I have added this post as the 100th anniversary of the beginning of this battle is this Wednesday, September 12th. In an August 26th post, if you look back, you will find a short video about the Battle of St. Mihiel.
The U.S. Army Center of Military History is running a great series of writings on World War I. Any of us can download PFDs of each of the series for FREE. This week is about the Battle of St Mihiel, considered the first modern battle for our doughboys. Below is the Center's Facebook post and link to the free PDF. Enjoy! My uncle was in this battle. Perhaps one of your relative were also. Comment below if you have discovered his or her service at St Mihiel. After this battle the 347th Machine Gun Battalion pushed on to Gesnes, France where Josh's lieutenant, H.W. Price, was injured while attacking the village.
"ST. MIHIEL, 12-16 SEPTEMBER 1918
Called by some historians it “America’s first truly great modern battle”. The St. Mihiel Offensive, 12-16 September 1918 demonstrated that the Americans were capable of operating as an independent command. This pamphlet is the seventh installment of the U.S. Army Campaigns of World War I series,
For your copy: https://history.army.mil/catalog/pubs/77/77-7.html "
Here is a nibble, the first paragraph:
"Early in the morning of 12 September 1918, nearly half a million American soldiers crouched in forward trench lines along a sixty- five-kilometer section of the Western Front, waiting for the signal to advance. The target of the American-planned and American- executed operation was a massive salient that had bedeviled the Allies since late 1914. Until this point in the World War, members of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) had not fought in a formation larger than a corps, and then only under French or British leadership. Now, as part of the newly formed American First Army under the command of General John J. Pershing, they prepared to launch an operation that was, according to one historian, “America’s first truly great modern battle.” The four-day offensive would not only serve as a baptism of fire for the First Army but also demonstrate to the Allies and the Germans alike that the Americans were capable of operating as an independent command. The action showed how far the U.S. Army had progressed in its evolution from a frontier constabulary to a modern combined arms maneuver force, and it helped set the stage for the grand Allied offensive that would seize the initiative all along the Western Front and blaze a path toward ultimate victory in the war."
Known until 1947 simply as the "Victory Medal", the World War I Victory Medal was awarded to any member of the U.S. military who had served in the armed forces between the following dates in the following locations:
To denote battle participation and campaign credit, the World War I Victory Medal was authorized with a large variety of devices to denote specific accomplishments. In order of seniority, the devices authorized to the World War I Victory Medal were as follows:
The Citation Star to the World War I Victory Medal was authorized by the United States Congress on 4 February 1919. A 3⁄16 inch silver star was authorized to be worn on the ribbon of the Victory Medal for any member of the U.S. Army who had been cited for gallantry in action between 1917 and 1920. In 1932, the Citation Star ("Silver Star") was redesigned and renamed the Silver Star Medal and, upon application to the United States War Department, any holder of the Silver Star Citation could have it converted to a Silver Star medal.
The following battle clasps, inscribed with a battle's name, were worn on the medal to denote participation in major ground conflicts.
Army Battle Clasps
Major Ground Conflict: Start Date. End Date
Aisne 27 May 1918 5 June 1918
Aisne-Marne 18 July 1918 6 August 1918
Cambrai 12 May 1917 4 December 1917
Champagne-Marne 15 July 1918 18 July 1918
Lys 9 April 1918 27 April 1918
Meuse-Argonne 26 September 191811 November 1918
Montdidier-Noyon 9 June 191813 June 1918
Oise-Aisne 18 August 1918 11 November 1918
St. Mihiel 12 September 191816 September 1918
Somme-Defensive 21 March 1918 6 April 1918
Somme-Offensive 8 August 19181 1 November 1918
Vittorio-Veneto 24 October 1918 4 November 1918
Ypres-Lys 19 August 1918 11 November 1918
For general defense service, not involving a specific battle, the "Defensive Sector" Battle Clasp was authorized. The clasp was also awarded for any battle which was not already recognized by its own battle clasp. [My uncle received the three clasps which are in bold face print].
The World War I Victory Medal bears the clasps of the battles the U.S. Army participated in across the ribbon. Not all battles are shown on the bar clasps. Only the battles designated as battles that would have bars issued were shown on the medal. The famous Battle of Chateau Thierry to hold the Chateau and the bridge as a joint effort between the US Army and the US Marines against the German machine gunners did not get awarded clasps.
States compile service records of their soldiers, some better than others I downloaded a service record that no longer is free. Glad that I have it! Seriously, the state service questionnaires have a comprehensive record of the soldier's service. Unfortunately, the service questionnaires were not fastidiously completed throughout the United States and some questionnaires were very brief. But I am happy that I looked and saved that 3-page report.
Here are a few to peruse so that you can see what kind of information is included. Now that the Utah questionnaire requires a fee for access...would I pay the fee for the information? In a heartbeat.
British World War I ancestors? Search these FamilySearch free records:
Here's some other sources to try. An * will mark those that have free access at Family History Centers many of which may be surprisingly close to your location for a stop by.
I hope that this four-week World War I ancestor blog has been helpful. I would love to hear about your experiences. Comment below or fill out the little survey if you wish, or send a comment directly to me via the Comments Page.
Truthfully, I haven't used these records as sources, and hopefully they are new and exciting to you also. Camp Lewis had an active YMCA at the camp, a new building for the doughboys that is still standing today as the Fort Lewis/McChord Hospitality Building. I had hoped there would be a record of my uncle in those medical staff service cards as he was very sick March 1918 along with many other recruits. But there was not.
Just like today, persons serve in the United States military for economic or proof of loyalty. I remember watching a proud Latino being granted his citizenship at the Stadium of Fire Independence Day show in Provo, Utah, a few years ago. If you know your ancestor served and had not yet become a formal citizen due to the 5-year plus application process, he may have been awarded citizenship upon his return.
The Marine Corps muster rolls may divulge information about your Marine: his rank, unit, enlistments day, ship and other information. Active links this week's suggested sources are below.
Enjoy your search! Leave a comment if you find someone.
Not long ago I was indexing World War II draft registrations for FamilySearch. The records have a wealth of information, and the good news is that the draft registrations from World War I have a wealth of information as well. It is the number one official source for those serving in wars, imho.
The first draft was June 1917. That one was my uncle's. The second was June 1918. The third was September 1918. Over 24 million Americans registered for the draft. Considering the size of the United States at the time that was a healthy percentage of citizen records. The cards are preserved and searchable for FREE.
Included in the record are the date of birth, often a correctly spelled full name as the person was right in front of the registrar, place of residence, occupation, a relative's name (usually a parent or a spouse), a brief physical description, and, my favorite, their signature. Be still my heart! I don't know if any of you react as I do when I see ancestors' signature or writing. But I practically mist up. Okay, I DO mist up, realizing that they grasped that document, rested their hand on the paper, and wrote their name. It is magical.
Hopefully you found an ancestor or two after last week, ready to search in these detailed historical documents. HERE is the link to the free database on FamilySearch.
Leave a comment if you find an ancestor!
Below is my uncle's draft registration form. (The image reflects the way it was scanner by extractors).
With 4.7 million Americans serving in the military and many others in supportive roles, there is a great chance that most Americans, with family history spanning to that time in the United States, has an ancestor who was somehow involved. Many of you answered the survey question indicating that you had a World War I ancestor while other readers have yet to discover an ancestor involved in World War I. This 4-part series could help you find possible ancestors of the time. Let me suggest two ways to discover if you do have a grandfather or great-grandfather or great grandmother or auxiliary relative involved in The Great War.
1. Check the 1930 United States census. A question in that census asked if anyone in the household was “a veteran of the US military or naval forces mobilized for any war or expedition." The war or expedition was also specified. The 1930 census can be accessed for free through a cooperative between FamilySearch and Ancestry HERE.
2. Another way to identify ancestors involved in The Great War is to simply look at dates. The first and second drafts called males born between 1886 and 1897, and those drafts occurred in June 1917. The draft of September 1918 spread to a much greater age range.
After your initial fact finding is finished, you may want to try searching in some of the resources I will share beginning next week.
It is fascinating that so many stories of courage, honor and humanity grow out of horrifying, bloody conflicts.
In 1918 a Cunard cruise ship converted into a troop transporter called the S.S. Tuscania left Hobokan, New Jersey on January 24. This was one of the first waves of American doughboys destined for Le Havre, France after a future stop at Liverpool. About 2200 Americans were on board as well as over 200 crew members, mostly from Scotland. The troops aboard were recruited mostly from the Great Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest, serving in the D, E and F Companies of the 6th Battalion of the 20th Engineers; members of the 32nd Division; and the 100th, the 158th and 213th Aero Squadrons.
The Tuscania had made many voyages prior to this time. This time it joined a convoy of American troop ships, and had the protection of UK destroyers. Nonetheless on February 7th, close to the island of Islay, Scotland, it was struck "squarely mid-ship on the starboard side by a 2,000-pound torpedo launched by the German submarine UB-77. The explosion engulfed the boiler room and echoed throughout the Tuscania. Flames shot up some 200 feet in the air according to one account, and literally shifted the entire ship along the surface of the water according to another. With a massive hole torn through its hull, the ship began to list" (Smithsonian). The men calmly followed evacuation procedures, but more than 200 died. More would have died if it were not for the UK destroyers Mosquito, Grasshopper and Pigeon that scooped survivors from the frigid waters that slapped upon stark cliffs. Locals waded out into the waves to rescue 137 who miraculously survived to make it to the shore of Islay.
This was the first major loss of life of Americans in The Great War.
The wonderful people of Islay reverently cleansed and prepared the American bodies for burial, meticulously recording information about each soldier's appearance down to tattoos. They communicated with the American families. Interestingly all bodies buried by the people of Islay were later exhumed for home burial but one.
They were so respectful that they felt the men should be buried under an American flag. So five sewers studied an encyclopedia to get the design right and stitched all night to create a two-sided American flag rectangular Stars and Stripes 67 inches long by 37 inches wide to be carried along with the Union Jack of the UK during the funeral procession. The flag eventually took up residence at the Smithsonian and this year traveled back to the UK for the centennial of the tragedy and humanitarian remembrance of the entire incident. More can be read in the original Smithsonian article below.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/hundred-year-old-handmade-american-flag-flies-home-scotland-180968008/#ulOEpAWv1kXMz9Yq.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
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We spent Independence Day sauntering through the carnival and market crowds at our Lake Sacajawea. At night we watched the fireworks around town and at the Lake from our deck, along with up-close and personal ones shot by our neighbors.
My uncle, of the 347th Machine Gun Battalion of the 91st Division spent the 4th of July 1918 in New York City enjoying Coney Island rides with his buddies. In France doughboys there enjoyed the 4th also, often to the chagrin of the German forces. This short article from the World War I Cenntenial staff writer, Joseph Vesper, talks about July 4, 1918 in France.
How Doughboys Celebrated Independence Day in France
By Joseph Vesper
July 4th, 1917: Imagine yourself, an American, on the streets of Paris. Crowds bustle and cheer in excitement as you march past them. Even though you have yet to fight you feel triumphant, as if the battle has already been won. The American and French flags fly in unison high above you and in the air the scent of American food cooking smells delicious. A French child gives you a flower as you march by, a symbol of gratitude for fighting as an ally. Back home it is Independence Day, but in this foreign land you are joined in celebration.
In June 1917 only 14,000 American soldiers had arrived in France. These first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed at the port of Saint Nazaire and were quickly organized into training camps by General Pershing. Though their numbers were still low in July that did not stop General Pershing nor his soldiers from celebrating America’s Independence Day with the local population.
Leave was not granted to American troops until after the close of the Fourth of July celebrations. If you were there as a Doughboy you would have marched in a massive parade down the streets of Paris with General Pershing. After the parade there were numerous events in which to participate. Baseball, boxing, and other athletic sports were at the forefront. In addition, the Young Men’s Christian Association took soldiers on sight-seeing tours throughout Paris using motor trucks.
Around noon American troops received, what one newspaper reported as, “an excellent luncheon.” The menu consisted of; “roast beef, cold bologna sausage, baked potatoes, cucumber and lettuce salad, cream cheeses, bread and butter, coffee, and cherries and oranges for dessert.”
All the rations were supplied by Americas grateful hosts, France. In addition, local restaurants tried their best to recreate certain American foods for all to enjoy.
A year later in 1918, the entire 4th of July celebration would have been even grander. By now a little over a million American Doughboys had joined the fight to end The Great War and Paris’s streets would have been filled to the gills by locals and the massive surge of troops celebrating the 4th of July together.
Unlike the previous year’s holiday, however, this one was marked by combat and the first offensive action taken by an AEF unit serving under non-American command. A thousand men from the 33rd Division saw combat in the Battle of Hamel. And a Corporal named Thomas A. Pope was awarded the Medal of Honor for his brave actions during the battle that day.
The holiday roused such patriotic spirits for the Americans that even the Germans felt it in their trenches. As one newspaper noted:
“The Germans also knew it was America’s great day, from the artillery, machinegun and rifle firing which was increased on the American fronts. It gave the enemy something to think about and made him keep his head down in the trenches and in the dugouts.”
~ French Observe The Fourth of July. (1918, July 5). The Tennessean
Joseph Vesper is a Summer 2018 Intern with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.
There are multiple lists of "the best books" about World War I. I rejected Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's lists, because they are retailers and their lists were extremely long. And let's face it, my book is not listed on either of them, a gross oversight. (That was a joke. I think).
I settled on a short list created by Adam Hochschild, the author of The War to End All Wars for two reasons. His research was exhaustive, and that research introduced him to books that were not only scholarly but readable. Another reason I chose his list is that it is short. People curious about a topic might actually tackle a short list. Please don't judge me.
I must make a minority plea to read Michael Morpurgo's War Horse. It is a short, emotionally charged novella about the cycle of life of a British war horse. I cried for a hour as I finished it. No judgement here either, Michael was the third Children Laureate of England. And don't let "children's literature" drive you away from the book. His writing is magical.
So, with that birdwalk, here is Hochschild's list of the best of the best books about World War I as recorded by The Smithsonian.
"Journalist Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars (2011), an account of World War I from the perspective of both hawks and doves in Great Britain, provides his picks of books to read to better understand the conflict.
Hell’s Foundations (1992), by Geoffrey Moorhouse
Of the 84 British regiments that fought in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey in 1915 and 1916, the Lancashire Fusiliers from Bury, in northern England, suffered the most casualties. The regiment lost 13,642 men in the war—1,816 in Gallipoli alone. For journalist Geoffrey Moorhouse, the subject hit close to home. He grew up in the small mill town of Bury, and his grandfather had survived Gallipoli. In Hell’s Foundations, Moorhouse describes the town, its residents’ attitudes toward the war and the continued suffering of the soldiers who survived.
From Hochschild: A fascinating and unusual look at the war in microcosm, by showing its effects on one English town.
Testament of Youth (1933), by Vera Brittain
In 1915, Vera Brittain, then a student at the University of Oxford, enlisted as a nurse in the British Army’s Voluntary Aid Detachment. She saw the horrors of war firsthand while stationed in England, Malta and France. Wanting to write about her experiences, she initially set to work on a novel, but was discouraged by the form. She then considered publishing her actual diaries. Ultimately, however, she wrote cathartically about her life between the years 1900 and 1925 in a memoir, Testament of Youth. The memoir has been called the best-known book of a woman’s World War I experience, and is a significant work for the feminist movement and the development of autobiography as a genre.
From Hochschild: Brittain lost her brother, her fiancé and a close friend to the war, while working as a nurse herself.
Regeneration Trilogy, by Pat Barker
In the 1990s, British author Pat Barker penned three novels: Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993) and The Ghost Road (1995). Though fictional, the series, about shell-shocked officers in the British army, is based, in part, on true-life stories. Barker’s character Siegfried Sassoon, for instance, was closely based on the real Siegfried Sassoon, a poet and soldier in the war, and Dr. W.H.R. Rivers was based on the actual neurologist of that name, who treated patients, including Sassoon, at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland. The New York Times once called the trilogy a “fierce meditation on the horrors of war and its psychological aftermath.”
From Hochschild: The finest account of the war in recent fiction, written with searing eloquence and a wide angle of vision that ranges from the madness of the front lines to the fate of war resisters in prison.
The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), by Paul Fussell
After serving as an infantry officer in World War II, Paul Fussell felt a kinship to soldiers of the First World War. Yet he wondered just how much he had in common with their experiences. “What did the war feel like to those whose world was the trenches? How did they get through this bizarre experience? And finally, how did they transform their feelings into language and literary form?” he writes in the afterword to the 25th anniversary edition of his monumental book The Great War and Modern Memory.
To answer these questions, Fussell went directly to firsthand accounts of World War I written by 20 or 30 British men who fought in it. It was from this literary perspective that he wrote The Great War and Modern Memory, about life in the trenches. Military historian John Keegan once called the book “an encapsulation of a collective European experience.”
From Hochschild: A subtle, superb examination of the literature and mythology of the war, by a scholar who was himself a wounded veteran of World War II.
The First World War (1998), by John Keegan
The title is simple and straightforward, and yet in and of itself poses an enormous challenge to its writer: to tell the full story of World War I. Keegan’s account of the war is, no doubt, panoramic. Its most commended elements include the historian’s dissections of military tactics, both geographical and technological, used in specific battles and his reflections on the thought processes of the world leaders involved.
From Hochschild: This enormous cataclysm is hard to contain in a single one-volume overview, but Keegan’s is probably the best attempt to do so."
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/five-books-on-world-war-i-199/#FtkUghM9O7Yzlwoh.99
I am the author of a powerful, interactive book about the life of a World War I American doughboy, available on Amazon. I based the book on six years of inquiry learning with U.S. history students who bonded in a magical way to him. This blog is an extension to accompany the book and to honor the American Expeditionary Force.