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 6, The War is Over
Thursday- 26 December- Clear. Company moved to G quarters for M.P. duty. Regiment at Souilly.
The 79th Division moved into quarters around the French town of Souilly, that would be their home for the next several months: The billets in the new area, while a great improvement over captured Boche shelters and dugouts, were far from luxurious. The proximity of the Souilly Area towns to the battlefront for four years had driven most of the inhabitants away and those remaining were living most frugally. The barns, sheds and lofts were put in condition rapidly and the men soon had their quarters in excellent shape.
Alexander’s Diary doesn’t provide much detail for the next few months so the entries will be sparing. I’m including some anecdotes from the book about the division.
Sunday- 29 December- Cloudy. Went to College Marquerita that was used as museum. 807th Pion infantry Jazz band.
During this period the afternoon drill schedule was devoted each day to the playing of games. There was volley ball, basketball, soccer and boxing, and football teams were organized in companies, and all units up to, and including, the Division as a whole. This division team played with other division teams for the Corps and Army championship.
Tuesday 31 December- Clear. Company went to theater at St. Catherines. Saw a good show called “the Live Wires”, belonging to the over there “two girls and two fellows” at twelve. Quite a lot of excitement.
Moving picture shows and entertainments were almost nightly affairs. "Home talent," worked up within regiments, proved very popular and some very good performances were staged.
This wasn’t to say that discipline had been forgotten, The soldierly bearing was remarked upon by General Johnson on February 14, in G-1 Order No. 54, which read:"
"The Division Commander has noted with pleasure a great improvement in the rendering of salutes and the condition of transport. Officers of the Army, Corps, and other Divisions are constantly passing through this area and judge the state of discipline and training in a great measure by these two things and for this reason the necessity of a careful observance of the requirements in regard to salutes and of the cleanliness of transport must be a matter of the Divisional pride, that we stand first and the earnest cooperation of every officer and man is desired in order that we may hold this place."
Friday- 28 March- Cloudy and Rain. Left Renicount about 7:30 AM. Passed Conde, Hargeville, Vavinconert, Naives. Reached Rosiern. Noon had a bite to eat. Small korn very filthy.
Field Order No. 40, 1919, prescribed that this division proceed by marching to the Fourth Training Area, just north of Chaumont, and directed that the movement begin on March 28. The hike to the new area covered a distance of one hundred kilometers and took five days to complete. It was made under the most trying conditions, as snow and hail fell almost continually during the first four days, drenching the men and making the roads extremely difficult for marching. Despite the bad weather and the long weary kilometers, feeling and spirit ran high. There was no straggling and every man stepped along with a light heart.
The change in the country was seen as soon as the Division reached St. Dizier. There it entered the beautiful valley of the Marne, with high hills on both sides, and it was apparent that the Division was just beginning to see one of the picturesque parts of France. The long march had its compensation. It brought the Division back into civilization, back where the inhabitants had not lived through long years of fear of Boche artillery fire. For seven months the Seventy ninth had been at or near the front, and it was with deep relief the men welcomed a land with tidy homes and neatly cultivated fields.
Friday- 11 April- Cloudy. We are in review in front of Pershing. Best Company D. Blue Ribbon.
On April 12th, while still in the Rimaucourt Area awaiting further orders regarding the movement to LeMans, the Seventy-ninth Division held its final review, its turn to be reviewed and inspected by the Commander-in-Chief, General Pershing. An excellent description of the review comes from the pen of General Kuhn, who wrote:
Some excerpts below:
"For a short time during the inspection, the rain ceased long enough to permit three battalions to remove their slickers so as to display their service, wound stripes and Divisional insignias.
"In what action did you get that?' General Pershing would ask, pointing to some man's wound stripe, and, when the reply came, add, 'Be proud of it — as we all are — the symbol of America's sacrifice.'
"In a pouring rain the Division swept by its great commander, maintaining an excellent alignment and the massed bands playing a stirring march. With set and resolute faces, with the rain dripping from their helmets, line after line of men marched past, emerging out of the mist on one side of the field and disappearing again into the mist on the other side. It was a wonderful and awe-inspiring sight which did not escape favorable comment by General Pershing.
" In his address to the officers of the Division at the conclusion of the review, General Pershing was generous in his praise of the splendid manner in which the Division had acquitted itself in battle. He conveyed the thanks of the A. E. F. and the nation at large, as well as his own, to the Division for the heroic part it had played in the Meuse-Argonne.
"'Impress upon your men,' he said, 'that each and everyone who did his part, no matter how humble, shares in the glory of the great accomplishment. Let each view the works of the -whole and let none hereafter discount the sum of America's part in this war. America won the war; it was the arrival of you and your comrades at a time when Allied leaders were beginning to doubt their ability to crush Germany, that turned the scales and sealed the doom of autocracy.'"
The final incident of the great review came the following day in the receipt of a letter from General Pershing which gave a glowing summary of the fighting record of the Seventy-ninth Division. This letter, prized highest of all the honors bestowed upon the Division, reads as follows:
"American Expeditionary Forces Office of the Commander-in-Chief France, April 13, 1919.
Major General Joseph E. Kuhn, Commanding 79th Division, American E. F.
My dear General Kuhn:
It afforded me great satisfaction to inspect the Seventy ninth Division on April 12th, and on that occasion to decorate the standards of your regiments, and, for gallantry in action, to confer medals on certain officers and men. Your transportation and artillery were in splendid shape, and the general appearance of the Division was well up to the standard of the American Expeditionary Forces. Throughout the inspection and review the excellent morale of the men and their pride in the record of their organization was evident.
In the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the Division had its full share of hard fighting. Entering the line for the first time on September 26th as the right of the center corps, it took part in the beginning of the great Meuse-Argonne Offensive. By September 27th it had captured the strong position of Montfaucon, and in spite of heavy artillery reaction the Bois de Beuge and Nantillois were occupied. On September 30 it was relieved, having advanced ten kilometers. It again entered the battle on October 29th, relieving, as part of the 17th French Corps, the29th Division in the Grande Montagne Sector to the east of the Meuse River. From that until the Armistice went into effect, it was almost constantly in action. On November 9th Crepion, Wavrille and Gibercy M'ere taken, and in conjunction with elements on the right and left, Etraye and Moirey were invested. On November 10th, Chaumont-devant-Damvillers was taken, a total advance of 9.2 kilometers.
This is a fine record for any division, and I want the officers and men to know this, and to realize how much they have contributed to the success of our arms. They may return home justly proud of themselves and of the part they have played in the American Expeditionary Forces.
John J. Pershing.
Monday- 14 April- Boxing matches between A and D.
The division predicted they would be sent to Le Mans next. Instead, on April 19th, the division was ordered to Nantes.
Tuesday – 22 April- Load in box cars at 2 AM. Had accident, ten cars jumped trackes. Left 8 PM. Passed Andelot, Bologne, Chaumont, Dijon, Santenory, St. Berain, Le Crenusori, Luzy, Tours, DeCuze, Bourges and several other large towns. Chenanceaux, Saveniers, Saumeur, Angers, Chalonnes, Chemille, Trenentines. Reached Chalet after 4pm, April 25
Meanwhile, the movement of the balance of the Division to Nantes was not so rapid. Between April 21 and 27 the famous box cars — yes, and American "side-door Pullmans" — in long trains were leaving Rimaucourt railhead with battalions and regiments, each trainload requiring from forty to forty-eight hours before the destination was reached. The way led through Chaumont, Dijon, Paray, Moulins, Bourges, Tours and Angiers to Nantes and vicinity, the units being billeted in small villages in a forty kilometer area around the old French town on the Loire. The 304th Engineers, however, did not move to Nantes with the Division. The regiment remained to garrison and police the area, not leaving Rimaucourt until May 10th, when it was sent by train to rejoin the Division at Montaign in the St. Nazaire area.
The weather during the Division's stay of approximately three weeks in the area was ideal. The French people with whom the men were billeted treated them royally and the unanimous decision of all was that the Nantes Area was the very best the Division had lived in while in France. The houses and streets of the little villages, scattered through the beautiful rolling country bordering on the Loire River in the old Vendee section of France, were surprisingly clean and orderly.
Only one thing barred the harmony of it all — inspections. They began almost as soon as the new billets were occupied. All administrative orders of the period dwelt almost entirely upon them. As early as April 27 came G-1 Order No. 147, 79th Division, which proceeded to lay down the instructions of the Section Inspector of Base Section No. 1. The Division never realized it had to pass so many inspections before it could be released for embarkation, but officers and company clerks learned to their sorrow of what was ahead of them when they turned the leaves of that and subsequent orders.
Then, with the inspections came the inevitable lists and accountings; squadding lists, company rosters, clothing and equipment lists, arms and ammunition lists, property lists, passenger lists, individual records, audits of company funds, audits of vouchers for pay, baggage certificates, examination of identification tags, of wound chevrons and so on, indefinitely.
Wednesday – 30 April- Had a lay down inspection on field.
On April 30, a tentative sailing schedule was published which listed five transports which would carry 15,000 men, the first to sail on May 9, and the others at intervals until May 16. A few days later, on May 2, another sailing list was published and this set the date for the first ship's departure on May 10. About the same time it was stated that passes of not longer than eighteen hours would be granted to officers and men to visit Nantes and other cities and towns in the areas, and the brief trips were sought eagerly, particularly as orders made matters simple by publishing almost all the train schedules in the area.
Tuesday- 13 May- Clear. Pack up and left billets 10:30 AM. 12:15 passed through town Eurunnes, Clisson, Mantes, Saveny. Reached St. Nazarine about 9 PM. Hiked 4 kilo to barracks. Supper at 1 AM.
By the beginning of the second week in May the inspections had advanced to the point where the units began to St. Nazaire, once more reuniting all elements. Here again came more inspections, another delousing, issuance of clothing, completion of passenger lists and other paper work until everything was ready for the embarkation. At last that day arrived.
Saturday – 17 May- Cloudy. Packed and left Camp 88 Drive to St. Nazaire. Loaded ship Antoine. Got eats at Md Kitchen N.P.N Va 5:30.
The 313th boarded the U.S.S. Antigone on the 17th of May. Similar to the ship they crossed the Atlantic first on, the U.S.S Leviathan, the Antigone was originally a German ship transporting immigrants, seized in an American port when war was declared.
The order to embark all elements of the 79th Division for the journey home has this statement from General Kuhn included:
1. With the embarkation for the United States, now under way, the work for which the 79th Division was created has come to an end.
2. During its life of twenty months, the Division has demonstrated a degree of loyalty, devotion to duty and bravery in action which must be a source of pride to every member as well as a credit to our country.
3. The Division Commander desires to thank each officer and man for his work and to commend all for the excellent reputation justly earned by the Division. He trusts that the many lessons learned while in military service will not be lost and that all members of the Division will return to their civil callings with a better understanding of the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship in a free country.
4. The glorious achievements of the American Expeditionary Forces, in which the 79th Division has been privileged to participate, will be a source of gratification to coming generations of Americans. We are not unmindful that these achievements have not been attained without sacrifices and we bear in revered memory the many brave comrades who have made the supreme sacrifice for their country.
5. The Division Commander wishes for every member of the Division all possible success in his future life.
Different from the silent, alert trip overseas some nine months before was the homeward journey across the Atlantic. No zigzagging in the war zone, no running with lights out, no watchful guard to check the chap who wanted to light a match on deck. Band concerts and entertainments, games and amusements with enough drill to enable the men to man the boats in case of accident. Almost before the last units had embarked at St. Nazaire, the first transports were arriving in American ports.
On May 29, 1919, the Antigone arrived in Newport News, Virginia.
Tuesday- 3 June- On Essex. Reach Baltimore 9:30. Hike to Armory. Report at 9 AM
(Author’s Note: I’m not sure what Alexander traveled on, as the only USS Essex at this time was in the Great Lakes.)
While most of the 79th Division reported to Camp Nix in New Jersey, the 313th went to Baltimore, to march in a victory parade on June 4th.
Thursday 5 June – Left Armory boarded train. Went to Camp Meade after being gone 11 months.
The thousands of American men — from the great cities, the small towns, the farms, the ranches, the mountains and the prairies — drawn together to accomplish a fixed purpose, had triumphed. Their work was done. They departed for the places from whence they came, those thousands who for nearly two years were united in a single body, having almost a single soul, until they were scattered over millions of square miles, never to be reassembled.
The Seventy-ninth Division, as it was in the World War, no longer exists as a part of the Army of the United States. But it lives in the minds and hearts of fifty thousand men, and it will live there as long as those men, who have tasted the bitterest gall and the sweetest nectar in the world, live.
Memories and traditions will carry the glory of the Seventy-ninth onward through American history long after those who fought with it in France have answered the final taps. Its deeds are emblazoned in the official reports of that summer and fall of 1918; its campaigns may be read througli the centuries on the color streamers of the battle flags :"
Meuse-Argonne Offensive, France, 26 September-30 September
Meuse-Argonne Offensive, France, 8 October-25 October.
Meuse-Argonne Offensive, France, 29 October-11 November.
A glorious record, crowned by Montfaucon and la Borne de Cornouiller, but saddened, alas, by that long, long list of those who died on battlefield and in hospital, victims of bullet, gas, shell and disease. And the accomplishments of the Seventy-ninth Division are poignant, lasting records that those who died did not make the supreme sacrifice in vain.
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