September 1918 found the 36th Infantry Division still in the Thirteenth Training Area surrounding Bar-sur-Aube, France. The 36th had been there since early August for their final training before entering the combat zone. Since the division arrived in Bar-sur-Aube from three different French ports of debarkation, it was a reunion. They spent a month traveling there from Texas by train, ship and foot. The Thirteenth Training area was a group of villages in northeastern France, and accommodations for many of the men were primitive. Yet soldiers of the 36th Infantry enjoyed the work and forged bonds with the French people during their training.
But the reunion didn’t last long. As the American First Army was preparing for its first offensive action in September, front-line Divisions needed to fill their ranks. Two thousand men from the 36th were transferred to other divisions in late August and September. Many of them transferred to the 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” division. This National Guard Division already contained a transportation unit from Texas and an Ambulance unit from Oklahoma. Overall the 42nd Infantry had units from twenty-six U.S. states and the District of Columbia, which made it unique in the Army.
Other men from the 36th transferred to the 90th “Texas-Oklahoma” Infantry, a National Army Division from Camp Travis in San Antonio. Men in the T-O insisted it stood for “Tough ‘Ombres” and would get a chance to prove it that September in the Saint-Mihiel Offensive.
Training for the real thing
As summer turned into fall the men of the 36th Infantry trained in rural France. Losses to the division by transfer were partly made up by the arrival from Camp Bowie of 783 men who– for one reason or another– didn’t make the train back in July. These men had been AWOL (Absent With Out Leave), sick in the hospital or otherwise detained from making the journey. Training was the constant in the last days of summer with long marches and simulated battles in the French countryside. The men participated with gusto but by the fall had worn out much of the clothing that had been issued to them in New York back in July. Soldiers were also having a hard time keeping clean in their makeshift lodgings and some of them were getting sick.
It was also at this time that the Spanish Influenza reached the Thirteenth Training Area. There was nothing “Spanish” about the this affliction since it was in fact a pandemic. Influenza had a significant impact on German forces just one hundred miles away. But the soldiers of the 36th Infantry were well spread out, and medical officers had the foresight to quarantine men with influenza from the rest of the troops. There were some fatalities from the pandemic. Illness brought more vigilance to personal care and hygiene in the division, and separate quarters were made in field hospitals for those not suffering from influenza. Patients noticed that the Medical units of the 36th Division were receiving supplies for battle.
Last minute changes
Equipment was finding its way to Area 13 as well. On September 20th, the 111th Supply Train got fifteen Pierce-Arrow trucks. Ninety-eight officers were transferred into the 36th Division at Bar-sur-Aube. On September 20th Otho Farrell was promoted six ranks from Corporal to Color Sergeant. Farrell was part of the 142nd Infantry Headquarters office staff, and as a corporal he would be expected to take down orders in shorthand, type them, keep records and post communications. Now he was one of two Color Sergeants in the 142nd, subordinate only to the Regimental Sergeant Major in the HQ.
On September 23rd 1918 the 36th Division was ordered to make itself ready for transport to the front. US Infantry Divisions in France normally trained for eight weeks behind the lines before transferring to a quiet zone of the front line. There infantry battalions would embed with an allied regiment (usually French) to learn defensive operations in the trenches. This process could take another eight weeks or more before an American Army Division was released for combat operations. But it was not to be; the strategic situation in late September 1918 had changed significantly. The 36th Division was needed on the front line.
The division curtailed its training schedule about ten days early and made preparations. Motor vehicles in the 36th pulled out toward the front. Men had to pack only their battlefield essentials and move toward the train stations. Troops gathered at stations in Bar-sur-Seine, Bar-sur-Aube and Brienne-le-Château on September 26th. For seven weeks, the 36th Division had made northeastern France their home. Now they were going to fight for it.
When the old 7th Texas Infantry Regiment stepped off the train in Fort Worth in September 1917, there were over 1,900 new recruits from northwest Texas and the panhandle. Now, just over one year later, 615 of those same men boarded another train in France with the 142nd Infantry Regiment. Of the missing 1,300 men some had been invalided out of the Army by a failed physical or by disease the previous winter. Some of them had died of those diseases, others were killed in accidents. Many were transferred to other units. The Texans that remained were joined by other volunteers from Oklahoma, and then by draftees from several other states. Somehow, the 615 who remained had a Texas-sized influence on the character of their unit on the eve of battle.
The trains and trucks traveled about sixty miles northward to Avize and Épernay, near the Marne River. On arriving, the 36th Division entered service as part of the French Army. General Pershing had loaned the 2nd, 36th and 93rd Infantry divisions to France. When they got there, no one in the French Army was expecting them. After the initial confusion men had to find shelter in the ever-present French rain. The Division had moved within twenty miles of the front line and were staying in villages between Châlons-en-Champagne and Épernay. Their Artillery Brigade, the 61st, had not joined them and they were missing their Engineer Regiment. The rest of the division was 20 percent understaffed.