Chapter 5. Baccarat


Gilbert H. Crawford
Thomas H. Ellett
John J. Hyland


THE Baccarat Sector took its name from the city of Baccarat on the Meurthe River near Luneville. Baccarat was a pleasing little city several miles back of the front lines, rarely, in 1918, disturbed by the sounds of war. In 1914, the city had been overrun by the Boches who, however, occupied it only a few days. It was soon recovered by the French with only about one-third of its best houses gutted by fire and shell. Baccarat is noted for its fine glassware and "Point de Luneville" lace.

The front line in this sector was only a few miles from the Alsatian border and had been stabilized for nearly four years. The villages near the front, such as Badonviller, Montigny, Herbeviller, etc., were quite ruined by the long- continued artillery fire. Other villages, farther to the rear, such as Pexonne, Neuf-Maison, Reherrey and Merviller, were badly damaged, but still habitable. In this sector most of the front trenches were in woods or forests. By the summer of 1918, both the Germans and the French considered the eastern sectors as "quiet", and aside from occasional raids to identify the opposing divisions, little fighting took place. Although at this time the Baccarat Sector was actually held by an American division, it was under the control of a French corps, and strict orders had been given not to engage in aggressive warfare.

The line at this point had for so long been immobile that the front trenches had all been constructed. with great care, some even in solid stone, and were well protected by heavy barricades of wire. The second or support position had likewise been completed. The third or reserve position had been planned by the French, and its construction had just been begun by the 117th Engineers, U. S. A., when these troops were relieved by the 302nd Engineers.

The first important work, therefore, to be undertaken by the Regiment was to construct dugouts for this third position. Each company, except Co. F and H. Q. Co. was assigned to this work. The H. Q. Co. and Co. F were stationed at Baccarat, and acted as general utility troops, attending to the many important duties connected with the work of division headquarters, such as map-making, carpentry, gas proofing dugouts, etc.

For the dugout work, the lettered companies and platoons were spread out in a line a few kilometers behind the front. The digging was hard, mostly in rock, but as the men had done similar work at Camp Upton, the progress was rapid. One or two concrete "cut and cover" dugouts were also constructed. All this work had to be done under camouflage, so as not to disclose the locations to the enemy airplane observers. It was of paramount importance that the camouflage should be complete before the work of digging was started. As matter of fact, from subsequent examination of our own airplane photographs of this area, it is doubtful whether any marked success resulted from our efforts to deceive the enemy, in this regard.

These dugouts were later to be connected by continuous trenches, which previously had been wired. The usual order of work for such a reserve position was (1) wire; (2) dugouts; (3) trenches. For a front line position, dug in the face of the enemy, the order of work is the reverse of this; i. e., (1) trenches; (2) wire; (3) dugouts.

In addition to the work on the reserve position, many other tasks were assigned to our men. For instance, Co. "E" pushed to completion a splendid concrete observation post at Pierre A Cheval; Co. "F" had charge of a saw-mill which supplied lumber for the dugouts, and this company also laid six kilometers of light railroad.

Almost as soon as the Regiment arrived in the Baccarat Sector, a number of officers and non-commissioner officers were detached and sent back to the United States to officer and help train the new regiments which were being formed. This was the beginning of a series of transfers which considerably reduced the number of officers with the Regiment, although its aim was to increase the efficiency of the service as a whole.

Other non-commissioned officers were also detached and sent to the Army Engineer School at Langres. These men were later commissioned and rejoined the Regiment at the beginning of the Argonne drive, where their services were invaluable.

The number of the men of the Regiment who have risen from the ranks to the responsibility of command, as occasion called them forward, was remarkable. The supply of leaders always seemed unlimited. No sooner did a need arise in any rank than the right man was found at once to meet the emergency.

It should be recalled at this time that in the Fall of 1917 men of the 302nd Engineers were sent from Camp Upton to the engineers officers training camp at Camp Lee, Virginia. These men were all commissioned at the end of their term of training, but, unfortunately for the Regiment, it was possible to secure the return of only three of these new officers, viz., Lieuts. J. J. Hyland, E. R. Finlayson, and J. M. Cunningham. Other men had been sent to the infantry officers training camp at Camp Upton. These men, however, were not commissioned until June, 1918, and they were all ordered detached from the Regiment. It was only through the determined efforts of Colonel Sherrill that the following were allowed to return to the Regiment: Lieuts. D. Romeo, J. A. Walsh, J. F. Brown, and H. R. Eitsen.

In July, Co. "C" was moved back to Deneuvre, La Chapelle, and Glonville to work on a so-called "barrage position" south of the Meurthe River. This position was to be a last defense in case of a forced retirement. For it must be remembered that while the French never doubted ultimate victory, they very wisely prepared "defenses in depth". As a part of this policy, during the occupation of the Baccarat Sector by American forces, the Regiment was ordered to prepare demolitions for all bridges and culverts in that area.

While in the Baccarat Sector, the Regiment had its first casualty due to enemy fire. Private W. J. Susat, Co. "E", was hit by a bomb splinter while he was at Camp Ker Avor. At about the same time Lieut. T. H. Ellett, Co. "D", had a very narrow escape. A mustard-gas shell exploded in the room where he was sleeping. By the greatest good fortune, Lieutenant Ellett was wearing his gas mask at the time; otherwise, he would most certainly have been killed.

It was also at this time that Sergeant Barney S. Shephard, Co. "A", won a citation for bravery-the first received by any member of the Regiment. While engaged on some trench work, Sergeant Shephard went, under heavy shellfire, to the aid of a wounded infantryman and carried him to safety. Sergeant Shephard was later commissioned in the infantry, where he also distinguished himself for bravery, winning the French Croix de Guerre as well as the American Distinguished Service Cross.

The Engineer Train, while stationed at Baccarat during this same period, also did good work transporting engineer material forward under considerable difficulties.

Toward the end of July, 1918, rumors to the effect that the 77th Division was to be relieved by the 37th Division (Ohio National Guard) became more and more persistent. Finally, officers from the 112th Engineers arrived to arrange for the relief of the 302nd Engineers, and during the nights of 1st of August to 2nd and 2nd to 3rd, the Regiment marched away from the Baccarat Sector, presumably for a rest period, but actually to begin the most strenuous work to which up to this time it had been assigned.

During its stay of approximately two months in the Baccarat Sector, the training of the Regiment for active operations had continued without pause, so that by the 1st of August it was considered as ready for any duties in the field. Indeed, the whole 77th Division was fortunate in having been able so gradually to approach real war, and to have received such thorough training before assignment to an active fighting front.

Marching only at night west from Baccarat, the Regiment passed through Domptail, Mattexey, and took temporary stations as follows:
Regimental H. Q. and H. Q. Co ------------- Roville (near Bayon) First Battalion and Engineer Train ---- Moriviller
Second Battalion ------Borville

During such changes of station, the transport marched separately. Lieut. H. C. Cresson commanded the 1st Battalion Transport, and Lieut. J. C. Wallace that of the 2nd Battalion, while Lieut. J. A. Ryan commanded the Engineer Train. Many were the experiences in bringing forward the wagons. What, with uncertain food and forage, poor roads, and weak animals, each such march was a trial, and the greatest credit should be given to the officers and men who always reappeared at the right moment with the impedimenta.

These night marches were among the most pleasant of any taken by the Regiment. The weather was fair and mild. The front was far enough away so that the band could play. Spirits were high, not only because of the expected rest, but also because of the news of Allied success that daily came from other fronts.
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