Prior to service in World War I, members of the Wisconsin National Guard received important active duty experience along the Mexican border. When Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico in March 1916, the United States responded by sending over 110,000 National Guard troops to the border for the Mexican Expedition, also sometimes called the Pancho Villa Expedition, the Punitive Expedition, or the Mexican Border War. Wisconsin sent three infantry regiments, two cavalry troops, an artillery battery, and a field hospital (a total of over 4,000 men) for service. While the men did not see battle or suffer any casualties, this event provided the Wisconsin National Guard with its first mobilization since 1898 and invaluable experience in organization for officers.
In April 1917, mere months after the Wisconsin troops returned, the United States declared war on Germany and officially entered World War I. While Wisconsin men and women served in all branches of the armed forces, the largest concentration of Badgers was in the 32nd Division. 18,000 Wisconsin National Guardsmen began training at Camp Douglas in Wisconsin before being sent to Camp MacArthur, Texas, where they were combined with the Michigan National Guard into the 32nd Division. Arriving in France in early 1918, the 32nd Division saw significant action, taking part in three major offensives (Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, and Meuse-Argonne), and becoming the first American troops to reach German soil. They earned the nom de guerre Les Terribles from the French and took on the “red arrow” insignia for piercing every enemy line they faced.
An additional 10,000 Wisconsin men and women volunteered for service, while 90,000 men were drafted, bringing the total contribution of the state to roughly 120,000. They served in hundreds of different units within the Army, Army Air Corps, Army Nurse Corps, Marines, and Navy. Wisconsin suffered about ten percent casualties, with over 2,000 dying in service.
The Wisconsin Veterans Museum preserves the stories of Wisconsin’s role in World War I. Our World War I Database allows you to search for individuals by name, unit, or hometown. An annotated bibliography of published works relating to Wisconsin’s role in the war includes first-hand accounts, memoirs, regimental histories, and books about the home front. Remember to search the museum’s collections to find artifacts, books, oral history interviews, letters, photographs, and more from Wisconsin Civil War veterans. Contact us if you have any questions or comments.