Private Joseph A. Williams
Adams’ Only Black WWI Fatality
by Richard D. L. Fulton
Joseph Albert Williams was born on November 23, 1892, in Frederick County, Maryland.
In Valerie J. Young’s The World War One Gold Star Soldiers from Adams County (Adams County Historical Society, Adams County History, Volume 24 2018), Young stated that Williams was born in Emmitsburg, one of nine children of William Alfred and Emma Clara Cook Williams.
According to Williams’ draft registration card, which he had filled out on June 5, 1917, Williams listed his address as being Gettysburg, and his profession was given as “caretaker of horses.” His employer was stated as being J. Lawrence Butt, and Williams’ location of employment was stated as being in Cumberland Township. He listed his relationship status as being single.
Butt was apparently a prominent Gettysburg attorney who owned farmlands in the area, which were farmed by tenant farmers. Williams’ father also worked for Butt.
Williams’ mother died in 1904, so only his father lived long enough to see his son go off to war.
The Gettysburg Compiler reported in their November 3, 1917, issue, “On Monday, seven colored boys, drafted for the National Army, left for Camp Meade. Their many friends were at the station to see them off.”
The newspaper noted that, “Each (of the draftees) had a box filled with a good lunch prepared by committees from Asbury and Zion churches.” The paper named Joseph A. Williams as having been among the seven.
The Gettysburg Times reported in their September 1, 1919, edition, that Williams, a soldier in the 368th Infantry, had been killed on September 28. However, Young, cited above, claims that Willians was only initially assigned to the 368th, and was actually with the 372nd Infantry, 93rd (colored) Division, at the time of his death. Young further noted that Williams had been killed by a German artillery round.
The Gettysburg Times reported that Williams was killed on September 29, 1918, in their article of December 29, 2021, titled, “Soldier Received Purple Heart 100 Years After His Death.”
September 28 marked the third day of the Meuse–Argonne offensive, a concerted effort launched by the allies to counterattack the German forces in the German effort to take Paris. The counter-offensive did succeed in driving back the Germans to the degree that it resulted in the November 11, 1918, armistice… at the cost of 360,000 casualties.
During the Meuse–Argonne offensive, the 372nd Infantry was credited with capturing nearly 600 German prisoners, and securing large quantities of engineering supplies and artillery ammunition, according to nationalguard.mil.
Of the seven Adams County blacks to serve in the war, Williams was the only fatality.
Williams was buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near the French village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, where his remains are still interred. According to ww1cemeteries.com, the cemetery “contains the largest number of American military dead in Europe (14,246 individuals).”
The Gettysburg Times reported on December 29, 2021, in the article previously cited), that Jean Howard Green, great-niece of Private Joseph A. Williams, was presented with the Purple Heart, and a World War I Victory Medal and Victory Pin for his service, according to the Times.
The newspaper noted that Representative John Joyce’s field representative, Ashleigh Presnar, presented the awards.
Had Williams survived the war, he would have been entitled to pin the French Croix de Guerre with Palm unit citation to his uniform. Instead, he would have to wait 100 years to receive a Purple Heart and the victory medal and pin.
(Reporter’s Note: For additional information, refer to Valerie J. Young’s The World War One Gold Star Soldiers from Adams County (Adams County Historical Society, Adams County History, Volume 24 2018), and to The Gettysburg Times article of December 29, 2021, entitled, “Soldier Received Purple Heart 100 Years After His Death.”)
Pvt. Joseph A. Williams’ unit, the U.S. Army’s 93rd (colored) Division.
Source: nationalguard.mil (An official website of the United States government)