My great-grandfather, Alexander Houck Mosier, served in WWI with the 79th Division during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which took place from September 26, 1918, to November 11th, 1918. This is his story.
I have in my possession the transcription of a diary he wrote while deployed. A major help in writing this story is the book History of the Seventy-Ninth Division A.E.F. during the World War: 1917-1919, published in 1922. The book was extremely helpful, as Alexander had trouble spelling the French names. Reading along helped me to narrow down the towns he traveled through. I also have created a google map (https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1Q49-SJTkOTM5jPSWg-qH7cAeFjOtm68&usp=drive_link) , which plots where I think he was. Especially in later parts where his division is in combat, the pins mark the general area. The map covers his whole diary, so minor spoilers for where he traveled.
In this story, I have picked specific entries from his diary, marked in bold, to tell the story, with my comments/ summary along with quotes from the book, in italics. There are entries for each day, but some are removed to shorten the length of the story.
This story is continued from PART 5, Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Third Phase
The war was over. As the men still alive counted their blessings, there were other counts being taken. From October 29th to November 11th, 10 officers and 458 men were killed, 52 officers and 1.522 men wounded and gassed, 2 officers and 418 men missing, and 3 officers and 48 men captured (likely from the 315th and 316th, engaged elsewhere on the front).
In the last few days of fighting, the Americans advanced so quickly that the Germans left much of their equipment behind. Some of the material captured included 10,000 77mm. German shells, 48,000 hand grenades, twenty-four machine guns, 1,248 boxes of loaded machine gun belts, six trench mortars, 1,000 rifles, 10,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition, 150,000 steel rods for reinforcements, 150,000 steel posts for wire entanglements, thirty narrow gauge cars, 1,000 rolls of barbed wire entanglement, 25,000 rolls of barbed wire, a complete surgical laboratory, a great variety of building material — lumber, tools, piping, trackage, etc. — and the one 150mm. gun taken by the 315th Infantry in the last minutes of fighting.
Tuesday - 12 November - Clear. Balance of Company came in, checked up missing men. Places to sleep. Most men lay around fire all night.
Wednesday - 13 November - Clear and cold. All policed up. Roll packs and started back about 2 PM. Went in billets that were German Horse stables. Marching once in daytime.
The 313th was withdrawn from the front entirely on this day.
Thursday - 14 November - Clear and cold. Captain was transferred and had to stand muster. Stood retreat at 6 PM by moonlight.
Friday - 15 November - Clear and cold. Went with Chaplain on burial detail. Found souvenirs.
Large details were sent out under chaplains to conduct this work. It was grim business, as a great number of bodies were lying about in the sector — Germans, French Colonials, and Americans of the Twenty-ninth, Thirty-third, Twenty-sixth and Seventy-ninth Divisions. The fighting in the area during the preceding month had been so severe that there had been little opportunity to care properly for those who had fallen. They were now gathered tenderly and concentrated, so far as possible, in four cemeteries, one on la Borne de Cornouiller, one at the head of the Etraye ravine, and two near Molleville Ferme.
After their withdrawal from the front, the book skips large sections of time. The troops kept up their discipline, drilling every day.
Saturday - 16 November - Company was paid. Cloudy and rainy. Candy and cigarettes were issued.
Sunday - 17 November - Drilled three hours.
Colonel Sweezey, the commander of the 313th during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne, returned to command his old regiment.
Monday - 18 November - Check up ammunition, guns and equipment.
Tuesday - 19 November - Clear. Drilled. Review of troops by Major. Also heard band play and music. First since leaving Champlitte.
Wednesday - 20 November - Battalion was on salvage detail. Got back about 2 PM.
Thursday - 21 November - Clear. Packed up and left area about 12 PM. Until late at night, got lost and stayed along road at night. Found a little dugout close to Verdun.
By the 21st, the 313th was put in charge of traffic on the roads in and around Verdun.
Friday —22 November - Clear. Went out to Neil Barracks across the Meuse River, 78th Division at Neil, Neil was full of returning prisoners to home.
Saturday - 23 November - Clear, Had a formation. Done a little marching. Several were paid again for October. Cigarettes were issued. Very good meals issued. New Equipment.
Sunday- 24 November- Clear. Packed up and left dugouts. Walked about 2 kilo and went in dugouts again beside Canal. Very bad place. 5 in my place.
Monday- 25 November- Cloudy. Went on 10 mile hike. Came back about 1 PM. Had dinner. More formations until retreat. Cleaned up around here. Rained all night.
Wednesday- 11 December- Cloudy. Did not drilled much on account of rain. Had a show in Verdun. General Kuhn was there.
Monday- 16 December- Cloudy. Went to Verdun for a bath. Got wet on way back. Teeth inspection.
The first after-the-armistice Division terrain exercises were held on December 16. These terrain exercises and maneuvers, which were held by battalions, regiments, brigades and Division, continued to form a large part of the training schedule for several months. Necessary and instructive as they doubtless were, they naturally did not constitute the most popular part of army life. With the war over, it was difficult to battle with an imaginary foe with any great amount of zeal or interest, especially with the thermometer registering around zero and the cold rain or snow deepening the sea of mud through which the men bad to wallow. Every day units hiked out to wet fields — worse than marshes — and devoted hours to close order and bayonet drills, physical exercises and all the other branches of military training.
Wednesday 18 December – Cloudy. Had no formation. Had no retreat. Very disagreeable.
Understandably, the men really wanted to go home but were still stuck in France, with no word when they might go home.
Monday- 23 December- Went on battalion problem. Salvation Army gave doughnuts away.
Wednesday- 25 December- CXMAS day. Snowing. Had a little of corn whilley bread and coffee for breakfast where issued confections. I received and sent mail.
Then came Christmas — the Christinas overseas — one that will live long in the memories of the members of the Division. Amid scenes of desolation and destruction and on the ground associated with so many poignant recollections of recent fighting, coupled with thoughts of other Christmas days spent far away with loved ones, it was a day of conflicting emotions. To brighten the spirits of all, entertainments were arranged by the different units and devotional services held for each battalion. Company funds provided generous supplies of nuts, oranges, chicken and other delicacies. For this day the candle allowance, which had so far been very meagre, was increased one hundred per cent, but even this was not sufficient to cast much brilliance over the Yuletide festivities. German powder sticks were found to be better than tallow candles for illumination, and were used with good effect.
In all units the men united to give to the little homeless refugees, pouring into the sector after four years of wandering, as much Christmas as it was possible to arrange in such short order and with so limited a source of supply. At Dugny in particular, where many of the refugees had arrived, a special event was made of the occasion by the rear echelon of Division Headquarters. Every child received some kind of present and candies were lavishly distributed to the tots whose eager, happy faces were recompense enough to many a homesick lad. Christmas services and entertainment, Christmas parties and Christmas dinners— these were the events of that snowy day in the region around Verdun. The celebration was capped by a neatly printed folder from the Division Commander to each of his men, extending the spirit of the season. This folder read:
To the Officers and Men of the 79th Division.
This, the second Christmas in the life of the 79th Division finds you far from home and friends in a foreign land. Your thoughts are with those near and dear to you across the water as their thoughts are with you. This Christmas setting is indeed a strange and unusual one for many of you who for the first time in your lives are not celebrating the holiday season with your families.
Your presence here is in a just and righteous cause and the sacrifices you have made and are still making are for the benefit of all civilization and future generations. The Dawn of Peace has come and with it the time of your return to your country and home draws near.
In wishing you one and all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, your Division Commander desires to express his appreciation for your gallant conduct in battle and for your faithful services both at home and abroad.
Your conduct has been excellent, even under trying conditions and your Division Commander trusts that one and all will strive to maintain the high reputation justly earned by the 79th Division."
The Christmas spirit was buoyed by the orders that had come down, the division was being transferred south.
It was farewell to Death Valley, to the snow-capped bald top of la Borne de Cornouiller, to the marshy plains of the Woevre and the Cotes of unpleasant memories. The Seventy-ninth was going out of the line, staging homeward, the men hoped, as the long columns began to wind away from the sacred region of Verdun, the region where their deeds were blended for all time with those of the poilus who had held the ground in the years gone by. For the last time the Division looked at the graves of its dead; for the last time it saw the long bands of barbed wire cutting across the country, the shell holes, the hastily dug fox holes; for the last time it viewed the wreck of a land after four years of war. Then forward on the road to Souilly — for the road to Souilly meant the road to home!
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