Singing the popular World War I ballads “Over There” and “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” thousands of American soldiers and sailors passed through New Orleans on their way to Europe to fight in the Great World War to “end all wars.” Here, New Orleans photographer John Hippolyte Coquille captured this image of U.S. Army troops in formation at Camp Martin, then located at the New Orleans Fairgrounds. Camp Martin and Camp Nicholls in City Park were two of several army and naval bases erected in the city during the war.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, patriotic New Orleanians enlisted, held parades, sold Liberty Bonds, joined the Red Cross, and worked in various war industries that sprung up in the city. Surprisingly, military enlistments nationwide (including New Orleans) were so slow that President Woodrow Wilson called up the draft to fill the ranks.
In a way, the coming of war was a relief for New Orleanians who had weathered economic recessions in 1907 and 1914, the deadly Robert Charles race riot of 1900, and the city’s last yellow fever epidemic in 1905. But with that jubilation came the cancellation of Mardi Gras during the war years and the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed an estimated 50-plus million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States.
Then down came an edict New Orleanians didn’t expect. With Camp Martin and other military bases in town, the U.S. War Department forced reluctant city officials to close Storyville, the city’s infamous tenderloin district, to protect the virtue and health of America’s young soldiers and sailors.
In 1919, barely a year after the war, Ninth Ward residents erected a “Victory Arch” to all Ninth Ward residents who served and died in the war. Said to be the first World War I monument erected in an American city, the Roman-styled granite arch still stands in the 3800 block of Burgundy Street.