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They Called Them Soldier Boys

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They Called Them Soldier Boys offers an in-depth study of soldiers of the Texas National Guard's Seventh Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I, through their recruitment, training, journey to France, combat, and their return home. Gregory W. Ball focuses on the fourteen counties in North, Northwest, and West Texas where officers recruited the regiment's soldiers in the summer of 1917, and how those counties compared with the rest of the state in terms of political, social, and economic attitudes. In September 1917 the "Soldier Boys" trained at Camp Bowie, near Fort Worth, Texas, until the War Department combined the Seventh Texas with the First Oklahoma Infantry to form the 142d Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division. In early October 1918, the 142d Infantry, including more than 600 original members of the Seventh Texas, was assigned to the French Fourth Army in the Champagne region and went into combat for the first time on October 6. Ball explores the combat experiences of those Texas soldiers in detail up through the armistice of November 11, 1918. "Ball has done a fine job to describe and analyze the types of men who served--regarding their backgrounds and economic and social status--which fits well with the important trend relating military history to social history."--Joseph G. Dawson, editor of The Texas Military Experience

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Chapter 1 - Recruiting the 7th Texas Infantry

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1 reCruItIng the 7th texas Infantry

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of the United States Congress where he responded to a number of events, including the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany and the disclosure of the infamous Zimmerman Telegram. He then asked Congress for a declaration of war. Congress debated the president’s request for several days, and approved a declaration of war in the Senate on April 4, 1917, and two days later in the House.1

Although there was debate across the nation as well as within Texas regarding the president’s request for a declaration of war, most Texans supported the president.

Once war was declared, a different topic became the center of debate in the nation and in Texas: How would the United States raise and field an army large enough to make a difference on European battlefields? The answer to that question affected millions of young men across the nation and thousands in Northwest Texas. The debate hinged on whether or not the United States should raise an army by relying on volunteers or through a mandatory system of service. Such a debate was not new to the nation, and as late as February 1917, the government had expected to rely primarily on voluntary enlistments to increase the army’s size. By April, however, the debate became more urgent and crystallized around which system would allow an army to be raised more quickly.2

 

Chapter 2 - A Portrait of the 7th Texas Infantry

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2 a portraIt oF the 7th teXas INFaNtry

An examination of the make-up of the 7th Texas Infantry from a socioeconomic standpoint offers a useful composite portrait of its soldiers. Th is serves not only to broaden historical knowledge of those individuals, but also offers a starting point for comparing them soldiers with others in the state and other sections of the country. Who were those soldiers that Texans asked to uphold its military tradition? What were their lives like prior to the war? What occupations did they follow? Were they married, and did they have families? Answers to such questions bring these National Guard soldiers into sharper focus and point to representative characteristics of a World War I Texas soldier.

The fourteen counties mentioned in this study functioned as recruiting headquarters for fi fteen companies of the 7th Texas Infantry. On arrival at

Camp Bowie in September 1917, the regiment consisted of approximately 1,952 enlisted men. Research into the draft registration cards and other sources disclosed information on 1,096, 61 percent of the regiment. Across the counties, this amounted to 59 percent of each company. Because of a muster roll from

 

Chapter 3 - Camp Bowie and France

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3 caMp BoWIe aNd FraNce

Although local communities treated the soldiers of the 7th Texas as heroes before the regiment had even left North and Northwest Texas, their arrival at

Camp Bowie in the first week of September underscored their lack of training and unfamiliarity with Army ways. The companies from Potter, Donley, and Childress counties arrived first, followed by the companies from Hardeman, Foard, and

Wilbarger counties. Eventually, the Lubbock, Taylor, Denton, Cooke, Johnson and

Wise County soldiers arrived and all of the 7th Texas Infantry companies were in bustling Camp Bowie by September 11, 1917, the first consolidation of the regiment as a whole.1

Of course, the 7th Texas was only one small part of the Texas National Guard, which itself made up a fraction of the entire National Guard called to service for the second time in two years. When “drafted” into federal service on August 5, 1917, the 7th Texas consisted of 56 officers and 1,952 soldiers. At the time, the “combat arms” of the Texas National Guard, which included infantry, cavalry, field artillery, coast artillery, and signal corps, totaled 315 officers and 11,074 men, while the total

 

Chapter 4 - “Fit to Get Down to Serious Business”

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4

“FIt to get doWN to serIous BusINess”

The 142d Infantry Regiment, still containing a large core of men from the old 7th Texas Infantry and the former 1st Oklahoma Infantry regiments, arrived in France at a critical moment in the war. The German Army had launched a massive series of offensives beginning in March of 1918, which German leaders hoped would end the war before the influence of the United States could be felt too strongly on the Western Front. While German forces gained ground, by the summer the offensives along the Western Front had failed to achieve their strategic objectives, and the dynamic changed as the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) continued to strengthen.1

As commander of the AEF, Gen. John J. Pershing struggled with the

Allied leadership over whether or not American units arriving in France should be “amalgamated” into the European armies or used to build a strictly American army. For obvious reasons, Pershing desired the latter while the Allies pressed for amalgamation. By the time the 36th Division arrived in France, Pershing’s goal had been realized with the creation of the First American Army. The question for Colonel Bloor and the soldiers of the 142d Infantry was how they were going to fit into this larger picture, and where and with whom would they fight on the

 

Chapter 5 - The Western Front, October 6–13, 1918

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5 the WesterN FroNt, octoBer 6–13, 1918

As the 142d Infantry marched north out of the French village of SommePy, they passed a group of Marines walking south, away from the front. One of those Marines recalled passing “full strong companies of National Guardsmen.

They went up one side of the road; and in ragged columns of two’s, unsightly even in the dim and fitful light, the Marines plodded down the other side.” The Guard companies “gibed” at the Marines as they passed on their way to the front, “singing and joking as they went. High words of courage were on their lips and nervous laughter.” The only response came from a few Marines, who said to each other,

“Hell, them birds don’t know no better … Yeah, we went up singin’ too, once— good Lord, how long ago! ... They won’t sing when they come out … or any time after … in this war.”1

As the regiment wended its way toward the front, Colonel Bloor made his way to the command post of the 6th Marine Regiment, the unit being relieved, to meet with its commander, Col. Harry Lee. He arrived about 11:00 pm on the night of

 

Chapter 6 - The Western Front, October 13–30, 1918

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6 the WesterN FroNt, octoBer 13–30, 1918

As the 142d Infantry filtered into the lines on the night of October 13, 1918, they were certainly not aware that in several weeks they would have to attack such a strongly fortified position as Forest Farm. Lieutenant Sayles’ weapons platoon dug in on the side of a hill and managed to bring up straw from Vaux to line their holes.

Several soldiers also found doors to use as roofs over their fox holes, but it turned out they had taken the doors from regimental headquarters and Sayles ordered them to return them. For the most part, the soldiers waited and tried to stay comfortable and warm. Whenever he went to sleep, Sayles wrapped his scarf around his stomach and wrapped his feet in a rain slicker and slept in the same hole as another man so they could keep each other warm. Over the next several days, Sayles’s platoon dug a

“long gallery” into the side of the hill, covered the floor with straw, used branches to keep the sides from caving in, and created an “arbor” that kept some of the rain out, although the “roof always dripped somewhere, and little rivulets broke out under the deep mat of fallen leaves that covered the ground.” The dugout was large enough to hold half of his platoon, who would crowd into the dugout to eat. At the top of the hill, above their “gallery,” he placed two 37mm cannon, ready to fire across the river on German positions to the north. Not everyone had it so great, as part of

 

Chapter 7 - “Bad Enough at the Best”

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7

“Bad eNough at the Best”

As they left the line near the end of October 1918 and marched to Valmy,

James McCan of Quanah recalled that his comrades were “the worst looking bunch of men you ever saw,” and about “half a dozen could barely talk above a whisper as our lungs were full of gas.” From Valmy, the division marched southeast toward the American First Army, to which they had been assigned. The division stopped for a rest day near Thiacourt on November 2, but the next day many soldiers could hear artillery at the front more distinctly than at any time since they had left the

Aisne River a week earlier, which led to speculation they would soon be back at the front. Soon, the division arrived at Bar-Le-Duc near the southern edge of the

Argonne Forest, and began preparations to return to the line. By this point, the

36th Division was short 23 percent of its officers and 34 percent of its soldiers.

Replacements poured in, fi lling each company to nearly 200 soldiers while veterans received new uniforms and fresh equipment. Before returning to the front, however, news came on November 7 that the German high command sought an armistice.

 

Chapter 8 - Coming Home and the War’s Legacy

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8 coMINg hoMe aNd the War’s legacy

While the soldiers of the old 7th Texas and their comrades in the 142d

Infantry and the 36th Division reflected on their experiences and tried to put into words what they had seen and felt, the press and other observers quickly picked up on the division’s exploits. For example, Gen. Stanislas Naulin, commander of the French XXI Corps, under whom the 36th Division served for a time, wrote to

General Smith while the regiment was still at the front. Naulin wrote that Smith’s

“young soldiers … rivaling, in push and tenacity with the older and valiant regiments of General Lejeune, accomplished their mission fully. All can be proud of the work done.” Naulin also expressed “appreciation, gratitude, and best wishes for future successes. The past is an assurance of the future.” This was followed shortly after the armistice by the governors of Texas and Oklahoma, who sent telegrams to General

Smith. Governor Hobby wrote that “all Texas is proud of her brave sons and rejoices over their wonderful achievements.” From his perspective, the soldiers of the old 7th

 

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