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Chapter 1 Beginnings


HISTORY OF THE 304th FIELD ARTILLERY
by
James M. Howard
1920


FOREWORD

In the summer and fall of the year 1917 a group of men who had been called into the service of their country were put together, by the hazard of military life, to form a regiment known as the 304th Field Artillery. Two of them were officers from the Regular Army. Not a few had seen service on the Mexican Border with the National Guard. A great majority were essentially civilians who had become soldiers simply in answer to the call of duty in a time of national need. Most of them were from New York City. They came from every conceivable walk of life. Some entered the service as commissioned officers, and some as enlisted men.

During the winter and spring which followed, other men joined the group, some from New York State and a good many from Iowa, Minnesota and various parts of the country.

Together they trained as soldiers, first in Camp Upton, Long Island, and later in Camp de Souge, near Bordeaux France. Together they served at the front, in the quiet Lorraine sector, on the Vesle and the Aisne Rivers, and finally in the great Argonne-Meuse offensive which ended the war. There developed among them a spirit of comradeship, which surpassed anything they had known before. Whether or not they liked army life, these men learned to love their regiment.

This book is intended simply as a record of the experiences, which they shared during their twenty months of service together. It does not purport to be in any way a history of the Great War. Its purpose is to preserve in concrete form for the men themselves and for their friends the story of their experiences.

Parts of the narrative, especially in the first two chapters, will doubtless "be dry reading for an outsider. If the reader will remember that the details of those early days are recorded for the benefit of the men who lived through them, and will pass on to the later chapters, he will find there the story of actual war as it was fought by a regiment of soldiers who were second to none in the American armies.

The author desires to express his profound admiration of the officers and men with whom it was his privilege to serve, and his appreciation of their fellowship, without which the story could never have been written. In the preparation of the book itself, the help of certain individuals has been invaluable:

Colonel Copely Enos, who commanded the regiment from November 20, 1918, until demobilization, not only gave the whole project his enthusiastic support, but read the manuscript with minute care and offered wise and constructive criticism.

Major Lewis Sanders was from the first a resourceful advisor in everything which had to do with the publication of the book, and furnished considerable information about the work of the First Battalion.

Major Alvin Devereux, of the Second Battalion, contributed written accounts of various episodes connected with the operations of his command from which the author has drawn freely without always using quotation marks or indicating the source.,

Captain Harry Kempner was an unfailing source of information regarding the operations in which the regiment was engaged. He also made one of the illustrations.

Lieutenant Lawrence Thornton, of the Brigade Commander's Staff, wrote an account of the Plattsburg Training Camp and of the beginnings of Camp Upton without which the first chapter could hardly have been written, and as Brigade Historian he has offered helpful advice and criticism.

Lieutenant Roger McE. Smith gave a great deal of time to the work of illustrating, produced many of the best of the drawings, and supervised the final preparation of the cuts. His helpful labors and loyal cooperation after the regiment was disbanded and the artists scattered, deserve special thanks.

Sergeant William K. Vernon collected and arranged a vast amount of information and furnished many helpful suggestions.
Mr. Perry Newberry, the regimental Y. M. C. A. Secretary, took entire charge of the illustrating, laid out the work for the artists, lived and labored with them for weeks, and himself drew some of the pictures. His wide experience, both as an illustrator and as a writer, as well as his sincerity and enthusiasm in the work, made his criticisms invaluable. The whole layout of the book is the work of Mr. Newberry. His work for the regiment in the making of this memorial volume is surpassed only by the resourcefulness, the genuineness, and the unfailing good will of his life and work among the men, both at the front and during the trying period after the fighting was over. He was not an adjunct, but an integral part of the regiment, respected and beloved by officers and men as a tried and trusted friend.

Under him in the task of illustrating worked Corporal Michael Lemmermeyer, whose cartoons enliven the entire book; Private Dalrymple, whose brush work has given most of the full-page illustrations; Private Revard Graham, who has done
the decorative chapter headings; and Privates Archie Anderson and E. H. Reims, Jr., whose pen drawings have helped to make the story interesting. Sergeant Stephen Avres, as a member of the Art Department, did considerable work on the maps.

Two members of Battery E, Corporal Edwin C. Cass and Private George Petri, were kind enough to lend their diaries, which not only furnished numerous quotations, but suggested a great many things which the author has himself written. Several others, who would prefer that their names did not appear, have contributed bits from diaries and letters.

To all these friends the author extends his sincere thanks. Their cooperation has made the whole work a joy.

CHAPTER I

BEGINNINGS


For three long months before the 304th Field Artillery existed most of those who were to be its officers had been together. The United States had declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, and on May 15th those New York men who had been accepted as candidates for commissions in the Officers' Reserve Corps were summoned to Plattsburg, New York, to undergo a period of intensive training. There for three months they lived bunk to bunk in the barracks and ate the same army food. For three months they toiled with mind and body to master the elements of things military. When, at the end of that time, they left the camp as commissioned officers, they took with them not only a somewhat confused mass of technical knowledge but also a spirit of comradeship which went far toward insuring the success of the regiment in which they were to serve.

At the beginning of the course every one started as an infantryman. With rifle, bayonet and pack be drilled and hiked like any doughboy. After a month of this the men who had chosen to serve in the artillery were reassembled and assigned to provisional batteries for special instruction, and it was with supreme satisfaction that they laid aside their packs and congratulated themselves on the prospect of future hikes on horseback. Let the doughboys laboriously plod their way on foot-the artillery would ride. Some three-inch guns had arrived in camp, and they looked to be man's size weapons. What a splendid showing they would make, rumbling by at a trot, six horses to a gun!

Long-cherished visions of horseback riding quickly vanished, however, as the artillerymen entered on their specialized training. There were no horses in camp.

Hikes on foot were as frequent as before, only instead of packs and rifles the men now carried instruments. Classes were held from seven in the morning to quarter of twelve, and in the afternoon from one-thirty to half -past four. There was a two -hour study period every evening. The path was not strewn with roses; leisure hours were rare. Barracks and company streets had to be policed (i. e., cleaned) before class in the morning, and the strict insistence on personal neatness made it necessary to fill in the precious moments between four-thirty and retreat with shaving and the polishing of personal equipment. The life was all work, with mighty little play.

When the First Provisional Battery was assembled, Captain Ned B. Rehkopf, a field artilleryman of the Regular Army, introduced himself as its commanding officer and senior instructor. With his hat tilted down over his eyes he looked slowly along the line of faces before him, said a few words and dismissed the battery. The men's first impression of him was one of calm, impersonal leadership, and as the weeks', wore on the impression deepened and left a lasting influence.

Second in command was Lieutenant Barnes, also of the Regular Army. Like the Captain he had a faculty of smoothing over difficult places, of which there were not a few. Major Lewis Sanders, although on cadet status, assisted in the instruction, and with terrible energy he spurred his charges on through the intricacies of firing data and reconnaissance, and led them on strenuous hikes, which even the long marches in France never effaced from their memory. The men lived in a state of uncertainty. Each day brought new and difficult things to learn, as well as fresh rumors.

The latter always had to do with the prospects of being or not being commissioned. joy rose and fell according as the rumors were propitious or unpropitious, and each candidate measured his chances by the successes or failures of each day's work. At the most unexpected moments the instructors would call a man forth from the obscurity and oblivion of the ranks and thrust upon him a position of command where his short-comings were painfully conspicuous. He might do well, or he might do ill, From One Farmer's Roof to Another but in either case he was apt to feel that he had lost his chance of winning a commission.

In the morning tactical walks under Major Sanders became the usual thing. The camp edged the shore of Lake Champlain, and back from it the roads led into the sandy, pine-tree country, and the region of the Chateaugay branch railroad and the Salmon River.. Commanding this country from the north was a hill on which stood the Hotel Champlain and its water tower. Hither the men hiked along the Peru Road and fought strateoric battles with imaginary guns against an imaginary enemy, and always the water tower figured as an important element. Observers were shot from it daily. There was not a copse or knoll for miles around but sheltered artillery, friendly or otherwise.

After a time some horses arrived, and three batteries alternated in their use. Just enough days elapsed between equitation lessons to heal the soreness of the previous riding, but at least there was some satisfaction in an occasional drill with horses and guns.

Actual firing was not possible, but every one hoped that a big maneuver might be held in which batteries would be taken into position. The maneuver never took place, but instead of it the instructors arranged a big problem in communication, in which all the different means of signaling were to be brought into play.

When the day arrived, the legions started forth at dawn equipped with blinker lights, signal flags, field telephones, rockets, and horses for messengers. Observers were stationed in the tower to flash the progress of events, while groups of runners relayed messages. From one farmer's roof to another instructions were wig-wagged, and rockets and bombs Went up all along the line. At the close of the day it was decided that if communication had won the fight the enemy had certainly been surrounded and taken.

The Plattsburg course ended with a grand review of all the troops in camp. One battery of artillery, patched together for the occasion, passed proudly in review with guidons flying and guns and caissons bowling along behind the horses,-a stirring spectacle for the men who had toiled through the terrible heat of the summer to become artillery officers.

On August 15th the commissions were announced. Captain Rehkopf assembled the successful candidates and made a characteristically short speech.

"Gentlemen," he said, "you enter the service to become representatives of the American Army. It has been very difficult to choose among you. I trust I may be able later to say that I have chosen wisely."

Where all had been comrades of equal standing, each successful candidate was now to take on rank commensurate with his age and, it was to be hoped, with his ability; but a fellowship had grown up in those three months which rank could not efface. It was a group of friends who separated on August 15th for a brief vacation, with orders to report at the end of the month at Camp Upton, Long Island, there to take up their duties as officers of the 304th Field Artillery.

Camp Upton, on September 1st, was a howling wilderness of stumps, lumber piles, civilian workmen, ditches and half finished buildings. The stumps were all that was left of a forest of scrub oak and pine which had been cleared away to provide an area f or the camp. The lumber was strewn in wild confusion all over the place. The civilian workmen swarmed like so many ants, and often with as little apparent aim. The ditches marked the first stage of what was to be an elaborate system of water supply and drainage, while from day to day newly completed buildings showed the progress of the great wooden city, which was to house forty thousand men.

In this wilderness our newly commissioned officers found themselves when, after alighting from the train, they walked the long dusty road to camp and sought out the headquarters of the Commanding General. There the Adjutant assigned them to their regiment, and told them to report to the headquarters of the 304th Field Artillery. The vague address given was "J-1," and it was difficult at first to determine Just which part of the camp the constructing engineers had labeled "J"; but as soon as the section was located the building was not hard to find, for it was one of the few finished barracks in the area, situated between what afterward became 2nd and 3rd Avenues above 11th Street. Here, amid a confusion of desks and papers pertaining to other regiments, Captain Leonard Sullivan, the regimental Adjutant, was already busy with that bane of all army officers, paper work."

There was not much about the camp at that time to suggest military life. Steam stump pullers were tearing roots out of the ground to make way for new buildings. Great noisy machines were plowing up new ditches and adding to the pitfalls which made walking dangerous after dark. Carpenters were hammering, and plumbers were littering the floors with pipe, bolts, solder and tin. The only warlike touch was a battalion of the 15th New York Infantry (colored), who were acting as guards until the camp should toast a military police force of its own. These happy-go-lucky blacks furnished as much amusement as protection. They presented arms with superb dignity whenever an officer passed by, and when off duty they laughed and chased each other about among., their tents, or beat out marvelous ragtime on the piano in the Y. 'M. C. A tent.

Major Sanders was at first in charge of the 304th. On paper one Colonel Westervelt was in command, but he was in France at the time and the regiment never saw him. The real commanding officer, Lieutenant- Colonel John R. Kelly, had not yet reported, so it was Major Sanders who marshaled the officers and gave them their instructions. No soldiers would be on hand for some days, and the officers must practice on each other. Each battery commander took his lieutenants out and every officer had his turn at giving commands to the others. The Major took them all on a personally conducted tour of the camp and pointed out where in the great U-shaped city the various parts of the division would eventually be. As the officers stumbled along over the stumps and leaped the ditches they wondered where, in all this animated desert, there would be any room to drill.

In a few days Colonel Kelly arrived to take command. As a captain of infantry in the Regular Army he had been an instructor in the civilian training camps at Plattsburg in 1916, and bad earned a good name as a leader of tact and force. This reputation did not belie him, for in a very short time the officers of the 304th had learned to rely on his judgment and had been won to a strong personal attachment to their commanding officer. The only other regular army officer in the regiment was Major Leonard C. Sparks, who arrived about the same time. He was a field artilleryman and an exceptionally capable one, as well as a man of rare personal charm.

Presently there arrived a group of non-commissioned officers who had been sent from the Regular Army to help in getting the new National Army into shape. Some of these men were fine soldiers of the stamp of Sergeants Cronin and French, who were made first sergeants of B and D Batteries respectively and served in that capacity until the regiment was disbanded. Others of them, however, came with an utterly wrong notion of the National Army and had an idea they could do about what they liked with the reserve officers. They were mistaken. A strenuous sifting process was instituted which soon got rid of the undesirables. Those that remained were worth keeping, and they served right through with faithfulness and often with distinction.

Meantime, on September 10th, arrived the great day to which thousands of people had been looking forward, some with eagerness and some with dread, the calling out of the first draft. Even since they had registered on June 5th and had been declared physically fit for military service, these men had been watching for the day when there should come a pink card through the mail telling them to report for duty. Now the day had come. Great masses of friends and well-wishers turned out to see them off, and the first installment of the new National Army from New York City boarded the Long Island train for Camp Upton.

As the first trainload pulled out of the station men hung from the car windows and crowded the platforms, shouting and singing and hailing every one in uniform who came near. Officers had boarded the train some distance from the camp, so that the leaders appointed by the local draft boards had been relieved from their none too easy job of trying in some measure to control the enthusiastic or defiant curiosity of the
recruits.

The occupants of the cars needed no command from the officers in charge to swarm out, pushing and yelling, and fall into something, which vaguely resembled a line. There was no lack of comments and suggestions from the ranks as the officers struggled to straighten out the formation so that they could tell who was present and who was missing. Finally the roll call was finished and at the command "Right face-forward march!" the men picked up their grips and bundles and started to march with ragged and uneven strides toward camp.

These first recruits had been largely picked by the local boards as being likely men to form the nucleus of the regiments and perhaps to become non-commissioned officers, and in most cases the selection had been fairly good. Nevertheless it is doubtful whether there had ever been a stranger assemblage for the making of an army. They came from every nook and corner of Greater New York and from every stratum of society and every walk of life. Fifth Avenue and the lower Fast Side, men who had lived on inherited incomes and men who toiled as day laborers, university graduates and illiterates, those whose ancestors had fought under Washington and those whose parents were still living in Italy and Russia walked side by side in a column of twos through the dust and confusion of the camp.

At last the strange procession halted before a new barrack which had been prepared for their reception. In groups of eight they were told off and summoned inside, where each man was led up stairs and assigned to a bunk. On every cot lay a mess kit, two or three blankets and a bed sack, which, when filled with straw, would serve as a mattress. Odors of a steaming hot lunch were coming up from the kitchen, and by the time the last man had been given his bunk, mess was ready and every one fell to with a will. The first army chow these rookies got was are alone. Chefs from New York hotels had been employed to prepare the meals until cooks could be selected and trained from among the soldiers, and although the service might have been more dainty the food was good and there was plenty of it.

After mess began the weary process of being mustered into the army. The men were lined up alphabetically, and as each one's name was called he entered the mess hall and took his place at table opposite him sat an officer with a pile of large cards on which were innumerable questions to be answered by the recruit: name, age, place of birth, nationality of parents, previous occupation, salary, schooling, previous military experience, and all information which might be of assistance in determining a man's fitness for the different branches of the service, and later, for the various special duties Connected with army life. All this had to be extracted by questions and entered on the qualification cards and finally signed by the candidate and by the officer.

As the men completed this inquisition they were marshaled outside and marched to the building where the medical examiners held forth. Here through the various departments the recruits were shoved like meat through a sausage mill, and some who were palpably unfit were eliminated and given a slip entitling them to a discharge from present military service. The rest were bustled along to the unfeeling doctors who administered the prophylactic needle.

The needle deserves special mention, for it loomed large in the imagination of the rookie. To the first lot sent it came as a surprise before the man knew what was happening the needle had been thrust into his arm and the damage was done.

But those who came later were greeted all the way from the station with jeering cries of "Wait till you get the needle!" "You want to look out f or that needle-three men died from it yesterday!" For weeks afterward any reference to inoculations in songs or skits at the battery entertainments was sure to bring a laugh.

After the physical examination there was another line-up and the men were marched off to the mustering office. Here more questions were asked and answered, and finally each man signed his name to a document, which made him at last a soldier in the United States Army.

The next formality, and one which must be completed at all costs before bed time, was a bath. Into cold showers the men were hustled f or a good clean-up. Any man who emerged from the bathhouse with a dry head, indicating that his ablutions had not been thorough, was compelled to go back again and make a good job of it.

Bed felt good that night to a tired lot of men. There was some noise and hilarity in the barracks, but after a while the place quieted down, and in the dark strangeness of the dormitory each man was left to his own turbulent thoughts.

During the next few days new increments of recruits kept arriving, and presently they were assigned to the various regiments. About a hundred came in the first lot to the 304th and were put -in charge of Captain Ewell and the officers of A Battery. Nominally they were assigned to the different organizations in the regiment, but while their officers were busy equipping them and -straightening out their records, for the sake of convenience the men were all kept together in a single barrack down in the P section until enough were assigned to make it worth while to move them and separate them according to batteries.

Meanwhile our regimental headquarters had shifted from J-1and was now located in J-45 on 3rd Avenue. There, in a large room on the ground floor, a space was fenced off for the office of the Commanding Officer, the Adjutant and their clerks. In another corner the Surgeon, Lieutenant (afterwards Major) Horton, had his infirmary, and those men who had physical ailments filed in at sick call in the morning and crowded the room. Diagonally opposite were the offices of the Headquarters and Supply Companies and the desk of the regimental Exchange Officer. Over by a window was stored a pile of brooms, picks and shovels-the only weapons as yet available-and hard by the infirmary was the post office where huge piles of wrongly addressed mail were fast accumulating. In the center of the room, in the midst of all the hubbub and confusion, the Headquarters Company tailor maintained a pressing establishment.

UP stairs lived the enlisted men of the Headquarters and Supply Companies, while in the building on either side the orderly rooms and sleeping quarters of the six batteries were established. The 305th and 306th regiments, as well as some hundreds of civilian workmen, were all about us and in our midst. For several weeks we stumbled over each other in our attempts to keep out of the ditches and holes, and made ineffectual efforts to create an atmosphere of order and efficiency in our section of the camp, while the infantry, over in the older P-section, with finished buildings and level ground, began to get their drill fields in order.


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