After war was declared in April 1917, 14 Adams County physicians volunteered for the reserve medical corp. Dr. Thomas Blackburn Knox was the first to receive a commission as a lieutenant and left for Ft. Riley in Junction City Kansas, in July 1917. Eventually 21 Adams County physicians served in World War I. That number represented 30 percent of the area physicians who collectively had an average age of 46. Those who were not called to the military served on draft and exception boards.
In September 1917 after a few months at Ft. Riley, Dr. Knox was ordered to Camp Dix in Wrightstown, New Jersey, where he was to serve as surgeon to the 26th engineers corps. Dr. Knox was then transferred to the 312th ambulance company also at Camp Dix. In early November 1917, the Quincy Daily Herald published a letter from Dr. Knox to his friend Joe Esler. In the letter he describes the camp as very large with a hospital of 3,000 beds. He praised the Knights of Columbus and the YMCA for bringing a variety of entertainments for the recruits. His job consisted of drills and lectures for the men under his command and he describes the doctors as easterners and “a fine bunch of fellows, all young men around 35, a good, jolly bunch….” Toward the end of the letter he says, “The east is wonderful and I’m glad I’m here, following the flag of Uncle Sammy, and we are all happy that we are doing our bit.” In closing he tells his friend Joe to,” Give my regards and best wishes to all my Quincy friends and tell them the boys need sweaters and mittens and wool socks.”
In April 1918, Dr. Knox was promoted to the rank of captain and assumed command of the 312th ambulance company. In announcing his promotion, the Daily Whig quoted the Camp Dix Times as saying, “Captain Knox possesses an abundance of enthusiasm and a breezy western manner. Everyone who knows this commanding officer is delighted to know of his merited promotion and he has received scores of congratulations.”
Captain Knox left for France June 4, 1918 on the Mauretania. He sailed with his company as part of the 303rd Sanitary Train, 78th division. In Europe, he was in command of officers, enlisted men, 13 ambulances, and two dressing stations where the injured received first aid before being sent behind the lines. During the summer of 1918 his company was stationed with the Fourth and Fifth British Army in Flanders behind Arras and then transferred back to the American sector in September and in October took part in the battle of the Argonne Forest.
The battle lasted 47 days. Capt. Knox’s company spent 28 days of the battle at the front with the 311th and 312th infantry. He told the Daily Whig, “There is where we went into hell. The casualties in the infantry were heavy and we lost some of our men, but the ambulance boys died mostly from disease because of the conditions in which we were forced to live during the heaviest fighting and then some of them were killed when struck by shells.” The company also lost ambulances due to shelling and had to use trucks to carry the wounded.
His next assignment was in the southwest of France where he was in charge of a convalescent hospital. After the armistice was signed in November 1918, he was stationed at Base Hospital #6 in Bordeaux where he stayed until ordered back to the states in late February 1919. He returned to Quincy. He must have been interviewed as soon as he stepped off the train as the Daily Whig reported, “The first question hurled at him was ‘Were you wounded?’ for Capt. Knox walks with a cane, but he laughed and said, ‘No, just rheumatism from sleeping in the mud and rain too many nights’.”
In April 1919, he received notice to report to Fort Sheraton north of Chicago to be granted a discharge. He was discharged as a major having been promoted on February 17, 1919, by the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in France. The Daily Herald stated, “He now rounds out his service as a major, so far as known the only physician in this locality having thus far been accorded this rank.” Dr. Knox had no active duty under that rank.
Thomas Blackburn Knox was born in Kilmallock, Ireland, in 1872. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 11. He later became a naturalized citizen. After arriving in Quincy, he and his family joined St. Boniface Church. He attended the University of Illinois and at the age of 30 graduated from the Chicago College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1902 he married Ada Margaret Kents, who was originally from Pennsylvania. Dr. and Mrs. Knox lived at 534 N. 8th St. where they had three daughters. His first office was in the Mercantile building but he soon moved to the Dodd building on the northeast corner of Fifth and Maine Sts. He served as physician of the town from 1903 to 1907. In that capacity he took care of the poor, performed autopsies, and testified at trials. In 1906, he was paid $850 which is equivalent to $21,600 in today’s dollars.
Before the war, Dr. Knox was the medical examiner for the Northern Life Insurance Company, served on the Board of Health, and was president of the Anti-Tuberculosis League. He was active most of his life in the Knights of Columbus and the Adams County Medical Society, where he served as president.
Even before the war, Dr. Knox concentrated on pediatrics. His post-war office was in the Majestic Building at 631 Maine St. He continued his civic involvement by giving talks on various topics to school children, served as a delegate to the Illinois State Medical Society, was an officer and member of the Elks Club, and was a member and officer of St. Mary Hospital medical staff. Dr. Knox died in Quincy in 1946 and is buried in St. Peters Cemetery.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com
Operations, Inc., 2012.
“Capt. T. B. Knox Back From Where The Shells Flew.” Quincy Daily Whig, February 23, 1919, 3.
“Captain Knox called 50-50 by Command.” Quincy Daily Whig, April 26, 1918, 3.
“Captain Knox is Home After Year’s Service in France.” Quincy Daily Journal, February 24, 1919, 10.
“Handsome Promotion for Well Know Quincy Physician From a Captain to a Major.” Quincy Daily Herald, April 16, 1919, 5.
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“Probably Now on Way ‘Over There’.” Quincy Daily Whig, April 14, 1918, 2.
“Quincy Physician in Army Work is Guest of Adams County Physicians.” Quincy Daily Whig, September
9, 1917, 3.
“Service Stars.” Quincy Daily Herald, April 7, 1919, 9.
“The Society in the World War.” In the Quincy Medical Bulletin, edited by Harold Swanberg, M. D., 1, no
8 (1924): 13.
“’Y’ Helps Dr. Knox.” Quincy Daily Herald, November 9, 1917, 9.