Camp Cotton, Texas 7/6/1916

Dear Folks;

Although we have been the alarm company for the last forty eight hours, I have found a little time to write again. In my other letter I said that I was feeling fine, but it was just as I dropped the letter in the first sergeants tent that I had a little fever settle into my body, and it being so hot I felt pretty tough. It may seem strang to say that I am very glad this happened for they say that the sooner you feel the change of climate the better you will feel there after. I am feeling better now than I have felt any time on the trip and I expect to remain so.

I see by the Boston Globe, (about three days old) that you are having pretty hot weather up there, and although it is pretty hot here I guess if I was to choose between the two climates I would pick this (that is the climate in the very hot weather.) I hope you understand me when I say this. The reason for it is this. It may be 115° in the shade down here but it is so high and dry that you don’t perspire at all, and say the nights here are as cool as any day in Sept. or Oct. in Boston. Lena has experienced the condition of the head when she has gone in swimming, and it is a continual clearing out of the head and lungs, from the time you jump into salt water until you get out. Well that is the way it is here. All we did, (and it is not wholly worked of yet.) is cough, hock and spit. They say it is the best place you can find for the curing of consuption. Now I have only described the climate, and that is the only good thing I can say for this place.

There is a kind of breast works thrown up all around our front to protect us from machine gun fire if any thing should happen (by the way I see the Globe says that Mexico has come down a peg.) Well I guess they realize that they had better (You know the Dashing Eight is within 100 yard of their border) some stuff what? What I was going to say about the breast works was that it is a dry, sandy, clay, and when we form a skirmish line just behind this in double quick time it is just like diving into a flour bin. And that is the way the whole country is down through here. I don’t know whether I mentioned it in my last or not but, about five drops of rain fell yesterday, the first for over five month. The reason for this is there is a big mountain just to our west and this catches all the moisture before it gets to this desert. Then there is a sand storm once or twice a day, and when this comes up, we all grab our tent and close our eyes, for the sand is blowing so thick that you can’t see across the street of tents.

Then there are whirl winds. It was funny when the first one of these came up; there was tents, hats and every thing movable whirling around in the air. They look like a great big cloud of smoke shooting up in the air. The hardest work we do is keep clean. A few of use went down town the other night and it is some burg. We were talking with a gentleman from the State of Maine who has lived here for about three years and he said that they never hear of a heat prostration. I hate to believe him but of coarse he knows more about it than we do so I guess he is right. I am not going to try to say how your letter was received for although it may seem strang, but a word from home is a God send. But I have been pretty lucky so far, for I have receive four letters and believe me I like them.

MexicanMoneyInclosed you will find some Mexican bills. Thinking that I could do nothing better with my money than to buy some money with it I invested twenty five (25) cents for about thirty six 36 dollars worth of this junk. So you can see how the value of Mexican money compares with U.S. currency.

Well I must close now by saying that I sent a post card to both Madge and Molly but I didn’t have room for my address so if you will give it to them I would be pleased to hear from them.

Sam

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

Published in: on July 6, 2016 at 12:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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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 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.

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