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The U.S. Marshals During World War I


When President Woodrow Wilson issued the declaration of war against Germany April 6, 1917, he told the American people that "the supreme test of the nation has come. We must all speak, act, and serve together." While American troops fought in the trenches of Europe, United States Marshals protected the home front against enemy aliens, spies, saboteurs, and slackers. From the declaration of war on April 6, 1917 to the Armistice on November 11, 1918, U.S. Marshals:

  • INVESTIGATED 222,768 violations of the selective service laws
  • REGISTERED 480,000 German enemy aliens
  • ISSUED 200,000 permits to enemy aliens
  • ARRESTED 6,300 enemy aliens under Presidential Arrest Warrants
  • INTERVIEWED 2,300 enemy aliens in military camps
  • GUARDED restricted areas around docks, ammunitions factories, military camps, and other sensitive areas
President Wilson asking congress for declaration of war
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. Congress declared war on April 6, 1917.
Duties of the U.S. Marshals during World War I
Date Duty
March 27, 1917 Cooperate with local police; take precautions against hostile acts.
April 6, 1917 War declared. Warn Germans to "Obey the law."
April 10, 1917 Advise Germans to surrender all weapons. explosives, and radios; arrest any who do not.
April 16, 1917 Arrest specified enemy aliens and turn them over to War Department for internment.
April 20, 1917 Establish restricted zones around docks, factories, arsenals, etc.; issue passes to specified enemy aliens.
May 23, 1917 Marshals and their Deputies have sole authority to arrest enemy aliens.
May 29, 1917 Protect Selective Service centers; arrest draft evaders or those disrupting selective service.
June 18, 1917 Complete issuance of passes to enter restricted zones and arrest draft resistors by June 30.
July 18, 1917 Locate possible places of detention for large numbers of enemy aliens.
October 8, 1917 Arrest military deserters; assist Bureau of Investigation in locating deserters.
November 28, 1917 Remove all enemy aliens from Washington D.C. and report their arrival in other districts.
December 1, 1917 Arrest all draft dodgers under new Selective Service regulations.
December 17, 1917 Apply enemy alien regulations to citizens of Austria-Hungary.
December 26, 1917 Arrange for registration of all male Germans in cities over 5,000.
December 29, 1917 Prevent possible sabotage to docks and wharves by putting grates over nearby sewers.
December 29, 1917 Begin checking reports from paroled enemy aliens.
January 5, 1918 Compile descriptions of ail enemy aliens arrested.
January 5, 1918 Arrange registration of all enemy alien males at local police stations and post offices between February 4 and 9.
January 12, 1918 Assist enemy aliens in finding employment.
February 4, 1918 Arrest all enemy aliens discharged from American military and recommended for detention by military.
April 6, 1918 Locate enemy aliens who fail to register.
April 15, 1918 Arrest deserters and draft dodgers under new general orders from War Department.
April 25, 1918 Register female enemy aliens.
May 6, 1918 Apply all enemy alien regulations to females.
June 19, 1918 Arrange for speedier transfer of enemy aliens arrested by local police to Marshals.
September 19, 1918 Prohibit enemy alien females from restricted areas unless given a pass by Marshal.
November 11, 1918 Armistice declared.
December 25, 1918 Regulations on enemy aliens lifted.
Registration and Arrest of Enemy Aliens
Alien enemy registration
Alien enemy registration
Deputy Backus escorting Werner Van Horne, who blew up the International Bridge at Vanceboro, Mai
Deputy Backus escorting Werner Van Horne, who blew up the International Bridge at Vanceboro, Maine.
Photo of International Bridge
The International Bridge at Vanceboro, Maine, later blown up by Werner Van Horne.
Deputies escorting Paul Henrig convicted saboteur
Marshal James M. Power (Eastern District of New York) with deputies escorting Paul Henrig (center), convicted saboteur.
Deputies escorting Ernst Kunwald prisoner of war
Two deputies escorting Ernst Kunwald, a prisoner of war.
Internment of Enemy Aliens

The arrest and internment in Army camps of suspicious enemy aliens was not done under the authority of the U.S. courts, but under the authority of presidential arrest warrants. These warrants commanded the U.S. Marshals to arrest the specified individual and deliver him to the internment camps at Hot Springs, North Carolina, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and other places. Once in the camps, the prisoners were in the custody of the Army, unless they escaped.

World War I wanted poster Presidential Arrest Warrant

The pictures of camp life show some of the activities of the prisoners at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The captions were written at the time by Justice Department officials who visited the camps.

Interior view of one of  the prison camp barracks
Interior view of one of the prison camp barracks.
Garden in prison camp
Their chief occupation was gardening. The vegetables from these gardens went to the general mess.
Volleyball in prison camp
Their chief sport was volleyball. Picture shows ball in the air.
View of the prison from road
The prison as it looked from the road draws many sightseers from all parts of the United States.
Prisoner of War camp photo of machine gun post
Should the outbreak be more than one prisoner, the machine gun was always ready.