Guide to the Joseph Davis Pridgen Papers, 1917-1950s (bulk 1917-1919)


Supply sergeant with American Expeditionary Forces in World War I and native of Durham, N.C. Chiefly letters written by Pridgen while he was with Company M, 120th U.S. Infantry, 30th Division of American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. He was located at Camp Sevier, Greenville, S.C., and in France. Two of his notebooks read "Engineers Candidate School" and indicate he was trained in mining, field fortification, military bridges, and camouflage. They contain detailed penciled drawings which include dimensions. Collection also contains military papers, memorabilia, ephemera, and legal papers relating to Pridgen's automobile dealership.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Joseph Davis Pridgen papers
1917-1984 (bulk 1917-1919)
Pridgen, Joseph Davis, 1894-1980
1 Linear Feet, 300 items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Material in English

Collection Overview

Chiefly letters written by Pridgen to his mother, father, sister, and an occassional family friend while serving with Company M, 120th U.S. Infantry, 30th Division, commonly referred to as the Old HickoryDivision, of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.

Letters of August 1917 through May 1918 primarily describe his life at Camp Sevier: meals, discipline, pay, his duties as supply sergeant, and the arrival of new conscripts. He also describes several episodes of desertion, a measles outbreak and resulting medical quarantine, and soldiers suffering from pneumonia and spinal meningitis. Other topics include occassional trips into Greenville and Spartanburg where he and other soldiers were hosted by local families, attended picture shows, including Birth of a Nation,, and fraternized with other soldiers.

Letters of May 1918 through July 1918 describe preparations for his division's embarkation to France. He notes the transfer of his division to Camp Merritt, New Jersey and stops along the way in Washington, D.C and Philadelphia, PA where Red Cross women handed out post cards, fresh apples and cigarettes to the troops. He also describes nights out in New York City, NY and a visit to the Kinney-Duke branch of the American Tobacco Co. with other soldiers from Durham. Letters of July 1918 warn recipients of future cencorship of letters. There is also a postcard of July 1918 with an image of his division's transport ship and date of embarkation.

Letters of August 1918 through November 1918 describe active duty in France. Due to censorhip of letter content, most letters are relatively consice and his exact whereabouts are never disclosed. However, he does describe his duties behind the lines assisting a mess sergeant, transportation of food to soldiers at the front, some references to conditions, and, due to the potential presence of German aircraft, a strict lights-out policy after dark. He also briefly describes duties at the front including a nineteen day stint in the trenches and the deaths of several soldiers including a friend from Durham. He also describes coursework at an engineers training school where he completed classes on camouflage, gas, mining and pioneering, and bridging. His notebooks from these courses are present in the collection.

After the armistice his letters touch on a variety of topics including descriptions of holiday dinners in camp, his transfer out of the 30th Division, rumors surrounding which divisions will sail home first, and the influenza outbreak in the United States. After his division's transfer to Le Mans, France prior to embarkation he describes his anxiousness to return to the States, his observations of French people, attending a baseball game and his disillusionament with the Y.M.C.A., noting the arrest of two staff members for stealing money.

The collection also contains some military papers and ephemera including several General Orders, cartoon clippings from a Camp Sevier newspaper--one of which depicts Pridgen, assorted print material including a pamphlet on recent military operations, divisional shoulder patches, and a tag with Pridgen's name and division number. Also present is a small amount of legal and financial papers relating to Pridgen's automobile dealership opened after the war and assorted clippings from World War I and several documenting post-war commemorations.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Joseph Davis Pridgen Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Letters, August 1917-December 1918
(8 folders)
Box 1
Letters, January 1919-April 1919 and undated
(2 folders)
Box 2
Clippings, Camp Sevier cartoons, undated
Box 2
Engineering School notebooks, 1918
Box 2
General Orders and Miscellaneous, 1918 and undated
Box 2
Patches and tags, undated
Box 2
Print material, undated
Box 2
Pay record book, undated
Box 2
Clippings, 1918-1919 and 1950s
Box 2
Financial and legal papers, circa 1920s
Box 2
Photographs, undated
Box 2

Historical Note

Joseph Davis Pridgen, Jr. was a native of Durham, NC. Prior to his enlistment, Pridgen worked as a teller at First National Bank in downtown Durham. In the service, Pridgen was a supply sergeant with Company M, 120th U.S. Infantry, 30th Division during World War I. Along with soldiers from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, Pridgen trained at Camp Sevier outside of Greenville, South Carolina from August 1917 until his Division's embarkation to France in May 1918. After the war Pridgen owned and operated an automobile dealership in Durham.

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The Joseph Davis Pridgen Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 1983.

Processing Information

Processed by Rubenstein Library Staff, May 2011

Encoded by Kimberly Sims, July 2011

Updated by Josh Larkin Rowley, October 2011