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.
Alexander Houck Mosier was born on May 25, 1894, in Maryland. When he was drafted, he was a laborer in a flour mill with an 8th grade education. He was drafted at the age of 23 and was sent to Camp Meade in 1917 as part of the 79th Division, 313th Infantry, Company D.
Major General Joseph A. Kuhn oversaw the division, with Colonel Claude B. Sweezey commanding the 313th infantry. The men of the 79th division were drawn from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. A good example of the demographic makeup of the division is given in the form of the 310th Field Artillery: “In this one regiment there were fifteen nationalities, American, Russian, Italian, Polish, Austrian, Jewish, Swiss, English, Lithuanian, Greek, Bohemian, French, Irish, Romanian, and even German. There were four different religious beliefs, Protestant, Catholic, Hebrew and Greek Catholic, while twenty-five men of the regiment asserted they had no religious adherence. As to educational attainments, but fifty men in the regiment had ever attended college, while 114 had no education of any sort. Others had been to elementary, grammar and high schools.”
By September 30th, all the men had arrived at Camp Meade and were ready for training. The training lasted from October 1st, 1917, to July 5th, 1918. On July 5th, the division departed for Hoboken.
Saturday, 6 July: Reached Jersey City about 4 AM. Taken ferry across to Hoboken, on ferry boat. Loan aboard U.S.S. Leviathan. Went on Guard at 6 PM.
U.S.S. Leviathan was formerly the German Liner Vaterland, seized along with the entire U.S. branch of the Hamburg American Line when war was declared. The ship was originally designed to carry 4,500 passengers but by the time Alexander boarded, it had been upgraded to 14,000.
Monday, 15 July – Arrived at Brest about 2:30 PM. Stayed aboard ship all night. Up all night, band playing.
Tuesday, 16 July- Left boat and landed at Brest, walking 6 miles. Arrived at rest camp about 12 AM. Weather was cloudy and rainy. Went in a field of weed. Work hard to get tent up in rain.
Thursday, 18 July- Left camp about 2 AM. Walked 6 miles. Boarded cars 42 men to a car. Passed through Lerody, Landerneaux. Bremmes a very nice town. Munitions Camp located.
An excerpt on what the box cars were like: “Box cars are usually provided for the accommodation of the troops. They hold from 3'-2 to 40 men. Sometimes seats are provided. Straw will be provided whenever practicable to make the men as comfortable as possible when traveling in cold weather. Space at each end of the car should be left clear for rifles, rations and accoutrements; the rifles being secured by an improvised rack made with screw rings and a strap or sling.”
Friday, 19 July – Still traveling. Passed Angers, Tours, Vierson (Vierzon) large R.R. Centre. People of better classed. Nice homes.
Saturday, 20 July – Still on board train without much comfort eating or sleeping. Passed Dijon. Mostly wheat and potatoes grown. Seen droves of cattle 1500. Several camps, some been overseas 8 months.
Sunday, 21 July- Arrived about 6 AM. After being on train about 80 hours, walked 4 miles and secured quarters. 3rd floor 18 men in 1 room very good after being on train. Town named Blissey sa Pierre. Rained all day.
Thursday, 25 July- Hiked 2 hours with heavy packs and then drilled till noon. Packed up and left. Passed through Chatillon SuSeine. Reached Longeaux (Longeau) about 1 o’clock and stayed till morning.
Friday, 26 July- Left Longeaux (Longeau) about 11 AM. Traveled in trucks about 2 PM. Billeted again not very good. Town prices very high. Champlittle (Champlitte) name of town.
Champlitte was the site of the Tenth Training Area, where the division was to spend all of August in intensive combat training. This area had not been touched by the war. A description of the area: “It was picturesque from one end of the training area to the other, with the peasants always ready to extend a hearty greeting. Men of the Ammunition Train tell of a large sign displayed on the town hall, or hotel de ville of one of the places they entered, bearing the inscription, “Welcome to our American Friends,” and of the formal address of welcome delivered by the town’s patriarch, while the children and girls threw flowers to the men standing in the ranks. There was, however, little to do in the area by way of recreation. At the end of a hard day’s work the sole amusements would be a stroll through quaint village streets, a halting conversation with a native, or a glass of light wine sipped in a sidewalk cafe. Regulations forbidding the sale of strong liquors were enforced by the military authorities and were well observed on the part of the French population.”
From July 26 to September 8th, Alexander’s entries are sometimes short. The following is a selection of that time.
Saturday – 3 August – Short drill and lecture of care of feet. Taking automatic rifle apart with eyes tied shut with a handkerchief. Taking all apart with eyes tight shut, putting together the same way. Inspected by Lt. Townsend. Only 1 pin missed but would not stop from shooting.
Thursday – 8 August- Shooting on rifle range with automatic rifle. Made a good score. 23 five shots.
Thursday – 15 August – Drilled in morning and went to gas house and tested our gas mask. Took part of positions in front line trenches in honor of some Catholic festival. Nearly all people turned out.
Friday- 23 August- Went on 6 hour hike about 16 miles. In evening foot inspection. Tired and hungry and received pay. Also emergency rations. Still warm and cloudy and very cold at night.
Saturday – 31 August – Drilled and went through the manual of arms. Drilled with gas mask on for 1 hour. Pretty hard to get on in six seconds.
Monday – 2 September – General inspection of equipment. All taking a bath. One man drowned name Raspa. I ran for a pole up to town about 500 yards.
DROWNED? Taking a bath? What an awful way to go.
Sunday – 8 September – Left Campsite. Walked 6 Miles to Oyrios. (Oyreires) No rest men drop out about 11 AM. Boarded train with 2 days of rations at 5:45 PM. 40 men to a car, passed backed to Champlatde Maatz Chaumorunt (no idea).
Monday, 9 September – Passed Revigny Barekduc (Bar-le-duc?), reached Longville and unloaded. 9:30 AM went to town and stayed up in a hay loft.
Tuesday, 10 September – Rainy, no drill. More troops passing, auto trucks passing through, No retreat.
Thursday, 12 September – Cloudy and rainy. Inspection of everything, gun and clothes. Detail unloading cars, hay, and goats.
This story will continue in 3 days with PART 2: Preparing to Attack