36th Division in World War I



[89] The overseas movement began on the night of July 3 when a small advance party started for the New York Port of Embarkation (POE) to prepare the way for the division. The following night a detachment selected to go ahead and "enter schools" in France left. In accordance with War Department orders, Class A units—the infantry, field signal battalion, engineer regiment, and machine gun battalions—entrained ahead of Class B units—the artillery and trains. The first troops in the former category departed on July 6. Both classes were moved out by rail in less than two weeks.

Because the departure was supposed to be accomplished in secrecy, the press did not cover the 36th’s last days in camp. One reading the newspapers could nevertheless have determined from the absence of divisional news that it was pulling out. The Red Cross was distributing books for the men to read when they were not seasick and Fort Worth was alive with visitors. The men were allowed to tell their folks they were shipping out and many came to see their loved ones off. Some relatives spent all their cash to make the trip and were stranded in the city until the Red Cross came to their financial rescue. One young lady was purchasing a marriage license at the courthouse at the moment her fiance was boarding a coach.

Bugles blew, bands played, trucks rumbled about, and formations of men tramped to and fro as the various units prepared to leave. Every organization worked at "top speed" to correct, insofar as it was possible to do so, deficiencies in supplies and equipment and physical exams were administered to the men. Soldiers found unfit for overseas duty "were eliminated by [90] transfer to hospital, Detention Camp, and Development Battalion." The last-mentioned organization was utilized for camp maintenance. Sixteen men did not share the patriotic enthusiasm of their comrades and went over the hill. The deserters were eventually caught, court-martialed, and sentenced to long terms at Leavenworth.

The day finally came, in the words of William F. Seward, the camp librarian, "when several hundred dogs on the wind-blown, sand-beaten, sun-baked reservation barked lonesomely and inquiringly at nothing." Although the post may have appeared empty after the exodus of the 36th, several hundred officers and men remained behind to keep it in operation. One of them was General Greble who expected to train another division. Some 70 clerks and stenographers "sorely needed" by the 36th headquarters en route to the division’s overseas destination were, according to Spence, retained by the general until he was ordered by the War Department to release them. The administrative specialists subsequently sailed with the artillery, the last brigade to leave the port, and remained with it throughout the rest of the war. Greble himself was retired for physical disability in September, 1918, and plans for the 100th Division to be trained at Camp Bowie were abandoned by the War Department owing to the Armistice in November.1

The government took over the railroads in December, 1917, in the interest of wartime efficiency, and the Inland Traffic Service was created by the military to supervise the overland transport of men and equipment. Troop trains thus moved with dispatch and utilized whatever roads were available. With the exception of the 143rd Infantry and "a few sanitary troops," which were carried to the Newport News POE in Virginia, the 36th units were conveyed to the New York POE.

The ports were controlled by the U.S. Army Embarkation Service. Camp Merritt in New Jersey and Camps Mills and Upton on Long Island, New York, served the New York POE while Camps Stuart and Hill and three "special camps" accommodated the transients at Newport News. Several "temporary embarkation camps" were utilized when troop traffic was extremely heavy. There were also a few ports subsidiary to the New York POE and a number of "emergency ports."

Camp Merritt, the oldest port camp, was established in the summer of 1917. Camp Mills, which served originally as the [91] training camp of the 42nd Division, was pressed into port service early in 1918. It could handle 40,000 men, about the same number as Camp Merritt, and it was to Camp Mills that the bulk of the 36th was sent for processing.

Some units remained, much longer, but the average stay at a port camp in July and August of 1918 was, as the result of months of experience, 24 hours or less. Deficiencies in clothing and equipment were corrected, service records were compiled, the citizenship of every man was "probed," and ship passenger lists were prepared. Shortly before the Armistice the War Department ordered departing divisions to take only records and personal belongings and to draw equipment, light and heavy, in France. Although this order came later, the 36th was sent overseas without draft animals, motor transportation, and "much other valuable material." A liaison officer acted as conductor to each unit from its arrival in camp until it boarded a transport, in the case of Camp Mills, at the Hoboken piers on the west bank of the Hudson River in New Jersey.

The journey from Camp Bowie to the New York POE required about four days for each unit. The 36th was moved during the heaviest troop traffic of the war. On July 13, the busiest single day of the month, 77 trains carrying 41,000 men departed several points over the country.

The 111th Field Signal Battalion traveled over four different railway systems via St. Louis, Continental, Ohio, and Buffalo to Hoboken. The majority of the 111th Engineers were transported by way of St. Louis, Detroit, and Niagara Falls to Jersey City, located almost adjacent to Hoboken. The remainder of the engineers followed a route to Jersey City that took them through St. Louis, Cleveland, and Scranton. Most 36th units, however, were taken eastward to Atlanta and thence northward to Jersey City. Some passed through Memphis, Tupelo, and Birmingham en route to Atlanta while others were routed through Shreveport and Vicksburg. The usual route beyond Atlanta was Raleigh, Richmond, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The route of the 143rd Infantry to Newport News was through Texarkana, Little Rock, Chattanooga, Petersburg, and Richmond. The only serious mishap occurred when four coaches overturned due to a "spreading tail" seventeen miles from Shreveport, injuring several men, one mortally.

[92] With the exception of several stops mainly to rest the troops—the artillery stopped thirty minutes or longer every six hours—the locomotives chuffed straight through. At Atlanta the troops of the 111th Ammunition Train had time for a swim at the YMCA. Other units were not so fortunate and, while the men remained in high spirits, they found the trip unpleasant due to the crowded coaches and the hot weather.

Cheering, flag-waving throngs greeted the Sammies all along the several routes. At Arlington, Texas, girls "gave them magazines" which Private Emmett E. Kimberley, 111th Ammunition Train, declared they "were very glad to get" and at a number of places the Red Cross ladies were present to distribute cigarettes and fruit. Corporal Archibald S. Hart, whose regiment, the 142nd Infantry, was routed via Memphis and Atlanta, decades later remembered overhearing a female onlooker at one little town, upon seeing the rifles, gas masks, and other paraphernalia on the luggage racks, exclaim: "It’s so exciting!" At another place three pranksters of Company K collaborated in dumping a pail of dirty water on a Negro lad and were promptly tongue-lashed in vernacular of the best military tradition by First Sergeant Corley Smart.

Arriving in Jersey City on July 15, Hart’s battalion was permitted to leave the train for a swim at the YMCA while the officers in charge sought to make sleeping arrangements for the night. As it turned out, little sleeping was done, if we may believe Private White, who wrote home the next day that "Nearly all of us" spent the night AWOL in Jersey City and "had a fine time." White and "another boy" met two "little girls who made us go home with them" and they "came near having to kiss the whole family when we left." Later in the evening, a policeman bought them "anything we wanted" in a saloon. As a matter of fact, all they "had to do to get anything [from anyone] was to express a desire for it." White was convinced that Northerners were "the most hospitable people on earth." They "treated us like we were heroes just back from a battle."

After the Panther units arrived at the port they were ferried across the bay almost in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty to Brooklyn and hauled thence by rail to Camp Mills. Sergeant William B. Maxfield, Company B, 111th Ammunition Train, saw "a lot of tears" when the brass band entertained them with a [93] couple of sentimental tunes. There were no dining or bathing facilities where many units stayed. The 142nd was located in a tent area teeming with weeds and Maxfield described Camp Mills in general as "very hot, humid and sandy."

The sojourn of most 36th units at the big processing center was short, often no more than a day though some, notably the artillery, were there a week awaiting ship transportation. The delay had its rewards since the artillerymen were granted passes into New York City. For security reasons, those allowed to leave camp were cautioned not to confide in strangers and all postal and telegraphic communications were censored.

The official medical history of the 142nd Infantry states that clothing and equipment inspections were held by the Inspector General Department and that both officers and men underwent physical examinations. A "few cases of sickness" were "evacuated to hospital (U.S.A.) on Long Island, and venereal infections were sent to Detention Camp nearby." At least some of the organizations were inspected in ranks by West Point cadets.2

The 36th was joined at Camp Mills by Greble’s successor as commanding general, Major General William R. Smith. Born April 2, 1868, in Nashville, Tennessee, Smith was 50 years old, claimed Washington, D.C., as his residence, and possessed an excellent record. He attended Vanderbilt for two years and graduated from West Point tenth in the class of 1892. He was assigned to several artillery commands, taught at West Point, was senior assistant to the Chief of Coast Artillery in Washington, D.C., served as Director of the Engineering and Mine Defense Department of the Coast Artillery School at Fort Monroe in Virginia, and supervised the construction and placement of the first submarine net in the United States at Hampton Roads, Virginia. He advanced through the officer ranks to colonel in the Regular Army and brigadier general in the National Army in 1917. President Wilson approved his promotion to major general in the National Army late in June, 1918, and the Senate confirmed it on July 6. The same day as his confirmation, the War Department announced Smith’s assignment to the 36th Division.

From 1917 until his promotion to major general, Smith commanded the 62nd Field Artillery Brigade of the 37th (Ohio) National Guard Division which trained at Camp Sheridan, Alabama. He was at the New York POE with the 37th when he [94] received orders, first, to delay his departure, and, then, to assume command of the 36th. The turn of events caught him completely by surprise. He immediately journeyed to Washington to find out the whereabouts of the 36th, and upon learning it was leaving Camp Bowie, he returned to the port and took command on July 13.

Smith enjoyed the reputation of a strict but just officer. He did not smoke or drink and was one of several brothers, two of whom served as officers in the AEF. His father was a prominent Nashville attorney and his wife was the daughter of General George B. Davis, former Judge Advocate General of the Army. One of his brothers, F. Blair Smith, whose family hosted the general while he was in New York, told a Star-Telegram reporter that William "hated to leave" his old division but "praised" the 36th because it was composed of "good, hardy stock."

Smith’s assignment terminated much speculation in Texas and Oklahoma as to who would command the division. Hutchings and Hulen were undoubtedly passed over because they were National Guard officers with, from the point of view of the Regular Army establishment, limited training and experience. A further impediment to Hutchings’s chances was the unsatisfactory efficiency report given him by the inspector general at Camp Bowie. Blakely, the recipient of low efficiency ratings from both Greble and the inspector, was transferred just prior to the removal of the 61st Artillery Brigade from Camp Bowie. For about four months he was in charge of the South Atlantic Coast Artillery and from October, 1918, until February, 1919, he commanded the 38th Artillery Brigade with the AEF.3

Colonel Sholars took the 61st to the port where it was joined at Camp Mills by Blakely’s successor, Brigadier General John E. Stephens. The new artillery commander was a native Tennessean, a product of West Point, class of 1898, a former instructor at the Academy, and a 1906 graduate of Vanderbilt. He was a member of the War Department General Staff at the time of his assignment to the 36th.

Another significant development at the port was the relief of Colonel Muchert as commander of the 144th Infantry. The army was much concerned, perhaps unduly so, with the possibility of enemy spies in the military. It tolerated many men of German, [95] Austrian, and other national extraction whose loyalty "might be under suspicion" in the United States, but at the POE they might be exempted from overseas service. This policy was undoubtedly a contributing factor in the case of Colonel Muchert whose German nativity and background as a Prussian soldier combined with his relatively high rank made him a risk in the eyes of the Embarkation Service.

The official "War Journal" of the 36th, author unidentified, suggests that Smith may have played a role in the colonel’s relief. "The patriotism, loyalty and devotion of Col. Muchert to American thought and ideals were never questioned by General Smith, but in perfect frankness," his release from the 36th "was universally approved." Captain Spence wrote that Muchert’s "view point was hardly American, and it was felt that, in justice to him and to the troops of his command, he should not be taken to France." Muchert was transferred to Camp Lee, Virginia, where he became a brigade commander. Whether other Panthers were removed from the overseas list has not been ascertained. Certainly "enemy aliens" were not permitted to serve outside the country; most, however, accepted naturalization while in the training camps.4

After processing at Camp Mills the various 36th units were loaded onto the trains that had brought them and were taken back to Brooklyn. There they were boarded on lighters which took them to the busy Hoboken piers. Hart recalled Jewish Welfare Board workers serving hot cocoa and subordinates of mess Sergeant Lonnie A. Goodman distributing corn beef sandwiches while the company waited in a dimly-lit shed to go aboard ship. Finally, the time came, and the men were sent single file across a narrow ramp to the deck of the Lenape. E. C. Toy and T. F. Poynor, 111th Field Signal Battalion, remembered forming-up the same day at the gangplank of the Antigone. The command "Right by File" was given and each man’s name was called as he stepped upon the gangplank. There "were many a fluttering heart and smiling face at the thought of the experiences and exciting times . . . ahead." It was the practice for ships to load one day and sail the next and both the Lenape and Antigone received their human cargo on July 17 and put to sea on the 18th.

Lieutenant Chastaine, whose company sailed on the Maui about two weeks later, was touched by the civilian "ovation" on [96] both sides of the Hudson as "the big ship swung away from the pier." "Windows in every building were crowded with waving humanity and the boys aboard sent back cheer for cheer." As it hove past "the foot of Broadway," a navy band on shore bade them "farewell" with a concert which included, as its last number, The Star-Spangled Banner.

Some five convoys carrying Panthers departed the New York POE during the last two weeks in July and the first week in August. Other divisions embarking about the same time were the 6th, 7th, and 85th. The advance party of the 36th left on July 15. The custom of sending officers and men ahead to go to school having been discontinued, the school detachment remained behind to embark with the division; its members were returned to their units in France.

Chastaine tells us that both the advance party and the 143rd Infantry were transported via Halifax, Canada, to Liverpool, England, and thence overland and across the English Channel to Le Havre, France. Other sources clearly indicate that at least a considerable portion of the regiment sailed from Newport News on the Dante Alighieri and joined the July 18 convoy out of New York. Most of the ships in this convoy docked at Brest, France, on July 30. The 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry, however, was on a vessel that arrived off St. Nazaire, France, the same day. The July 18 convoy, one of the largest of the war, contained the majority of the Class A units of the 36th.

Left behind owing to unserviceable transports were portions of the 141st and 142nd Infantries. The 141st soldiers sailed on July 26 with a convoy that landed at Brest on August 7 while the 142nd remnant accompanied the Class B units. Although some Class B units did not embark until August 3, the larger number departed on July 31. A number of units in the second classification docked at St. Nazaire and Bordeaux, France, but the vast majority anchored at Brest on August 12. As a general rule, troopships arriving in French ports did not discharge the troops until the next day.

Thus the bulk of the 36th troops weighed anchor with the July 18 and 31 convoys and arrived off Brest on July 30 and August 12. The former armada numbered twelve transports and four warships and the latter seven transports and five warships. It was customary for destroyers to come out from Brest to meet the [97] troopships before they entered the last, most dangerous segment of their voyage. Sergeant Pope Taylor, 111th Ammunition Train, said the rendezvous of his convoy occurred the eighth day at sea. The numerical capacity of the troopships with Texans and Oklahomans aboard ranged from about 2,000 to 4,000. The transports themselves were a mixture of American commercial ships commandeered in 1917 by the navy, foreign craft supplied by America’s allies, and German ships seized in American harbors after the declaration of war.

For most Texans and Oklahomans, who had never been on a ship—Hart estimated that 90 percent of his company had never even seen one—the crossing of the Atlantic was a memorable experience. Sergeant Kent Watson, editor of the Reconnaisance, the publication of the 133rd Artillery Regiment both at home and abroad, thought seasickness was the most unpleasant aspect of the voyage. A non-com aboard the Orizaba wrote his father that many men "got six meals a day—three down, and three up." McCord Harrison, on the same transport, declared that "no one has ever seen as many sick men at one time," all hanging "over the railing." It appears that seasickness was the worst during the first few days out and that the extent of it depended upon the roughness of the sea.

White considered the crowded conditions aboard ship as the most disagreeable part of the trip. He did not get "the least bit seasick" but got "awful dirty." Hart complained that the bunks were very small and arranged in tiers four deep. There was standing room only on the main deck and coal carts as well as men obstructed movement. The food had been good and plentiful at Camp Bowie, but aboard ship, if the comments of several Panthers are any indication, it was often neither. Sergeant Charles H. Powell, Company D, 141st Infantry, on the Finland, years later remembered the food as "so bad that most of us lived on bread, coffee and water" the entire voyage.

The unpleasantness notwithstanding, the Panthers found life aboard the troopships far from dull. Chastaine reported "two motion picture shows almost every night," one for the officers and the other for the enlisted men, in the dining room. "We saw Mary Pickford, Fatty Arbuckle and several others and felt very much at home." Kenneth Garrett, Battery C, 132nd Artillery, stated that "band concerts, ‘stunt’ shows and moving picture performances [98] were given every night on deck." Much time was whiled away in discussion and there were some friendly arguments on the Lenape between the Southwesterners and men from other divisions. A ship publication entitled the Hatchet, which received its information by radiogram, kept the men informed on the latest developments in the States and the war zone. The troops especially enjoyed watching the gun crews practice and all marveled at their accuracy in demolishing the bobbing wooden targets towed behind "one of the ships." Some time was spent daily in lifeboat drill in case it was necessary to abandon ship. The first Sunday aboard the Maui a "church call" sounded by a bugler was mistaken for a call to the lifeboats and the chaplain watched helplessly as his gathering congregation disappeared "in the opposite direction."

Although numerous abandon-ship drills and the occasional gunnery practice reminded the Sammies of the danger of U-boat attack, they were not much apprehensive on this score because they felt well-protected and believed the chances of an attack were minimal. There were 127 German submarines in commission as of the fall of 1917 and more later, but there were never over 25 operating in the Atlantic "during the course of any one month." Many American cargo vessels plying coastwise were sunk off the eastern seaboard in the spring and summer of 1918. Warships returning from Europe alone and relatively unprotected homeward-bound transports were also prime targets. The destroyer Jacob Jones was sent to the bottom in December, 1917, while sailing alone from Brest. On July 19, 1918, the cruiser San Diego struck a German mine and sank off Fire Island, New York. The British-chartered transport Tuscania carrying American soldiers was torpedoed early in 1918, but not one American troopship on the way to France was sunk. The American transports steamed eastward in relative security, according to Thomas G. Frothingham, because the "channels of sailing" were "carefully swept" for mines and the convoys were "as vigilantly guarded by anti-submarine forces, as if there had been frequent U-boat attacks."

Of the convoys carrying Panthers, only one was attacked. Upon entering the sub-infested zone near Brest extra vigilance was maintained, the ships proceeded on a zigzag course, and the men were required to sleep in their clothes "with our life savers on." On [99] Sunday, August 11, the July 31 convoy out of New York found itself in the midst of a pack of U-boats. Watson was not sure from his vantage point whether the underwater craft were "imaginary or real." There was no question in Chastaine’s mind for he witnessed the first torpedo streak past the stern of the Maui, missing by the "barest margin." A destroyer was quickly "on the spot" to drop depth charges. The appearance of "oily water" and "bits of wreckage" on the surface told the troops, who cheered "like mad" and waved their hats to the crew of the destroyer, that the submarine would bother them no more.

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Panthers to Arrowheads: The 36th (Texas-Oklahoma) Division In World War I
by Lonnie J. White
Copyright 1984 1998 by Military History Associates, Inc.
All Rights Reserved - Reprinted by Permission
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