The Fortville-Vernon Township Public Library received a donation of a framed photo of the Fortville Liberty Guard from 1918 this past week. Jo Apple gave us this precious gift, which had belonged to Vinton Apple, who is in the photo.
What is the Liberty Guard? The Liberty Guard was created during World War I. Like the National Guard, the Liberty Guard was formed throughout the United States at the county and town level to protect industries and transportation from German spies or German sympathizers. Indiana and other states realized they did not have a state militia or an armed force to protect their citizens after August 1917. Governors of these states requested organized community military companies to be known as the Liberty Guards. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 were eligible.
Three companies of these guard battalions were in Hancock County alone, and Pendleton made up a fourth company under the Hancock Battalion. The three companies were the New Palestine, Greenfield and Fortville guards.
New Palestine was organized on Feb. 22, 1918. The Fortville company was mustered into service on March 31, 1918, by Judge Earl Sample at the Methodist Church in Fortville. The Greenfield company tried to organize as early as August 1917. The group met and drilled during the fall of that year, but it was not officially organized until Feb. 27, 1918.
The Fortville company guarded the grain elevators of Fortville and McCordsville with eight men on duty every night. The canning factory in Fortville, during the 10 weeks of the canning season, was guarded by six men each night. The company also helped out with all wartime work, including campaigns for Liberty Loans (war bonds) and Red Cross functions.
The Hancock County Chapter of the American Red Cross was organized May 12, 1917. Once people became members of the Red Cross with its $1 membership fee, they received Red Cross posters, window cards and buttons. These were proudly displayed all over the county.
The Fortville company purchased uniforms and conducted weekly drills from the date of muster until Dec. 1, 1918. Eighty percent of those from the Fortville Liberty Guard who joined the army did so as non-commissioned officers or were placed in officers’ training camps. Almost every man from the company wrote back stating how much they benefited from their Fortville Liberty Guard training.
On Sept. 2, 1918, the Fortville guards arranged for a patriotic demonstration at Fortville. The demonstration was attended by thousands. The guest speaker was Maj. Gordon Sandford of the British army. Sandford spoke to the crowd on the horrors of the war and how much the work sent by the states from bonds to Red Cross efforts meant to the men fighting in the trenches. Adjutant General Smith gave a review of the Hancock battalion and highly praised the Fortville, New Palestine and Pendleton guards.
If you are interested in reading more about Hancock County in World War I, including information on Liberty Bonds and the Red Cross, the book “Hancock County, Indiana, in the World War 1914-1918 (published Aug. 2, 1921)” is available to read in the library. This book is not available for check-out.
We need your help. The Fortville Liberty Guard photo has no names. A list of the guard members has been found, but we need to put names with faces. If you had a father, grandfather or great-grandfather living in Fortville and he was between the ages of 18 to 45 in 1918, please come to the library to see if you can find him in the photo. Due to the length of the list and space constraints, the list of the Fortville Liberty Guard members is available on the library’s Facebook page. Do not forget that a list of Fortville World War I soldiers is available on the library’s website.
Rebecca Crowe, a Fortville native and 1998 Mt. Vernon High School graduate, is a librarian at the Fortville-Vernon Township Public Library. She earned her master’s of library science degree from Indiana University in 2004 and has an interest in local history and genealogy. People may stop by the library or email her with local history stories or artifacts at firstname.lastname@example.org.