36th Division in World War I


[1] The American entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, was followed by a display of patriotism and a sense of national urgency perhaps unequaled in the nation’s history to that time. On July 4, 1917, the first contingent of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) arrived in Paris. Its appearance was nonetheless only symbolic because, for all its enthusiasm and potential might, the United States was unprepared for military operations of the magnitude required to break the three-year military stalemate on the Western Front.

The state of American readiness might have been much worse had it not been for the Wilson Administration’s preparedness initiative and the Mexican border crisis of 1916. In June of that year President Wilson signed into law the National Defense Act which authorized enlargement of the Regular Army and the National Guard and increased federal control over the latter. The National Guard, which constituted the country’s organized militia, dated back officially to the Dick Act of 1903 though the term itself had been used in reference to the militia for many years. Although the Regular Army numbered nearly 130,000 officers and men and the National Guard over 180,000 by April 1, 1917, neither component was filled to complete strength. It was determined before that date, however, that the volunteer principle would not provide the manpower needs of the military quickly enough in an emergency. A plan formulated in February recommended a National Army of citizen-soldiers raised largely by conscription. Three months later a selective service measure [2] was passed under which almost 2,800,000 men were drafted for military service during the great war.

Large portions of the Regular Army and the National Guard served in Mexico and on the border in 1916-1917. The nefarious raids of the Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa, particularly that against Columbus, New Mexico, in March, 1916, prompted the Wilson Administration to send the famous Punitive Expedition under Brigadier General John J. Pershing wheeling into Mexico in hot pursuit. To provide protection to the border inhabitants in the absence of the Regulars, President Wilson on May 9, 1916, ordered the National Guards of three Southwestern states into federal service. On June 18, owing to the growing resentment of Mexico against the deepening penetration of the Pershing expedition and to the threat of trouble with Mexican troops, the President called out the National Guards of other states. By July 4, the National Guards of 14 states were on duty in makeshift camps at their assigned border stations.

The presence of 112,000 Guardsmen on the border by late July, 1916, undoubtedly discouraged serious incursions into the United States by border bandits. There were no major clashes and only a few Guardsmen ever crossed into Mexico. The primary value of the whole operation was not the protection of border citizens, but the training it provided the several Guards. The men were hardened physically and learned the fundamentals of soldiering in the field. Non-coms and officers gained valuable experience in handling men and in providing for their basic needs. Deficiencies and weaknesses in the Guard units were revealed and shortages of equipment and clothing were to some extent corrected by the army. As a result, those Guard organizations sent to the border in 1916 were partially equipped and trained when the United States entered World War 1.1

Among the National Guards stationed on the border in 1916 were those of Texas and Oklahoma. That of Texas was among the first to be mobilized. It consisted of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Texas Infantry Regiments; the 1st Squadron of Cavalry; Companies A and B, 1st Engineer Battalion; Field Hospital Company No. 1; and Battery A, 1st Field Artillery. It numbered 3,847 officers and men on May 31, 1916, and 4,755 the following December 31. Commanding the Texas National Guard, which formed the 6th Separate Brigade on the border, was Brigadier General John A. Hulen of Houston.

[3] Hulen’s command was mustered in at Camp Wilson, San Antonio, in mid-May, 1916. The 4th Texas Infantry occupied the Big Bend district of Texas from Sanderson to Sierra Blanca with headquarters at Marfa. The cavalry served first at Laredo, then at Ruidosa in the Big Bend. The other major Texas units, the 2nd and the 3rd Infantry, together with the Field Hospital Company, were stationed along the lower Rio Grande from Harlingen to Roma; later, they and the artillery were based at Camp Scurry, Corpus Christi, where Hulen established brigade headquarters.

The hardships of life in the field; the monotony of drill, hikes, rifle practice and patrol; and the lack of an enemy with which to do battle, after several months, dulled the enthusiasm of the militiamen on the border. The discontent of the Texas Guardsmen manifested itself early in January, 1917, when 150 members of the 2nd Texas "broke camp and paraded the streets of Corpus Christi crying ‘we want to go home.'" Most of the grumbling among the citizen-soldiers, however, was of the kind normally heard in military organizations caught up in seemingly unending training exercises with little or no prospect of action to relieve the grind.

The limited entertainment and recreational activities on the border were insufficient to alleviate the morale problem. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) erected 41 buildings and 22 tents, each with a library and an organ or piano, but the Mexican border was a long one and it was difficult to service the numerous scattered encampments. Those Guardsmen fortunate enough to be located near a sizeable town, such as El Paso, where they might be treated to an occasional dance, undoubtedly fared better socially than their comrades elsewhere; even so, excursions into the widespread border cities evidently failed to compensate for an otherwise dreary existence.

Perhaps the most successful effort at providing relief from the boredom of border service was the formation of several unit football teams. The best squad on the border belonged to the 2nd Texas Infantry. Composed mainly of former college stars, the 2nd Texas scored 405 points to 6, all told for its opponents. One hundred and two of its points were rolled up against the 74th New York Cavalry on New Year’s Day, 1917, at Corpus Christi. At Clark Field in Austin on January 16, the 2nd Texas defeated the 12th Division all-star team from Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, coached by future President Dwight D. Eisenhower and [4] another West Point lieutenant, 34 to 6. In its final game four days later, in San Antonio, the 2nd Texas walloped the 1st New York Cavalry 69 to 0. Among the crowd, said to be the largest ever to witness "such an event in the southwest," was Major General Frederick Funston, commander of the Southern Department, who might have commanded the AEF instead of his subordinate, General Pershing, had it not been for his untimely death on February 19, 1917.2

The Oklahoma National Guard, one of the nation’s smaller Guard organizations, was mobilized at Fort Sill during the summer of 1916 in response to the President’s June 18 order. It was comprised of the 1st Infantry Regiment; the 1st and 2nd Cavalry troops; the Field Hospital; the Ambulance Corps; the Regimental Infirmary; and the Engineer Company. Most of the Oklahoma Guard, the 1st Oklahoma Infantry and the two troops of cavalry, were stationed at San Benito and Donna, Texas. The 1st Oklahoma Infantry, which numbered some 1,000 officers and men, was by far the largest unit of the Oklahoma Guard. It was commanded by Colonel Roy Hoffman of Oklahoma City. At San Benito it formed part of a brigade under Colonel Robert L. Bullard of the Regular Army.

As in the case of the other Guard organizations, the Oklahoma Guard was called to duty and increased in strength amid a burst of patriotic excitement. The adventure the Guardsmen anticipated, however, was not what they had in mind. They came to fight, not to serve as a second line behind the Regular Army. Consequently, the Oklahomans, like their companions from other states, soon became disenchanted. With the exception of a minor clash with a few Mexican bandits at a water pumping station on the Rio Grande and a short pursuit of raiders into Mexico, there was little relief from the deadly routine of drill, training exercises, and marches. An event described as the most entertaining of the season at San Benito was a war dance staged by Indian troops of the 1st Oklahoma.3 Besides the valuable experience it provided the Guardsmen, the Mexican border operation of 1916 revealed the need for a substantial recreational program for nonprofessional soldiers serving long periods of time in relative inactivity away from home.

The Punitive Expedition having returned to the United States and the National Guard on the border having served its purpose, the War Department early in 1917 commenced returning the various Guards to their home states. The last Oklahoma unit to arrive home, the 1st Oklahoma Infantry, was detrained on February 23, 1917, at Fort Sill. There it was treated to a festive visit by state and local officials and friends and relatives brought in by special trains. After several days, the Guardsmen were taken to Oklahoma City and released from active duty.

[5] The three Guards called out in May, 1916, which included that of Texas, were the last scheduled for deactivation. Owing to the burden of maintaining the Guard on its limited budget, the War Department hoped to have every organization out of federal service by April 1, 1917. The Texas units mustered out at Camp Scurry were provided with transportation thence to their home bases. Companies E and F, 2nd Texas Infantry, for example, were returned by rail to Austin. Arriving on March 24, the Guardsmen were greeted by about 1,000 relatives, friends, and "patriotic citizens" who cheered fervidly as they "fell into line" and headed by a band, "marched up Congress Avenue to the Driskill Hotel" where they stacked arms.4

Demobilization of the National Guard was cut short late in March by War Department orders suspending further deactivation and recalling partially demobilized Guards back into federal service. Falling under these orders, in the opinion of the Texas adjutant general, Henry Hutchings of Austin, since three companies of the 4th Texas Infantry remained in active status, was the Texas National Guard. But no matter, both the Texas and Oklahoma Guards and others were shortly specified in a new order. Under it most of the Texas and Oklahoma units commenced mobilization for further duty during the first week of April, 1917.

The recall of the Guardsmen was necessitated by the recent worsening of relations with Germany caused by her resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, the sinking of several American ships, and the publication of the famous Zimmermann note, which revealed that the German Foreign Secretary had proposed an alliance with Mexico, in the event of war between Germany and the United States, and had tendered financial support for the Mexican reconquest of territory lost to the United States in the Mexican War. National Guardsmen were needed to protect critical industrial plants and strategic points. The Oklahoma Guard [6] was never utilized for such protection; the Texas Guard was, however, once again assigned to the Mexican border.

Thus the Guardsmen of Companies E and F, 2nd Texas Infantry, much like their Texas comrades elsewhere, fell in at the Austin railway station, where they were welcomed a few days before, for embarkation "upon their second voyage to the border." About 3,000 well-wishers saw them off in an air brimming with patriotic excitement. The actual remobilization of the Texas Guardsmen was accomplished at Fort Sam Houston whence they were distributed along the border. This time there were no reports of undue grumbling, for the American entry into World War I on April 6 made it almost inevitable that sooner or later the Guardsmen would get all the action they wanted and more.5

At the time of the final breach with Germany, 66,594 Guardsmen were in federal service and 117,500 were at their home bases awaiting recall. The War Department forthwith reversed an earlier ruling and gave permission to many states, including Texas and Oklahoma, to organize additional Guard units under the provisions of the National Defense Act. It was stipulated, however, that the governors should fill existing units to peace strength before undertaking an expansion. The entire National Guard was not officially ordered out until the summer, but it was understood in April that the order would not be long in coming. An aggregate of 433,478 Guardsmen were destined to serve under the federal flag in World War I.

It was reported in the Austin Statesman soon after the declaration of war that the Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Arkansas Guards would form the 14th of 15 National Guard divisions planned by the War Department. Later, it was understood in Texas that the division to include the Texas Guard would be numbered 15. Each division was to contain nine infantry, one cavalry, one engineer, and three field artillery regiments, and one air squadron and additional supportive units. As it turned out, the division in question was numbered 36, it contained the Texas and Oklahoma Guards only, and its organization differed considerably from the table as originally announced.

To avoid any confusion that might arise from numbering separately the divisions of the three component branches, the War [7] Department reserved numbers 1 through 25 for the Regular Army, 26 through 75 for the National Guard, and 76 and above for the National Army. The 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division when created would constitute one of 17 Guard divisions numbered consecutively from 26 to 42 inclusive. Another Guard division, which was comprised of Negroes, was misnumbered, according to historian Jim Dan Hill, as the 93rd.6

The War Department’s timetable called for the federalization of all National Guard organizations in the latter half of July and early August, 1917, and for their conveyance to training camps as soon thereafter as possible. This meant that those Guards slated for enlargement had to move rapidly to raise the men necessary to fill the new units. In the case of the Texas and Oklahoma Guards, which were scheduled for federalization on August 5, existing units had to be filled to war strength and new ones recruited from scratch. Time was an especially important factor to the Texas Guard since its extended table of organization called for more than doubling its previous size and to attain war strength some four times as many men had to be recruited.7

The Texas Guard organization as ultimately enlarged consisted of two infantry brigades of three regiments each; one separate regiment of infantry, one cavalry regiment, two regiments of artillery, one battalion of engineers, one field signal battalion, one supply train and several small largely service units. Designated as commander of the 1st Brigade was General Hulen who in August, 1917, was commissioned a brigadier general in the National Army. The 1st Brigade was composed of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Texas Infantry Regiments commanded by Colonels B. F. Delamater of Caldwell, George P. Rains of Marshall, and Charles W. Nimon of Gainesville, respectively. The new 2nd Brigade was in August assigned to Henry Hutchings who, like Hulen, received presidential appointment as a brigadier general in the National Army. It was composed of the 1st, 5th, and 6th Texas Infantry Regiments under Colonels Oscar C. Guessaz of San Antonio, John S. Hoover of Houston, and Jules E. Muchert of Sherman, in the order given. Colonels of the 7th Texas Infantry, the 1st Texas Cavalry, the 1st Texas Field Artillery, and the 2nd Texas Field Artillery regiments were Alfred W. Bloor of Austin, Arthur R. Sholars of Orange, Fred A. Logan of Dallas, and Claude V. Birkhead of San Antonio, respectively.8

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