World War I -- Life Histories/Section 001/Robert March Hanes

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Robert March Hanes
Born22 September 1890
Winston Salem, North Carolina
Died10 March 1959
OccupationCongressman, President of Wachovia
SpouseMildred Borden

Overview[edit | edit source]

Robert March Hanes served as a Captain of the 113th Field Artillery in World War I before returning to the United States to become president of Wachovia Bank and Trust Company. Hanes also served as a state senator as well as a member of the House.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Robert March Hanes was born on September 22nd, 1980 in Winston Salem, North Carolina to John Wesley and Anna Hodgin Hanes. He attended public schools through the age of 14, before he enrolled in Woodberry Forest High School in Virginia. As president of his senior class, Hanes graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1912[1]. Following graduation, he studied business administration at Harvard for a year before taking a job as the secretary-treasurer at the Crystal Ice Company in his hometown of Winston Salem. On July 3rd, 1917 Hanes married Mildred Borden. [2]They had two children, Sarah Anne and Frank Borden[3].

World War I Service[edit | edit source]


Robert March Hanes entered the Second Officers Training School at Fort Oglethorpe in Catoosa County, GA in 1917. On May 8, 1918, he left the United States and sailed to France where he later fought in the Battle of Argonne. He served in the 113th Field Artillery, 30th Division. Originally assigned to Battery E., he was soon promoted as Captain of Battery A[4].

Professional Life[edit | edit source]

After returning from overseas, Hanes began work in 1919 at Wachovia Bank and Trust Company. Within a year, he held the title as vice-president. By 1931, he was elected president where he retained that position until retiring twenty-five years later[5]. During all of this, he also became involved in politics. In 1929 and again in 1931, he represented Forsyth County as a Democrat in the House of Representatives. Following his two terms as a member of the House he served in the Senate in 1933[6].

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Love Letters[edit | edit source]

A envelope of a letter, stored at Wilson Library, from Hanes to his wife

During World War I, 12 million letters each week were sent to soldiers. As the main source of communication, these provided both those overseas and the ones back home to stay in communication[7]. Amid the archival material at Wilson Library is a box dedicated to Robert March Hanes. The folders within it are predominately filled with love letters to his wife, Mildred, that he sent while in the Great War. Dated nearly every two to three days apart from each other, the number of letters shows the importance of communication with loved ones in the States. Starting from the time he was preparing to leave the United States in 1917 until his eventual return in 1919, Hanes gives an account, although a seemingly skewed one, of what his life was like.

The letters were generally vague and left out any mention of specific location. Due to letter censorship during WWI, the phrase “loose lips sink ships” was coined. Instead Hanes would write “Somewhere in France” at the top of his letters to his wife. Any letter that was found to have some value to the enemy would have been destroyed[8].

Hanes seems to have an astoundingly positive outlook in all of his letters to his wife and his writings lack, for the most part, any mention of unpleasantness. As the war was such a hypermasculine environment, it also would have been in an effort to comfort his wife from the reality of the war[9].

Hanes described, in his letter dated September 6th, 1918, the war as “…all very interesting and I am tickled to death with the work.”[10] On September 25th, 1918, he expresses that, "This is a great life my darling. I never thought I could come to some of the things I now go to with pleasure. [War] has no more effect on me than water does on a duck."[10] Even the violence Hanes does experience is viewed through an extraordinarily positive light. On the 30th of the same month, he describes that he, "saw a beautiful airplane battle this morning. Two American planes encountered a Boche right in front of my battery. They went after him with a vengeance and after about ten minute fighting they brought him down... His plane was smashed all to pieces and the pilot was completely mashed to pieces. I was certainly glad to see them get him as he was trying to find us so he could direct the fire of his guns on us...Withal I felt as if I have been to some kind of show this morning."[10]

Meuse-Argonne Offensive[edit | edit source]


The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also referred to as the Battle of the Argonne Forest or the Maas-Argonne Offensive, began on September 26, 1918 and continued for 47 long days until the armistice of The Great War on November 11th, 1918. Considered the bloodiest battle, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) had 26,277 casualties with 95,786 men wounded. In all, there were an estimated 117,000 casualties. This battle was the last Allied offensive of the war and stretched across the whole Western Front. [11] For the United States, this was considered to be the greatest test of battle that the US Army has undergone up to that time[12].

Although the archival records at Wilson Library show that Hanes sent letters during this time, they do not depict quite the same atrocities that so many others described. This can be attributed to three major factors. The first being Hanes' style of writing and positive attitude, as it evident from his previous letters to his wife. The second factor has to do with him perhaps being unaware to the degree of severity of the battle. Communication came in the form of telegrams and letters, making the exchange of information far slower than modern-day. Lastly, the third reason for Hanes' lack of acknowledgement to the battle was related to the phenomenon, especially present during war-time, that people do not tend to recognize the severity of an event until much after it. Diffusion of responsibility, a form of crowd psychology, is defined as "a reduced sense of personal responsibility and individual accountability experienced in certain circumstances by members of a group, often leading to behavior untypical of any of the group members when alone." [13] Since this behavior was, in a sense, necessary for survival during the war, it is not surprising that Hanes' view on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive is not as dramatic as one might expect when looking at it from a modern perspective.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  1. "Robert March Hanes, 1890-1959." Documenting the American South. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
  2. "NC Business Hall of Fame -- Robert M. Hanes." NC Business Hall of Fame -- Robert M. Hanes. North Carolina Business Hall of Fame, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2015.
  3. "Robert March Hanes, 1890-1959." Documenting the American South. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
  4. "Robert March Hanes, 1890-1959." Documenting the American South. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
  5. "NC Business Hall of Fame -- Robert M. Hanes." NC Business Hall of Fame. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
  6. "Robert March Hanes, 1890-1959." Documenting the American South. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
  7. Richards, Anthony. "Letter Censorship on the Front Line." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 30 May 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
  8. "American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.
  9. Podles, Leon. "Masculinity and the Military." Love in the Trenches, , by Author Leon J. Podles. Books & Articles, Online. CRISIS, July-Aug. 1993. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Hanes, Robert March. Letters to Mildred Hanes. TN: 87151, Folders 17-26. Robert March Hanes papers. 1908-1919 [manuscript]. Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Louis Round Wilson Library. 10 February 2015.
  11. Baker, Horace L., and Robert H. Ferrell. Argonne Days in World War I. Columbia: U of Missouri, 2007. Print.
  12. Braim, Paul F. The Test of Battle: The American Expeditionary Forces in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, 26 September-11 November, 1918. N.p.: n.p., 1983. Print.
  13. Colman, Andrew M. "diffusion of responsibility." A Dictionary of Psychology. : Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference. 2009. Date Accessed 21 Apr. 2015 <>.