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Claude C. McDaniel
1896-1918

"First introduced by the Germans, gas warfare was soon embraced by all the combatants. By the end of the war, one in four of the artillery shells fired on the Western Front contained gas."

EyeWitness to History

Claude C. McDaniel was born on January 20, 1896, at Grafton, Taylor County, West Virginia. His parents were George Washington McDaniel and Ida Catherine Okey McDaniel. Ida died in 1908, and, in the 1910 Federal Census, George was shown to be a widower and head of his household, living in Randolph County.

Claude’s grandfather, Samuel McDaniel, was a private in the Union army during the Civil War, serving in the 12th Regiment of the West Virginia Volunteer Infantry. This unit saw action at Winchester, Petersburg, Harpers Ferry, Appomattox Court House, and several other battles in Virginia. Samuel received a federal pension for his service in October of 1889. His wife Lucinda obtained a widow’s pension in February 1900.

Lilly Mae, Claude’s younger sister, was a schoolteacher in Randolph County public schools. She was married in 1923 to Herschel S. Kessler. Herschel died in 1957. Lilly died in 1978, and both are buried in Maplewood Cemetery at Elkins, West Virginia.

On February 27, 1926, George Washington McDaniel, Claude’s father, remarried in Randolph County to Arda “Artie” Marie Rider. Their children were George W. Jr, Velva V., Bernice L., and Joan. George Sr. died in 1949 and was buried in the Pleasant Creek Methodist Church Cemetery in Barbour County, West Virginia.

Following the sinking of American merchant ships by German submarines, the United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917. When the call for volunteers failed to produce the needed one million troops to support the war effort, the Selective Service instituted the draft with the first registration on June 5, 1917, for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.

draft registration

World War I draft registration card for Claude C. McDaniel. National Archives and Records Administration


Claude C. McDaniel, having reached the age of 21, registered for the draft in Randolph County on June 5, 1917. He was single and living at Elkins in the household of his widowed father. He was employed as a laborer in the Elkins Brick Company. He claimed no exemptions to the draft and was described as being of medium height and slender with brown eyes and brown hair.

When he entered the army, Claude was placed in Company C Training Detachment at Richmond, Virginia. On July 13, 1918, he joined the Supply Company for the 21st Field Artillery Regiment of the 5th Brigade Artillery. The 21st had been organized in June of 1917 at Camp Wilson, Texas. In December, the 21st was assigned to the 5th Division of the 3rd Army Corps. The unit sailed on June 1, 1918, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and arrived in France 18 days later. After six weeks of training, the 21st joined up with the 5th Division in the St. Die Sector at Lorraine.

In support of the 5th Division, the 21st commenced bombardment of Frapelle on August 17, 1918. Frapelle, a commune in Lorraine in northeastern France, had been held for four years by the Germans. However, the Germans were unable to halt the advance of the 21st, and Frapelle was liberated. In retaliation, the Germans launched a massive bombardment of American forces that lasted for three days. This German counterattack failed, and by August 18 the American positions had been solidified.

In early September, the 21st Field Artillery Regiment as part of the 5th Division relieved the 90th Division in Lorraine. On September 5, Private Claude C. McDaniel succumbed to pneumonia, no doubt a result of exposure to mustard gas.

World War I had seen the development of new technologies designed to improve the ability to kill an enemy, including the tank, the airplane, and the use of poisonous gases. Gas was probably the most unpredictable of these new weapons, being subject to the vagaries of wind direction. At first, German forces placed gas cylinders along the front lines facing the enemy trenches. A favorable wind carried death to the enemy via the gas. Later, chlorine, phosgene, or—the worst—mustard gas was delivered via artillery shells. Respirators could provide some defense against chlorine or phosgene, but mustard gas attacked also the skin. In his book Over the Top, Arthur Empey writes: “Gas travels quietly, so you must not lose any time; you generally have about eighteen or twenty seconds in which to adjust your gas helmet.” The wind that carried death could also bring relief; Alan Lloyd, in his book The War in the Trenches, writes of a soldier’s near-death experience: “A strong wind had arisen and dispersed the gas.” (Source: “Gas Attack, 1916,” EyeWitness to History, Eyewitness to History.com [1999], accessed 11 May 2016, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/gas.htm.)

Pvt. McDaniel was probably initially buried in a battlefield grave and later interred in a U.S. cemetery in Europe. At the conclusion of the war, France resisted removing bodies for reburial, but in 1920 the French agreed to the return of American soldiers to the United States. The remains of 46,000 war dead were returned to the U.S. at a cost of over $30 million.

Pvt. Claude C. McDaniel was finally brought home to the United States for burial in the Pleasant Creek Methodist Church Cemetery in Barbour County, West Virginia, where he would join his father.

Article contributed by Leon Armentrout
May 2016

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Claude C. McDaniel

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