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Interpreting the Evidence

Understanding Author's Point of View: Hamilton Fish's Letter to his Father

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    African Americans
    Communication
    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Letter from Hamilton Fish to His Father, April 8, 1918 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Letter from Hamilton Fish to His Father, April 8, 1918 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Topic: WWI Communication, Attitudes of soldiers

 Skills: Compare/Contrast, Analyze point of view, Extrapolate implications of this small group to society in general

This document shows the role of letters in conveying historical information during war time, amount of details soldiers included in letters, and the attitude of an officer toward his soldiers and the war.

Historical Context: Captain Hamilton Fish Jr. was a white, well-connected New York officer who earned his commission when he agreed to command the newly formed 369th US Infantry, the nation’s first all-Black Regiment.  After graduating at the top of his class and earning recognition in athletics at Harvard, Fish was eager to enlist and do his duty for the country that had only recently declared war and joined the Allies in the First World War.
              The 369th was one of four African-American regiments that saw action during WWI. During the war, 400,000 African-Americans served. Of the 10,000 who went to battle, 475 were killed and 3,468 were wounded.
               In his letters home to his father, Captain Fish expressed confidence and optimism in his Regiment even if the Army did not. In fact, when they arrived in Brest France in December 1917, the 369th was slated to become railroad laborers. Eventually, transferred to the command of the French Army, the “Harlem HellFighters”, as the 369th came to be called, first saw action with their French counterparts during the all-important defense of the Marne Salient.  From there Captain Fish and his soldiers would spend 191 days at the front, the most of any US Regiment. They would serve with distinction including never losing ground, being the first to reach the Rhine River in Germany, and not having a single prisoner of war lost. Captain Fish himself would be awarded the Silver Star for action during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne. After the war, Captain Fish became a prominent U.S. Congressman.

Essential Question: Does the author’s point of view expressed in the letter reflect the same sentiments as the rest of Americans during early involvement in WWI?

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