The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter 8, Part 2

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

During the second and third weeks of April, the national legislators seemed to be divided as to the best method of raising an army. Congress deliberated on the President's plan of selective service. The House Military Committee, on April 18th, inserted a clause into the Army bill, committing the government to a trial of the volunteer system before resorting to recruitment by draft. The Senate, however, favored conscription. But few were excited over either plan the President, apparently, though at that time that the Allies would not ask the Untied States to send a large army overseas. America was "to be connected with the quartermaster's department" of the Entente; the United States was to be the immense all-supplying storehouse for the European nations that were fighting the Teutons. Nobody in America yet realized how desperately near the end of the man-power resources were the Allies. It was fortunate for the world that America was able to build a mighty army upon the nucleus she possessed in her small Regular Army and her trained National guard. The Selective Service Act was not passed until May was well spent, but meanwhile the National Guard busily pursued its plan to weed out its ineligible men--those who had dependents or were not physically fit--and recruit or reorganize its units, so that the State troops would be soldiers in the truest sense--helpful to State and Nation tot he utmost degree, in military capacity. Patriotism and eagerness to serve were not the only requirements; every willing soldier was also expected to be able to stand the rigors of campaigning.

Immediately after the passage of the Selective Service Act, on May 16th, the President issued a proclamation calling upon all male citizens of the United States between the ages of 21 and 31, except those who were already in the United States military or naval forces, to register in their home precincts on June 5th. Six weeks later, the quotas for the States in the first call was known, and the Selective Service Act was in full swing, although the first contingents of drafted men did not leave for the National Army cantonments until the beginning of September. There had been much for the draft boards to do before they reached the point where the first contingents could be finally lined up for departure;

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some of the responsibility and gravity of draft board membership may be understood by a reading of the letter of July 26, 1917, from the Provost-Marshal-General to draft board members. #4

As spring passed into summer, national guardsmen grew impatient. The Regular Army was beginning to be heard of in France, and the well-trained national guard units chafed at continued guard duty at home. The first division of the American Expeditionary Forces disembarked in France in the last week of June, and rumor followed rumor of the impending complete federalization of the militia forces of the States. This reorganization of military control, it was confidently thought, gave promise that patrol duty at home would soon end and that intensive training of National Guardsmen for overseas service would soon begin. With the certainty that an immense National Army would soon be

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organized under the Selective Service Act, it seemed that home defense would naturally devolve upon this less experienced military force, and that the logical destination of the National Guard regiments would be overseas.

Since the State troops had returned from the Mexican Border, they had to all intents been under arms. Some had been federalized, others had been called into State service for patrol duty, and the remainder had been reporting at their local armories from day o day, awaiting orders. The situation brightened during July. On the 10th, President Wilson, by proclamation, provided for the drafting of the National Guard of all States into the army of the Untied States. Almost immediately some of the new York regiments left home stations for camp. Other units, not so fully enrolled, renewed their effort to reach war strength. Some of the New York militia units gathered, for federalization, at Camp Whitman, New York, on July 16th. Others were mobilized at home armories until ready for departure to Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, North Carolina.

All National Guardsmen were in high spirits. Esprit de corps was high, commanders making the most of the colorful history of some of the older regiments. But the men were soon to realize that this war was different to all former wars. The operations were so colossal, the need of man-power so grave, that war departments got into the habit of looking at men as man-power, and at regiments as man-power multiplied. Local pride, sentimental associations, regimental history could hardly have conspicuous place in planning troop-movements of millions of men. A division that was needed and was short of man-power must be filled to war strength from the man-power of other divisions, even though historic old regiments be plundered of their loyal soldiers, and the latter hustled without ceremony or apology into strange units drawn from other States and officered by strangers. The New York State militiamen were quite shocked by the raid made upon their units in July, to complete the organization of the 42d Division. The 69th New York Infantry, the Irish-American Regiment of new York City, was ordered to be detached entirely from the New York Division, the 17th, and to be transferred to the Rainbow Division, the 42nd. And, as a regiment in World War service was required to be expanded to about three times its normal personnel, the War Department directed that the 69th be brought to the new war strength by the transfer of 346 men from each of the other regiments of New York City. Think of it! The order robbed the New York State Division of one whole regiment, and a third of every other. The State organization was literally cut to pieces. AS General O'Ryan explains in his "History of the Twenty-seventh Division": "this detachment of men from one regiment to another on the eve of was activity was a great shock to all the regiments concerned. It was a severe blow to their morale. Each regiment treasured its own tradition. In each the men

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were led to believe that their regiment was the best. Actually, and by tradition as well, the 69th infantry was an Irish or Irish-American regiment. This regiment could have been recruited to the new war strength with a week's time, after they were designated for early overseas service. None of the other regiments wished to give up men fro transfer to the 69th. To take a man away from his own regiment and place him in another is like taking a child away from its own home and placing it in the home of some other family. But so high was the standard of discipline and so strong the spirit for what was said to be the common good that these transfers were in fact made with a minimum of friction." In the consequent reorganization of the 27th Division, the place of the 69th Regiment was taken by the 14th New York Infantry. And the 69th Regiment went on to added fame with the Rainbow Division.

Some of the units of the 27th Division gathered for federalization at Camp Whitman, New York, on July 16th; others were mobilized at home armories until ready for departure to the federal cantonment, which was to be known as Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, South Carolina. Detachments left home station about August 1st, to assist in preparing that camp for troops. On august 23d, Major-General O'Ryan received orders to proceed to that camp, to assume command of it. At that time the bulk of the 27th division were still within the home State, but the time of their departure had almost come. During the last week of August, the units converged on New York City, a military appearance being given to most of the large parks of the metropolitan area by the encampment of these 20,000 soldiers en route to Camp Wadsworth. Troops were in Pelham Bay park, Van Cortlandt Park, Prospect park, Bay Ridge, while some were doing pioneer work at Yaphank. With the departure of the 27th division from its home State so near at hand, there was much activity among civil authorities and public workers of New York City, the general wish being to show the troops such hospitality that before they departed they would realize that behind them at home would be sincere friends who would follow their adventures with unflagging interest, and would rejoice with them upon their return, warworn but safe. The women's Auxiliary committee of New York City was especially active and some mammoth farewell dinners were served at various New York City hotels. On August 30th, the day of departure, Fifth Avenue was the line-of-march of a memorable parade. It was a glorious day. there was pathos of course, but it seemed that most of the sadness was manifested by those who witnessed the parade. The soldiers preserved a brave cheerful front, marching past almost jauntily; and those who cheered them as they passed tried to hide by their cheerfulness the thought that the parting might be forever. The bloody war that had brought death into millions of European homes could hardly be expected to leave our own soldiers unscathed. However, the cheers of the people

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of New York City were ringing in the ears of the National Guardsmen long after they had entrained; and, truth to tell, the average guardsman was lighthearted, happy, glad to shoulder arms, eager to get into the fray. The thought that he might not get out of it again bothered not one man in ten; each counted himself fortunate that he was in a division which would soon be in France. It was ever so. Life was cheap when patriotism is epidemic. The war fever take such a hold of some men that they seem almost to court death. But many of the New York Guardsmen who left so jauntily in August began to wear very long faces and to give vent to disconsolate mutterings as month followed month at Camp Wadsworth, and training seemed incessant, with France and the enemy no nearer in March, 1918, than in August , 1917.

The experience of the 27th division in an American camp, or cantonment, was somewhat like that of most of the divisions organized in 1917. They seemed to be sufficiently trained for overseas service long before they were sent. The 27th division guardsmen, indeed were so far advanced in military training before they were even federalized that many of the officers and most of the men imagined that Spartanburg would be rather a centre for overseas equipping than for preparatory training. They were disappointed. It was necessary even to send the camp commandant overseas early in the preparatory period, so that h, a most efficient officer, might realize how vastly different trench warfare was from the comparatively open manoeuvres of former wars. A civil War or Spanish-American War veteran could hardly imagine it possible that armies of millions could fight desperately fro years within a stone's throw of each other and yet unseen, the entrenchment's being so deep that no troop movement along a front-line of hundreds of miles could be seen except from the skies. Twentieth century warfare is as different from that of the nineteenth century as World War trenches were from those of the Spanish or Civil Wars. A few weeks after Major-General O'Ryan had been placed in command of Camp Wadsworth, he was ordered overseas with other officers, so that they might see the conditions at the front, and adapt the training of his command at Camp Wadsworth tot h need of this trench warfare. General O'Ryan writes: "As a result of our observations and experiences abroad, the subjects of correct march discipline, unfailing ammunition, ration supply, physical endurance and determination of all ranks, through thorough preparation for battle, and a clear understanding by all of combat orders, took on a new importance."

In the reorganization of the 27th division at Camp Wadsworth, regimental sentiment and tradition were to some degree shattered. The nine

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regiments of the original division passed out of existence, or rather passed into the four regiments of the new 27th, the new regiments being approximately three times as large as the old. General O'Ryan chose as the four regiments of his division the 2d, 3d, 7th, and 23d New York regiments. These regiments soon lost their ready local identification, becoming the 105th, 108th, 107th and 106th regiments, respectively, of the United States Army. Under the plan of the War Department the regiments of the Regular Army were to monopolize the regimental numbers up to 100, the federalized National Guard were to have the numbers from 100 to 300, and the great citizens' army, the National Army units, were to be numbered, regimentally from 300 up. The enlargement of the regiments released many of the higher officers, and many of the colonels of the old New York regiments went to other commands.

Life at Camp Wadsworth was made as pleasant as was possible for the soldiers in training. The welfare organizations were soon active, and what leisure periods the men had well filled by diversions organized by the Young Men's Christian Association, Red Cross, and Knights of Columbus. Quite a colony of New York people, relatives of the men, wintered in the vicinity. A hostess-house was opened, and many theatrical shows and fistic bouts among the men were entertaining. All in all the winter passed happily, though the men were impatient to get overseas, and the officers were somewhat bewildered at the. raids made upon the commissioned and enlisted personnel, to meet the requirements of other divisions. For instance, one requisition robbed the division of 532 men needed elsewhere as motor mechanics; another raid took 275 of the most intelligent enlisted men and sent them overseas, to serve as military police. When the third Officers Training Camp was organized at Camp Wadsworth, 700 enlisted men were designated for training. These, when graduated, went overseas for service with other divisions. The National Guardsmen of New York it would seen were men of high standard. This this was well recognized by the higher command may be inferred from the fact that more then 5,000 officers of the American Army during the war period were commissioned from the ranks of the New York National guard. Further depletion of the original 27th Division occurred by reason of the transfer of 2,500 men, whose earlier training made then of more value to the Nation in civilian lines than in military. It will thus be realized that the 27th Division which went overseas was very much change in personnel from that which departed from New York for Spartanburg in August, 1917.

The preparatory training at Camp Wadsworth for overseas service included courses in many military schools. There were courses in grenade throwing, bayonet fighting, physical training, musketry, automatic arms, machine gun, trench artillery, gas defense, camouflage, engineering. Patrolling and reconnaissance were particular studies, as was

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the liaison and communication instruction. The infantry spent much time on the rifle range, and the artillerymen learned a little of the exact science of barrage.

Eleven months after the United States declared war General Pershing had at his disposal in France four American divisions. They were the Regulars and Marines that constituted the 1st and 2d divisions, an all-American division of National guardsmen, the 42nd (Rainbow) Division, in which was the famous Irish Regiment of New York, the old 69th, now renumbered the 165th Regiment; and a National Guard State unit, the Yankee or New England division, officially known as the 26th. The 1st division was the first American division to take front-line position, going into a comparatively quiescent sector in the Vosges Mountains in October, 1917. The first American engagement with the Germans occurred a month later, but it was of little severity. The next clash was in March, 1918, at a most critical time for the Allies. The first important clash going to the credit of the Yankee Division, though only some road-making engineers of that division had part in it.

Probably in March, 1918, it was fully recognized by the German High Command that their unrestricted submarine campaign had failed, and that they could not stop American troops from crossing the ocean. They knew what a n immense army could eventually be organized in a Nation of one hundred millions of people. They knew that that year would probably be the decisive year. They realized that if they did not win the war in 1918 they would have little change of doing so in 1919, for America's legions would not only be well trained soldiers but would be in France. Germany had little time to lose. So through the winter of 1917-1918 the Germans behind the lines worked and worked, with prodigious activity, to provide the munitions with which the German armies might make the supreme effort. There was a tense feeling among the Allied commands that something stupendous was in the making, and that the blow would fell while the American army was still in the making. Where it would fall they did not know, but the surmised that the German objective would be the Channel ports or Paris. So they prepared as best they could, Bu hey had no idea of the magnitude of the German preparations.

The German forced Bolshevist Russia into the signing of a treaty of peace in March, 1918, and at once rushed the troops from that frontier across Poland and Germany to the Western Front. On March 21st the great offensive began. Hindenburg and Ludendorff then set in motion a terrific drive, wave after wave of German troops sweeping forward along a fifty-mile front in Picardy, after an intensive bombardment by thousands of guns had almost shattered the front line of the British. The British had to fall back to their second line of defense on the first day of this battle of Picardy. Such a stupendous military movement had never

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before been launched. It was the mightiest in the history of the world, though a mightier drive was destined to be launched a few months later, to be followed by a still mightier movement by the allied armies. But this spring offensive of the Germans was overwhelming in its force. On the second day the second line was broken. Nothing could stem the onrushing ride of German shock troops who advanced in mass formations, wave after wave, regardless of enormous loss of life. They submerged everything that was in their way. They even broke into the third line defenses of the Fifth British Army--tore a wide gap in this their last line. The German advance was measured only by the speed with which their immense guns and colossal necessary munitions and supplies could follow them. By comparison with the memorable achievements of lighter armies of earlier days, the thirty-five miles which the Germans gained during the first eight days of this drive seems slow progress. But on that front since 1914 hundreds of thousands of lives has been lost in vain efforts to gain even a mile. For three years the opposing armies had faced each other along a front of more than 300 miles within a few hundred yard of each other--in many places considerably less-to all intents check-mated, stale-mated, neither side able to do much more the dent the tangle of trenches and barbed wire, ten miles wide, that stretched from the North Sea to beyond Metz. Now, in a few days, the Germans had torn aside the seemingly impassable barrier. The British Army had been cut in two, and there seemed a possibility that that part of it which was on the coast side would have no way of retreating except into or across the sea after evacuating the channel ports. If they escaped irretrievable disaster, it seemed that they would be driven out of France, and that France's vital line of supply would be cut. In this desperate pass, one alert British general gathered together all the miscellaneous man-power--noncombatant as well as combatant--that could in anyway help to fill the gap torn by the Germans. Some Americans were among this material. An Engineer regiment, part of the Yankee Division, had been making roads fro the British behind their lines. They dropped their shovels and grasped the rifles that were issued to them by the British. And this miscellaneous group gave such good account of themselves that the Germans did not get far beyond the break in the line; in fact, after a few days, fighters in such numbers that the break was repaired and the German advance stopped in the eighth day. The enemy was then within a few miles of Amiens. The Channel Ports were till in grave danger, and although the eight days of fighting had taken appalling toll in German lives, it was cheering to them and unnerving to the allies to realize that the line which had been held for years had nearly been shattered. Perhaps after a breathing spell, the Germans would again come upon them with increasing force.

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It cannot be said that the British spirit of resistance had been broken. Anglo-Saxons fight uphill best. They never know when they are beaten, or will not accept defeat. It was only necessary for their commander-in-chief, General Haig, to remind them that their backs were 'to the wall" to get them into a fighting posture which no battering could shatter. The British bulldog is a long-suffering animal, but when he sets his jaws in the extreme test they are locked until the end. In the first onrush the Germans had captured 90,000 men and the artillery of almost an army, as well as immense stores of munitions; but calamitous as that was for the British, it was not the end. With the aid of Americans and others, and quick reforming of their own resources, they were able to show the Germans at the end of eight days that all is not lost until spirit is gone.

The stoical and dogged British, however, were beginning to realize that to face the enemy and return blow for blow was not the only way that victory might ultimately be won. Coordination of effort must be established. During 1917, in the bloody Ypres salient, the British had been incessantly fighting--bleeding to no good purpose, inasmuch as France had not been able to cooperate simultaneously. Now, with this near-disaster in March, 1918, the Allied premiers and commanders resolved upon a plan which was the beginning of final victory--they decided to unify the command, to chose one man as supreme commander-in-chief of all the Allied armies. It seemed hard-perhaps, for General Pershing, before he had won his European spurs as it were, to relinquish command of the American Expeditionary Forces to a Frenchman. To his credit be it said that the did not hesitate to do so--for the common good. Marshal Ferdinand Foch, then sixty-seven years old, became commander-in-chief of all French, British, Belgian, Portuguese troops on the Western Front--the superior officer of Field-Marshal Haig, General Pershing, the King of the Belgians, and of all other commanders, great and small. He was to be in supreme control of all allied armies elsewhere also. This master strategist was to set the moves which the respective national commanders were to loyally and undeviatingly carry out. Fortunately, Foch proved to be the man for the responsibility. After the Battle of the Marne, in 1914, General Joffre had proclaimed Foch to be "the greatest strategist in Europe." Finally Foch was to be hailed as the victor of the mightiest military machine of all time. Of course, there were other contributory causes of the ultimate victory. One of the most vital was the swinging of the balance of man-power to the allies during the summer of 1918, as division after division of American troops began to pour into France.

The spring offensive of the Germans which had been checked near Amiens on March 29th got into motion again to the north of Picardy on April 9th. the new attack was almost as strong as the first, and the

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battle raged with tremendous fury day after day until the month was almost spent. The German hosts were also fully spent by that time. As before, they had added some territory to their side, and were encumbered by some more thousands of prisoners, but their won man-power was getting less and less, while Time was swelling the ranks of the Allies. This was a disconcerting reflection.

As yet, the swelling of the ranks was still 3,000 miles from the Front. In France, at the moment, the balance of power was still with the Germans. To overcome this, the Allied premiers and commanders met on May 2d. General Perhsing's report of November 20, 1918, to the Secretary of War reads as follows on the subject:

. . . . . .As German superiority in numbers required prompt action, an agreement was reached at the Abbeville conference of the Allied premiers and commanders and myself on May 2, by which British shipping was to transport ten American divisions to the British Army area, where they were to be trained and equipped, and additional British shipping was to be provided fro as many division as possible for use elsewhere.

One of the ten American divisions which were to be transported in British ships was the 78th. Another New York division, the 77th, was then crossing in British ships; and American vessels were getting the 27th Division overseas. The American flow was no longer a rivulet, although not yet a torrent.

Preparations were strenuously pursued by both sides during the month of May. On the 27th o that month the Germans began what seemed to be the main offensive of that year--a very determined thrust at Paris. It was the most sanguinary attack yet delivered. Within a few days the Germans were at the Marne River. In one place they had crossed it. They were within forty miles of Paris. They were already startling Parisians periodically by firing into the capital with their very large guns, from a distance of more then seventy miles; but these guns were so huge and so few that the damage done to Paris by them was negligible. Now, however, the Germans could almost reach Paris with their heavy field artillery or naval guns. Another ten miles of advance would make Paris untenable. They could bombard it as they had bombarded Rheims. Paris had no subterranean chambers such as Rheims fortunately possessed. Already the French Government was discussing he question of evacuation. Our own war offices were to be moved. The Red Cross and Y. M. C. A. had made arrangements to transport their headquarters workers to another more desirable centre. Paris seemed doomed.

It was just at this time that American exploits came to brighten the outlook. The irrepressible men from the New World were blithely accomplishing the impossible, not by experience, but by sheer American spirit--the will to conquer. Most of the American divisions then in France or England were in training sectors, but some of the divisions

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had front-line experience. The Yankee Division was with the French in the Chemin des Dames. The 42nd Division had had some exciting raiding while in the comparatively quiet Luneville sector. And most of the doughboys were probably of the same mind as the inexperienced but optimistic New York Irishmen of the 69th Regiment, who expressed his opinion in front-line tactics thus:

They're telling us that when we're out in front and we're attacked to fall back on points of resistance. Orders is orders, but to my mind that's only another word for retreating, and I don't believe in it. Now ye take myself, and you, Mike Cooney--ye know ye're spoiling for a fight though ye're smiling like an angel--and you, Peter Noonan, and you, Schmidt--you're a good man, though you're a Dutchman--and two or three other I could name and give us an extra bandolier of cartridges apiece and some of them guinea footballs (hand grenades), and let the bushes come! T'would be a fine party. I see your eyes glistening, Mike Cooney, at the thought of it. Sure, we'd be thinking we was digging the New York subway when we was burying the dear Bushes the next day.

The 1st Division, after being fathered by General Bullard through the Toul sector, had been assigned to a billeting area between Paris and the Front, as a strategic reserve during the second drive. Now they were carefully moved up to the front line in the Montdidier sector. It was quietly and quickly done. Soon they had an all-American stretch of front line without the German being aware of it. But they found it hard to curb their impatience. They wished to "jump off" and would have done so on May 25th, with a French division of either flank, to clear Montdidier Heights, so relieve the pressure upon the British, had not the High Command held them back. On the 28th, however, they were allowed "a consolation offensive," which was to be their "very own." They were permitted to take the town of Cantigny, and arrange to do it in their own way. Of course, the 1st division did not for a moment doubt that they could do it. so on the morning of May 28th they went "Over the top," full of confidence. They swept the Germans out of Cantigny, "mopped up" the town, took 350 Germans, and settled down, happy in realizing that they were now graduate soldiers--of the World War standard. It did not come to them as unusual that in meeting German veterans they should defeat them. They did not suppose that they had accomplished anything especially noteworthy. Indeed they had never been in the habit of thinking of the enemy as haughty invincible Prussians--the supermen of war. To them the Boche had been "Heinie" or "Fritz," who could never, in their estimation, reach the American standard. But there were other more discerning military men who saw in the dashing success of the 1st American Division at Cantigny a remarkably hopeful as well as novel sign. T a time when the Allied armies were not even holding their own against the German waves, a breezy American division goes jauntily by, "mops up," and comes into the liens again with a few companies of those invincible Teuton supermen.

 

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

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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