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Henry Louis Sleeth
1891-1918

"The Army and Navy medical services may have tamed typhoid and typhus, but more American soldiers, sailors, and marines would succumb to influenza and pneumonia than would die on the industrialized battlefields of the Great War."

Carol R. Byerly

Henry Louis Sleeth was born in the community of Clarence, Roane County, West Virginia, on April 20, 1891, to Henry Newton Sleeth and Rhoda Jane Hogue Sleeth. The Sleeths had married in Roane County, on August 28, 1887. By the time of the 1900 Federal Census, the Sleeths were living in the Curtis District of Roane County with children Alva, E. M., Henry, G. G., Lilly, Ellwood, and Ella. Mr. Sleeth was noted to be a farmer.

Research did not reveal when the family moved to Richwood in Nicholas County, but the next record found of Henry Sleeth was on his military registration card. Though his home address was given as Richwood, his occupation was recorded to be carrying glass for Hazel Atlas Glass Company of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Henry claimed no exemptions to the draft. He stated he was single and had no dependents. His draft registration card notes he was tall and of medium build, with blue eyes and light hair.


Sleeth Draft Registration Card

World War I draft registration card for Henry Sleeth. National Archives and Records Administration

Hazel Atlas Company was a glass company with plants in Grafton and in Clarksburg. The Clarksburg plant was the site of the world’s largest tumbler factory with 15 acres of floor space and employed 1200 people. (Dean Six, “Hazel Atlas Glass Company,” eWV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, 14 March 2011, accessed 18 December 2018, https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/343.)

Henry Sleeth was inducted into military service at Summersville, West Virginia, on July 22, 1918. He was first assigned to the 27th Company, 154th Depot Brigade, and was with the unit until August 22, 1918. He was transferred to Battery E, 32nd Field Artillery and was sent to Camp Meade, Maryland, for training.

What happened at Camp Meade in 1918, and at other army camps, was tragic. Illnesses due to a different type of influenza began occurring in Kansas at Camp Funston. Spread of communicable disease is a common issue in the military because of close work together and common sleeping and working areas. But this was a different problem altogether. The first wave of this new flu occurred in the spring of 1918 with mostly mild impacts. The second wave, which began in the late summer of 1918, was fierce. At Camp Funston, there were 2,800-4,000 buildings for 40,000 troops, with 150 beds per sleeping room. (Kansas Historical Society, “Camp Funston,” Kansapedia, accessed 1 December 2017, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/camp-funston/16692.)

The camp had people in it from around the world, including contract workers from China and soldiers from England and France. Five waves of the flu arose in the camp, hospitalizing 1,100 and infecting thousands of others treated in infirmaries around the camp and at Camp Riley, five miles away. From Camp Funston, it spread to other camps and traveled to Europe on troop ships. (Peter C. Wever and Leo van Bergen, “Death from 1918 Pandemic Influenza during First World War,” Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, 8:5 [September 2014], 538-46, accessed 1 December 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181817/)

At Camp Meade, reports were received that described an influenza at Camps Dix and Devins. Camp Meade commanders took action. As a study of the influenza and pneumonia pandemic of 1918 states:

A telephone conversation with the camp surgeon at Camp Dix confirmed the seriousness of the prospect. It was not expected, however, that there would be such a large fatality, nor that the spread of the disease through the camp would be as rapid as it proved to be. The base hospital was immediately notified and after consultation, the commanding officer of the base hospital was directed to clear out his hospital of every man he could and make arrangements for the sick upon the porches and at all the convalescent barracks. Venereal cases, convalescent surgical cases, and the medical department were moved under canvas. The various regimental infirmaries were prepared for the reception of influenza cases there, and the regimental detachments were accommodated in tents. A survey of the camp war made to determine whether or not there was overcrowding in barracks or tents. A sanitary order was published providing for the disinfection of sputum and inviting the attention of company commanders to ventilation and to the oiling of barracks floors. All medical officers were instructed in the nature of the disease and the tactics to be employed in the handling of it. On September 17 a few cases appeared in the 71st Infantry, probably of men returning from the Jewish holidays. The epidemic broke with 286 cases in the 71st Infantry, September 22, following which this regiment was placed under quarantine, but unfortunately the disease almost immediately appeared throughout the entire camp. On the 23d a sanitary order was published prohibiting massed singing as it was observed that men singing in large groups frequently held their heads close together. The Liberty Theater and the main Y. M. C. A. were closed. Attendance was permitted in Y. M. C. A. huts, K. of C. halls, the Jewish Welfare House, and the Hostess House, but was limited to the seating capacity of the buildings and frequent inspection was made by members of the sanitary squads to make certain that standing orders were complied with. These buildings, which were maintained for the use of separate regiments, were kept open in order to maintain the morale of the men. On the following day the epidemic was rapidly spreading and admissions increased to 800. The camp was then placed in quarantine to be effective September 26. The purpose of the quarantine was to protect Washington and Baltimore from acquiring the disease. On this date six companies of the 71st Infantry were removed to the target range 4 miles away in order that they might be placed under canvas, as it was believed that this procedure would limit the spread of the disease in this regiment. It is a matter of congratulation that the commanding general authorized this transfer which was bitterly opposed within the regiment as it was feared that their men would acquire influenza at such a distance from the camp that the sick could not be brought from the target range to the hospital but would become ill and would suffer from lack of medical care. Six companies thus removed from barracks and placed in tents escaped further infection and were singularly free from the disease. (U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History, Influenza: Extracts from Reports Relative to Influenza, Pneumonia, and Respiratory Diseases, accessed 21 December 2017, http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwi/1918flu/ARSG1919/ARSG1919Extractsflu.htm#B.%20BASE%20HOSPITAL,%20FORT%20RILEY,%20KANS.)

Apparently, the company to which Henry Sleeth belonged was not among those which were quarantined since he contracted the illness and died on October 6, 1918, in Camp Meade. According to a public health report authored by Carol R. Byerly, 20 to 40 percent of Army and Navy personnel were sickened with influenza or pneumonia during that time, and the illness resulted in the deaths of 30,000 Army soldiers before they got to France. “The U. S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919,” Public Health Report, 125:3 (82-91) [2010], accessed 21 December 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/.)

grave marker

Grave marker for Pvt. Henry Louis Sleeth. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Henry Sleeth’s remains were returned to Richwood and he was buried in the Richwood Cemetery.


Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
September 2017

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Henry Louis Sleeth

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