In American military history of the First World War little is devoted to the history of the American Coast Artillery Corps. In the decades prior to the First World War America had seen it’s self in an isolationist view, building many coast defense fortifications along it’s coast lines and harbors to defend against a foreign naval attack. These fortifications were manned by army troops from a long-gone branch of the army known as the Coast Artillery Corps. In the years prior to 1917 the army strength was only at 100,000 men, with most of these being either in the Calvary or in the Coast Artillery Corps.
At the same time the weapons that were employed in these coast defense fortifications had become heavier and more technologically advanced than the weapons of the 1880’s. They had to keep up with the same advancement that the navies of Europe were developing should they be brought to bear against these coast fortifications of the United States. It would be this largely symbolic element of American isolationist military and foreign policies that would be very quickly turned into America’s most effective offensive military capability in the coming fight on the European continent.
In Europe when the war broke out the rapidly advancing lines of battle soon transformed into the stalemated trench style war. Now the armies of the allied and belligerent nations looked for new weapons to smash through the field fortifications and entrenched troops. It was to heavy artillery that the Generals of both sides looked to for a break out of this stalemate. But heavy artillery of the time was not mobile and so spontaneous improvising from both sides became necessary. Rapid expansion of all types of heavy artillery became quickly to dominate the battlefields of Europe, and industrial technologies of the time were pushed to the limit to meet this demand, a demand for nations very survival.
But in America who still held to a notion of isolationism, she had no heavy mobile Artillery at all. By 1907 in the American Army the number of troops serving in the Field Artillery had dwindled to 4,800 men in thirty field batteries, while the ranks of the Coast Artillery had grown to 13,734 men serving in 126 coast artillery companies. This distribution of men in the U. S. Army’s Artillery had continued right along until the outbreak of the war in the late summer of 1914. But by the time America entered the war in 1917 she still had no mobile heavy artillery to take to the battlefields of Europe.
Because of the expanding size of the troops needed to man the ever-growing coast defense fortifications the birth of the Coast Artillery Corps in 1907 became necessary. Now at the highest levels of the Army the new Coast Artillery Corps would have special influence as they now had their own chief, a major-general serving at the War Department. The Chief of the Coast Artillery unofficially was a co-equal to the chief of staff of the army. During the years between the creation of the Coast Artillery Corps in 1907 and 1917, America added several large fortresses that guarded her newly acquired overseas possessions in the Philippines and the Panama Canal Zone, which in turn called for even more men and equipment to man these new forts. Therefore, US defense policy dictated high priority to the Coast Artillery Corps.
These Coast Artillerymen became highly trained in the operation of complex large caliber guns and skilled in the methods of hitting targets beyond their line of sight, but they still were not mobile, something that would be needed when they were sent to Europe in 1917.
When America entered the war in 1917, her army was not up to the task that lay ahead of it when they got to the battlefields in Europe. The new kind of warfare that had developed in the preceding 3-years by the European armies had outpaced the American army. They would have to very quickly learn new things. But the Army already had a corps of highly trained men, and it would be to the men of the Coast Artillery Corps that would become an invaluable resource in the raising of the American Expeditionary Forces.
During America’s mobilization of 1917 the Coast Artillery Corps had to change from its traditional role, that of the defense of American seacoasts from foreign attacks to taking the fight to the enemy. Coast Artillery Corps units were mobilized just like infantry division units for the expeditionary force. They began to gather at central camps, where they were organized into larger formations needed for mobile field service.
Being that the French and British armies in 1917 were in more need of heavy, accurate artillery firepower than they did infantry units, they asked for additional artillery support from the United States. At the Adjutant Generals’ office in Washington orders were sent out to several Coast Artillery officers relieving them from their present duties, and to report to the Commanding Officer of the Sixth Provisional Regiment, Coast Artillery Corps. Many of these officers who were selected had never even heard of the Sixth Regiment before that time.
From the time the Sixth Regiment was formed the Coast Artillery Corps underwent a great transformation of using its skills of handling long-range weapons against hostile navies, to the new task of taking out mobile heavy artillery, and entrenched land troops on the European battlefields.Very little is written today about the important role that the United States Coast Artillery Corps played in the final victory of the First World War, and it is hoped that this work will tell the story of what these Coast Artillery Corps Regiments did and equally as important is who the men were that manned the guns of the “Big Gun Corps.”
On April 6, 1917 America Declared war on the Central Powers in Europe, and within days France was asking America for artillery support. At the War Department in Washington, DC planning of how America would participate in this war started to take place at a much faster pace. On May 1, 1917 the continental coast artillery districts within the United States were increased to 5 districts. Now the timetable of filling the 5 districts with men was rapidly advanced.
During the reorganization of the Coast Artillery Districts eight new companies were created that needed men to fill their ranks, and in the months following the declaration of war another 71 companies were also created. At the same time State National Guard Coast Artillery companies were being called into federal service and by February of 1918 a full 171 State National Guard Coast Artillery companies had been federalized.
Those at the War Department started to form plans for mobile heavy artillery units to be sent to France, but the only trouble with that plan was America had no mobile heavy artillery at all. The only mobile artillery the army had was what had been recently used during the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916 consisting of 3-inch and 4.7-inch field guns, far too light for the style of warfare that was now taking place in France.
From the outbreak of the war in 1914 through the first 29 months of the war the battle lines had become relatively stabilized and battle engagements took place from fortified positions. That transition from mobile warfare into the hardened trench style had occurred in November and December of 1914 with the onset of the first winter of the war. From then on heavy artillery became the predominate weapon in this deadlocked style of trench warfare. Large caliber artillery weapons slugging it out with the other sides artillery became the way the battle was fought, replacing the mass maneuver of troops on the field of the first months of the war.
The only force of trained men able to handle large caliber guns the United States Army did have was the Coast Artillery Corps. It would be to the men of the Coast Artillery Corps that would form America’s spearhead that would be thrust into the German Army in 1917.
During this same time that the War Department was making plans for war in Europe America’s industrial complex was also re-tooling from civilian production into a wartime production of weapons and munitions. In Europe on the battlefields the French were using a 155mm heavy artillery gun they had developed, which was quite a good design. It was known as the 155mm Schneider Howitzer, and had only been produced in France. The United States did purchase the complete plans for this gun to be made here in America in October of 1917, with contracts let shortly thereafter for production.
The contract for the gun barrel was let to the American Brake and Shoe Company of Pennsylvania who within seven-months time was producing finished barrels at the rate of 12 per day. The Maxwell Motor Car Company had the contract for the gun limbers and was in full production within two months time. The Ford Motor Company had the contract for the Gun carriages and were also in full production within two-months. But the big hang up with producing this 155mm gun in America was with the guns recoil system. The recuperator of this gun started out with a steel forging that weighed in at 3,875 pounds. Many contractors were unable to handle such a large forging and could not produce it. But finally the Dodge Brothers accepted the work and the first finished recuperator came off the Dodge Brothers line on July 1, 1918, which did not work satisfactorily. More changes had to be made and it was not until mid November 1918 that Dodge did turn out approved units, but too late for the war.
But not all American gun manufacturing was unproductive. The Midvale Steel Company had been given a contract to produce the British 8-inch howitzer for the British Army, of which this contract of guns were then going to be sent to the Russian Army. The Midvale Steel Company had no issue with production, and the United States War Department did place a purchase order with them for the same type of gun to be delivered to the American Army. But because of the British contract, Midvale had to complete that order first before any guns could be produced for the American Army. It would be several months after the war ended that the first Midvale produced gun was produced for the American Army.
There were only a very few American produced artillery pieces that were of the removed stationary guns refitted with new mobile mounts that made it to France, and were only used for training of recently arrived American Coast Artillery units. But not one U.S. Produced gun or howitzer of any of the large caliber was shipped over to France to participate in any fighting before the war ended.
In late June 1917 Brigadier General George T. Bartlett, U.S.A. receives orders from The War Department detailing him to form an Artillery Brigade for service in Europe. This Brigade was to be composed of three regiments of artillery, and each regiment would be composed of a Headquarters Company, Supply Company and 12 batteries in each regiment, one gun per battery. Each gun battery would be manned with three officers and 132 enlisted men capable of handling and firing 10-inch railway guns.
General Bartlett began to implement his orders that he had in hand at Fort Adams in Rhode Island where on July 6, 1917 several Coast Artillery Corps officers from all over the States reported for duty with the 6th, 7th and 8th Provisional Regiments. The 6th Regiment was under the command of Colonel William Chamberlaine, the 7th Regiment was under the command of Colonel Johnson Hagood, and Colonel Frank K. Fergusson commanded the 8th Regiment. Officers above the grade of first lieutenant came almost exclusively from the ranks of the regular Coast Artillery Corps, with many of the second lieutenants being enlisted men of the Coast Artillery who had been given temporary wartime commissions for the duration. The enlisted men who began to fill the ranks of the three forming Provisional Regiments came from transfers from existing Coast Artillery Districts from Maine to New Jersey, with only a few exceptions. Fort Adams soon began to resemble a tent city with all the pyramidal tents set up in strict army fashion. So many army field kitchens were set up that some days it looked as if the fort was on fire with so much kitchen smoke in the air.
As the Provisional Regiments began the call up of men, all throughout the New England States there were men ordered to Fort Adams for duty during July of 1917. Many of the local newspapers would list the names of those men ordered to Fort Adams, and this was a typical listing of several officers from the Newport Journal and Weekly News newspaper from July 20, 1917;
The following officers have been ordered to Fort Adams and assigned to the 6th and 7th Provisional Regiments, C.A.C.
Major: Homer B. Grant
Captains: Jay P. Hopkins, Frank B. Edwards, William H. Wilson, Forrest E. Williford, William E. Shedd, Carl A. Lohr, Clifford C. Carson, Ellery W. Niles, Alexander G. Pendleton.
First Lieutenants: Joseph D. McCain, Eugene Villariet.
Temporary 2nd Lieutenants: Fred A. Tatum, Edmund N. Herbert, James Collins, Clarance de Goode, James T. Bloomer, M. L. English, Robert P. Lewellyn, Lessley E. Spencer, Lester G. Viles, Dan J. Sweeney, Alfred J. Johnson, Edmond A. Redmon, Westly F. Russell, Gustav H. Ericson, Frank Santerre, Alvin Johnson, Marion A. Frien, Leighton Brown.
These three regiments would form what was then called the “Expeditionary Brigade, Coast Artillery Corps.” Officers and men from the north, south, east and western parts of the Country as well as from the Philippine Island Coast Artillery Districts brought their united experiences to focus on a new project, that being of the organization of America’s first mobile heavy artillery, and as said by Major General Edward F. McGlachlin, Jr., who commanded the 1st Division during WWI, was “One without parallel in our Service.”
Many of these officers had never even heard of the 6th, 7th or 8th Provisional Regiments. During the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916 there were two Provisional Regiments of Coast Artillery that had been formed for service in Mexico but they acted as infantry and not as an artillery unit. At that time almost every infantryman in the regular army was either in the Punitive Expedition, on the boarder, or on the way there. The only other force of available men in the regular army was from the Coast Artillery Corps. In total 80 officers and 2,912 enlisted men from companies stationed at Pensacola, Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia were formed into the 4th and 5th Provisional Regiments. These two Provisional Regiments were sent to Texas where they guarded strategic installations such as railroad bridges and the like. Coast Artillery Corps commanders that summer began to argue that so many of its troops were being re-assigned to the boarder in Texas that it was beginning to impair it’s own mission. By the end of September 1916 all the Coast Artillery troops were returned and back at their respective stations. So many of the Coast Artillery officers who reported to General Bartlett at Fort Adams that day in July 1917 were really not too sure what their orders would be for.
From July through August 1917 Fort Adams, Rhode Island was a blur of activity. Men were arriving and training was underway, and the men of the Coast Artillery Corps were learning many new things. For the first time men were issued round aluminum dog tags, each hand stamped in many different forms, making each dog tag unique. Men were issued steel helmets, as this would be the first time an American Army would walk into battle with a steel helmet. The kind of targets they had been used to firing at, ships at sea, were now suddenly gone and it was land targets deep within the enemy lines and out of the line of sight is what they now would be asked to take out. They also would be asked to shoot down enemy airplanes, and use a deadly new weapon, that being poisonous gas.
The men got sick of hearing the words “squad right, column right, to the rear march” as they sweated under the hot July sun. Long hikes with full pack became the normal thing to do in the sweltering afternoon with marching music furnished by the drum and bugle corps in what was lightheartedly called the, “Agony Band.” There was not only fatigue work but there were schools the men had to attend. New doctrines of fire control, introduction to rapid-fire calculating devices, range tables for 10-inch guns, and how to correct for target theories and the like were all drilled into the minds of the men.
With the duties, schools and securing clothing and other supplies the men were kept busy. But there were plenty of visitors at the fort to see the men. Wives, sisters, sweethearts and would-be sweethearts were in no short supply. In the evenings after the days work was done soldiers with their loved ones could be seen strolling in all direction around Fort Adams. And then the base surgeon discovered diphtheria in the city of Newport and suddenly the fort was under quarantine. The men were forbidden to visit the city of Newport.
The rumor mill at Fort Adams was also busy as many ‘stories’ of how ships crossing the Atlantic with troops aboard had been sunk and all hands were lost, and even once or twice it was reported the entire German fleet was just off the coast ready to invade. There was even a rumor that the city of New York had surrendered to the Germans. The men didn’t mind the rumors so much, but they were getting impatient. They were lusting for blood and battle, and a place on the Western Front where they could put these new range tables to the test.
At about the same time the three Provisional Regiments were forming, all along the coasts of America throughout her seacoast fortifications many of the guns were being quietly removed and the process of inventing, manufacturing and assembling new mobile field mounts for these removed stationary artillery pieces was being undertaken. These then would be the basis of the heavy mobile artillery America would take to Europe. But as it turned out very few of these modified artillery pieces made it to Europe before the war ended. The American Coast Artillery Corps would go to war with out any weapons of it’s own. Because American industrial companies were not able to produce heavy artillery guns in the short time before the American Artillery units were to go to France, they would use either French or British weapons already in France.
The first formation of the 6th, 7th, and 8th Provisional Regiments was made up of a Headquarters and Supply Company and 12 batteries each, named Battery A, Battery B, Battery C, Battery D, Battery E, Battery F, Battery G, Battery H, Battery I, Battery K, Battery L, and Battery M. Once the full strength of each regiment was fulfilled the next phase was begun, that of the movement of the Expeditionary Brigade to France.
The men of the Expeditionary Brigade were anxious for the confidential orders calling for the movement to France to arrive. It lives in the memories of each member assembled at Fort Adams on that Sunday afternoon, August 12, 1917 when the Brigade under the command of General Bartlett, marched in formation to the Polo Grounds of Newport, where under the blue canopy of the sky and the even bluer sea, Robert Livingston Beeckman, the Governor of Rhode Island, together with other officials of Newport presented the regimental colors to the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Regiments, as field music was played by the band. The presented colors would cheer the men during the dark days to come when on foreign lands, and the music gave each soldier hope and courage when the clouds were heavy and they were far from home.
By early August 1917 at Fort Adams the last pairs of shoes had been issued; the last typhoid shots had been given and the men were feeling that pent up energy like a crouching tiger about to jump onto his prey, as they had to wait for the appointed hour to “move out.” It was on Monday morning August 13, 1917 that General Bartlett gave the order to his regimental commanders, and all day at Fort Adams trucks were busy running between the Fort and the wharves hauling supplies.
The first to have orders to board ship was the 6th Provisional Regiment. The 7th and 8th Regiments would follow in a few days. The men of the 6th Regiment now had their last supper on American soil, and by that evening found themselves marching out the gate of the fort with the “Agony Band” leading the way down to the train station.
The movement of the 6th Provisional Regiment was not announced to the public but somehow word was passed around town that the men were on the move and marching through the streets of Newport to the train station. The men passed out of the gate of the fort in three marching brigades and took different routes through the streets but they all gathered at the intersection of Broadway and Washington Square where they marched in formation down Washington Square to the train station, with the “Agony Band” leading the way. As the men passed down the street wives, and girlfriends had gathered and they bid farewells for the last time. Also there were some ladies from the social circles who were handing out Benson & Hedges cigarettes and tobacco to the men as they passed by. As the men reached the train station the band played “Leave me with a smile” which was a popular song of the time used many times as troops departed their loved ones.
The 108 officers and 1,745 enlisted men of the 6th Regiment now boarded the trains that would take them to New York Harbor. By the early light of the morning of Tuesday August 14 they had reached the harbor where a British passenger liner awaited the troops. There was a short delay and the men had time to put away some “Corned Willie” and coffee before the men were taken to the Cunard Line Docks by barges. As the men waited for the barges there were some crowds that gathered near by to cheer the men off on their journey. For an outfit that only a few short weeks ago was a State secret, this noisy send off seemed curious to the men. It was then that the men remembered the rumor mill back at Fort Adams and began to wonder if the German Secret Service was already cabling Berlin saying they were on their way before they actually got aboard ship.
Finally the men of the 6th Regiment went aboard the Cunard steamship RMS Andiana. As soon as all men and material were aboard, the Andiana slipped away from her moorings and moved out down the river into the open ocean. The men were kept below decks until they were out at sea and very few saw the Statue of Liberty as they slipped by quietly. After the noisy send off of the crowds at the docks the men went back into “secret” mode again and were kept below decks until out of sight of land, so as not to alert the Germans that troops were aboard. The men likely felt that the secret was already out of the bag.
As the Andiana steamed along the sea it was glassy smooth, which was a good thing for the stomachs of the land loving army troops. The food aboard the English ship took more getting used to then being on a moving ship for the men. The American soldiers never fully learned to appreciate the British shipboard meals, and the British mess stewards took a bit of getting used to also. So much so that during mess times an officer had to be present just to keep the peace in the galley.
Finally on August 16 the Andiana reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the men were kept aboard the ship. From the rails of the Andiana the men saw the lights of the town and all the lovely things ashore for five long days. How the men longed to just stroll along the streets of Halifax and see the local girls. So the men amused themselves as best they could over the five-day wait aboard ship.
On Friday morning August 17 it was the 7th Regiments turn and they too had eaten their last supper on American soil and by 07:00 that evening had formed marching column and the men passed out through the gates of Fort Adams onto the Newport road under a cover of a dense fog. The fog had obscured the lights of Newport across the bay, which gave a sort of mystery to what the troops were doing. All troop movements that summer of 1917 was done as quietly and discreetly as possible keeping what America was gearing up for cloaked in mystery. Keeping the knowledge secret of the force of men America would soon be hurling upon the enemy was what the Army wanted to do, for it would be soon enough the German High Command would see first hand what this force of American men and material could do.
Saturday morning the men of the 7th Regiment were now loading onto the Cunard liner RMS Aurania with 187 officers and 1,726 enlisted men. Also on board with them were some aviation cadets and the officers and men of Base Hospital No. 10. At precisely 01:00 that afternoon the Captain of the Aurania gave orders to cast off all lines from the dock and just like that they were under way. As the liner moved away from the dock and she swung out into the current of the river each man aboard knew they were headed into a great adventure from which some aboard would not make the return trip home. With heavy hearts the men saw their last glimpses of the soil they called home, and which they were prepared to give their lives to defend.
Now at Fort Adams the men under the command of Colonel Frank K. Fergusson’s 8th Provisional Regiment had the wait the entire week alone before it would be their turn to march out the gate of the fort. Friday August 24 the men of the 8th awoke and began the same steps their brothers in arms had taken twice before them. Once the 79 officers and 1,696 enlisted men arrived at the dock in New York on Saturday August 25 they stood before another British passenger liner the RMS Pannonia. Before them stood a 486-foot long British ship of the Cunard line with one red funnel with a black top and three narrow black bands. The Pannonia made her maiden voyage to America from England in 1903 carrying many thousands of immigrants to Ellis Island over the years, and possibly even some of the soldiers who were about to board her had family who may have sailed aboard her to America. Now she would be carrying these American sons back across the Atlantic into harms way.
Back in Halifax the 7th Regiment aboard the Aurania had arrived and joined the same convoy the 6th Regiment aboard the Andiana would travel across the Atlantic with. It was on the 21st of August that a convoy of six ships, the Cedric, Lapland, Justica, Tunician, Andiana, and Aurania were escorted by the converted cruiser Orlanza, and they headed out into the Atlantic in convoy. Submarine watches were set up and the ships followed a prescribed zigzag pattern to avoid the German U-boats. At night all portholes were closed so no light escaped the ships. No smoking was allowed on deck as the peering eyes of a German watch officer could see the light of a match easily. And the men soon found that talking above a whisper on deck brought KP duty as punishment very quickly.
When the Pannonia arrived in Halifax with the 8th Regiment they had to wait aboard ship just as their brothers-in-arms had to, for they would take the next eastbound convoy.
Out at sea the men found this was not just a pleasure cruise, and daily boat drills and fatigue work was undertaken. There were also more schools for the men going over range tables and firing rates and types of charges and settings for air bursts or ground penetrations. There was even courses in the French language for the men but the only phrase they did learn well was “oui, oui.” And there was that ever present life belt, the men had to take it with them day and night, but in due time it just became part of them. Aboard the ships the men developed a new and relative unknown illness known as “submarineitis” which was basically an excuse to be excused from duty and sent to ones bunk for “rest,” but there was a cure for that found soon enough, which was even more fatigue work.
Once the convoy reached the “danger Zone” on the 29th of August, destroyers and cruisers of the American and British Navies herded the ships of the convoy like sheep in a flock by day and night. Once the coast of Ireland was sighted the men knew they were almost across and the end of the trip was near. But word got around that German U-boats were working in the area and had sunk one ship a day or so previous, which made everyone just a bit more excited. So to avoid the dreaded German U-boats the convoy slipped into Bantry Bay, Ireland on the 31st for a short overnight stay until again moving out the next morning. The speed of the convoy was increased to 14kts, which left the slow lumbering Tunician fending for herself in the wake of the convoy. On September 2, 1917 the 6th and 7th Regiments steamed up the Mersey River and the lines were made fast at the docks in Liverpool, England.
The process of debarking the men from the ships seemed to begin as soon as the lines of the ships were made fast to the moorings, and the men walked down the gangways to the dock on solid ground for the first time in over two-weeks. But just as quickly as they had gotten off the ships they were again on the move. This time the mode of transportation was by trains. By midnight, the men of the 6th and 7th Regiments were traveling south through the Midlands of England bound for Camp Borden, which was a British Army training camp. The camp was located between the towns of Liss and Liphook in Hampshire, England. The main street of Camp Borden was built on an ancient Roman road, the Chichester to Silchester Way, with the village of Greatham just to the South. Once they arrived they were greeted by an English band and had a breakfast of ham, bread, and coffee. Then were assigned once again to the little green pyramidal army tents, which the men soon discovered leaked like a sieve. But they did have wooden floors, not quite an equal trade, good floors and a leaky tent. Being that this was a British army camp naturally the food was also English and the men soon learned to dislike the mutton that was served at almost every meal. It was said that the men of the Coast Artillery Corps years after the war still could not look at a sheep without distain. The English seemed to have a fondness to tea and it was served all the time, which was also added to the disliked list of the Americans. Again there were many high level “discussions” between the American and British Mess Sergeants over the food and drinks at Camp Borden.
It was here that the men had their first rest of sorts, and had just enough time to get used to standing on solid ground once again. It was also here that the men got their first taste of gas and how to use their life saving gas masks. On the camps artillery range the men underwent an actual live fire gas training attack from their British artillery cousins. But there was also time for some less lethal activities. It seems that the men of the 6th and 7th Regiments became fond of a certain British officer known as Major Farrar who was then the Camps Chief Sanitary Officer. It seems that Major Farrer was fond of the American officers hats and he also had a likening for Bull Durham tobacco brought over by the Americans. Quickly the Regimental Supply officers of the Americans wanted to make nice and supplied Major Farrer with a nice hat and a sack of Bull Durham, enough to last him the entire war.
But soon enough it was time to leave Camp Borden, the tasty mutton and tea behind, and bid farewell to the friendly Major Farrer. On the 15th of September the men were once again put on trains bound for Southampton where they would cross the English Channel. By that evening the men were loaded into several channel boats separated without reference to unit nor what country they came from. American, English, Scotch, or Irish it did not matter, you were just a body to the men who ran the boats, and they were just herded in like cattle. This would be a nighttime crossing, which hopefully gave cover from the lurking German U-boats.
By the light of the morning dawn the men aboard the crowded channel boats arrived into the harbor in Le Harve, France. As the morning light arose the men now saw for the first time the soil on which they would be asked to take lives on, and some would loose their lives on this French soil. Again marched to another “Rest Camp” where more preparations were undertaken.
That evening the men of the 6th and 7th Regiments were served the evening meal at tables that were set up outside a café on the streets of Le Harve, which the men found to be sort of a novelty for such strapping tough artillery men. They got the first taste of French wine known as “Vin Rouge” to the Americans, and while eating at the café were afforded the view of the many French mademoiselles strolling by in frilly dresses, which the men certainly did not complain of the view. The rest camp in Le Harve only lasted two days and by the 17th of September they were once again on the move.
Another train trip was prescribed for the men and by noon they were on their way away from the French coast to the interior of France. The destination was Mailly-le-Camp. The troops were crowded into the little French train cars and were forbidden to leave the train during stops along the way. Finally on the afternoon of the 18th they reached their destination of Mailly.
Once they were all off the train they formed up and began to march into the town. According to a diary kept by Corporal Mulligan the Company Clerk of Battery A of the 7th Regiment recorded the events of reaching Mailly. Cpl. Mulligan wrote, “We were met at the station by General Coe, Chief of American Artillery in France, and the French Artillery Chief, with French troops and a French band, who escorted the Regiments through and arch made of French and American colors to the quarters we were to occupy.” Cpl. Mulligan also recorded two significant dates of the 7th Provisional Regiment, “Received first mail from the U. S. September 17, 1917. And first pay day in France, September 27, 1917.
Once they reached the camps barracks they were assigned to which building they would occupy. The barracks were just recently vacated by some Russian troops and had left them in a ‘wonderful’ sanitary condition. So the sergeants with some American ingenuity and good old-fashioned barking of orders soon had the men cursing the Russians and sweeping out the place making it fit for human uses again. The barracks did have kitchens, in name only, but it seemed the stoves were only capable of warming soup and coffee, so there went the visions of ham and eggs for the men. These men were CAC men and they started to believe that it stood for “Clean All Camps” and not “Coast Artillery Corps.” But soon enough the field kitchens arrived and were unpacked, and then the smell of ham and eggs were heavy in the air once again. Life was once again in balance.
This would be called home for the men, and the men soon found that the village of Mailly was not one of the most attractive French villages, which consisted of one long road and a slaughterhouse, which gave little in the way of entertainments. But they were not there for fun and games. One only had to look at the little village church, which served as a vivid reminder of the danger they would soon be facing. This church was badly shot up by the German guns during the First Battle of the Marne in September of 1914. It seemed that the only part of the church not damaged by shellfire was the statue of Joan of Arc, which somehow managed to escape the damage.
At the camp in Mailly there was a French Co-operative building, which served as the camp store and also was a place the men could get a drink at. This building seemed to be a mixing bowl of humanity for at any given day one could find so many different peoples. There were the local French, the Cockney’s from London, the Italians from Naples the Yankees from Boston, the Chinese and the African’s from Algiers, all quenching their combined thirsts on that local French wine, “Vin Rouge.”
Life at Mailly consisted of daily infantry drills, hikes, and signal drills. Many men were sent to various schools such as the French chauffer school, and machine shop schools. At the end of each day the men were in formation with the officers with salutes to the colors. The good old “Agony Band” played and it was here that they flourished and actually began to sound like a band.
After about a week of being at Mailly the 8th Regiment finally arrived to once more make the Brigade whole again. It was during this period at Mailly that the Expeditionary Brigade began an almost daily round of changes to the Brigade. It was said among the troops that no one could predict with any certainty what unit he would belong to, or who his commanding officer would be, by sunset.
General Bartlett who had brought life to the Brigade and had brought them to France had now been re-assigned and Brigadier-General Frank W. Coe was assigned as the new Brigade commander in late September 1917. General Coe was a graduate of the United States Military Academy, Class of 1892, and had also attended the Artillery School in 1896. Also about the same time Colonel Hagood the Commanding officer of the 7th Regiment was re-assigned to the General Staff in Paris. Colonel Kimmel took his place as commanding officer of the 7th Provisional Regiment. It was also during this time of reorganization that the name of the Brigade was changed from “Expeditionary Brigade, CAC” to the “First Separate Brigade, CAC.” And to further complicate the changes to the brigade, this was the end for the 6th, 7th and 8th Provisional Regiments, for they were renamed respectively, the 51st, 52nd, and 53rd Artillery Regiments, CAC.
As the three regiments of American artillery began to change and evolve at Mailly so too did the material they would need. Being that these regiments were detailed to be railroad artillery regiments but had no weapons to use, they needed more space for the impending arrival of the artillery pieces they would be assigned to, and even more room for the trains and rail cars to carry the artillery. Nearby the village of Mailly was another village called Haussimont. Here the army began a build up of American railway artillery and it’s associated support systems.
In mid October the first guns were assigned and the Second Battalion of the 6th Provisional Regiment was ordered to Noailles, which was near Beauvais, France. There they were assigned to French 155mm G. P. F. guns, Renault tractors and White trucks. Now at least some of the First Separate Brigade had weapons, and the men were ready and thought they would go straight up to the firing line at the Front. But the Army brass had other plans, and they were sent to Bordeaux, which was away from the front lines. There they went with their new guns just itching to pull the lanyard. They were under orders to instruct new Coast Artillery units arriving from America how to use this French gun.
When the American Army began to remove artillery pieces from its seacoast fortifications in early 1917 they had actually taken a lesson from the French who had already been removing selected seacoast guns from their shores and outposts. France had already mounted several guns on railroad carriages and had been using them at the front for a while. Many of these French pieces were antiques but were being used as best they could due to the urgent needs of the war.
An example of some of the seacoast guns France was working with were what was known as the “19 G’s.” These guns were cast iron made in 1875-76 and were removed from the coast defenses of Corsica and several other Mediterranean coast defense fortifications. They had been mounted on railroad carriages and were unique in that they had a counter recoil system consisting of solid rubber bands, about the thickness of one’s fingers, which would stretch in recoil and carry the gun back into its firing position after it was fired. The ever-witty American Artillerymen gave the nickname of “The Boston Garter Artillery” to the units who were the lucky ones to draw this type of gun as their weapon. No doubt many an American soldier’s first words when they saw one of the 19 G’s for the first time was “Hey do you think that will fire more than once?”
The First Battalion of the 6th Provisional now the 51st Artillery, CAC was the next unit to draw weapons. There were six 240mm guns given to the First Battalion, 51st Artillery. These guns were mounted on a portable carriage and dated from 1884, and were originally mounted in a French fort but in 1914 were removed. They were taken out of the fort and given crude wooden wheels and carriages and taken up to the Front and used in several battles, quite effectively. The wooden carriage did not have any sort of recoil system and looked pretty much like a Christmas toy, except much larger. But they were taken to a machine shop in St. Chamonds, France and given a new steel carriage and wheels.
There was a screw jack at the base of the carriage, which afforded the entire carriage to be raised and the wheels could be taken off and then the gun could be lowered into firing position. Also there was an excellent recoil system installed, all in all still a crude artillery piece but one that was still an effective weapon. And that was what the men of the First Battalion, 51st Artillery had to work with.
The first exposure to Haussimont came in mid October when during a mornings march with full packs, the Second Battalion of the 7th Provisional Regiment were hiking down the Route National and had arrived at Sommesous, when the captain of the leading battalion gave the order, “Column Left, March.” Down another road and across a set of train tracks and up a hill to the first crossroads, there they heard the command “Halt.” The Captain had shown the way to a landmark, which was the high water mark of the German army’s deepest penetration of France in September of 1914 during the First Battle of the Marne. The Captain informed the men under his command that it was here on this spot that the French army was said to have spoken these words, “Thus far shall they advance, and no further.” He went on to show his men several white crosses marking the graves of French heroes and their brothers in arms who served as silent reminders to those who follow that their work has not yet been completed, and that it was the mission of the newly arrived American artillerymen to carry on this task which was so bravely begun in 1914. The men were standing within eyesight of Haussimont and the fields around the men were destined to be the new home of the American Railway Artillery, and from basically an empty field grew the American Railway Artillery base of Haussimont.
After the introduction to Haussimont the men of the Second Battalion, 7th Regiment, who by now understood that they were there to build a camp and not fire railway artillery, began to set up their pup tents on some wet ground under a row of pine trees along the road leading to the village of Haussimont. The next day the men awoke to hustle and bustle as trucks began to arrive at the field where the new base was to be built. They carried lumber, nails, tools, but no artillery, likely now the men thought CAC stood for “Construct All Camps.” As soon as they could get some barracks buildings erected they could move in and move out of the hated pup tents, so there was some motivation to get the camp built as quickly as they could.
There at Haussimont no water was available those early days, the only water being about a mile away and no one was fond of carrying it that far. Basically each man had one canteen of water per day and it was used for drinking, shaving and washing, so none was wasted. So one of the first things along with the building of the barracks was the digging of a proper well, with pumps to supply the water needs of the camp.
The next thing to be built was the railroad-yard; while part of the Battalion was working on the barracks the other half was working on the rail yard, grading track beds and laying rails. Picks, Shovels, and wheelbarrows, along with a healthy dose of sweat became the weapons the men employed. But about mid-November the rest of the Regiment arrived from Mailly and then development of the construction projects increased dramatically.
For the men building the camp and rail yards at Haussimont Thanksgiving Day began as a cold and dreary day, but by that noon as they entered the newly constructed mess hall the dark clouds lifted. Before them the camp cooks had laid out a meal fit for kings, and everyone seemed to forget they were in the middle of a war far from home. Later in the afternoon French children visited the men and were treated to apples, oranges and candies or what ever the men could raid from the mess hall. For a time everyone was feeling that warm feeling of love and kindness, but as the evening grew late that feeling began to fade away, for the next morning would bring cold, mud, and hard work for the men. The next weeks after Thanksgiving were spend in digging anti-aircraft trenches next to the barracks and continued work on the rail yards.
Most evenings at Haussimont the men spent their time setting around the tin stoves in the barracks and generally just shooting the bull until it was time for lights out. Then the men would turn in, and in the morning when they woke they would find the ceilings of the barracks covered in frost, along with frost on their blankets. It was cold and damp in the barracks and the men hated to get up in the cold of the morning.
Artillery guns slowly began to be assigned to the Brigade, and several Batteries of the 7th Regiment were the next to be assigned to guns. Batteries A and B of the 1st Battalion, Batteries E and F of the 2nd Battalion, and Batteries L and M of the 3rd Battalion all were assigned to the French 320mm railway guns. The eight 320mm, or 32’s as they were called, were all that could be spared so the remaining Batteries of the 7th Regiment were the unlucky ones who drew the antique 19 G’s with the rubber band recoils, and were bestowed the nickname of “The Boston Garter Artillery” because of the rubber band recoils these guns had.
The batteries that had been assigned to the 32’s trained at Mailly until November 1917 when they moved to the newly constructed base at Haussimont, which was now ready for them. But Battery E of the 7th drew bad luck and had to stay at Mailly and man the sawmill there, turning out lumber for continued construction at Haussimont. Now the weather began to get bitterly cold but the Batteries were kept on the target ranges until they became proficient with their new guns.
The Third Battalion of the 6th Regiment was assigned to the 270mm Mortars that had been removed from French forts in Indo-China. Once the men got a look at these old codgers for the first time they were shocked to see the inscriptions “Model 1889” stamped into the breech of the guns. The men were sure this was some sort of joke but they were in fact guns made in 1889 and had once been used in forts in Indo-China half a world away.
The French Army had removed these guns and converted them to a mobile mount design with a wooden platform. The recoil system looked to be a mix and match conglomeration of parts and the breech mechanism looked if an alien had designed it. The men soon found out that by the laying of a few feet of narrow-gage rail, three or four smashed fingers, a little coaxing, some cussing, and if something did not break and the men heaved hard enough, and everyone kept his temper, four of these 270mm mortars could be laid in eight hours work. Not exactly an exercise in proficiency but at least they would fire fairly accurately. The range of the 270mm mortar was said to be from a half kilometer to ten kilometers. They could do anything from splitting a match at six kilometers to breaking a German Battery commander’s heart at ten kilometers. It was said of this gun at the range of 3 kilos in 24-hours the gun crews could fertilize more northern French soil with German cadavers than could any other gun in the butcher zone, that was, of course, if their mortars didn’t blow up first.
At the new base in Haussimont by December 1917, the men of the 7th Regiment had built several wooden huts. It seemed to the men that these buildings were the only signs of life in that dreary, muddy, and downright discouraging part of France. The largest building was devoted to recreation and used by the YMCA, and by Christmas Eve of 1917 a large number of the troops had gathered inside. In the center of the building in the middle of a war there was a Christmas Tree put up to bring some sort of cheer to the men. Cpl. Mulligan wrote in his diary, “Spent Christmas in France at Haussimont. The day was cold, with slight flurries of snow. Many of the men received packages from home and altogether it was a good Christmas under the circumstances.”
As the evening progressed little French children from the surrounding countryside began to arrive. They came by foot, and by wagon and some were carried in their mother’s arms, each one eager to see what the American’s had to offer in the way of Christmas cheer. The enlisted men of the American Coast Artillery Corps were the most charitable they had seen, with each child receiving a useful garment, or a toy and some candy. For many years after in the hearts and thoughts of those assembled in the YMCA hut in the muddy field that night at Haussimont, were fond and warm memories of the hours they spent together away from the war and all the difficulties it brought. The Army Chaplains Hunter and Yates who gave all assembled that night good spirits and respect to the night that the baby Jesus was born so far away and so long ago, making that night together with the French and the Americans singing in one voice all the more special.
As the evening turned into the late hours with the First Christmas in France passing into history, and men began to turn to thoughts of home, many thoughts were churning in the minds of the men. Would they spend another Christmas in France? How many would not live to see the next Christmas? These were only but a few of the thoughts running through their minds that evening, and at the sound of lights out, that first Christmas did pass into history, but the memory of that day lived on for each soldier sleeping in the barracks at Haussimont.
As December wore on into the new year, the men of the First Separate Brigade trained and learned how to use these loaned guns through the cold and snow of Mailly and Haussimont, and waited and waited for the orders they all wanted to hear, that of moving up to the front line and fire the first hot steel into the German lines.
From this point on the history of the First Separate Brigade needs to be told from the point of view of each of it’s three Regiments, now known as the 51st (The old 6th Provisional Regiment), 52nd (The old 7th Provisional Regiment), and 53rd (The old 8th Provisional Regiment).
Origins of the 6th Provisional Regiment, CAC, and the units they were formed from in 1917.
Headquarters and Supply Co. 2nd Company at Fort Mott, New Jersey
Battery A 1st Company at Fort McKinley, Maine, whose origin dates back to 1812
Battery B 2nd Company at Fort Greble, Rhode Island
Battery C 3rd Company at Fort Strong, Massachusetts
Battery D 5th Company at Fort McKinley, Maine
Battery E 1st Company at Fort Preble, Maine
Battery F 4th Company at Fort Williams, Maine
Battery G 3rd Company Fort Williams, Maine
Battery H 2nd Company at Fort Williams, Maine
Battery I 2nd Company at Fort Andrews, Massachusetts
Battery K 1st Company at Fort Banks, Massachusetts
Battery L 3rd Company at Fort Andrews, Massachusetts
Battery M 4th Company at Fort Andrews, Massachusetts
The 6th Provisional Regiment, CAC was under the command of Colonel William Chamberlaine, with Major H. C Barnes commanding the 1st Battalion; Major Clifford C. Carson commanding the 2nd Battalion; and Major Robert H. Williams commanding the 3rd Battalion.
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