The Genesis of World War I:
"The winter of '14 was extremely hard... It was just ditches, the trenches were just waterlogged ditches, and one was often up to one's knees in frozen mud."
-- Private Leonard Haine, Honorable Artillery Co., British Army
"Up we scrambled, bullets whistling past our ears like hailstones. Off we started. The lad on my left dropped all in a heap without a murmur. About five more paces, the lad on my right dropped. Then they dropped all round me in twos and threes. I wondered when my turn would come... I had gone about fifty yards when crack! Got it in the leg. Just throwing my arms up in the air -- bang! Copped it again in the right upper arms. Down I go." -- Private Barlow's account, 137th Brigade, Staffordshire Territorials, British Army, "Going over the top" on the Western Front, 11 October 1915.
While the problems in the Palmetto State were significant, they paled in comparison to the carnage that had enveloped Europe. On June 28, 1914, a Serbian nationalist precipitated the bloodletting on a street in Sarajevo when he assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife during a state visit.
After decades of alliance building and bickering between the great powers, war could no longer be avoided. When Austro-Hungaria demanded reparations from Serbia, Imperial Russia came to the support of its Slavic brethren. Imperial Germany had to support its Austrian cousin, which then brought France into the dispute to support its Russian ally. Faces with a two-front war, Germany decided to strike at France first before turning back to Russia. Its invasion plan (devised by Gen. Alfred Graf von Schlieffen in the 1890s) stipulated that armies go through neutral Belgium. When the kind of Belgium refused to permit this, the German armies invaded the small nation to reach French territory. This brought Great Britain into the conflict to defend Belgian sovereignty.
By early September, German armies were within a few miles of the outskirts of Paris before French and British forces threw them back into northern and eastern Franc and southwestern Belgium. What followed was a long, four-year stalemate of trench warfare. Several attempts to break the deadlock resulted in huge battles, often lasting weeks or months, and several million casualties.
Some major battles with total casualties on both sides (killed, wounded, and missing):
2nd Battle of Ypres (April-May 1915): 105,000,
The Somme (July - November 1916), 1,214,105,
Verdun (February - December 1916): 715,000
Vimy Ridge (9-12 April 1917): 34,000