PHI Intern Matthew Culver Explores His Family’s Connection to the Great War

By Matthew Culver

This image shows Pvt. Clarence Lee Culver in his World War I uniform.
Pvt. Clarence Lee Culver of Elba

As part of my research for the Gorgas House’s upcoming feature on the centennial of American entry into the First World War, I am exploring the actions of Alabamians that fought in the Great War from 1917-1918. Many of these Alabamians were organized under the 167th Infantry Regiment of the 42nd Infantry Division (aka the “Rainbow Division.” So dubbed by Douglass MacArthur to reflect the nationwide origins of her regiments). Within this regiment served my own ancestor, Pvt. Clarence Lee Culver, of Elba, Alabama.

This image is of the archival service record for Pvt. Culver
Pvt. Clarence Lee Culver’s Archival Service Record

Initially volunteering for service with the Alabama national guard, Culver went on to serve along the Mexican border under General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, before being called to national service as a member of Company H, 167th Infantry Regiment. Upon arriving in France, the 167th participated in five major campaigns along the northern part of the Western Front (the 42nd Division’s sector stretched from Reims in the North to Baccarat in the south). Culver was killed on July 15, 1918, near Châlons-en-Champagne, during the Champagne-Marne Defensive to repel the German “truce offensive,” the last major German conquest of the war.

Such a personal connection to a distant event makes the work very meaningful and enjoyable to me, and provides an important human perspective to a discipline of history often focused on units and strategies. The experience of the everyday soldier are vital to the story, and I look forward to being able to share their memory in the exhibit.

Photos courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History’s World War I Gold Star Database.