Camp Cotton, Texas 7/4/1916

Dear Folks,

I wish you was here just now to see the beautiful sunset; But only to see the sunset for it is no place for a city born. We are camped on a flat piece of ground which is all clay, and (oh) isn’t it hot. As soon as we left Kansas City we began to get the alkali dust in our throats and it seemed as though we could not get enough water, and when we did get it, we wished we were all back in dear old New England; It looks just like water that has been drawn from the Mystic River. But of coarse we had to drink it, and there isn’t a man sick yet.

I could not and will not try to discribe the grand trip it was down here to the farthest state in the south of the good old U.S, for it is some thing that has to be seen not told of. First the Adarondacks in N.Y. from which you look down on great vallies and right here I want to say that for beauty it exceeded every thing we saw on the trip. Then we hit Ill. But it being dark when we went through there all we saw was the station of Chicago. The plains of Ohio on which is raised corn that covers areas of fifty miles along the rail road, and the land as level as a lake as far as the eye can see in all directions. Then the muddy rivers of the Missisippi River and its tributaries. The plains of Missourie are just like the plains of Ohio only, instead of corn they raise wheat, and I wish you could see and ride through these vast field of plenty. You ride, ride, ride and then you ride and all you can see is grain and alfalfa, (a high grade of hay. When this hay is cut they pile it up as high as a voting booth, in fact the resemblance is the same.

I think that New Mexico is the most baron piece of land that was ever made for just as we rode for miles through grapes in N.Y, corn in the east of the Mississipi River, and wheat, (it seemed every where), there is nothing in this vast dersert of rocky hills, and dried up streams. But down in the lower part of the state the Indians live in low mud huts and they do look savage.

Now I said I was not going to discribe the trip, and I guess I haven’t. But I am going to describe the Map Sketchplace in which we are quartered. By this map you can see our position in regard to Mex. The last tent in our street is about 100 yards from the river which sesarates the two countries. The cross opposite the arrow indicates where a sentinal got shot and killed yesterday morning. We have all got 90 round of ammunition which we carry with us all the time. I hope you got all the post cards I sent you. Please write soon. I am sorry I can’t write any more now for I have to go out to drill, but I hope to find time to write again soon. By the way, outside of being dry all the time from the clay dust I am as well as the best of them. You will have to excuse the condition of this paper for all we can sit on is the ground, (if you can call it such) and use our mess pans as desks.

I was going to finish this letter when the other sheet of paper was full but you see some one was kind enough to give me a few sheet of this, so I will continue a little longer. We have just come in from an hours drill, and it is tough hiking around in these uniforms, rifles, round abouts filled with 90 rounds of ammunition a canteen of water, boyonet, and wire cutting tools. I took a drink of water from my canteen, and I bet you could boil an egg in the water, it was so hot. We will get river patrol next week and then we will find out the nerve of some of the men we have with us. This job will consist of small parties of men called outposts, stationed along the river in plain view of the out post of the Mexicans. Yesterday we could see the Mexican cavalry drilling and they looked good, about 200 of them. You can see by the diagram that I made on the other sheet that the old Bay State Troops are an important factor. I guess we are nearer Mexican soil than any other National Gaurdsmen. So if anything happens (and I don’t think there will) the old Eight will be right there.

The regular army fellows down here of which there are about 4,000 are a fine lot of fellows, and they don’t do any kidding at all. Last week there was a call for these 4000 troops to assemble, for they were to take Jaurez, as city just opposite El Paso and they were ready in 15 minutes. Of course this was only a practice event, and they were all sore when told so.

We are going to be issued six pair of unterwear, twelve pair of socks, two pair of shoes, two more outside shirts, beside the rest of a soldiers equipment so it looks as though they have got us here for a while.

The first day we struck here it seemed every body had a blood nose, I didn’t, olthough the say it is good for you. The reason for this is the high dry climate. I am doing pretty good ain’t I to write all this, for I guess it is the longest letter I ever wrote. It only shows how much I would like to be back there again, for it seems an age since it rain last, (you know Sunday) and Monday when pa came down to Framingham to see me off, when we didn’t leave until 7 oclock Tuesday morning. There are very few cases of sickness yet in this camp, and I think we will soon get used to the intense heat. I sent a post card from about every place we stopped long enough to do so. So as I have said before I hope you have received them. The idea is, I would buy them in one Town, and if I didn’t have time to mail them, we would through them out the window with the money for the stamps at the next station.

There is no chance of starving down here for you don’t feel like eating. All you want is water, water water all the time, and oh what water. But the regulars tell us that we will get used to it and I (know) we will. They also say that the thirst lasts only for 2-3 days. (I hope so) This isn’t Boston. Well don’t forget to write very soon and be assured that I will take care of myself to the best of  my ability that I will return in proper shape soon.

Send mail to,

            Serg. Samuel E Avery, Company K

            Eight Massaschusetts National Guard

            Camp Cotton, El Paso, Texas

P.S. This address is some letter in itself but it is the only way so that I can be sure and get it. Well don’t forget that I’m a long way from home and a letter will carry me back quit a distance.

Yours Sam.

© Copyright 2008 by Richard Landers, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Published in: on July 4, 2016 at 12:30 am  Comments (1)  
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The Soldiers’ Mail Centennial: 1916-1919

SamAveryPortrait1_zps4728775b

Greetings to everyone who are readers of Soldiers’ Mail! This marks the beginning of the Centennial for the Avery Collection which was written 100 years ago from June, 1916 through April, 1919. In order to commemorate this time, I am republishing the letters in the same order they were written a century ago so that we can once again march along with Sgt. Sam Avery from the hot sands along the Rio Grande to the cold mud along the Meuse. In order to make it easy for readers to quickly access and read these writings “as they happen,” I am also publishing links to these letters on Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to the purpose. Please rendezvous and come march along once again.

This site began as a labor of love when I was seeking to find a way to give voice to the letters of Sgt. Sam Avery, a national guardsman from New England who served on the front lines of American involvement in the Great War from 1916-1919. This site was originally intended to be Phase I of a publishing project that I intended to culminate in a hard copy book of the same title. However, over time this site took on a life of its own as a living memorial to all those who were part of what I like to call the “Most Gallant Generation,” and it also became perhaps the single most comprehensive information resource on the internet for the history of the U.S. 26th “Yankee” Division and 103rd Infantry Regiment during World War I.

Today Soldiers’ Mail is a living educational resource with more than a quarter-million hits from readers in 95 countries! It is you readers who have made the site so much more meaningful than I ever could have hoped when I started this project 8 years ago, and the many invaluable contributions you have provided are embedded within its pages. I am happy to always solicit input and credit contributions as much as possible. Perhaps the greatest example of our mutual collaboration is the Brothers in Arms section of the site, where a number of readers have contributed the backgrounds and collected writings of their own family heroes to give them voice after so many years of silence. Shortly there will be a new collection of letters added to the site written by Private Frank Coffey.

There is a lively Comments section on the site where readers continue to engage in conversation and attempt to discover information about their own family members from the time of World War I, which in my opinion remains a vital yet understudied and misunderstood period of American History. I continue to moderate these comments and in future will ensure they are posted in as timely a manner as possible.

I am grateful to all who have helped make this site what it is today. I am especially grateful for the assistance of Gilles Chauwin, President of the Froidmont Quarry Association in France, Jonathan Bratten who is Historian for the Maine National Guard, and the Massachusetts National Guard Museum and Archives in Concord, Massachusetts.

Please feel free to contact me at any time by email at doughboyletters@gmail.com.

With Gratitude,

Richard Landers, Editor

 

Soldier’s Mail for July, 1916 and 1918

July, 1916: South on the Border

In July, 1916 Sgt. Sam Avery and the rest of the Massachusetts Brigade were stationed at Camp Cotton (the “City of Tents”) outside of El Paso, Texas. In addition to adjusting to the high desert climate, the troops found themselves under fire and in a state of war with Mexican forces along the Border.

Read the page South on the Border to learn more about the events of the Mexican Revolution that made American military action necessary. Read Sam’s compelling account of his journey South from New England to the “North Shore of Hell”. Read the page July, 1916 to learn more about the mission 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 correspondence for July as he battles homesickness and the elements along with the enemy.

July, 1918: Champagne-Marne Defensive and Aisne-Marne Offensive

During the first half of July, 1918 Sam Avery found himself under heavy fire with the 103rd Infantry in Belleau Wood which the 26th Division took over from the Marine Brigade. Read about the Champagne-Marne Defensive here. On July 18, the Second Battle of the Marne (Aisne-Marne Offensive) commenced with the 103rd Infantry attacking in line with other Allied units. In a week of fighting, the 26th Division captured 17 kilometers of ground in the first real advance made by an American division as a unit, but at the cost of 20% casualties including Sam who was severely gassed.

Read the page Aisne-Marne Offensive to learn more about the action in late July, 1918. Also, read Sam’s correspondence for July and learn more about the experiences of the 103rd Infantry during grueling combat conditions.

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.

Framingham, Mass. 6/27/1916

 

Dear Em

“We are on our way to Mexico.”

Well not quit but we are going on a long trip anyway. We left Framingham at about 7 oclock Tuesday. I am feeling fine. Don’t worry, Ill be back. I cant say where I will mail this but I am getting it ready now. Will write again

Sam

© Copyright 2008 by Richard Landers, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 7:00 am  Comments (2)  
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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.

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