, 1917 shows a censor's blackout. The same letter says, "When you answer this letter or any other tell me if the censor has deleted any portion as until I become accustomed to writing without saying anything improper it will be helpful to know this." The comer of another letter, presumably where the date was, has been ripped off, and in the body of the letter Shaw says, "If the date passes the censor, in view of what I have warned you about, it should convey some idea to you of my whereabouts."
Shaw's unit was trained by the French and was, in turn, supposed to train Colored Troops of the AEF. In a letter dated May 6, 1918, he writes, "I understand that some of the colored troops are here now. The French of course have no place for a single regiment so after our instruction is complete we will be put into the colored division when it all finally gets here as instructors." The last page of another letter (the previous page containing the date is missing) alludes to the problems particular to the colored troops. "We are all straining every nerve to prevent race trouble and our men so far in spite of every insult and provocation have shown wonderful control. I can not see how it can last indefinitely."
Although he cannot give his location or describe battles, he manages to briefly discuss some of his conditions. His letter dated September 2, 1918 reveals that he is suffering from "French gall or trench itch, caused by continually wearing your clothes without bathing. I have had it continually since May and it is one of the greatest hardships of the war." He spends some time in a hospital for this ailment.
The same letter says, "Let me say here that there is one universal alibi for everything and it is heard a dozen times an hour. If you complain about the coffee being cold, the waitress shrugs her shoulders and says, C'est la guerre! The wash woman uses it to explain the loss of half your clothes."
Shaw seeks to reassure his mother by writing on January 11, 191, "Don't worry about me I am as safe here as in old New York." On October 9, 1918 he tells her, "Everything is Jake by me" before recounting his experiences during the first days of the bloody Muese-Argonne offensive. He urges his mother to work for the Red Cross or another war relief organization. He warns her not to buy Liberty bonds as "pessimism" drives down their value.
After the Armistice on November 11, 1918, Shaw sends much more descriptive letters, specifying locations and troop movements. On November 21, 1918 he says, "Our progress [to the Rhine] has been most romantic as we have literally had flowers thrown under our horses (sic) feet by the women and children." In his letter of November 29, 1918, he writes, "Thank heavens the censorship is lifted so buy a good map of France and Germany and I will give you some brief dope as to my different battlefields." His last letters describe the difficulties and delays in returning home.
There are 36 letters in this collection from Shaw to his mother, Mrs. C. N. Shaw, in New York and Worcester, MA; and one letter in French from M. A. Thornton to Shaw. The collection also contains official papers regarding Shaw's military career, a map of Ypres, and one picture postcard captioned "Major Dayton and staff" with Colored Troops of the American Expeditionary Force. In the postcard, Ann Shaw Davis, daughter of the author and donor of the material, identifies her father as the man with the mustache on horseback behind Major Dayton. According to Mrs. Davis, her father was killed in an automobile accident while coming home from officers' training in 1926.
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This collection should be cited as Lewis E. Shaw Papers, MS 671.1, the New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
Donation from Shaw's daughter, Ann Shaw Davis, March 1998.
About this Guide
Processed by Megan Hahn, 2013.