The Cost of War

October 30, 2018 · Exhibits ·
“Had a surprise visit from Matt about a week ago. He came upon our company accidentally while snooping around up near where we were. . . Well as he probably told you I’m well and only hope I can stay well for one month more and then I guess I’ll be safe & sure of getting back. It looks like the beginning of the end now all right and the end can’t come any too quick to suit me.”
Charles Coughlin, in a letter to his mother, October 12, 1918

Over 65,000 Connecticans served in World War I

  • Roughly 60,000 Connecticut men served in the United States Army, many of whom, like Charles Coughlin, were in the 26th “Yankee” Division.
  • Another 3,000 men served in Allied armies.
  • 2,000 men served in a civil capacity to perform camp duties.
  • Hundreds of Connecticut women served in the Army Nurse Corps, the American Red Cross, and other soldier welfare organizations like the YMCA.

Charles Coughlin, photograph from his Connecticut State Military Questionnaire, May 20, 1920. Courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

These men and women took up the call to service when the United States entered World War I in April of 1917. Twenty-six-year-old Charles Coughlin was working in Hartford as a clerk for the Aetna Life Insurance Company when war was declared. He enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard, and was one of the thousands of Connecticut men in the 26th “Yankee” Division, serving as a Sergeant in Company F of the 102nd Infantry. Coughlin’s older brother Matthew (whom he stumbled across in France), also served during the war with the YMCA.

Coughlin’s letter speaks to hardships of war suffered by Connecticans.  Earlier in the war, Coughlin wrote “We are learning what war is. This noon we had bread for the first time in three days. We have been living on hard tack, corned beef, and cheese.” In the front line trenches, the machine gun and powerful explosives caused mass casualties and obliterated the landscape, and poison gas proved to be a new and deadly weapon.

Of those 65,000+ Connecticans who served in World War I, approximately 1,100 died during the course of the war. Some died in combat and others from disease, like the influenza pandemic that swept across the world during this time.

Charles Coughlin was one of the 1,100 who did not return home.

A week and a half after he wrote to his mother, Coughlin was wounded. He died days later on October 27. Less than three weeks after his death, the Armistice with Germany was signed, and “the Great War” came to an end.

After the war, Coughlin’s father and mother tried to put together the story of their son’s death. Letters in the CHS collection document the years of correspondence between Edward and Sarah Coughlin and federal and state agencies as they searched for information and managed the process of putting their son to rest. His grave marker stands in France.

Victory Medal application for Charles Coughlin, completed by his father, November 16, 1920. CHS collection, gift of Matthew E. Coughlin.

American Red Cross photograph of Charles Coughlin’s grave marker in France. CHS collection, gift of Matthew E. Coughlin.

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