36th Division in World War I

Chapter VI:
Glory on the Aisne

Losses in the Forest Farm operation October 27-29 were reported variously as 11, 12, and 14 killed, including one officer; 33 and 36 wounded, all except one enlisted men; 63 gassed; and 5 missing. Of the several commanders who provided figures, only Smith reported the gas casualties and the missing. Bloor’s losses were slightly higher than James’s. As to German casualties, 49, including the battalion commander, were counted dead. The number of wounded was not determined, but upwards of 200 prisoners, including four officers, were taken. Loftus reported 194 captured while Whitworth indicated a higher figure and Smith one moderately lower. Although the prisoners appeared "clean and fairly neat" and possessed "cigars, cigarettes, plenty of tobacco, and new clothes," their morale was "very low" and "they seemed glad to be captured."

Admirably planned, elaborately prepared, and superbly executed, Forest Farm was, from start to finish, a magnificent operation. Smith was elated, and, according to Major Burges, told his subordinates that the affair "went off like a rehersal [sic] for the movies." Prax too was pleased and telegraphed "his very warm congratulations to General Smith and all troops engaged" for their "brilliant success." And the official French communique announcing the victory described it as "brilliantly successful." Although a relatively minor operation, Forest Farm added to the reputation of the 36th as a fine combat division.

Forest Farm marked the termination of the 36th’s tour in the Champagne. The 144th Infantry was relieved by the French 61st Division and the reserve battalions of the 141st and 142nd by the French 22nd Division on the night of October 27-28. Smith relinquished command of the Forest Farm sector on the 28th. The relief continued during the ensuing night amid a farewell shelling by the German artillery until only the assault battalions in the captured line were left. French camions were provided for them—the rest were marched out—however, the assault troops of the 14 1st Infantry "missed connections with the trucks." Their [168] departure on foot at 4:35 A.M., October 29, completed the relief. By the following evening nearly the entire command was billeted at Camp Montpelier in the rest area north-northeast of Somme-Suippes. As Private Carl Schlossen, Company D, 142nd Infantry, so succinctly put it, "We were relieved by the Frog infantry and was sent out for a rest."13

Although immensely proud of their showing, those who returned from the battlefront were only too well aware of the numerous vacancies in their ranks. Precisely how many did not make the return journey was uncertain at the time and even the last official figures may not be wholly accurate. Counting the casualties has been a problem in all wars and World War I was no exception. Thus the reader will understand why the accuracy of the losses given in this study, including those below, cannot be absolutely guaranteed.

In December, 1918, General Smith reported 21 officers and 469 men killed in action; 4 officers and 70 men died of wounds; 17 officers and 329 men gassed; 39 officers and 474 men wounded severely; 42 officers and 896 men wounded slightly; 5 officers and 141 men wounded degree undetermined; and 94 men missing in action. These "latest statistics," which were compiled for Smith by the 36th statistical section, totaled 2,601. In the same document, Smith noted that the daily strength sheets and the report of the division surgeon showed 3,195 and 2,420, respectively. In another report, Smith set the number at 2,393 of which 118 were officers. Revision of the statistics continued and during the spring of 1919 the total enumeration was slightly over 2,500. At the muster-out, "the latest revised statistics," according to Captain Spence, tallied 2,565 casualties of which 122 were officers and 2,443 were enlisted men. These figures included 80 men still missing notwithstanding the return of a number who were captured.

The final tabulation for the entire division, including the 111th Engineers, was given by the Secretary of War in 1926 as 2,584. The killed, counting died of wounds, came to 26 officers and 565 enlisted men for a total of 591. Casualties for the infantry regiments were: 141st, 709; 142nd, 1,007; 143rd, 272; and 144th, 369. Those for the machine gun battalions were: 131st, 3; 132nd, 148; and 133rd, 43. The 111th Regiment Engineers and Train, the 111th Field Signal Battalion, the 111th Train Headquarters and Military Police, the 111th Sanitary Train, and the Division [169] Headquarters posted 17, 13, 1, 1, and 1, respectively. Since the figures in the preceding paragraph are for the Champagne only, it is befitting to note that the losses for that campaign, as finally reported by the Secretary, were 2,567.

As to the aggregate casualties inflicted upon the German divisions that opposed the 36th, only the number of prisoners was ascertained. Smith reported 548 in one document and 813 in another. The difference was due mainly to the fact that the 71st Brigade was officially credited with taking only 381 prisoners at St. Etienne when it actually captured more than 600. Many prisoners were sent back without guards and the 2nd Division, which received them, did not credit the capture to the 36th.

In regard to the war material captured by the 36th, the total amount was massive. Colonel Mitchell estimated its monetary value at more than $10,000,000. The "correct figures as to the amount captured by the 36th" were not known because much of the material was salvaged by the 2nd Division and the French Fourth Army and neither provided the 36th with an "accounting" of what it took. Among the numerous items were 9 artillery pieces, 17 trench mortars, and 277 machine guns.

Most of the stores were seized in the push to the Aisne. This advance, which covered 13.04 miles, entitled the 36th to 17th place among American divisions for distance gained against the enemy. Since 22 divisions were engaged longer, the 36th ranking was relatively high. Of the 28 American divisions that entered the line during the war, 24, including, of course, the Panther Division, saw "active combat."14

The 36th left the front with a substantial record and an excellent reputation. It performed well enough under the worst of circumstances at St. Etienne and enjoyed remarkable success under the more favorable conditions at Forest Farm. The 71st Brigade was engaged in harder fighting and suffered heavier casualties than the 72nd, which sparkled in the advance to the Aisne. One suspects that if the 36th units had fought with their own engineers and artillery, had been fully equipped, and had served throughout under their own commanding general, their accomplishments would have been even more impressive. The valiant performance of the officers and men reflected the high morale that characterized their service from the beginning. Among the ranking officers, Smith, Whitworth, Bloor, and Hulen [170] were conspicuous for their leadership and efficiency. Probably no division commander in the AEF was held in higher esteem by those who served under him than General Smith whom Captain King aptly described as "a soldier and a man."15 Nevertheless, one cannot, since its battle experience however spectacular and important was limited and both infantry brigades, not to mention artillery and engineers, were never committed simultaneously in a sustained major action, confidently rate the 36th as one of the best divisions in the AEF. That it possessed the potential to achieve such distinction, however, few would deny.

The 36th rested one day at Camp Montpelier before moving once again in accordance with orders assigning it as a reserve division to the 1st Corps, First American Army, and directing its removal about 30 miles southeastward via Dampierre-le-Chateau to a wide area south-southeast of the Argonne Forest between Triaucourt and Bar-le-Duc. The march was conducted over several roads in easy stages in deference to the exhausted condition of men and animals. At one point the troops of several organizations saw their commanding general sitting on his horse in company with other officers and beaming "with pride and appreciation." Pershing would have appreciated Smith’s gentle but firm order to a corporal that he remove a loaf of bread stuck on the bayonet attached to his rifle because it looked "terrible."

"With the mud sticking to our boots . . . with the teamsters swearing . . . and with . . . the men wishing the kaiser had been stopped before he began," the 36th arrived at its destination, "a place they call rest billets," some 20 miles southwest of Verdun on November 3. The division PC was located at Conde-en-Barrois and those of the 71st and 72nd Brigades were established at Louppy-le-Chateau and Triaucourt. Simultaneously the 2nd Artillery and 2nd Engineers were rejoining the 2nd Division and the French Wagon Company was returning to the GAC. Companies A and E of the 111th Supply Train were dispatched from La Cheppe on November 2 to operate with the First American Army on the "Verdun front" while the remaining supply companies were ordered to Waly, the new divisional railhead.

After a two-day rest the 36th commenced training in preparation for further service at the front. New clothing, additional arms and equipment, and replacements arrived daily. Most of the newcomers were former members of the 34th [171] (Nebraska-South Dakota-Minnesota-Iowa) National Guard Division, which arrived in France after the 36th. Among the replacements were hospital casuals who had been wounded at St. Etienne and members of the command sent to school from Bar-sur-Aube.16

On Sunday, November 10, the division remembered the slain in special memorial services. The honor roll was read at the various stations and each battalion "uncovered in solemn meditation." Chaplain Charles H. Barnes of Guthrie, Oklahoma, once a sergeant major in the Regular Army, who presided over services in the Louppy-le-Petit vicinity, saw tears in the eyes of "many a lad" as their thoughts "were turned back" to those moments when they had "grappled with death" and their comrades had fallen.

But no matter how great their sorrow, it could not match that of parents, wives, and others at home. In several instances the homefolks, owing to administrative confusion in Washington or abroad, learned the tragic news indirectly from letters written by friends of the slain. It was in this manner that General Hutchings, back in Austin, heard on about November 1 that his son had been killed. A hurried wire to Washington brought a reply that the War Department could not confirm Major Hutchings’s death. Subsequent letters from the front nonetheless made it clear that the major, a fine officer popular with his men, had indeed fallen. Although his parents subscribed fully "to all the noble sentiments for which we entered the war . . . we are not," the general told a friend, "such Spartans as not to feel our fleshy loss."

The death of Captain Kendrick was not officially reported to his wife in Fort Worth until the fourth week in November. And the parents of Private Harry Stevenson, 141st Infantry, learned of their son’s death from Harry’s brother who was a member of the same unit. In one case, Captain Pearce’s wife, evidently hoping the War Department had made a mistake in reporting her husband’s death, sought confirmation of the official notice from a fellow officer.17

The 36th was a few days away from a second combat tour when word came that the war was over. In October, 1918, a new German Chancellor initiated peace correspondence with President Wilson who, in turn, invited allied participation. The general allied military situation continued to improve, a German armistice [172] delegation crossed the French lines on November 7, and Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. At 5:10 A.M. on November 11, the Germans signed an armistice agreement in Foch’s railroad car.

Pershing was notified 50 minutes later that hostilities would cease at 11 A. M. The First American Army had conducted two "preliminary operations" following its mid-October push in anticipation of the projected major attack in concert with the French Fourth Army on November 1. With these and the Forest Farm operations behind them, the two armies struck the German defenses. The First smashed ahead, but the Fourth was unable to advance "beyond the line of the Aisne River" until the First, by its forward thrust, relieved the pressure. Presently the Second American Army on the right was ordered into action. On the morning of the Armistice, the Americans and the French were racing toward the historically-significant city of Sedan. Although Pershing promptly informed his commanders of the capitulation, "a few" advanced troops "could not be overtaken" by messengers "before the prescribed hour."18

The cease-fire was celebrated in every allied country, most of all in France where citizens and soldiers alike cheered, clapped, sang and danced. The news of the Armistice reached the 36th Division via radio. Shortly afterwards, the roar of the artillery in the vicinity of Verdun "suddenly" stopped. Newspapers furnished by the YMCA and other organizations had enabled the troops to keep abreast of recent events. Nevertheless, both they and the townspeople were momentarily stunned by the news, the latter more than the former.

The long-beleaguered villagers where Captain Chastaine, commanding officer, Company A, 142nd Infantry, was billeted, hesitated to believe what might be a spurious announcement, but their skepticism was short-lived. The French tricolor soon appeared on houses and the flags of many allied countries on passing automobiles. In the afternoon, the regimental band played and the Texans and Oklahomans paraded through the muddy streets. The rendering of Dixie and The Old Gray Mare was followed by rebel yells, the tossing of caps in the air, and demonstrations of "everything from an Indian war dance to a Mississippi levee shuffle." The semi-official celebration concluded with the Yanks saluting Old Glory as the band played The Star-Spangled Banner. Suitably enough perhaps, it was on this day [173] that the Panthers learned about the congratulations of the Texas and Oklahoma governors cabled by the Star-Telegram (with those of its own) in October.19

The Armistice notwithstanding, the 36th remained in training in the Triaucourt-Bar-le-Duc area as part of the 7th Corps until its disposition could be decided. Although the troops found the peacetime exercises irksome, their situation could have been decidedly worse. Pershing intended before the Armistice to create another American Army and change the numbering of the "old" but recently-created Second to the Third. Bullard was to command the Second and Major General Joseph T. Dickman the Third. Bullard’s new Second Army and 20 French divisions were on November 14 to attack east of the Meuse in the direction of Chateau-Salins and Metz, in effect picking up where the St. Mihiel operation of September had left off. The six divisions designated for this service were the 28th, 35th, 3rd, 4th, 29th, and 36th, of which the last four were in reserve. Bullard was said to have "wanted" the Texans and Oklahomans in his command because "he knew they would swim" the Moselle River to get at the Germans "if the engineers took too much time building bridges."20 The date set for the 36th to proceed toward the front was November 11.

The Armistice obviously necessitated a change of plans. As matters developed, a Third Army was created for occupation duty on the Rhine. Freshly-arrived divisions "were shipped up slowly to relieve the veterans" assigned to the Third Army. Combat divisions not sent to Germany were withdrawn to better training grounds. The 36th fell into the latter category. Word that the 36th was to depart for the 16th (Tonnerre) Training Area was received by the petulant Southwesterners with much delight because they believed they would soon be going home.21

Prior to leaving the Triaucourt-Bar-le-Duc area, the 36th received an official insignia to be worn "on the left sleeve at the shoulder." Shortly before the Armistice, General Headquarters at Chaumont had required all divisions to prepare insignias. The emblems would lessen the problem of identifying men of divisions who became intermixed with those of other units in combat and would "more strongly establish" esprit de corps. Thus a divisional committee was appointed to select a shoulder patch for the 36th.

The precise design of the committee’s first choice, which was disapproved, has not been ascertained. Captain Spence stated in [174] his official history that it consisted of a star surrounded by a wreath of bluebonnets and mistletoe, the state flowers of Texas and Oklahoma, respectively. The star was intended to symbolize both states. The Statesman, clearly on the basis of information received from someone in the division, reported that the design also contained the Arabic numerals "36" superimposed in the center of the star. First Lieutenant R. Wright Armstrong of Brownwood, Company G, 142nd Infantry, years later remembered a star with an Indian head on it. The Star- Telegram in 1919 mentioned only a "star of red on a white field." Since Spence was in a position to have first-hand information on the subject, one suspects that his description was that of the emblem actually recommended.

Whatever the exact design, it was rejected by General Headquarters because it resembled the insignia accepted for the 2nd Division, a star with an Indian head inside it. Spence’s explanation for the similarity was that one of the transfers to the 2nd from Bar-sur-Aube designed the 2nd Division insignia "with the 36th in mind." Be that as it may, the 36th committee returned to the drawing board and came up with the now-famous "T-Patch" design, although it was never known as such in World War I.

The new insignia consisted of a khaki T on a cobalt-blue arrowhead superimposed on a khaki disk. The T was emblematic of Texas and the arrowhead of Oklahoma. The committee concluded at the time it recommended the lone star emblem that the 36th should be known as the "Lone Star Division." Upon the adoption of the T-arrowhead design, the Texans and Oklahomans became, as far as they were concerned, "Arrow Heads." Nevertheless, neither the "Lone Star" nor "Panther" sobriquet went down easy. To the Star-Telegram and even the Daily Oklahoman the Southwesterners were still "Panthers." And the American Battle Monuments Commission after the war recorded "Lone Star," which was hardly used, as the division’s "popular nickname."22

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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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