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Author brings World War I to life in Jefferson County

By Staff | Jul 7, 2017

James Horn, just 25 years old Shepherd University graduate has had the honor of having his first book published and released this week titled, “World War I and Jefferson County West Virginia.”

In this book, Horn chronicles events in Shepherdstown, Shepherd College, Harpers Ferry, Storer College, the African American community and Charles Town.

Horn said that this area is an obvious hot bed for Civil War history and studies, but that Jefferson County played an important role in World War I as well – a war that isn’t much talked about.

Horn has had a love of history that developed in childhood – his father was a history teacher – and was interested in WWI since high school. He took a class on that topic at Shepherd, where he had an opportunity to really hone in on Jefferson County’s involvement in the first world war.

“That (class) took something I was interested in but didn’t know much about and really had it develop into a key interest in my historical studies,” he said.

One of Horn’s class assignments at Shepherd was to find a soldier from his hometown that was buried in one of the World War I American cemeteries located overseas. Horn selected a soldier named William J.H. Watters after a preliminary Google search and began his months of research. His labor and work culminated in an emotional experience at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France where he spoke about that soldier at his grave marker.

“We spent the first half of the semester just doing research on this one soldier that we had selected,” Horn said. “At first he was nothing but a name, but by the time we went on the trip (overseas), I knew so much about him I almost felt like a I knew him. It was amazing what I was able to find out about him. It was very emotional to sit there and take someone that you had researched for months – you find a picture of them and learn about their family – to sit there and talk about them while you’re at their final resting place.”

That whole experience helped Horn discover his “why” for studying and writing about history and led him to want to share those stories – to help people relate to history in a more personal way – particularly to the residents of Jefferson County.

While researching the topic, Horn said that one of the things that surprised him was the sudden shift in attitude after the U.S. declared war.

“The sudden sense of patriotism really struck me,” Horn said. “It was almost night and day. In the lead-up to the war, people were paying attention to the war and had mixed feelings and opinions about it. But as soon as the United States declared war, there began all these drives to raise money for war bonds, getting donations to the Red Cross, getting men to volunteer to go overseas. It just seemed like everyone hit the gas as soon as the call was raised that we are at war and have to do our part. No one was sitting out.”

Horn’s hope is that this book will spark discussion about this topic and that it will lead people to want to do their own research.

“This is not meant to be the ‘end-all-be-all’ of World War I history in Jefferson County,” Horn said. “I’ve really just scratched the surface. I really hope it generates an interest and more people will want to dive into the subject and keep researching it.”

Horn’s passion for history led to his work at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park in Middletown, Virginia. It is his goal for the future is to continue working with the National Park Service and move into a supervisory capacity at a historic site.

“I love working for the Park Service. But as long as I’m talking about history of some kind, and I’m working with the public, helping educate them on some aspect of American History, I will be happy,” Horn said.

Horn will be signing copies of his book at Four Seasons Book Store on Thursday at 6 p.m.