While Texas and Oklahoma soldiers were training at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth, a Texas unit was already serving in France.
Created the 1st Texas Supply Train in the spring of 1917, it was to be the motor transport unit of a new Texas National Guard Division then taking shape. The unit had six companies across the state in Houston, Austin, Dallas and Big Spring. They trained that summer in anticipation of joining other Texas National Guard units at Camp Bowie in September.
Instead the six companies and headquarters section of the 1st Texas Supply Train were federalized on August 5th and sent east to Long Island, New York.
There, in Camp Mills, National Guard units from 26 states and the District of Columbia were gathered as one of the first divisions to be sent overseas: the 42nd Infantry Division.
At Camp Mills, the 1st Texas Supply Train became the 117th Supply Train. The 42nd Infantry Division left Hoboken, New Jersey for France beginning in late October, 1917. The whole division was in France by December. With the most basic of training stateside, the 42nd spent six weeks in eastern France at a training camp near Vaucouleurs.
One of the infantry regiments of the 42nd Division was the 165th Infantry, better known as the 69th New York. The “Fighting 69th” began a decade before the Civil War as a New York militia unit, the 2nd Irish Regiment. By the summer of 1862, the unit was known as “The Fighting Irish” to their Confederate opponents around Richmond, Virginia.
42nd’s Valley Forge
BY the end of 1917, American Expeditionary Forces commander General John Pershing had nearly 150,000 American soldiers and marines in France. Shortly after celebrating Christmas, the 42nd Division received orders to move to Rolampont, over 40 miles away. Rolampont was the site of the Army’s Seventh Training Area. It was winter; snow covered the roads, and they had to walk.
Welcome to Valley Forge.
The temperature in this hilly region of eastern France was frigid and the men were ill-equipped. A winter storm blew in. Boots wore out, extra supplies used up. Not every man had an overcoat. Texans of the 117th Supply Train, a motor truck company, had to haul the division’s gear the old fashioned way, by horse and wagon.
Wagons got stuck in the snow; men huddled in barns and haylofts at night. For some men, food ran out after the first day. Men of the supply train had to move their best horses and mules from wagon to wagon to pull them out of snowdrifts. Overburdened men grew exhausted and fell out of line.
Over the hills and through the snow
As the temperatures sank below zero, men were coming down with mumps and pneumonia. Hundreds were falling behind from exhaustion. The region they marched through was in the foothills of France’s Vosges mountains. The passage to Rolampont tested men and their early 20th-Century equipment to extremes. Worn out boots were discarded because of swollen feet, evoking images of the real Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78.
It took most units four days to make the trek through the frozen countryside of France. By New Year’s day 1918, the whole division was in Rolampont. Although it was an arduous introduction to war, the 42nd Infantry Division would have to adapt. Moving to the front early in 1918, the 42nd would spend 176 days of that year at the front.
On September 6, 1917, Otho K. Farrell arrived at Camp Bowie with Company A of Amarillo, Texas. Captain Barton’s Company A, like most companies in the 7th Texas Infantry, was a rifle company. Its 160 enlisted men and three officers were volunteers from the Texas panhandle.
Shortly after arriving at Camp Bowie, on September 23, Company A merged with Company C of Childress, Texas. Together they formed the new Company G, 142nd Infantry Regiment. Captain Thomas Barton, former commander of Company A, was the new Company commander. Company G had 210 enlisted men and five officers upon consolidation.
Otho Farrell was left out of it.
Because of his work as a stenographer at the Santa Fe Railroad, O.K. Farrell was moved to Headquarters Company of the new 142nd Infantry Regiment. Col. Alfred Bloor was the commander. The headquarters company managed the fifteen companies in the regiment, divided into three battalions. It managed personnel matters and coordinated with the 71st Brigade and the 36th Division of which it was a part.
Private Otho Farrell’s new job was to work for the ranking NCO in the 142nd, the Regimental Sergeant Major. Farrell transcribed notes, typed up orders and kept records for the regiment. On October 15th, 1917, Otho Farrell was promoted to Private First Class.
The 245 enlisted men of Headquarters Company came from all over Oklahoma and northwest Texas. They were divided into five Platoons, each with a different job in the regiment.
-First Platoon: Headquarters Staff, Orderlies, Mounted Guard and the Regimental Band.
-Second Platoon: Signals; with staff at Regiment and all three Battalion Headquarters.
-Third Platoon was the Regiment’s Mortar section.
-Fourth Platoon: Engineers; who built and repaired defenses around headquarters.
-Fifth Platoon was the Regiment’s 37mm Gun section.
Headquarters Company also provided the Battalion Headquarters staff and couriers.
As a member of First Platoon, Otho Farrell served as part of a staff of fifteen privates who managed the office work of the regiment. They kept personnel records and daily health and duty rosters. They also prepared communications down to the Battalion level or up to Brigade or Division level. Most of all, Headquarters was responsible for making the regiment a weapon of war in a complex battlefield.
In the winter of 1917-1918 Otho Farrell got a 10-day furlough to visit home. He took the train from Fort Worth through north Texas and Oklahoma to Waynoka, north of Oklahoma City. His parents, Thomas and Nancy, and two sisters had lived in Waynoka since 1913.
In the fall of 1917 American forces were making contributions to the Allied cause in Europe. Among the first to enter the war zone were American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Engineers. In April 1917 the US Army created nine Engineer regiments for rapid deployment to France. Their job was to enlarge French ports: building docks, ship berths and storage facilities. US Engineer regiments would also build and repair thousands of miles of railroad track during the war.
One such unit, the 11th US Engineers, began in New York state in April 1917 with a force of 1,400 volunteers. Most of them had worked in railroads before the war. The 11th Engineers trained at Fort Totten, Queens until they were transported across the Atlantic, reaching England on July 27. When they reached France in August, they immediately went to work for the British Third Army in Flanders.
That’s where they were on September 5th when Company F came under attack by German artillery. The men of Company F were laying track in Gouzeaucourt, France when German shells fell. Sgt. Matthew Calderwood and Pvt. William Brannigan were wounded in the attack. They were the first combat soldiers in American uniform to be wounded in France in the war.
American Engineers were operating in the same zone almost three months later when the British launched the largest tank offensive of the war. The attack was focused on Cambrai, near the Belgian border with France. The 11th and 12th US Engineers were laying narrow gauge track to bring the tanks to the front line. They also had to get the machines off the railcars and prepare them for battle.
While the British tanks were punching holes on the German lines, German troops were coming through them in counterattack. On November 30 they penetrated British lines as far as Gouzeaucourt, where a company of the 11th Engineers was building a rail yard. The company retreated with their British allies to an old British trench system near Fins.
What rifles and ammunition the Engineers had with them they gathered there. But what happened next surprised the British officers who were organizing the defense:
“…I think Captain Hulsant was commanding the Gouzeaucourt party when the German advance fell upon them. Some had rifles with them, in the case of others they were far away, but that made no difference to these gallant Yankees. With spades and pickaxes they fell upon the advancing Germans and although many were knocked out, I was assured that they got the best of it in a hand to hand combat.
It was a brave thing to do; for surrender would have been easy and for once justifiable.”
First to Fight
Twelve US soldiers were seriously wounded in the fighting. But they forced the Germans back and even found Private Charles Geiger, who had been wounded and captured by the Germans. Seeing the allies advance, the Germans left their prisoners and fled Gouzeaucourt.
The British effort in what became the Battle of Cambrai was a bust; no real land was gained in exchange for over 47,000 casualties. Twenty-eight Americans were wounded in the unlikely action of the 11th US Engineers where they were the first to fight in the AEF.
Late in the fall of 1917 the US Navy was patrolling the Western Approaches from its base in Queenstown, Ireland. Over forty American destroyers from Queenstown escorted convoys and hunted German submarines. They also rescued survivors when U-Boats struck. Queenstown harbor was full of American ships coming and going on patrol.
On November 17, 1917 two Queenstown based destroyers, USS Fanning and USS Nicholson, were escorting an inbound convoy when the Coxwain of the Fanning spotted a periscope about a foot above the waves. A torpedo appeared in the water but missed its target. Fanning and Nicholson raced to the scene and dropped depth charges.
The barrage brought up the submarine, U-58, which tried to escape on the surface. Nicholson fired at the U-Boat, scoring a hit. Fanning gave chase, firing from her bow. A few more hits from the Fanning and the crew emerged from the stricken raider with their hands up.
The American destroyers rescued thirty-eight crew from the U-58 before it sank off the Welsh coast. It was the first confirmed sinking of an enemy submarine by the US Navy in World War I.
USS Jacob Jones
On December 6th another Queenstown based destroyer, Jacob Jones, was steaming back to base after convoy duty. As the destroyer approached the Cornish coast, lookouts spotted a torpedo to its starboard. Evasive action failed to clear the torpedo’s path, and the Jacob Jones was struck in the stern. The explosion ruptured an oil tank, which burst into flames and left the ship without power. Sinking in just eight minutes, exploding depth charges from the Jacob Jones killed some of the sixty-four men who died when it went down.
The men who survived on what boats and rafts remained were astonished to see a submarine, the U-53, surface fifteen minutes later. The U-boat took two badly injured sailors onboard and slipped beneath the waves.
Though the Jacob Jones had lost its radio mast in the initial explosion and was sailing alone, British vessels came to rescue some forty survivors within hours. In a rare humanitarian gesture in war, the German U-boat commander had radioed the position and drift of the survivors to Queenstown.
During the summer of 1917 the U.S. Army built nineteen training camps for its National Guard divisions. It was an enormous task: More camps were being built at the same time across the country to build a military essentially from scratch.
Because most of the National Guard camps were built in the South and West, and because the training was anticipated to be brief, soldiers were housed in canvas tents intended for eight men.
That was the plan, anyway.
If you have ever spent a winter on the Plains, you know about wind. The cold winds that barrel south from Canada are called Northers, and in Texas they are serious business. A Norther can rapidly drop temperatures even on warm sunny days. The sky turns dark blue, the wind begins to howl, and then you– one observer was inspired to quote Milton–
“…feel by turns the bitter change
Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,
From beds of raging fire to starve in ice.”
John Milton; Paradise Lost, Book II, Lines 598-600
Cold Weather Arrives
Military planners did not expect the weather would deteriorate in the early fall of 1917; but Camp Bowie saw its first Blue Norther on September 26th. Soldiers had just recently arrived there from all parts of the Southwest, including posts on the Mexican border. The base was completely unprepared and, to make matters worse, lack of shelter meant that soldiers were living up to twelve to a tent.
Efforts were made to better prepare the men, but so far their standard issue was cotton summer uniforms and two wool blankets per man. The canvas tents had no walls, no heat and earth for a floor.
The second cold wind blew through camp on October 8th and found the camp little prepared. Construction on the base hospital had begun late in the game, opening its doors on September 24. It would not be complete until 1918. Some tents were issued small wood-burning stoves, others not.
The result of this was that the men started to get sick. Lack of warm clothing and heat plus overcrowding in the tents led to the spread of disease. Plainsmen who grew up without exposure to chicken pox, mumps and measles were now exposed. Soldiers from south Texas were not physically ready for the cold weather.
The unfinished base hospital was filling up. Normal occupancy for the hospital was set at 800 patients, with a maximum of 1,000. Soldiers were coming down with meningitis, measles, tuberculosis and pneumonia. It was not uncommon for a soldier admitted with measles to get sick with pneumonia after a few days. Men were starting to die.
Camp Under Siege
Sickness raged through Camp Bowie in October and November of 1917. By early November the hospital held 1,867 men, over twice the normal capacity. In November forty-one men died from pneumonia alone. Thousands were admitted to the hospital during the epidemic. Training for the war was halted because of it.
Response to the crisis was piecemeal. Winter clothing arrived in October and November, but wool overcoats and extra blankets did not arrive until early December. Small stoves for the tents were provided, with wood to burn. More tents were erected, easing overcrowding. Soldiers began to install wooden walls and floors to their tents to protect themselves from the weather.
A quarantine at Camp Bowie was necessary. Passes were revoked and soldiers were kept in camp to prevent the spread of disease. Soldiers newly transferred to Camp Bowie were kept in a separate observation camp for two weeks before entry into the base. Doctors and hospital staff were increased, and hospital construction was accelerated.
By December over 3,300 soldiers had been admitted to the base hospital with measles and pneumonia. On average, eight men died each day. Companies could not function for all the men on the sick list. When the Surgeon General of the Army inspected Camp Bowie in early December, he remarked that the situation there was worse than in any of the other training camps he had seen. Twenty-five men died during the General’s brief visit.
Camp Bowie fights back
On December 10 more blankets and wool overcoats arrived. The Army hastened to add plumbing and facilities to the hospital complex under construction. 2,300 tents arrived as well as 1,200 stoves. Donations from the Red Cross and towns all over Texas and Oklahoma began to arrive. Every man had at least four blankets.
A week later, the hospital still had 1,427 patients, well above maximum capacity. The cold weather continued into January 1918 with temperatures near zero and blizzard conditions on the 10th. January 22nd set a record low at 6 degrees with more snow. Camp Bowie experienced an outbreak of mumps that month. At the hospital, there were still deaths every day.
But the sick rate was declining. While the weather at Camp Bowie was nothing like the Army imagined when Fort Worth was chosen, men were adapting. Better accommodation (well, the men were still sleeping under canvas in winter) and warm clothing made it easier to avoid disease. Watching new arrivals in a separate camp also helped. Probably the best action was the decision by commanders to furlough nearly the whole camp for Christmas.
Camp Bowie’s hospital was finally completed by February, 1918. That’s when the last of the plumbing was installed in the over fifty buildings that made the hospital complex. By mid-April, the hospital census had returned to normal.
234 men died at Camp Bowie of pneumonia in 1917 alone.
In the summer and fall of 1917, American Expeditionary Forces commander John J. Pershing, now a four-star general, was building an army in France. He began in June with a small advance staff and by October had assembled enough soldiers for one division, the U.S. First Infantry, known to history as The Big Red One.
By the end of 1917 Pershing would have most of four infantry divisions in France. This was not enough to make much of an impact at the front against the Germans. However these first fighters, a combination of regular army and national guardsmen together with a brigade of U.S. Marines, blazed a trail for all Americans who would fight in France.
The 16th U.S. Infantry Regiment was one of the first American fighting units to reach France in June 1917. It was the 16th Regiment’s Second Battalion who made the famous July 4th march through Paris. From July to October the 16th Regiment trained with other regiments of the Big Red One in rural France. Although they were a Regular Army unit whose heritage went back to the Civil War, in fact many of the 16th Infantry were new recruits.
The Americans stayed in a training area with an experienced French division and learned how to fight a modern war in large formations. There they practiced trench warfare, gas mask drills and worked together with artillery units in exercises.
The goal was to enter the war as a freestanding American force that could hold, fight and win on the Western Front. But their training at home had been basic. Now they were learning from veterans who had seen it all.
Experiencing the Front
The German line first received notice from American arms at 6:05 a.m. on October 23, 1917. That’s when the cannon of Battery C, 6th Field Artillery Regiment of the Big Red One fired their first shots into German-held territory. American units were now entering the trenches at the front line.
After months of training behind the lines, introduction to actual combat operations was intended to be gradual. American battalions would occupy one sector between French battalions, under French command. Only one battalion each from the four Infantry regiments would serve at a time, and then withdraw to be replaced by another American battalion. Moreover, the sector the Americans held was quiet.
Quiet on the Western Front was shattered on the night of 2-3 November 1917 when a company of the 7th Bavarian Landwehr Regiment, in a coordinated attack with German artillery, isolated and entered the American line held by Second Battalion, 16th U.S. Infantry.
In just minutes of savage fighting, the Bavarians made off with eleven prisoners and their weapons. They left behind seven Americans wounded and three Americans dead. Corporal James Gresham, Privates Merle Hay and Thomas Enright, all of Company F, were the first in American uniform to die in combat on the front line. The sector they held, near Bathelémont, hadn’t seen serious fighting since October 1915 and was considered quiet.
The morning after
While the Germans celebrated their raid on the inexperienced Americans, they too had left behind two of their dead and one German who deserted. Additionally seven of the German raiders were wounded. The Americans on the front line did not break and run, as so many in Germany had predicted.
Firsthand experience of close combat was a sobering moment for the First Infantry. They buried their dead that afternoon, November 3rd, in Bathelémont. The policy of sending battalions to the front line was reassessed and the 2nd Battalion was withdrawn later that month. Corporal Gresham, Private May and Private Enright each posthumously received the Croix de Guerre from the French nation.
The first six American Navy destroyers arrived in Queenstown on May 4, 1917. Almost immediately they began patrolling the Western Approaches to the British Isles. Then six ships of Destroyer Division Seven arrived on May 17. By the fall about 37 U.S. Navy destroyers and a number of support ships were based in Queenstown. The destroyers guarded convoys inbound to the British Isles and France and made antisubmarine patrols.
On October 15, 1917 the destroyer USS Cassin was patrolling near Mine Head, Ireland when it sighted German submarine U61. Cassin gave chase, but soon a torpedo was sighted heading toward the destroyer. Cassin tried to evade the torpedo, but it looked as though it would hit the stern of the destroyer.
At that moment Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Osmond Ingram ran aft to release Cassin’s depth charges before the impact destroyed the ship. Before all the charges could be released the torpedo hit, blowing the stern off the destroyer.
GM1 Ingram’s quick thinking saved his ship but cost him his life. Nine other sailors were wounded and one officer later died of complications from exposure. But the Cassin made it back to Queenstown and was eventually repaired. Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Ingram was the first American sailor to die in combat in World War I. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (see GM1 Osmond ingram’s Medal of Honor citation here).
The Seventh Texas Infantry gathered for the first time at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth Texas in September 1917. Up to that time the regiment existed as its individual parts: fifteen separate companies from communities in north Texas and the panhandle. When roughly 1,900 men of the Seventh Texas arrived in Fort Worth, they were organized like this:
7th Texas Infantry Regiment
Headquarters Company, Crowell
Company A, Amarillo
Company B, Clarendon
Company C, Childress
Company D, Quanah
Company E, Vernon
Company F, Wichita Falls
Company G, Wichita Falls
Company H, Decatur
Company I, Abilene
Machine Gun Company, Gainesville
Company K, Fort Worth
Company L, Cleburne
Company M, Denton
Supply Company, Lubbock
At Camp Bowie
The basic fighting unit of the American Army in World War I was the Infantry Regiment, and the Seventh Texas is an example. From the turn of the Twentieth Century US Army Infantry Regiments had twelve companies plus a Headquarters detachment of sixty or so men. By the beginning of World War I, a Machine Gun Company and a Supply Company had been added and the Headquarters enlarged. Infantry Regiments in the beginning of the war had fifteen companies and anywhere from 1,550 to 1,850 men and were commanded by a colonel.
The Seventh Texas Infantry arrived with seven other Infantry Regiments at Camp Bowie plus Artillery and Cavalry regiments, Engineers, Supply Train, Military Police, Headquarters, Ambulance, Hospital and Field Signal units. Overnight Camp Bowie became a city of over 41,000 soldiers.
Getting the whole place organized was a monumental task. Many of the soldiers arriving at Camp Bowie had no uniforms. Some companies had received uniforms while at home, but many arrived with few or none in uniform. Companies camped as a unit within their regiment in cylindrical canvas tents that were designed to house eight soldiers.
Soldiers were given their uniforms plus bedding and mess kits. Rifles would have to wait; although a shipment came in October. (It would be 1918 by the time every rifleman had his own rifle.) Each company had its own “street” in the regimental campsite, with a line of tents that led to a long, narrow mess hall and a separate kitchen.
Life the Army Way
Even without the rifles, soldiers at Camp Bowie had plenty to keep them occupied. First was securing their tents and bedding. Then the men had to draw their uniforms and equipment. This was harder because, well, it was the Army, and sometimes uniforms were sent to the wrong unit. While each company had a cook, the men all rotated through duty as the kitchen staff, or K.P.
But what the men remembered most about their time at Camp Bowie was the constant drilling; practicing military formation and movement. Most days included seven or eight hours of drilling. As time went on drill became more involved in simulated combat such as grenade throwing, bayonet practice and digging in; lots of digging.
Soldiers at Camp Bowie were also learning about the kind of war going on in Europe: digging and fighting from trenches, working with barbed wire. They learned how to work in larger formations using signal flags and field telephones. Then they practiced cutting through wire entanglements and raiding trenches. Of course they practiced on the rifle range and did a lot of marching.
Within a few weeks after arriving at Camp Bowie, the men got their physicals. For most it meant getting vaccinations, but for some it was a ticket out of the Army. The exams were more stringent perhaps than what was carried out back home, and every company lost some men to a SCD (Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability, or failed physical).
The loss of some men for medical or other reasons (some recruits turned out to be just too young to be in the Army) dimmed the feeling of cohesion achieved during the summer of ’17. A bigger surprise lay ahead. Toward the end of September most of the units in Camp Bowie learned they would merge with another unit to reach war strength.
For the Seventh Texas, it meant merging with the only infantry regiment from out of state, the First Oklahoma. The First Oklahoma Infantry was founded a generation earlier, during the Spanish American War. It served in San Benito and Donna, Texas for nine months during the crisis with Mexico and many of the men were experienced.
The reason for the mergers was that General Pershing’s headquarters in France wanted bigger divisions: divisions that would be able to sustain themselves in combat without waiting for reinforcements. Pershing’s new divisions were designed to be more self-sufficient, with artillery and transport troops to project force in battle.
But it wasn’t just about superior firepower and mobility; war in the trenches of Europe was costly and fighting units would have to be larger to absorb the losses on the battlefield.
A new regiment
Infantry regiments in the US Army at the beginning of the war had about 1,550 men in fifteen companies. The new organization more than doubled that, to 3,720 men. As a result, companies were enlarged from about 150 men to 256 men. An ambulance unit was also added, as well as other services.
News of consolidation came as shock to both sides of the merger. As it turned out, the Oklahoma soldiers felt they were losing more of their state identity in this sea of Texans. Both units felt they had the right to complain, as they enlisted as Guardsmen in state organizations only recently federalized.
But as members of the Army, the men came to understand that an order is an order. The 142nd Infantry Regiment, created in August, really came into being on September 23, 1917. In time the unit would benefit from the differences the two units brought to the merger. The new regiment was organized like this:
142nd Infantry Regiment
Headquarters Co. 142nd
Co. I, Abilene, Texas
Headquarters Co. Crowell, Texas
Headquarters Co. Oklahoma City
By July 4, 1917 the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) had just over 14,000 troops in France; half a division. While the French people were ecstatic to see Americans after nearly three years of war, Major General John Pershing knew his fight was to grow an American army in France.
General Pershing’s first challenge was transportation. As he was preparing his headquarters in France during the summer of 1917, over one million men were entering the armed forces at home. That summer Pershing and his staff requested Washington that it send 30 infantry divisions to Europe by 1919. These infantry divisions, plus artillery forces and other services, would form a freestanding American army to fight alongside the French and the British Empire forces on the Western Front.
This plan did not sit well with the French and especially the British. At the time they were fighting in trenches along a 700-kilometer (nearly 450 mile) front against an emboldened enemy. Millions of enemy troops were fighting on the Eastern Front against Russia, but this war was changing in the Central Powers’ favor. Russia’s severe losses in the war had caused Czar Nicholas’ abdication in February 1917. Although the war In the East dragged on through 1917, Germany and Austria-Hungary could now give the West more of their attention.
The Allies test Pershing
As the enemy was gaining momentum in 1917, the Allies were having a bad year. A massive French offensive in the spring had gone so badly that hundreds of units in the French army simply refused to go over the top of their trenches anymore. The British and Empire forces experienced horrific losses during their own hundred-day battle in northwest France and Belgium near Ypres. Similarly, Central Powers armies pushed the Italian front back sixty miles in the fall.
The Allies (French and British Empires; Woodrow Wilson called America an “associated power”, not an allied one) were desperate for men. Their losses included the loss of confidence in their political and military leaders. French and British people were growing tired of war; while the grim sacrifice of so many young men for so little gain brought them close to despair. The western Allies had the weapons and experienced leadership, but they were running out of men.
America had men. One million men were in training stateside in 1917, but the potential was many more men could be drafted. France and Britain were interested. Could the United States merely send the men, and let the Allies equip and command them? The French suggested that American units could be interspersed with French in a bi-national Army under French control. There would be no need for American generals, just field troops.
The British plan was even more outrageous: since there was no language barrier, new American recruits should just don British uniforms as soon as they crossed the Atlantic and join the fight as an Anglo-American Army led by British officers. This would lead to the quickest victory in the West, they believed, at a time when defeat was a real possibility.
Walking the tightrope
Pershing was having none of it. American soldiers were not going to wear British uniforms or join French regiments. The U.S. Army was going to fight in France as an army and not as a client in the Great War. The pressure on him was great, however Pershing did not give up. He envisioned an American army victorious in an American sector of the Western Front. In any case, Pershing shared this view with his superiors in Washington all the way to the White House.
But as a small “a” ally, Pershing knew he needed the other two to reach this goal. Great Britain had the ships he would need to help get soldiers across the Atlantic. The Allies had weapons and equipment these soldiers would need in France. They also had experienced soldiers needed to train untested Americans how to fight a complicated machine age war in Europe.
So some compromises were made. Transporting American infantrymen became the priority for Allied shipping, often to the detriment of artillerymen, artillery and war materials from the States. American units would first go onto the front line in quieter sectors under French command until they were experienced in combat operations. The tension of American manpower in the European war never really went away.
Preparing for the day
In the summer of 1917 and after, General Pershing put together an Army command that shared his vision and his urgency. His most important creation was likely his logistics command, called Services of Supply. Thousands of soldiers and engineers created an infrastructure to receive, transport, arm and feed this new American army. They enlarged four Atlantic harbors in France, adding 82 berths for incoming ships. One thousand miles of standard gauge railroads were built to move their cargoes. One hundred thousand miles of wires were strung for use by the AEF in France.
In the United States, staging areas were built near the ports of New York City, Hoboken, New Jersey and Newport News, Virginia to send American men and materiel on an international fleet. In fact, some sailed on ships seized from the enemy. When they got there, training camps were built where soldiers learned to fight together in ever larger formations. Their teachers were veteran French and British soldiers, who had seen it all. By the late fall of 1917, Pershing had most of four infantry divisions in France, 78,000 men. They were willing to go into action, but time would tell if they were ready.
Base Hospital No. 5
The Army Medical Corps was the first to be ready. During the Border war with Mexico, the Medical Corps and the American Red Cross organized a number of mobile hospital units that would move toward the front lines when activated. These units were organized around teaching hospitals and medical schools. In addition, many of the medical and nursing staff were already coworkers in civilian life.
Army Medical Corps units were mobilized and embarked for Europe in early May, 1917. The first unit arrived on May 18 and by mid-June, six U.S. Army hospital units were operating in France. On July 14, 1917 Lieutenant Louis J. Genella, a physician in the Medical Corps, was the first in American uniform to be wounded in action when his hospital unit was shelled southwest of Arras. Beatrice M. MacDonald of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps was badly injured when the Germans shelled her forward triage unit at Lozinghem, France on August 17, 1917. (See Nurse Beatrice MacDonald’s Distinguished Service Cross citation here)
Base Hospital No. 5 was organized in February 1916 in Boston at Harvard Medical School. Doctors, nurses and a core hospital staff were already training from that time. When war was declared with Germany a full unit, about company strength, was recruited and trained.
Base Hospital 5 was one of six evacuation hospital units requested for immediate service with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). These units worked in tents and temporary buildings near the front lines as a first stop for wounded and ill soldiers. They had X-Ray buildings and operating rooms, triage offices and nursing wards. They were the first line in a care system that could get the badly wounded Tommy into a hospital in England within twenty-four hours.
Into the war
The men and women of Base Hospital No. 5 left Boston on May 7, 1917. By May 11, they were on the British steamer Saxonia making way from New York to Falmouth, England. As the first Americans in uniform to land, they received a tumultuous greeting in England. After that, they quickly transited through England and crossed the Channel to France. Base Hospital No. 5 was greeted to even wilder acclaim in Boulogne on Memorial Day, 1917.
The unit was first embedded next to a British Hospital unit, General Hospital No. 11, in Dannes-Camiers. Camiers was on the coastal plain near the Pas-des-Calais. Soon Base Hospital No. 5 had taken over staffing the hospital. While they were prepared to care for five hundred patients, the hospital was sometimes filled to 2,000 patients during the Ypres offensive that summer.
On September 4, 1917 Base Hospital No. 5 was attacked by a German bomber. Privates Oscar Tugo, Rudolph Rubino, Jr., Leslie Woods and Lieutenant William Fitzsimmons were killed. Lieutenant Rae Whidden later died of his injuries. They were the first in American uniform to die in France in World War I.
During the attack four members of the hospital staff were seriously injured, as well as twenty-two patients. You can read more about Base Hospital No. 5 here.
In the first weeks of America’s involvement in World War I, the Army decided it needed to raise a force of at least one million men. While that number was soon found to be much too small, the effort to recruit, house and train so many men turned out to be one of the war’s great achievements.
In May 1917 the Army planned to raise sixteen divisions of draftees and sixteen divisions from an enlarged Army National Guard. Thirty-two new camps for these divisions needed to be built from scratch. In addition other camps for Artillery, Coastal Defense, Quartermaster Corps, Engineers, Transport, Signal Corps and an Infantry School needed to be built in the same time frame.
The schedule itself was punishing: Soldiers would appear on the doorstep of their new camps beginning on September 5, 1917. If all the camp sites were selected, contractors found, money and materials freed up, it still would have been an organizational miracle to see all these small cities built in three months.
But in most cases the Army had to do it in a month and a half.
Nineteen National Guard training camps were to be built, and the Army decided to create tent cities for the Guard. The idea was, since the camps were to train one division and then close, resources would be diverted into the more permanent camps. Most of the Nineteen National Guard camps were built in the Southern or the Western department of the Army’s command.
This meant that the relevant Departmental commander would choose where each small city of over 40,000 inhabitants would be built. A number of Texas cities as well as McAlester, Oklahoma were in the running for camps. Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce President Ben E. Keith and L. J. Wortham, President and Editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram led the charge for Cowtown.
Keith and Mayor W. D. Davis made the case for Fort Worth at Southern Department Headquarters in San Antonio in May and a delegation led by a Brigadier General made the trip to tour proposed sites. They were most impressed with the Arlington Heights district just west of downtown. Fort Worth was selected as the site for the Texas and Oklahoma National Guard camp on June 11th. It was to be named after Col. Jim Bowie, hero of the Alamo.
Rush to construction
It was now Fort Worth’s turn to make good on its promises. Roads, utilities and a rail spur to camp were built by the city. Land, nearly 1,500 acres of it, was purchased by or donated to the city for Camp Bowie (Uncle Sam got the land free of charge). Buildings had to be relocated or demolished, water and sewer lines dug, cattle moved.
Most of all, building materials had to be found. With so many construction projects underway, the government had to organize these resources. The War Department created a Cantonment Division which would organize base construction during the war. It was a massive organization, with over 16,000 enlisted soldiers nationwide. Over 200,000 tradesmen and laborers would work on at least one site owned by the Cantonment Division during the war.
The Dallas construction firm of J. W. Thompson was contracted to build Camp Bowie. The contractor was chosen for his ability to take on such a project as well as his ability to get credit; short term costs were steep. The Army managed the payroll of all laborers as well as reimbursing the cost of materials.
Building Camp Bowie
On July 18, 1917 officers from the Cantonment Division reported in Fort Worth for duty and the contract with the builder was signed. Construction on Camp Bowie was about to begin. On July 23 the Quartermaster’s Office was established and on July 25 the timekeeper’s office was built.
3,500 craftsmen and laborers joined to build a city that would house over 41,000 soldiers. They built roads, strung electric wire and put up hundreds of buildings. Most of the soldiers would sleep in tents, but there were bathhouses, mess halls, laundry shacks and 300 kitchens.
A spur of the Texas & Pacific Railroad went by the Quartermaster’s. There were stables and barns for horses of Texas’ 1st Cavalry Regiment, who would make their home in Camp Bowie. The Northern Texas Traction Company spent $125,000 (in 1917 dollars) to extend the Fort Worth Streetcar line through camp, adding or improving twelve stops.
Forty miles of roads were built in the hot summer sun. Water tanks were built and pipes were laid. Refrigeration units for food were installed. By August 21, 900 wooden buildings were constructed. A telephone exchange was built. A stockade was built near the Military Police barracks.
Will it ever be done?
On September 6th, Amarillo’s Company A, 7th Texas Infantry had arrived in Fort Worth on the same train as Company B of Clarendon and Company C of Childress. By September 11, 1917 all of the Seventh Texas infantry Regiment was at Camp Bowie. The Seventh Texas was one of many Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, Engineer, Ambulance, Transportation and Signal units gathered at Camp Bowie. Most of them would form the 36th Infantry Division.
Camp Bowie was far from finished. Water pipes and electrical wires had just been introduced to the camp. The hospital, which would include 300 buildings, was only begun on August 27. The rifle range had just been started. No hurry; rifles had not yet arrived at Camp Bowie. The artillery range was still in the planning stage.
Like most cities, Camp Bowie was constantly changing in size and appearance. The staff of the Cantonment Division left in November 1917. Engineers in the 36th Division declared the camp substantially finished on December 2nd, with the Camp Hospital still under construction. By July 1918, Camp Bowie had grown to 3,000 buildings and had cost the Army $3.4 million.
It was the middle of the afternoon on Thursday, August 23, 1917 in Houston’s San Felipe neighborhood. The district was south of downtown and home to many of Houston’s 30,000 black residents. Through waves of heat Captain Haig Shekerjian of the U.S. 24th Infantry drove into San Felipe from Camp Logan, about three miles away. The car stopped at the local police station, and Captain Shekerjian walked in.
It was 102 degrees.
Shekerjian, the first Armenian-American to graduate from West Point, was in San Felipe to find two soldiers from the 24th Infantry, one of whom he believed was shot. Corporal Charles Baltimore was there in the police station badly beaten, but alive. Corporal Baltimore was a Military Policeman who himself had come to look after the welfare of a fellow African American soldier, Alonzo Edwards. Edwards was arrested by two Houston mounted police officers when he appeared to question their rough handling of a black woman the two white officers were trying to arrest.
The officers, Lee Sparks and Rufus Daniels, instead beat Private Edwards with their firearms and transported him to the station. Officers Daniels and especially Sparks had a reputation for brutality in a police department that had only two black officers. Houston’s African Americans were twenty percent of the population of a city on the edge. Just over a month before, in East St. Louis, white rioters burned several city blocks leaving six thousand African Americans homeless. In the violence, hundreds were injured and dozens of African Americans were shot or lynched. Nine white and an unknown number of black people died in the violence in East St. Louis on July 2-3, 1917.
All of this and more was on Captain Shekerjian’s mind when he entered the police station.
The 24th U.S. Infantry was created in 1869 as a regiment of black soldiers led by white officers. At the time there were two black infantry and two black cavalry regiments. The Native Americans they were sent to guard and sometimes fight called them “Buffalo Soldiers”. Most of the Buffalo Soldiers were born in the south and, although the Army was segregated, many found life easier on post in the west and southwest.
The 24th Infantry battled Native American war parties on the western Plains and guarded remote army outposts as well as the U.S.-Mexico border. In 1898 the 24th Infantry was in Cuba, where they took the Spanish fortress of El Caney and stormed up San Juan Hill. The 24th also served three tours of duty in the Philippines between 1899 and 1915.
In 1916, the 24th was once again in the southwest during the Border crisis with Mexico; joining Brigadier General John Pershing’s expedition into Mexico on March 28. By the time they had returned the following February, the 24th had accumulated a record of resilience and professionalism. This did not keep white communities from chafing at the idea of being protected by black soldiers. Yet the 24th Infantry won the respect and friendship of nearby Salt Lake City when they were stationed at Fort Douglas, Utah from 1896-1899.
The crucible of Houston
However the same treatment did not greet the 24th in Houston in 1917. On July 28, the 645 men of Third Battalion moved into their quarters about a mile from Camp Logan. The massive camp was one of the nineteen training camps now under construction for National Guard divisions. Most of the camps were in the Southern or Western departments and all of them were a boon to local economies. Thousands of craftsmen, laborers, wholesalers and businessmen swarmed over each site in a rush to get the camps built. And they had to be guarded.
That Camp Logan was guarded by armed men who happened to be black was considered an affront in segregated Houston. Neighborhoods and facilities were segregated by race. White workers at Camp Logan did not hide their disrespect for them. Black Military Police were not allowed to carry firearms in Houston. Only sentries at the camp gates were given rifles. The soldiers had to ride in the back of streetcars behind a screen that read “Colored Only”. Sentries at Camp Logan were not allowed to drink from the same water cans as the white workers they were guarding.
Beyond the epithets and the humiliations, there was also violence. The violence reached a critical point less than a month after the soldiers arrived in Houston. On August 23, after Private Alonzo Edwards was taken into custody, Corporal Charles Baltimore asked to see him. He was a Military Policeman and a leader in Third Battalion’s Company I. Houston Officer Lee Sparks struck Baltimore with his pistol and then started firing. Baltimore fled, but was soon captured by Sparks and Daniels and brought to the same police station as Private Edwards.
Captain Shekerjian managed to get the two released. He also notified Houston’s Chief of Police of the disturbance, leading to Sparks’ suspension. But the damage had been done. Once word of the arrests made it back to camp, the soldiers were incensed. Initially they had heard that Corporal Baltimore had been killed. They also believed that, as in East St. Louis earlier, carloads of armed white men were headed their way.
Although their white officers tried to prevent them, men scrambled for rifles and ammunition. At this point, soldiers were concerned for their safety. Some of them left camp for the woods nearby. Shots were fired in every direction, mortally wounding one soldier. The firing went on for as much as half an hour. By then the mood in the chaotic camp changed from panic to desperation. Sergeant Vida Henry, a 19 year veteran of the 24th, formed a column of men and left camp for Houston. Up to 150 men, mostly from Company I, were with him.
No one knows what Sergeant Henry was trying to accomplish with over one hundred angry armed men. As they moved toward the city, shots rang out from the column. Residents on their front porches seeking relief from the heat fled into their homes. A teenage boy was shot dead; his brother badly wounded. Police officers and armed civilians fired back, but were shot or driven away by the force.
If there was a purpose to this armed incursion, it was primarily for revenge against the police. There were a number of street battles that night as the column advanced over two miles from camp. They never did find Officer Lee Sparks. Officer Rufus Daniels and three other Houston policemen lay dead. Three other officers were shot, one of whom died in hospital.
As the column neared downtown Houston, a car filled with uniformed men approached them. Believing this to be more police, the mutineers opened fire. But four of the men in the car were in Army uniform. Captain J.W. Mattes of the 2nd Illinois Field Artillery and a police officer were dead. Two of the mutineers were also dead, one shot mistakenly in the night by his own.
The column started to disintegrate as the severity of their actions became more clear. Men began to slip away back to camp. Sergeant Henry told the men he wasn’t going: He shook their hands, gave his pocket watch to a private, and walked off toward the railroad track. His body was found the next morning.
Third Battalion was sent back to its old post in Columbus, New Mexico within a day after the mutiny. Finding the mutineers in a battalion of 645 was hardly precise. 118 soldiers were arrested and charged with murder and mutiny. Sixty-three men were tried in San Antonio in November 1917. Fifty-eight were found guilty. Of these, thirteen were sentenced to die.
Before dawn on December 11, without informing the public or receiving approval from the Wilson administration, the thirteen were hanged near San Antonio. Among the condemned was Charles Baltimore.
Meanwhile the public outcry after the rush to judgement by the Army reverberated in the African American community and elsewhere. “They have gone to their death.” W.E.B. DuBois wrote, “Thirteen strong, young men; soldiers who fought for a country which never was wholly theirs; men born to suffer ridicule, injustice, and, at last, death itself.”
In the wake of the executions and outcry, the War Department decreed in December and January that the Judge Advocate General had the power to review death sentences in the military. Therefore no executions could take place before review from Washington.
Nevertheless, fifty-five other soldiers in the 24th went to trial. Sixteen were condemned to hang. President Wilson, bowing to pressure from across the nation, commuted the death sentences of ten soldiers. Five men were hung on September 29, 1918. The last man was hanged on October 6th.
The unit that took over duties from the 24th Infantry was part of the National Guard, the 8th Illinois Infantry. An African American regiment, the 8th Illinois openly defied the segregationist rules on streetcars and everywhere else until the War Department reassigned them to another state. The 8th Illinois later formed the nucleus of the 370th Infantry Regiment and served with distinction in France as part of the 93rd Infantry Division.
A summary of the Houston Mutiny and Riot of 1917 can be found here.
The Seventh Texas Infantry Regiment was a unit of volunteers in the National Guard. It was mustered into state service in early July, 1917. By the end of July the Seventh Texas was fully recruited and ready to begin basic training. The problem was that their training camp, Camp Bowie in Fort Worth, hadn’t been built yet.
Company A of the Seventh Texas, Captain Thomas D. Barton commanding, was located in Amarillo. In August 1917 Amarillo was a city on its way to a population of 15,000. It was a rail transportation center served by the Santa Fe Railroad, the Fort Worth & Denver City Railroad and the Rock Island Line. Live cattle, and meat from Amarillo’s packing industry were sent north to Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago on the rails.
The men of Company A were gathered from Amarillo and the surrounding counties in the Texas panhandle. They worked on ranches, farms and railroads. Some of them were skilled workers at factories and railroad workshops. Others were clerical workers from the city. A few were fresh out of school.
Company A gathered frequently in Amarillo during July to practice military drill. They had no uniforms or weapons. There were three officers. They had no barracks, and attendance at drill was not yet mandatory. Building an American army in 1917 was a matter of hurry up and wait. In Fort Worth, Camp Bowie was being built at a furious pace by 3,500 laborers and builders. The recruits of Company A would have to start their training at home.
In fact, all fifteen companies of the Seventh Texas trained at home during July-August of 1917. They stayed at fairgrounds, schools, warehouses, garages and homes. Amarillo’s Company A had a slightly better deal. The Lowrey-Phillips School north of the city was a military high school for boys when it closed after spring term in 1917. Newly vacant, Captain Barton and Company A moved right in. They renamed it Camp Bloor after the Seventh Texas’ commanding officer, Col. Alfred Bloor.
Life in Camp
Once in camp, life for the boys of Company A became more disciplined. Morning drill came before breakfast. The company became used to running and long marches. One day in August, Captain Barton led the men to Canyon, Texas, nineteen miles south, for lunch. When they were not busy at drill, the men attended lectures on “sanitation, personal hygiene and military courtesy”.
The Amarillo community got into the act. Amarilloans and people in the surrounding communities sent books, sports equipment and toiletries to Camp Bloor. Local homes sponsored soldiers after church services for Sunday afternoon dinner that summer of 1917.
In other communities across the Texas panhandle local companies were part of town square dances and baseball games. Every community pitched in to support their local soldiers. In early August the Seventh Texas Infantry was drafted into Federal service along with the rest of the Texas National Guard. They were surely fighting for Uncle Sam now and, for the first time, getting paid.
Close to the end of their stay in Amarillo, Captain Barton marched the men of Company A down Polk Street where they stopped in front of the theater for inspection. Then the whole company went to the movies for free. Soon thousands of men from towns and small cities across Texas would make their way to Camp Bowie to be formed as a larger unit. However during that summer, local companies had to make do with the unit they had. Historian George Ball commented about that summer:
“Indeed, for the Seventh Texas, the brief period in August 1917 while they waited to move was really the only time the regiment was what is was recruited to be: a Texas National Guard unit filled with Texas soldiers and commanded by Texas officers, all of whom were from the same or nearby communities.”
You can read about Company I, Seventh Texas Infantry, during a similar stay in Abilene here.