“Now I being in the rear had to see that no one fell out, and if any one did for any reason I was to wait and see that he or they got back to the company. Not only this but see that men get back to there company as soon as possible and act like a dirty dog by preventing them to drink any water or fill there dry canteens with water from wells or houses along the road. One poor fellow in the company some how or other got his canteen filled with water and was about to wet his parched lips when it was snatched from him by our captain (who was under orders.) and emptied.” –Letter from Sam Avery, 10/4/16
The Great Hike
On October 1, the Brigade left Camp Cotton on the march for Fort Selden (today both a National and New Mexico State Monument), which was 60 miles away to the North and beyond Las Cruces, New Mexico. Fort Selden had previously operated as a U.S. Army cavalry post from 1865-1891, but had long been abandoned and was slowly being reclaimed by the chapparal in 1916. The entire marching column contained 18,000 troops from Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and South Carolina. Troops encamped along the road in pup-tents at night, and resumed the march each day in scorching heat with limited water rations. The scarcity of water was worsened by standing orders requiring the troops to fill their canteens only from U.S. Army wagons in order to prevent disease. Many men were prostrated by heat exhaustion along the way, but the march continued relentlessly to the North, first reaching Anthony and then Mesquite before arriving at Las Cruces, New Mexico on the evening of the sixth day.
On October 7 while at Las Cruces, the newspapers carried headlines that orders had been issued for the Massachusetts troops to return home. The following day, the Brigade of Massachusetts troops began their march back to Camp Cotton, retracing their steps to Anthony on October 9 and arriving in El Paso by mid-day on October 11. Although the Massachusetts troops were ready to return home, they remained in place at Camp Cotton for several days awaiting word that National Guard troops from Georgia were enroute to relieve them. The 5th Infantry entrained for home on October 14, but the rest of the troops including the 8th Infantry remained on post “waiting for Georgia.” The Georgia troops finally arrived near the end of October and the 8th Infantry entrained for home. On November 15, 1916 the 8th Infantry Regiment assembled at the Cambridge Armory and was formally mustered out of the active service of the United States, returning to the command of the Governor of Massachusetts.
Read Soldier’s Mail for October, 1916 here.