The History of New York State
Editor, Dr. James Sullivan
Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam
Fuller, Hurley E., "'Lost Battalions' of the 77th Division." (Infantry Jour., Washington, 1926)
McCollum, Lee Chas., "History and Rhymes of the Lost Battalion" (by "Buck Private" McCollum). Sketches by Franklin Sly.
McKeogh, Arthur, "The Victorious 77th Division (New York's Own) in the Argonne Fight."
U. S. Army, A. E. F., 1917-19. "History of the 77th division, Aug. 25, 1719-Nov. 11, 1918." Designed and written in the field, France.
New York "Times," "Current History, 1915-25."
Allen, Whitehead, Chadwick, "The Great War:, 5 vols.
#1 The 77th Division was in the depths of the forest as September ended. On October 1, the German were able to hold them at all points, despite a general attack along the whole divisional line. The orders were issued for another general attack at 12:50 p. m. on the 2d. The units were to attack and persistently re-attack regardless of losses. In case of advance being possible, they wee to go forward regardless of flank protection, and hold grimly to the ground gained until supporting units could take up flank position beside them. The attack would have seemed an utter failure were it not for the ray of hope that came in the breaking through of one battalion. Elements of the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 308th Infantry found a footing in the one vulnerable point of the German line. This was the bed of the Ravine de Charlevaux, on the extreme left of the line of the 77th. Division. Major Whittlesey's men, by process of infiltration through the underbrush along the eastern bank of the rivulet that ran through this ravine, had broken the German line and reached its objective, the so-called Charlevaux Mills. His battalion comprised companies A, B, C, E. G. and H of the 308th Infantry, reinforced by Companies C and D of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion, or at least sections of those machine gun companies.
Following instructions, Major Whittlesey went on, penetrating deeply into the German lines, regardless of his unprotected flanks. As a matter of fact, the battalion commander had little knowledge of what was happening to the checked elements that should have been on his flanks. But he knew that, with a loss of about ninety men, he had passed through the German trench system, capturing thirty men and some machine guns. He supposed that reinforcements would reach him soon; meanwhile, his duty, indeed his express order, was clear; he must hold on. But by the next morning, only one company, K, of the 307th, which had attempted to break through during the night, succeeding in reaching him.
His command had been reduced by casualties to about 600 effective, including the machine gun units. Their position was not enviable--in the pocket formed by the junction of two steep ravines, with slender streams, meeting at right angles. Densely wooded slopes hemmed the Americans in on four sides, but Major Whittlesey struggled with his battalion, across the morass, at the junction of the streams, and up the tangled slope nearly to the crest. Before them, about 100 yards from the crest, was the Binarville-la Viergettte road. On this slope, the battalion dug themselves into funk-holes as well as they could. They were without blankets, without water, and without food, having eaten their last reserve rations in their advance. But Major Whittlesey hoped that the morning would bring relief.
It did not come; and he soon discovered that the Germans had been concentrating much thought upon him. During the night, they had run trenches and barbed wire across his front, and had also erected machine gun posts in his rear, reinforcing these with wire entanglements. At daybreak he sent a detail to the rear for rations, also ordered Company E to the west of the ravine, to assist in any fighting that a relieving unit might encounter. The men of Whittlesey's battalion did not look upon themselves at hat time as a "Lost Battalion." Detachments of them had been several times cut off from their regiment during the "gang fighting" of the last few days. But these had been small bands, whereas Whittlesey's was a battalion. This, however, gave an added confidence. There was no thought of surrender.
The company that sent to cooperate with the supposed relieving units lost if commander and most of its men. They had gone forward to reconniter, and had run into many German machine gun units. All of the latter were busy behind the lines of Whittlesey's battalion. They fought off an attack of the 307th Regiment which strenuously tried to break through to Whittlesey. The company commander referred to, however, managed to crawl through the German liens and through three stretches of barbed wire, in the face of machine-gun fire and flare illumination. He reached the American lines and reported, but four or five more days were to pass before Whittlesey and his battalion, who were not, of course, lost--either by capture of in the sense of their location being unknown--were relieved. This came about not by frontal attack, for the Germans had made their positions in the rear of Whittlesey too strong for direct attack. The relief was effected by the turning movement which would have reversed the tables, had the Germans not evacuated their positions and their attempt top force the surrender of the Americans. The relief was during the night of 7th. The men had lived without food during the whole of that time. They had had to withstand shellfire from all directions, and had had to defend their lines. They checked every attempt of the Germans to close in. By Sunday, October 6, Whittlesey's force had been reduced to less than 300, the machine gun officers had been killed, and only one out of nine machines guns were in good working condition. They had carefully husbanded their ammunition by going out each night to strip all the dead of that day of their cartridge belts, but their ammunition was now almost exhausted. Without food, the men were desperate. They almost risk life for it. Without it, indeed, they must die, unless relieved. American airplanes had flown over the position and had, it was thought dropped a parcel of food. To find this a patrol of nine starving Americans wormed their way into the woods, on Monday morning. They were detected, surrounded, and in the fighting five were killed. The other four were wounded. One of these prisoners was sent back to the battalion, with a letter from the German commanding office to Major Whittlesey. The letter read:
"Sir: The bearer of this present had been take prisoner by us. He refused to give the German intelligence officer any answer to his question, and is quite an honorable fellow, doing honor to this fatherland in the strictest sense of the word.
"He has been charged against his will, believing that he is doing wrong to his country, to carry forward this present letter to the officer in charge of the battalion of the 77th Division with the purpose to recommend the commander to surrender with forces, as it would be quite useless to resist any more, in view of the present condition.
The suffering of your wounded men can be heard over here in the German lines, and we are appealing to your humane sentiments to stop. A white flag shown by one of your men will tell us that you agree with these conditions. Please treat the bearer as an honorable man. He is quite a soldier.
The note was ready by Major Whittlesey, Captain McMurray and Captain Holderman in turn, Major Whittlesey's reaction to it was to rise and immediately order removal of the two white panels, which had been spread upon the ground to attract American airplanes. No German should have a chance of seeing anything white in the American lines.
The news of the demand to surrender soon spread throughout Whittlesey's command. Half of his command has passed beyond expression and the other half was more or less delirious through hunger. Some were too weak to sit; yet the American spirit was still strong in them. Maybe, Whittlesey did not say: "Tell them to go to hell!" but certainly that expression came from the lips of several of his men. "Tell the Boche to come over and get us" was another expression of the courageous little band of New Yorkers. At least, that was the purport of their thought and determination, though most of the men framed their contempt and disgust of the German in more colorful, if less parliamentary language. They were not afraid to die. Theirs had been a living death for six days and six nights anyway. They might as well keep the record clean, and go out like true Americans. "Tell the Boche to come over and get us."
He came over that night. It was a desperate attack, with liquid fire. But the Germans found the "Lost Battalion" still strong enough to beat them off, just as they had before. They might starve to death but they would not be taken alive. Fortunately, they were not asked to endure much more, for even while they were fight off the last German attack, there seemed to come to their ears the unmistakable sound of American rifle and machine gun-fire. It came nearer and nearer from the south and from the right. During that night, their own regiment and the 307th converged upon the "pocket," and the Germans disappeared. Out of the pocket next morning came on 252 survivors of the 679 that had originally gone into it. They remain there--to signify that the typical American soldier prefers death to surrender.
#2 The total casualties of the 77th division numbered 9,611--317 officers and 9,294 men. Included in this number are: 69 officers and 1,299 men killed inaction; 10 officers and 188 men died of wounds received in action; and 69 officers and 2,297 severely wounded.
The melting-Pot Division captured 13 German officers and 737 men, 7,600 rifles, 18 pieces of heavy artillery, 14 pieces of field artillery, 46 trench mortars, and 277 machine guns.
The division gained a total of 71-1/2 kilometers (about 45 miles), more the 60 kilometers having been gained since September 26. Their service was in four sectors. They were in the front line for 112 days; 45 days in the Baccarat Sector; 35 days in the Vesle Sector; 20 days in the Argonne drive; 12 days in the Aires-Meuse advance.
#3 The United States mobilized for active service during the World War period (April 7, 1917, to November 11, 1918) a total of 5,019,874 , this number embracing Regular Army, National Guard, National Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast guard and U. S. Guards. Of this total New York furnished 518,864, or 10,34 per cent, of the whole. Of this aggregation there were 77,118 casualties--killed inaction, died of wounds or from other causes--and 221,050 wounded or incapacitated from other cause. These were casualties overseas. More than 40,000 service men and women died while serving in American camps. The total number of men from New York State who died in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps during World War was 13,956.--See "Legislative Manual of New York, 1924," pp 505 and 506.
According to statistics furnished for the "World Almanac" 1926 issue, by the Adjutant-General of New York, the grant total of deaths of men and women from New York State, while serving the Nation during the World War period, was 14,102.--See "World Almanac, 1926." p 485.
The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927
This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library
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