I'm currently reviewing some old textbooks on American history, and came across a fantastic passage.
There are a number of reasons why World War I's volunteer enlistment was high. Read this passage from a children's textbook1 about the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac in 1862.
You can see very clearly how young men, taught from an early age of the glory, adventure, and honor of battle would seek it out as soon as it was an option.
335. Famous Battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac.—It was a Sunday morning, and the sun rose in a cloudless sky. The batteries on both sides of the bay were crowded with men waiting for the coming contest. At the first sign of life on board the Merrimac, the Monitor began her preparations for the battle.
Slowly the Confederate ram came down the bay. She opened fire on the Minnesota, which was still aground. The frigate responded with a mighty broadside, but the cannon balls rattled off the iron flanks of the huge ram like so many peas. Clearly everything depended upon the little Monitor.
The battle now began, and the huge shells and heavy shot crashed like loudest thunder. It was a strange, an awful battle. At times the two vessels were in actual contact. The dense smoke, the deafening roar of explosions, the shouts of officers' orders, the crews often hurled off their feet by the terrific blows smiting the iron armor—all made it beyond description fearfully sublime. The Merrimac's plates were split and torn. One shot, entering her port, did terrible havoc.
Just as Lieutenant Worden of the Monitor was looking through the slit in the turret to take aim, a shell struck outside and filled his face and eyes with powder and iron splinters! He was insensible for some time.
When he came to himself, his first question was, "Have I saved the Minnesota?"
"Yes," was the reply, "and whipped the Merrimac."
"Then I don't care what becomes of me," he answered.
After more than three hours of this frightful combat, the humbled Merrimac steamed back to Norfolk, the victorious little Monitor giving a series of farewell shots as she sailed away.
Thus ended this marvelous battle, the first in the world's history between ironclad vessels. All Washington retired to sleep that night with a sense of relief, for it seemed as if the nation had been saved.
The brave Worden shortly after the famous battle went to Washington. President Lincoln was at a cabinet meeting when he heard of the lieutenant's arrival. He rose hastily and said, "Gentlemen, I must go to that fellow."
When Lincoln entered his room, Worden was lying on a sofa with his eyes and head heavily bandaged.
"Mr. President," said he, "you do me great honor by this visit."
"Sir," said Mr. Lincoln, with tears in his eyes, "I am the one who is honored by this interview."
- 1. Available at gutenberg.org. Albert F. Blaisdell, The Story of American History for Elementary Schools (Boston: Ginn & Company Publishers, 1902), 394-296.