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.

Camp Cotton, Texas 10/30/1916

Dear Em

I started this letter and found that this fountain pen was very dry. On looking to see if I could fill it, found that all the black ink was either all gone or packed. It looks like real business now, for they are loading the trains now, but we (the men) won’t get started until tomorrow some time. The boys can hardly beleive it. They all slept, out in the cold last night but didn’t mind it a bit. They will do any thing to get home, and nothing if this is a farce. The poor Ninth havent got any orders as yet but probably will soon. Another Georgia Reg. pulled in this morning and they all seem to be a fine sort.

Every night latly we can look across the river and see a lot of camp fires burning, around which the Mexican army is gathered. I havent received any mail from any body latly and it is just as well for I know you folks up there dont know what minute now we will be saying good by to Texas.

I suppose we will freeze by the time we get off the train some where in Mass. but we all have woolen under wear, new olive drab uniforms, sweeters, (those that havent got so hard up that they sold them) and over coats. But even at that I suppose we will be an awful bunch of cold blooded men. It looks as though it is going to be a race for us to get home in time to vote, which is no little discution here among the men.

Kinsman came home from the hospital yesterday, but I dont believe he would have been releaced if we wasnt going right home. He alway was thin you know, well you can hardly see him now. It is too bad but as you said once before in your letter, he was always a wise, tough kid. This will probably be the last letter I will be able to write, but then, Ive been saying that for some time.

The Georgia fellows seem to take things very seriously but they will get over that very soon. Three of them were stopped last night from killing a Mexican. They are some wild when they get started. The Regulars will take that out of them if they start any funny business with them.

Well that Sunday when you Lena, Bert and Tom was at Framingham I felt good and strong the same was the case when Pa came to see me off. Now Im coming back to you folks the same guy the only change being four months away,

Sam

P.S. There is no doubt but what we will be on our way now while Pa is listening to you speel off this line of guff. If not, why we are still waiting to go that’s all. Another slice of bread.

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

Camp Cotton, Texas 10/27/1916

Dear Em,

Well here it is Thursday and we are still here. We got orders last night that every thing would be loaded this morning at 8.30. But late we got orders that the Georgia troop trains were delayed twenty four hours on account of a burnt bridge. At present the orders are to wait until different orders comes in before going any further. We haven’t given up all hope though and here is hoping that we will be well on the way before this letter reaches you. Beleive me kid we are all right on edge and praying that this isnt another farce. Ive been feeling pretty sore over it for some time but as First Serg. Ive got to keep my mouth and feelings from getting the upper hand.

I spoke of my teeth in the last letter I sent you but they are getting along pretty well now. I went to the army dentist and he drilled a hole in it and pulled or killed the nerve. I thought for a while that he imagined I was a Mexican and was trying to kill me but he releived me a great deal. I went again this morning and he lanced my gums and cheek. I suppose I acted like a baby while this pleasant operation was in progress but we can all stand just so much.

Say if you could have seen my face this morning it would have reminded you of that dear old soul John Bunny. My left eye was closed and as blue as dear old Chelsea (you know that view from the kitchen window on a cold dreary Sunday morning.) Well any way I feel fine and my face only weighs 10-12 pounds. Im going over to the dentist again tomorrow and I guess he’ll fix me up all right. My only worry now is the long trip home in the train if my teeth are not fixed up before we leave.

Now you can see that I must be and have been in the best of health all the time when I will whine (I guess that’s how you spell it) over a simple thing as a tooth ache. We have a stove in some of the tents now and say it is real comfortable nights sitting around it trying to get warm and at the same time trying to avoid getting burnt. Now I suppose the Boston Papers have had it that we were on the way, probably we are now, and then again probably we are not. We have received a cord of wood per company not to be touched by us but to be left for the Georgia troops. We’ve got another cord all cut in two foot lengths and split. This to be used for the train only. It looks as though we will be using this and more too if we don’t get started.

Well Em and the rest of you, heres hoping that Im on my way now. Im going to say Ill see you soon any way.

Sam

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

Camp Cotton, Texas 10/24/1916

“While we are waiting for Georgia”

Dear Pa

Expect to leave any day now. Probably be in Boston before the 5th of Nov. Im feeling fine and Im going to remain in this condition until I get home.

Sam

Dear Lena,

I received your letter in which you stated that you had received the State money and no doubt you can use it to good advantage. I am going to be truthful and say that I spent a pretty tough night last night with my front teeth. You know I never had much bother with them and to have them go back on me down hear is kind of disagreeable. Im going to try and get down town today to have them fixed. Im not going to take any chances on these army dentists especially the work on these front teeth of mine. I suppose Ill get trimmed, but it will be worth it.

Sam

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

Camp Cotton, Texas 10/21/1916

Dear Lena.

After a very cold and dissagreeable night we awoke this morning to hear that Georgia was due to start arriving tomorrow. You remmeber how strong I was for fresh air while sleeping. Well beleive me Im getting my stumack full of this fresh air stunt now. We have all gone back to undressing night and say it is some job and takes nerve to crawl out of our blankets in the morning and slide into cloths that are almost wet from the dampness that settles in to them over night. It isn’t doing us any harm though, don’t worry. Im feeling as fine as a fiddle. Every thing is going pretty smooth. See you soon.

Sam

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

Camp Cotton, Texas 10/20/1916

Dear Em

Well the Second is home and the Fifth should be when you get this, and still we are here drilling just as though we were expecting nothing unusual to happen. All we do though is go out into the field for about two hours to get limbered up after a nights frost. Thirty minutes for exercise thirty for bayonet drill and sixty for close order drill constitutes the days work. It is sertainly tiresome waiting for these Georgia fellows. I suppose it is getting pretty cold in Boston now. I wonder if we will be home for Thanksgiving.

Sam

Dear Em, and the rest of you.

I am now First Sergeant of Co. K. which pleases me very much. The company clerk is making out the order now and my time will go on from tomorrow the 21st. The previous first serg. was elected the 18th and I guess the captain thought I was the man for I have jumped two sergeants that have been in the outfit longer than I have. It was some jump for the 1st sergeant to be elected 1st Leiut. and sertainly some jump for me, for if you will look back to the day we were in Framingham and see me as a corporal and now a First Sergeant of the same company you would think so.

I nead all the good luck and wishes you kind folks can give me for it is no snap to act as 1st serg. in a company of men that are almost on the point of desertion to go home. The boys seem to all be glad that I was the guy to get it but there is trouble ahead I know and I will have to face it even if I feel the same way the men do. I didn’t know that I would be sending a letter so soon but I wanted to let you know the good news, and I thought this, the best way to inform you.

I hear now that we are to leave Wed. 25 and I hope it is time. How does the dear old boys of the Fifth look. More strength to them. We are having evening parade every night now, and we should be pretty good at close order when we hit Boston, (God Bless the day) By the way I am fine, (of coarse you wouldn’t think so by the writing) but you know it is something new for me to be writing with a pen, and I know you will excuse me. I thought Id freeze last night, but never mind I only thought I would. A little setting up drill and we feel like lining up against Harvard or Yale’s foot ball teams.

Well I have nothing more to say and not much of that only we are going home tomorrow, but tomorrow never never comes. Hoping this finds you in the best of health, I am still the same

Samuel.

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

Camp Cotton, Texas 10/17/1916

Dear Em

Im not going to say any thing more about going home. We just came in from 24 hours of out post and Im feeling fine. They are laying out drills for a week ahead so I guess they are going to try and take our mind off the subject that most consernse us. Two men (a serg. & corp.) left this morning for home their time having expired. They have given up the idea of waiting for us to move and I think they have taken a wise step. It is nice and cool in the day time now, but good and cold nights. The whole camp is like a grave yard. Some of the companies are getting very little disapline out of the men.

Sam

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

El Paso, Texas 10/16/1916

Dear Em,

Well we are still waiting to leave. We havent done a tap since getting back from the hike, outside of packing up everything that is to be packed and stuff that we will not use. The Fifth is well on the way now, and we are still here not knowing just what day we are to follow. No doubt it will be next week some time. The trouble seems to be in the lack of cars. Ive eaten my finger nails all off waiting to go. We are well outfitted with cloths as follows. 5 suits of summer under wear, 2 suits of winter underwear, 3 o.d. shirts 3 pairs of shoes, ten pair of stockings two hats, 3 pair of summer cotton breaches, 2 suits of o.d.’s including blouse and pants. 1 sweater, 1 over coat, two blankets. 2 pairs of leggings 4 towels besides toilet and other articles. Outside of 1 suit of under wear on our backs and one in our pack. 1 shelter half, 1 ponchow 1 blanket, polls pins, sweater and toilet articles, everything that I have mentioned is to be put in a bag and shipped home. Some out fit, what?

You can see I have nothing to say when I will try to fill up a sheet of paper with this kind of junk. Im simply writing this any way to let you know that I am still waiting anxiously for my seat in the train to start on that long journey home. This army life is the same old stuff day after day and Im sorry I can’t gather some news to make up an interesting letter.

I received your letter and was sorry to hear that Henry is not feeling well. Just the opposite with me I tell you. Young Kinsman is in the hospital and has been ever since the next to last day on the hike. He was one of six in our company that had to fall out. It is real chilly here today and reminds me of a fall Saturday after noon, when I am home with all kinds of time on my hands but nothing to say. Katherine Holland sent me a letter which I received yesterday and Im going to answer it so if you will excuse this short and poor letter Ill close and start one to her.

Im feeling fine and expect to prove it soon when I get home.

Sam

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

Las Cruces, New Mexico 10/7/1916

On the road to Fort Seldon, Las Cruces N.M.

Dear Everybody

I sent one of you a card last night, and while writing I was so tierd I hardly knew what or who I was writing to. I was not in camp 5 minutes before I was off for the town for some thing to eat. I had about a dollar for about ten minutes. We tryed to get a feed in the only cheap resturant in the Town, but oh what a chance. The door was jamed and thinking that there would be more room later we waited. We went back in about ten minutes and they didn’t have even a slice of bread or a cup of coffee left. Sold out. We then got into a bakery shop some how and I bought two jelly rolls for my pal and I. They were ten cents apiece and there was just about one mouth full in it. We then bought some cakes and tonic.

The town is completely gaurded, no inlisted man being able to even look inside a bar room. We crawled back to camp at taps and I bathed my sore and aching feet. Today Im feeling fine again, ready for any thing they say.

Some hike. Rotten town.

Sam

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