1

Bastille Day and Les Sammes

Uncle Sam shaking hands with the Marquis de Lafayette, French poster-1917

On Bastille Day 1917, General John J. Pershing reviewed French troops and pinned the Croix de Guerre on men who had earned the award by their valor.  The Star Spangled Banner and the Marseillaise were played and many of the civilian observers wept with joy and emotion that American help was on the way.  Today the French are honoring Les Sammes, as they are all year, who came to France in World War I to fight to keep France free.  US Marines will march down the Champs-Elysees with French troops in Paris, a symbol of the good relations that have usually existed between the old Allies. Continue Reading

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June 14, 1917: Pershing Arrives in France

On June 14, 1917 General John J. Pershing and 190 of his staff, military and civilians, arrived in France.  The first American combat troops would land on June 26, 1917.  America would not have a full division in France until the arrival of the last elements of the First Division in October 1917.  Eventually two million doughboys would serve in France but the buildup was initially a slow process.  No doubt many Allied leaders were wondering if the Americans would arrive in time to turn the balance against a Germany that was in the process of winning the War in the East.  Perilous times for America and its allies a century ago.  We forget today what a monumental task it was to raise an army of millions, train and equip it and to ship it across the Atlantic, and to do this from a starting stop in about a year’s time.  No wonder that some Allied leaders were skeptical, as Winston Churchill noted after Pearl Harbor: Continue Reading

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May 10, 1917: Pershing Appointed to Lead the AEF

After the death of Frederick Funston on February 19, 1917, it was inevitable that the newly promoted Major General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing would command the American Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France.  It must have seemed somewhat dizzying to him.  Nineteen years before he had been an overage thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant who would be lucky to make Major before retirement.  In 1893 he obtained a law degree in case he decided to leave the Army, fed up by the slow promotions offered by the minuscule peace time Army.

The Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt made him.  At the battle of San Juan Hill he made a lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt.  Under fire he was as “cool as a bowl of cracked ice”, as one observer noted.  Rising to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers he gained a reputation as a good combat officer in both Cuba and the Philippines and would serve as Adjutant General of the Philippines Department.

After the Spanish-American War he reverted to the regular army rank of Captain.  In 1905 Captain Pershing was promoted to Brigadier General Pershing by President Roosevelt over the heads of 835 officers more senior than him.  Surprisingly there was not much animosity over this, Pershing enjoying a reputation of extreme professional competence in the Army, a soldier’s soldier. Continue Reading

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Fearless Freddie Dies

Frederick_Funston_001

All but forgotten today, Major General Frederick Funston would almost certainly would have led the American Expeditionary Force in World War I if he had not died at age 51 of a heart attack on February 19, 1917.  Nicknamed “Fearless Freddie” he was perhaps the most famous American soldier between the Civil War and World War I.  He had a very unique career.  Always in ill health, he was a physically small man, 5 foot, 5 inches, and throughout his life never weighed more than 120 pounds.  After failing an admissions test to West Point in 1884 he pursued a career in botany.  Tiring of the quiet life he enlisted in the Cuban Revolutionary Army fighting against Spain.  Contracting malaria his weight fell to an alarming 95 pounds and he was granted medical leave in the United States.

After the declaration of war against Spain he was commissioned colonel of the 20th Kansas Infantry.  Fighting against the Filipino Insurrection, he became a national hero by capturing the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo.  A separate action earned him a Medal of Honor.  Playing a leading role in putting down the Insurrection, Funston came under attack by critics for the severe measures he took.  The pen of Mark Twain was enlisted against him:

If this Funstonian boom continues, Funstonism will presently affect the army. In fact, this has already happened. There are weak-headed and weak-principled officers in all armies, and these

are always ready to imitate successful notoriety-breeding methods, let them be good or bad. The fact that Funston has achieved notoriety by paralyzing the universe with a fresh and hideous

idea, is sufficient for this kind—they will call that hand if they can, and go it one better when the chance offers. Funston’s example has bred many imitators, and many ghastly additions to

our history: the torturing of Filipinos by the awful “watercure,” for instance, to make them confess—^what? Truth? Or lies ? How can one know which it is they are telling ? For under

unendurable pain a man confesses anything that is required of him, true or false, and his evidence is worthless. Yet upon such evidence American officers have actually—but you know about

those atrocities which the War Office has been hiding a year or two; and about General Smith’s now world-celebrated order of massacre—thus summarized by the press from Major Waller’s

testimony:

“Kill and burn—this is no time to take prisoners—the more you kill and burn, the better—Kill all above the age of ten—make Samar a howling

wilderness!

Funston was completely unrepentant:

I personally strung up thirty-five Filipinos without trial, so what was all the fuss over Waller’s ‘dispatching’ a few ‘treacherous savages’? If there had been more Smiths and Wallers, the war would have been over long ago. Impromptu domestic hanging might also hasten the end of the war. For starters, all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched. Continue Reading

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May 14, 1916: Patton Shootout

29mneba

The Punitive Expedition had been an exercise in frustration for General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing.  Pancho Villa, predictably, had eluded the Americans, refusing to stand and fight.  Thirty year old Second Lieutenant George S. Patton had been an aide to Pershing.  Requesting a chance to command troops, he was assigned by Pershing to Troop C of the 13th Cavalry.  In that capacity Patton took part in efforts to locate Captain Julio Cardenas, commander of the elite bodyguard of Villa, the Dorados, “Golden Ones”.

On May 14, 1916 Patton was on a mission to buy corn, his force consisting of a corporal, six privates and a civilian interpreter, all in three Dodge touring cars.  Learning from locals that Cardenas might be present at a ranch, which Patton had searched the previous week, near the town of Rubio, Patton decided to investigate.  Leaving two cars to block the southwest exit from the ranch, Patton, a driver, the civilian interpreter and a private took the remaining car to the northwest exit.  Patton advanced on the ranch with the civilian interpreter.  He spotted  an old man and a boy butchering a steer near a fence.  Suddenly three horsemen charged out from the ranch.

Initially they rode to the southwest.  Encountering Patton’s soldiers they then charged to the northwest, estimating presumably that the odds were in their favor against the lone American officer.

The Mexicans opened up at 20 yards.  Ignoring their fire, Patton coolly aimed his Colt single action pistol at the lead rider, knocking him off his horse.  Patton fired at the two remaining riders as they rode past him.  He then ducked around a corner of the ranch house and reloaded. Patton brought down the second horseman.  Patton waited while the bandit freed himself from his dead horse, Patton only shooting him when the Mexican attempted to fire rather than surrender.  The third bandit was brought down in a hail of fire from Patton and two of his soldiers who were now joining the fight.

The first bandit Patton had shot, got to his feet, made the mistake of going for his pistol, and was quickly brought down by the Americans.

The first bandit was identified as Captain Julio Cardenas, the second as Juan Garza and the third was never identified. Continue Reading

2

Punitive Expedition Gets Under Way

VillaUncleSamBerrymanCartoon

In the wake of Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, go here to read about it, the US wasted no time in putting together a punitive force to enter Mexico and destroy or disperse Villa’s forces:

Fort Sam Houston, Texas,
March 11, 1916.

GeneralPershing,
Fort Bliss, Texas.
Secretary of War has designated you to command expedition into Mexico to capture Villa and his bandits. There will be two columns, one to enter from Columbus and one from Hachita, via Culber- son Is. Rachita column will consist of Seventh Cavalry, Tenth Cavalry (less two troops) and one battery horse artillery. Columbus column will consist of Thirteenth Cavelry (less one troop) a  regiment of cavalry  from the east, one battery of horse artillery, one company of engineers and First Aero Squadron with eight aeroplenes. Reinforced brigade of Sixth Infantry, Sixteenth Infantry, First Battalion Fourth Field Artillery and auxiliary troops will follow Columbus column. Two companies of engineers will be ordered to Fort Bliss awaiting further orders.  Necessary signel corps will be orderedf rom here. Will furnish you War Departmen instructions later. Have you any recommendations to make?

The troops designated  to comprise the expedition were the 7th, lOth, 11th and 13th Regiments of Cavalry, 6th and 16th Regiments of Infantry, Batteries B and C, 6th Field Artillery, 1st Battalion 4th Field Artillery, Companies E and H, 2nd Battalion of Engineers, Ambulance Company Number 7, Field Hospital Number 7, Signal Corps detach-ments, 1st Aero Squadron and Wagon Companies, Number 1 and 2.   Throughout the course of the expedition, much press attention would be given to the 1rst Aero Squadron deploying the cutting edge technology of airplanes.  Pershing organized his force into a division of two cavalry brigades and one infantry brigade. Continue Reading

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March 9, 1916: Villa Raids Columbus, New Mexico

The Mexican revolts against dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1910 led to a complex and ever shifting mixture of groups and personalities fighting for control of Mexico in an intermittent vicious civil war that would last for over two decades.  Inevitably the US became involved in this vast complex with the US occupying the Mexican port of Veracruz in 1914 for six months.  In early 1916 part time revolutionary general, and full time bandit, Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his “Army of the North” were on the run after being defeated by the forces of José Venustiano Carranza Garza, who would go on to become President of Mexico until assassinated in 1920.  Villa was angered that the United States no longer gave him clandestine support and had switched its support to Carranza in hopes that he could form a stable government.

Desperate for supplies, Villa launched a raid on Columbus, New Mexico by five hundred of his men.  Villa, relying on faulty intelligence thought that Columbus was garrisoned by 30 US troops.  Actually, 341 troopers of the 13th Cavalry were stationed in the town. Continue Reading

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Unspeakable Loss

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Many posts on this blog will be dealing in the years to come with the involvement of America in World War I and the events leading up to it.  One of the key figures will be John J. Pershing.  In a military career that exhibited a dedication to hard work rather than brilliance, Pershing at 38 was still a First Lieutenant.  His opportunity came during the Spanish-American War when he had the good fortune to command black troops of the 10th Cavalry at the Battle of San Juan Hill and came to the attention of Theodore Roosevelt, who he knew slightly prior to the War.  In 1905 Roosevelt promoted Pershing from Captain to Brigadier General, over the heads of 900 officers senior to him, an almost unheard of move in the peacetime Army where promotion was almost entirely a result of seniority.

As Pershing’s professional career was taking off so did his personal life.  In 1905 the 45 year old bachelor married the 25 year old Helen Frances Warren, the daughter of  powerful Senator Francis Warren of Wyoming, who would serve in the Senate from 1895 until his death in 1929.  A veteran of the Union Army, and a Medal of Honor recipient, he would be the last Civil War veteran to serve in the Senate.  Pershing now had a firm advocate in the Senate, but it was love rather than calculation that lay behind his marriage as indicated by their rapidly growing family of three girls and a boy.

In 1913 Pershing was assigned to command a brigade at the Presidio in San Francisco.  With tensions running high with Mexico, the brigade was deployed to Fort Bliss in 1914, Pershing deciding to keep his family safe and comfortable at their house at the Presidio rather than having them at Fort Bliss, a decision he would come to bitterly regret.  In 1915, no fighting with Mexico having ensued, Pershing was making arrangements to have his family join him at Fort Bliss.  Just before his family was to move, Pershing received a telegram on the morning of August 27, 1915 informing him that his wife and three daughters, Mary, age 3, Anne, age 7, and Helen, age 8, had died in a house fire.  Only his 6 year old son Francis Warren survived, rescued by Pershing’s long time black orderly. Continue Reading

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Father Galveston

It is ironic that a priest who became so associated with Galveston and Texas was a Yankee!  James Martin Kirwin was born in Circleville, Ohio on July 1, 1872.  Kirwin was ordained to the priesthood on June 19, 1895.   Incardinated in the Diocese of Galveston, Texas, while in the seminary he attended, Father Kirwin was sent to the University of America in Washington, DC by the Bishop of Galveston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology.  His ability being recognized early, Father Irwin was made rector of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston in 1896.

Throughout his priesthood Father Kirwin was always a whirlwind of activity, and he quickly became noticed for the heroism with which he attended the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1897.  During the Spanish-American War he helped raise the First United States Volunteer Infantry and served as its chaplain with the rank of captain.  Although the regiment never served over seas, the fate of most of the American units raised for the Spanish-American War, Father Kirwin’s service began a life long association for him with the Texas National Guard and the United States Army.

Father Kirwin rose to national prominence after the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the worst national disaster in US history which killed approximately 8,000 people.   He helped found a committee of public safety which restored law and order to the city, he drafted the martial law plan, helped with the burial of the dead, and organized and served on the central relief committee which aided victims of the hurricane.  Together with his good friend Rabbi Henry Cohen, he spearheaded the efforts over the next few years to rebuild Galveston, including the building of a seawall for the city, the cornerstone of which he blessed in 1902 and saw through to completion in 1905. Continue Reading