Letter October 13, 1918 from Evan Thomas to Mother




Letter October 13, 1918 from Evan Thomas to Mother




WWI conscientious objection / objectors


Fort Riley, Kansas


Thomas, Evan W.


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.










Guard House
Fort Riley

October 13 1918

Dear Mother:
I have not seen a newspaper but from reports that have reached me I take my hat off once more to Woodrow Wilson. He has played a masterful game. To be able to dictate peace terms after a war such as this will require the mind of powers of a great statesman, and it looks as though Wilson were going to be able to do that. Under the circumstances I can forgive him a lot even if I am kept in prison. The more I think, the more individualistic I become, and the more I lean to the “great man interpretation of history. I believe more and more that it is the “great men” and not the masses who must be studied if we are to understand history, and world movements. Any man in Wilson’s place in this war had to be more or less of an autocrat, and chiefly more if he were to hold the cards at the finish.

Now, as to myself. Last Monday I was given a copy of my charges, which were teo [sic]: violation of the 64th and 96th articles of war. I was charged with refusing to obey the “lawful” command of Col. Bigelow who ordered me to eat “such food as was necessary to make me fit to return to my duties as a soldier” and with having wilfully [sic] starved myself so that I was no longer able to fulfil [sic] my duties as a solider and had to be removed to the Base Hospital. I was tried the next day at Camp Funston. The court consisted of eight majors and four captains. I was permitted to make a statement which Col. Bigelow, who ordered me to eat, was there in person to testify, so was Capt. Henry. It was brought out in the trial that Col. Bigelow, who is a Colonel of Infantry at Funston, was ordered by General Wood to investigate my case and order me to eat if he saw fit. Col. Bigelow’s letter or report to General Wood written after his visit to me was submitted as evidence but not read aloud in my hearing. I was ready to plead guilty, but the Judge

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Advocate told me it was as well to do that as I would have more liberty to question witnesses, etc. It didn’t matter to me so I pleaded “not guilty” to both charges. But in my statement to the court I admitted the truth of the facts but declared my sincere objections to the status of soldier. I said, however, that I was not there to plead for mercy but merely to explain my stand. If it is the will of the American government and the American people that such people as I should be in prision [sic] then that is where I belong and I told them so. My objection is not so much to the war now as it is to the fact of conscription. If the American people are going to accept conscription, then “Prussianism” has not been defeated, and I belong in prison. If it is so that America believes in conscription, then I am born in a time unfortunate for me and freedom as I see it is in a bad way indeed. Also if that is so the war to my mind will have been in vain to a large extent, though not necessarily altogether in vain, even from my point of view.

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and others in the same boat. The movement for compulsory service may be such that we will be kept in prison. In that case it is my misfortune to be born in such a time, but I trust I shall never whine nor complain about it even in the quiet or storm and stress of my own spirit. Victories are to be won in prison and I will try to win mine though after a month here I can say from my heart, death seems many times preferable to a long prison term. I occupy myself in the mornings here peeling potatoes, but the afternoon and evenings drag. The inactivity makes me very restless. I don’t think the authorities have any idea of the real cruelty of depriving COs of all reading and writing. I would take physical hardship with a much better grace. For a couple of books of my choosing and the newspaper daily, I would take bread and water for a week or two and be very grateful for the bargain.

Norman will be interested in hearing that the judge advocate at my trial has a borther [sic] who was a Princeton ’05 man. His name was Stevens or Stephens. I don’t know which way he spells it. Also the presecuting [sic] officer, who made a very spread eagle speech in which he urged that I be given the maximum sentence which is death, is a cousin of Andrew Inbrie who used to be at Princeton. As my trial has to be reviewed by the War Department first, I was informed that it would probably be weeks and maybe months before I heard my sentence, though of course the court decided upon my sentence that afternoon. Weeks and maybe months seem a long time to my impatient spirit, but compared to 20 years ago I suppose they don’t matter.

The influenza here is getting better. I received the glycol-thymoline and fruit. Many, many thanks. It never occurred to me to bother about influenza, but the glycol thymoline I am glad to have. All the sick COs from the guard

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house are back again. Harold Gray was pretty sick I guess but seems all right now. I enclose a letter from Howard Moore. I knew he would be doing just that. I would have done the same in his place, Only I think I would have taken food with a spoon, but I absolutely respect Howard. I understand he is eating again now. Hope you haven’t written his mother about it. I don’t think he wanted her to know. Howard is a prince of a fellow and please don’t blame him for the hunger strike business. I don’t one bit.

Thank Agnes and Emma for their letters. I enjoyed them – also the copies of R’s letters. I think I now have received most of N’s letters. I am writing for the blank checks. Am greatly delighted to hear from Violet that Billy has not tubercular glands after all. Please tell all the chicks how much I love them and think about them even though I can’t write.

Am happy that peace actually seems to be at hand. What a relief it must be to weary Europe. Thanks to all for your letters, and I hate to be a nuisance, but the more the merrier for me.

Lots of love to all


Thomas, Evan W., “Letter October 13, 1918 from Evan Thomas to Mother ,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed February 27, 2021, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/1452.

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