Soldier’s Mail for June, 1916 and 1918

The collection of Soldier’s Mail written by Sgt. Sam Avery has now been published in its entirety on this site. While a book by the same title is in progress, this post begins a new series of Editorials which recaps the collection for each particular month and helps readers more easily access all of Sam’s writings while at the Front during American involvement in the Great War from 1916-1919.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

June, 1916: South on the Border

The Avery Collection begins in June, 1916 when Sgt. Sam Avery and other members of the Massachusetts National Guard were federalized by President Woodrow Wilson and dispatched to defend the Mexican Border from guerrilla incursions during the Mexican Revolution. Ironically, the “Mexican Question” remains as much a problem of national security now as it was then. However, similar decisive action is lacking today due to pervasive political correctness which promotes hand-wringing about “militarizing” the Border rather than robustly protecting American sovereignty.

Read the page South on the Border to learn more about the events of the Mexican Revolution that made American military action necessary. Rather than simply a footnote to early 20th Century American history, the Punitive Expedition and associated Border defense was actually the first American military action taken in the larger context of the Great War. Read the page June, 1916 to learn more about the mobilization and deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard as some of the first troops to defend American soil from foreign invasion since the War of 1812. Read Sam’s first letter here as he begins the Great Adventure.

June, 1918: Toul Sector

During the month of June, 1918 Sam Avery found himself under fire in the Toul Sector. While this sector had been officially designated a “quiet sector” by the French Army (because no major offensive operations were occurring in the area), it proved to be anything but quiet for the men of the 26th “Yankee” Division. Read the page Toul (Boucq) Sector to learn more about the action in early Spring, 1918. Also, read Sam’s correspondence for June and learn more about the experiences of the 103rd Infantry.

Soldier’s Mail for May, 1918

May, 1918: Toul (Boucq) Sector

The La Reine (Boucq) Sector (also known as the Toul Sector) was the southeastern aspect of the St. Mihiel salient which was a bulge in the Allied lines remaining from the original German advance in 1914. This salient continued to threaten Verdun and Toul along with the entire right side of the Allied front (See detailed maps of this salient in the “Map Room”). The principle feature of the terrain in this sector was a ridge east to west from Flirey to Apremont with a highway running along it. The front line was anchored on the towns of Seicheprey and Xivray-et-Marvoisin, continuing into Bois Brule where it linked up with lines held by the French. The Germans had the tactical advantage of both observation and attack as the Allied front could be penetrated through several shallow ravines. In addition, the Allied trenches were in very poor condition and had drainage problems. The entire length of the La Reine Sector front was 18 kilometers and this was the first time an entire sector was completely entrusted to an American division.

During the month of May, the sector was enlarged on the right side to include Jury Wood and Hazelle Wood near Flirey. Relief of front line battalions occurred every fifth day when the men would be moved to rest billets in the rear where baths and steam delousing stations were available.

On May 10, at 0115 hours in a heavy fog, the Germans detonated 1,141 gas projector bombs containing over 20 tons of phosgene on the south slope of Hill #322, Bois de Apremont, St. Agnant and the surrounding trenchworks which were occupied by the 103rd Infantry. Additional incoming gas, trench mortar and high explosive fire was taken by the 103rd at 0525. A total of 33 men were killed, 12 wounded and 162 hospitalized due to gas from the night’s work. The 103rd Regimental HQ was relocated to Laigne from May 22-27 and then to Royaumeix.

Read about the Toul (Boucq) Sector here. See original film of the steam disinfection process for uniforms here. Also, read Sam’s May correspondence from the Toul Sector as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for April, 1918-1919

April, 1918: Toul (Boucq) Sector

St_Mihiel_map

St. Mihiel Salient (Click to Enlarge)

The La Reine (Boucq) Sector (also known as the Toul Sector) was the southeastern aspect of the St. Mihiel salient which was a bulge in the Allied lines remaining from the original German advance in 1914. This salient continued to threaten Verdun and Toul along with the entire right side of the Allied front (See detailed maps of this salient in the “Map Room”). The principle feature of the terrain in this sector was a ridge east to west from Flirey to Apremont with a highway running along it. The front line was anchored on the towns of Seicheprey and Xivray-et-Marvoisin, continuing into Bois Brule where it linked up with lines held by the French. The Germans had the tactical advantage of both observation and attack as the Allied front could be penetrated through several shallow ravines. In addition, the Allied trenches were in very poor condition and had drainage problems. The entire length of the La Reine Sector front was 18 kilometers and this was the first time an entire sector was completely entrusted to an American division.

On March 28, 1918 the 26th Division’s infantry was hastily moved into the sector while a German gas bombardment was in progress. The two necessities of life throughout the sector were to maintain cover during daylight hours and to encode communications with extreme care. On April 12, men of the 103rd Infantry were sent into the left side of the line at Bois Brule near Apremont and St. Agnant to reinforce the 104th Infantry which had been under heavy artillery and infantry attack since April 5. Throughout the afternoon and evening of April 12, the 103rd was engaged in small unit close combat with German infantry in a tangle of earthworks, wire and underbrush. The enemy was finally driven back from the American positions.

On April 20, following a 90-minute pre-dawn gas bombardment and taking advantage of a heavy fog, a German force of about 1800 troops assaulted positions held by the 102nd Infantry at Seicheprey. It was during this action that Stubby (refer to the page “Stubby, 26th Division Mascot”) was wounded by a grenade fragment. At the same time, throughout the day the Germans fired over 21,600 gas shells, 4,200 high explosive shells and 6,000 trench mortar shells into the American lines from Xivray to Bois de Remieres. This bombardment destroyed all communications in the sector, smashed American artillery liason and caused the infantry units to lose all track of each other.

Read about the Toul (Boucq) Sector here. See original film of the steam disinfection process for uniforms here. Also, read Sam’s April correspondence from the Toul Sector as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

April, 1919: After the Armistice

On March 28, 1919 Private First Class Sam Avery made passage from Brest, France back to the United States with 7,200 other officers and men of the 101st and 103rd Regiments aboard the U.S. Navy’s troop transport USS America (ID-3006), returning to Boston on April 6 after a speedy 9-day voyage without the threat of U-boats. After arriving in Boston, Sam traveled 3 hours by train to Camp Devens in Ayer, Mass. where he was billeted with the rest of the 26th Division pending discharge from service. Following a Division Review by the New England Governors at Camp Devens on April 22 and a grand Divisional Parade in Boston on April 25, the officers and men of the 26th Division received their discharges on April 28-30, 1919. Approximately only 57% of the officers and men who originally went overseas with the 26th “Yankee” Division returned home with it.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read about the Grand Divisional Parade in Boston here. See original film of American troops sailing from Brest for home here.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for March 1918-1919

March, 1918: Chemin des Dames Sector and Marching to Reynel

The 26th “Yankee” Division remained on the Aisne front in the Chemin des Dames sector until mid-March, 1918. Following its relief, the main element of the 26th Division marched to Soissons where it came under severe concentrations of long-range artillery fire while boarding trains to Bar-sur-Aube. On March 21 the entire Division began a four-day march Eastward from Bar-sur-Aube at a pace of about 20 miles per day, passing thorugh Doulevant-le-Chateau, Soulaines, Andelot, Vignon and Joinville-sur-Marne.

The Division arrived in the area of Reynel, where it remained for two days before continuing on to the Toul Sector where it relieved the American First Division. Troops billeted in villages around Reynel and Grand with Division HQ established at Reynel on March 26. Then began a period of internal transition in leadership as numerous officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were taken from the ranks and returned to the United States as instructors. A large number of replacement officers were received who needed to acclimate to combat conditions.

Read about the Chemin des Dames Sector here, and the March to Reynel here. See original film of the 26th Division in the Chemin des Dames here. Also, read Sam’s March correspondence from the Chemin des Dames as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

March, 1919: After the Armistice

In March, 1919 the 26th Division remained in the vicinity of the embarkation area near Le Mans, with the 103rd Regimental HQ located at Laigne. In late March, the Division proceeded to Pontanezen Camp at Brest, where the men boarded troop transports and finally sailed for home. On March 28, 1919 Private First Class Sam Avery made passage from Brest, France back to the United States with 7,200 other officers and men of the 101st and 103rd Regiments aboard the U.S. Navy’s troop transport USS America (ID-3006), returning to Boston on April 6 after a speedy 9-day voyage without the threat of U-boats.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s March correspondence from Laigne, France here. See original film of American troops sailing from Brest for home here.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for February, 1918-1919

ObservationPost

“Observation Post” by William Barnes Wollen

February, 1918: Chemin des Dames Sector

By early February, 1918 the 26th “Yankee” Division had taken up front line positions reinforcing the depleted XI Corps of the French 6th Army on the Chemin des Dames front, north of Soissons and the Aisne River. The Chemin des Dames had been fought over since the beginning of the war and the rocky, wooded terrain favored the German defensive line. In addition, the Germans enjoyed almost total air superiority in this sector and frequently flew low over the roads and trenches to strafe them with machine gun bullets.

The 12 battalions of the “Yankee” Division were spread across a front of 30 kilometers. The 103rd Infantry held the front line between the ruined towns of Chavignon and Pinon. Regimental HQ was at Vaudesson with a support battalion located at St. Blaise Quarry/Nanteuil and a reserve battalion at Vregny.

As individual companies took over the French positions (by platoons of 20-40 men supported by 2 or more machine guns) in shallow, knee-deep trenches along the northern edge of the Chemin des Dames plateau,  the balance of their battalions remained sheltered in reserve inside limestone quarries and caves along the edge of the ridge. The entire terrain was covered with shell craters and sections of abandoned trenches from past engagements. The outposts were occupied by men whose mission was “warning and sacrifice:” If attacked, they were to fight to the last man and resist capture, which would buy time for the main line of resistance to make ready. No reinforcements would be coming.

Read about the Chemin des Dames Sector here. See original film of the 26th Division in the Chemin des Dames here. Also, read Sam’s February correspondence from the Chemin des Dames as he adjusts to life under fire in the trenches.

February, 1919: After the Armistice

In early February, 1919 the 26th Division had arrived in the vicinity of the embarkation area near Le Mans. Division HQ was opened at Ecommoy on February 4 with the 103rd Regimental HQ located at Laigne.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s February correspondence from Laigne, France here as he continues to struggle with the boredom of waiting and the concern that AEF combat divisions have not yet returned home and may instead be redeployed to Russia.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for January, 1918-1919

January, 1918: Neufchateau Training Area

In January, 1918 the 26th “Yankee” Division concluded its preliminary training for the Western Front in the area of Neufchateau in the Vosges region of northeastern France. On January 23, word was suddenly received that the 26th Division had been assigned to reinforce the depleted XI Corps of the French 6th Army on the Chemin des Dames front, north of Soissons and the Aisne River. Hasty preparations were then made to complete the insurance forms, write home to loved ones and make ready for the move to the Front.

Read about the Neufchateau Training Area here. See original film of the 26th Division at Neufchateau here, including Sam himself standing Color Guard following Evening Parade [far right edge of frame at 06:19]. Also, read Sam’s January correspondence from Liffol-le-Grand as the winter continues, the men look forward to packages from home and Sam suddenly hears word that he and the boys are finally heading for the Front.

January, 1919: After the Armistice

On January 8, 1919 orders were received for the 26th Division to begin preparations for return to the United States. Movement orders were received on January 17, but the day prior to the 103rd Infantry’s scheduled departure, their commander Col. Percy W. Arnold was tragically killed in an accident. After burying their Colonel with full military honors and much sadness, by January 21 the troops were finally marching to the trains which carried them to the embarkation area near Le Mans.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s January correspondence from Sarrey, France here as he struggles with the weather, the boredom of waiting and the frustration of hearing that other units which only recently arrived in France have already returned home.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for December, 1917-1918

December, 1917: Neufchateau Training Area

In December, 1917 the 26th “Yankee” Division continued its training for the Western Front in the area of Neufchateau in the Vosges region of northeastern France. Supervised by the French Army, the training process included constructing a full-sized system of fire, cover and support trenches large enough for a battalion front which were used for practical exercises in attack and defense. This network of training trenches was nicknamed the “Noncourt Sector” after the nearby village of Noncourt and was used by all units to develop their skills in trench warfare. The Noncourt Sector trench system was called the “Quartier de la Sapiniere” (Sapper’s Quarter), with the earthworks named in honor of the New England troops: “Trenche de Boston” (front line of observation), “Trenche de Newport” (line of resistance), and “Trenche de New Haven” (support line).

Gas training also began on December 10 after the arrival of a shipment of 25,000 small box respirators and 6,000 gas masks. Due to the limited number of qualified instructors available, the men were trained one battalion at a time in a very preliminary fashion. Sam also found his responsibilities increased with the assignment of Drum Major for the 103rd Infantry band, leading evening Parade around the Ville each night.

Read about the Neufchateau Training Area here. See original film of the 26th Division at Neufchateau here, including Sam himself standing Color Guard following Evening Parade [far right edge of frame at 06:19]. Also, read Sam’s December correspondence from Liffol-le-Grand as the winter deepens, the first casualties due to illness are buried and Sam prepares for war on the Western Front.

December, 1918: After the Armistice

After the cessation of hostilities following the Armistice, the 26th Division was in such bad shape due to battle casualties that it was sent to the rear rather than join the Army of Occupation in Germany. On the march, it passed through the area between Gondrecourt and Neufchateau, finally stopping on November 23 at Montigny-le-Roiwhere Division HQ was established. The 103rd Regimental HQ was located at Chauffort.

As the Armistice was not a formal peace treaty, the men continued to maintain their training although leaves were now permitted. Military censorship of the mail was lifted, enabling the troops to more clearly reveal the nature of their whereabouts and activities. Prisoners were returned by both sides in early December. At Christmas, the 26th Division was honored both as the Division with whom President Woodrow Wilson shared Christmas dinner, and that which furnished the Presidential Honor Guard at AEF General Headquarters in Chaumont.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s December correspondence here as he experiences his first furlough since arriving Over There, and also finds himself back in the hospital on Christmas Day to ensure he dosen’t fall prey to the Spanish Flu.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for November, 1917-1918

November, 1917: Neufchateau Training Area

The 26th “Yankee” Division had arrived in France during the month of October, 1917 as the first complete American division and also the first National Guard division to be deployed as part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). By November of 1917, divisional HQ had been established at Neufchateau in the Vosges region of northeastern France, and a new AEF training center was constructed which would continue to be used throughout the war. Initially troops were billeted in lofts, stables and outbuildings in the surrounding villages until suitable facilities at the training base could be constructed. The 103rd Infantry was billeted at Liffol-Le-Grand and Villouxel to the southwest of Neufchateau. Advanced combat training in trench warfare immediately began under the supervision of the French Army, and additional training in hand-to-hand combat was provided to American officers and NCO’s by the British Army at Bazoilles. Read about the Neufchateau Training Area here. Also, read Sam’s November correspondence from Liffol-le-Grand as the weather grows cold and he prepares for war on the Western Front.

November, 1918: Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In November, 1918 the 26th Division moved into captured German defenses along the Kreimhilde Line with the 103rd Infantry’s center of resistance near Romagne.  The entire divisional front was subject to heavy gas and high explosive artillery fire as the German Army prepared to withdraw. On November 8, the 103rd Infantry responded to evidence of the German retreat with an advance into German front-line positions which they occupied before new advance lines were established. The 26th Division then attacked towards the southeast and remained on the advance until November 11. The 103rd Infantry made its final advance in line with the other regiments in pursuit of the retreating Germans, reaching the road south of Ville-devant-Chaumont before coming to a final halt at 1100 hours.  The men of the 103rd were occupied with clearing machine gun nests until the very last moment, and some were angered when their artillery support suddenly stopped before realizing that hostilites had finally ended.

Read about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive here. Also, read Sam’s November correspondence from captured German lines as he continues to endure both heavy fire and the loss of friends while also worrying about his family during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for October, 1916-1918

October, 1916: South on the Border

In October, 1916 Sgt. Sam Avery and the rest of the Massachusetts Brigade embarked on a 60-mile campaign march to Fort Selden in New Mexico (today both a National and New Mexico State Monument). The entire marching column contained 18,000 National Guard troops from Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and South Carolina. Heading relentlessly northward through scorching desert heat, many men were felled by heat exhaustion and lack of water. Near the end of the march, the troops from Massachusetts were ordered to immediately retrace their steps across the desert to Camp Cotton where they awaited relief by newly-arrived troops from Georgia.

Read the page South on the Border to learn more about the events of the Mexican Revolution that made American military action necessary. Read the page October, 1916 to learn more about the Long March to Fort Selden. Read Sam’s correspondence to his family as he relates his ongoing experiences of camp life and the hardships of service on the border.

October, 1917: The Long Voyage

Following the formal entry of the United States into the Great War, the U.S. Navy was challenged with organizing the greatest sea lift of soldiers and supplies in history up until that time in order to effectively fight in Europe. Never before had American military might been projected so far from home for so long and on such a scale. The overseas troop transport effort became known at the “Bridge of Ships,” accomplished by assembling a large collection of passenger liners, borrowed British ships and seized enemy vessels to help carry more than 2 million men and 7.5 million tons of cargo across the Atlantic.

Sam Avery and other men of the 103rd Infantry sailed aboard the S.S. Saxonia from Hoboken, NJ to Halifax, Nova Scotia before crossing the North Atlantic in convoy to Liverpool, England. After traveling by train to Southampton, they crossed the English Channel to Le Havre, France before traveling by train once again to their final destination at the new AEF training area near Neufchateau.

Read about the “Bridge of Ships” here. Also, read Sam’s October correspondence which details his Long Voyage from America to embattled France.

October, 1918: Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In early October, 1918 Sam Avery finally returned from the hospital to the 103rd Infantry which had been severely battered during the St. Mihiel Offensive. Immediately upon his arrival, the Regiment was on the move again to Verdun with the rest of the 26th Division where it took up defensive positions before joining the AEF’s final attack during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Sam would bring home shoulder-straps cut from the uniforms of German troops captured during the final advance.

Read about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive here. Also, read Sam’s October correspondence from Verdun as he continues to endure both heavy fire and the loss of friends while also worrying about his family during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for September, 1916-1918

September, 1916: South on the Border

In September, 1916 Sgt. Sam Avery and the rest of the Massachusetts Brigade continued to secure the Border from their base at Camp Cotton (the “City of Tents”) outside of El Paso, Texas. The National Guard troops were inspected by the Regular Army to ensure their compliance with Federal standards for training and performance. In mid-September, there was a Brigade March to test the men’s strength and endurance after three months of active duty. This was followed by a military parade to Fort Bliss which formed the largest military column seen in the United States since the Civil War.

Read the page South on the Border to learn more about the events of the Mexican Revolution that made American military action necessary. Read the page September, 1916 to learn more about the living conditions of the Massachusetts troops at Camp Cotton as they continue to secure the Border. Read Sam’s correspondence to his family as he relates his ongoing experiences of camp life and the dangers of patrolling along the border.

September, 1917: Watchful Waiting

Following the formal entry of the United States into the Great War, in August 1917 1st Sgt. Sam Avery and the rest of the 8th Mass. Infantry were mobilized once again for federal service. The encampments used by the men of the 8th Infantry for training and reorganization were at Lynnfield and Westfield. During this time, the 8th Mass. Infantry was disbanded and Sam found himself reassigned to the 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Read Sam’s diary notes and letters about life in the encampments, being reorganized into the 103rd U.S. Infantry and preparing to sail to France.

September, 1918: Recovery in the Hospitals

In September, 1918 Sam Avery remained in the AEF hospital system while he recovered from severe gas poisoning. At the same time, the 103rd Infantry participated in the St. Mihiel Offensive with the rest of the 26th “Yankee” Divison. Read about recovery in the AEF base hospital system here. Also, read about the St. Mihiel Offensive juxtaposed with Sam’s September correspondence which reveals a rare parallel narrative.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

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