Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter Died in France

Francis Marion Burkhalter (1886-1918), of Ray City, GA.

Francis Marion Burkhalter (1886-1918), of Ray City, GA.

Francis Marion Burkhalter, the eldest son of Isaac Burkhalter, Jr. and Marentha Sirmans, was born December 3, 1886 in Rays Mill (now Ray City, GA).  His father, Isaac Burkhalter, Jr (1863 – 1918) was a farmer of Ray’s Mill, with a 50 acre farm on Lot No. 422, 10th District.  His grandfather, Captain Isaac Burkhalter, was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg while in command of Company G  “Clinch Volunteers”, 50th Georgia Regiment. His mother, Marentha Sirmans, was a daughter of Benjamin J. Sirmans and Nancy A. Shaw.

Francis excelled at studies. He attended the Atlanta College of Medicine, and by the age of 22 had completed a degree in Medicine. He returned to Ray City and set up practice in 1909, joining the other medical professionals of Berrien County.

On Sunday, April 23, 1911, F. M. Burkhalter and Mattie H. Griffin were married by Judge W. D. Buie.  Mattie and her cousin Mary Griffin operated a millinery store in Nashville, GA.  She was a daughter of Kiziah Lenora Knight and Elbert J. Griffin, granddaughter of John and Sarah Knight, and grandniece of General Levi J. Knight.

Francis Marion Burkhalter and Mattie Griffin were married April 23, 1911 in Berrien County, GA

Francis Marion Burkhalter and Mattie Griffin were married April 23, 1911 in Berrien County, GA

That September, 1911, Dr. Burkhalter moved his practice to Howell, GA,  about 24 miles southeast of Ray City ( 13 miles due east of Valdosta) in Echols County.   A drugstore at Howell was operated by Benjamin Franklin Rentz, brother of Dr. Lyman U. Rentz who later practiced medicine at Ray City, GA.

In the spring of 1913, a son was born to Francis Marion and Mattie Griffin Burkhalter, April 11, 1913.  But tragically the infant died that same day. Francis and Mattie took their baby home to Ray City to be buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery.

Grave of the infant son of Mattie Griffin and Francis Marion Burkhalter, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Grave of the infant son of Mattie Griffin and Francis Marion Burkhalter, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA. Image source: Michael Dover

After two years in Howell, Burkhalter returned to Ray City to resume his practice there.  The Medical Association of Georgia places Dr. F. M. Burkhalter at Ray City in 1917, along with Dr. Lawson S. Rentz.  The Nashville doctors at that time were Dr. William Carl Rentz and Dr. Guy Selman, formerly of Ray City.  Reuben Nathaniel Burch was a doctor at Milltown.

On June 5, 1917, Francis Marion Burkhalter and his brothers, William Thomas Burkhalter and John Allen Burkhalter, all completed their registration for the draft for the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, their registration cards being completed by Lyman Franklin Giddens and Charles Oscar Terry. William Thomas Burkhalter had returned to Berrien County to register for the draft.  At the time he was working in Jacksonville, FL as a salesman for the John G. Christopher Company. John Allen Burkhalter went on to become a veterinarian and lived in Ray City for many years.

F. M.Burkhalter’s physical description was given as age 30, medium height and build, with blue eyes and brown hair.

WWI draft registration of Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Ray City, GA

WWI draft registration of Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Ray City, GA

With America’s entry into World War I, Dr. Burkhalter was called into service, along with many other men of Berrien County. Dr. Lawson Rentz went to Camp Wheeler, then to the Embarkation Service in New Jersey. Dr. Guy Selman was sent to Camp Jackson, SC.   Dr. Gordon DeVane was  busy treating the victims of Spanish Influenza at home in Berrien County; he was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corp, but died before he was deployed.  In the summer of 1918 William T. Burkhalter, brother of Francis M. Burkhalter, entered the Veterinary Corps and served with Veterinary Hospital #16.

Dr. F.M. Burkhalter entered active service on March 25, 1918. He was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, then by July 19, 1918 he shipped overseas to France  with the American Expeditionary Force as a 1st Lieutenant in the Medical Corps.  Dr. Burkhalter  was with the medical detachment of the 50th Engineers, serving in the Defensive Sector and in the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Battle of the Argonne Forest,  was launched  late on the night of  September 25, 1918.  American reinforcements in transit to Europe included hundreds of Georgia soldiers, dozens from Berrien County, who went down with the ill-fated troopship HMS Otranto off the coast of Islay, Scotland on October 6, 1918. Among the Otranto dead were Ray City residents Ralph Knight,  and Shellie Lloyd Webb.

Arriving U.S. reinforcements were strengthening the Allied advance, but by this time the influenza epidemic was also beginning to spreading across the battlefields.  Sammie Mixon of Allenville, GA, who was fighting in the Meuse-Argonne with Company “H”, 18th Regiment, First Division, was wounded in action and died from pneumonia a few days later. Bill Sapp died of bronchial pneumonia on October 6, 1918.  Levi D. Clements of Ray City, serving with the 64th Artillery CAC contracted influenza and broncho-pneumonia and died October 11, 1918.  In the early morning hours of October 8, 1918 Isaac R. Boyett, of Adel, GA was fighting with Company C, 328th Infantry  in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive near the the French town of La Forge when he was severely wounded by machine gun fire.  Later that same day, Boyett’s regimental mate, Alvin C. York, earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in capturing 132 German soldiers at the village of Châtel-Chéhéry.  Boyett died  of his wounds two days later. Carlie Lawson also fought in the Battle of the Argonne Forest with Company G, 11th Infantry; he returned from the war and lived to be 100 years old.  Rossie O. Knight, of Ray City, served with Company C, 1st Division Ammunition Train in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive; he was gassed during the war and never fully recovered.

Shortly after the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was launched  Dr. Burkhalter became a patient himself, contracting lobar pneumonia probably as a secondary infection resulting from influenza.   He was apparently admitted to Base Hospital No. 15, located at Chaumont, France, about 160 miles east of Paris.

Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter died of lobar pneumonia at Base Hospital No. 15, Chaumont, France, WWI

Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter died of lobar pneumonia at Base Hospital No. 15, Chaumont, France, WWI

F. M. Burkhalter died at Base Hospital No. 15, Chaumont, France,  on October 8, 1918.  Of the 4,743,826  U.S. troops serving in WWI,   34,446 died from influenza-pneumonia and another 28,794 died of other diseases or accidents, totaling more than the 53,513  who died as a result of battle.

It was November 4, 1918 before Mattie Burkhalter would be informed of her husband’s death.

The Nashville Herald,
Friday, November 8, 1918

Dr. F.M. Burkhalter Died in France Oct. 8

      A telegram from the War Department, received by Mrs. F.M. Burkhalter, of Nashville Monday, announced the sad news of the death of her husband, Lieut. Frances Marion Burkhalter. Dr. Burkhalter left for France last July, arriving at his destination “somewhere in France” on July 20th. The telegram stated that he died of lobar pneumonia on the eighth of October.
      The news came as a great shock to Mrs. Burkhalter, who before her marriage, was Miss Mattie Griffin, a daughter of the late Rev. Elbert Griffin, and was the climax to a long series of trying experiences. For several weeks she has been in Ray City ill with influenza and during this time her deceased husband’s father, Dr. Isaac Burkhalter, has died, while Mrs. Burkhalter, Sr., is even now so ill with pneumonia that she is not expected to live.
       The telegram containing the news of her husband’s death reached her Monday upon her arrival in Nashville from Ray City. She was one her way to Albany to make her home with her mother, Mrs. Griffin.
       Dr. and Mrs. Burkhalter were married about eight years ago and until the fall of 1917 they lived in Ray City, where Dr. Burkhalter practiced medicine. Moving to Nashville, he practiced here until the call of his country came and he left to join the colors last spring. He was 32 years of age.
       Besides his wife are surviving him his mother, two sisters and one brother at home and one brother, Lieut. W.T. Burkhalter, who has just arrived in Siberia where he serves. 

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

The  WWI service record of Francis Marion Burkhalter documents his entry into the Medical Corps, deployment to France, death and burial.

Francis Marion Burkhalter, WWI Service Card

Francis Marion Burkhalter, WWI Service Card

He was buried in the American Cemetery at Chaumont, France, about 160 miles east of Paris.  His was one of about 573 American graves at Chaumont.

“…the shady road to Neufchateau, curv[es] down the long hillside into the valley of the Marne. At the foot of the hill is the mossy wall surrounding St. Aignan’s Cemetery, with the facade and tower of the ancient church, as old as St. Jean’s itself, half hidden behind the tombstones and the trees growing among them. Beside the wall a by-road leads down toward the Marne where, on a sheltered little plateau above the stream, lies a spot more sacred to the soldiers from the New World than any other in Chaumont—the American Military Cemetery.
      Slumbering in the deep peace of the valley, here lie buried 545 officers and soldiers of the United States Army and among them a few faithful nurses and welfare workers. Some of them died in the camps in and around Chaumont but most of them of wounds or disease at Base Hospital 15. The location and surroundings of the cemetery are most appealing. Close beside the parish cemetery it lies, the shadow of St. Aignan’s stretching across it in the afternoon and the soft tones of her bell floating over it at matins and vespers. Here, with the peculiar tenderness of the French for the places of the dead, come often the people of Chaumont, impartially bestowing their attentions upon these graves of allies and upon St. Aignan’s sepulchres; planting and tending the flowers around the mounds or hanging upon the white crosses at their heads some of those pathetic funeral wreaths of beadwrought flowers and leaves which are the universal tokens of mourning in the cemeteries of France. How much better that they should lie there forever, marshaled with the comrades of their faith and watched over by the kindred people to whose aid they came in the hour of bitter need, than that their dust should be exhumed and sent across the ocean to be scattered in the private cemeteries of city and village and countryside, inevitably to be at last neglected and forgotten! For here they may rest, as the dead in America’s other war cemeteries in France may rest, still active factors for the good of the world as everlasting symbols of the union of free peoples in a high cause. Certainly to Chaumont, knowing scarcely a single American before the great war, the cemetery beside St. Aignan’s is a bond of sympathy with the people and the institutions of the United States more strong and abiding than the most imposing monument.
So, as the lights twinkle out among the trees of the hilltop city and evening with its deep peace comes down over the valley where the fragrance of wild flowers and mown fields drifts above the serried graves and the waters of the immortal Marne whisper at their feet, let us leave both Chaumont and them, assured that here among the hills of the High Marne, fallen comrades and living friends have together reared a shrine to which the feet of Americans will come generations after the last soldier of the World War shall have received his discharge from the armies of earth.

– Joseph Mill Hampton ~ The Marne: Historic and Picturesque

By 1920, Mattie Burkhalter had moved back to Ray City with her widowed mother.  Her mother-in-law, Marentha Burkhalter, survived the pneumonia and continued to reside on the Burkhalter farm at Ray City.  Mattie and her moter made their home next to Francis’ mother and brother, John Allen  “Tete” Burkhalter.  After the war Tete Burkhalter became a veterinary surgeon at Ray City.

In 1919, the United States Army authorized the  Victory Medal in recognition of service in World War I.    Mattie Burkhalter submitted an application for a Victory Medal for her deceased husband.   F. M. Burkhalter, Eugene Rudolph Knight, Leon Clyde Miller, William B. Register, Henry Watts and Rossie O. Knight were among the Ray City men receiving the award.

Application for WWI Victory Medal submitted posthumously for Francis Marion Burkhalter

Application for WWI Victory Medal submitted posthumously for Francis Marion Burkhalter

Despite the tender care shown the WWI dead by the town of Chaumont, France, the grieving families in America were desirous that the bodies of their loved ones should be brought home to rest.  In 1921, the bodies in the American Cemetery, including the body of F. M. Burkhalter, were exhumed and returned to the States. The citizens of Chaumont erected a monument to mark the sacred ground where the fallen American soldiers  had briefly rested.

Beside the road just in front of St. Aignan’s chapel is the site of the American Cemetery, which lay something like two years beside the older French Parish cemetery.

The weeds and rough grass now cloaking the upheaved ground sloping down to the Marne would hardly betray to a stranger that here had been the resting place of the bodies of hundreds of brave men, most of whom died in Base Hospital No. 15, until they were removed for return to the United States or final interment in one of our permanent cemeteries in France. But with the fine delicacy of feeling, so often shown by them in such matters, the French have commemorated the fact for years to come in the dignified monument beside Neuf Chateau road which bears on its face, side by side, the Coats of Arms of the United States and of Chaumont and the legend in French:

“1917-1921. This simple stone will recall to future generations that here has been a cemetery containing the bodies of more than six hundred American soldiers who fought at our sides for right and liberty.”

– Nora Elizabeth Daly ~ Memoirs of a WWI Nurse

Monument to the Americans buried at Chaumont, FR. The bodies were exhumed in 1921 and returned to the States or moved to permanent American cemeteries in France. Image source: Doughboy Center http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/monument.htm

Monument to the Americans buried at Chaumont, FR. The bodies were exhumed in 1921 and returned to the States or moved to permanent American cemeteries in France. Image source: Doughboy Center http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/monument.htm

The remains of Francis Marion Burkhalter was returned to Ray City, GA and re-interred at Beaver Dam Cemetery. In 1934, Mrs. Marentha Burkhalter applied for a military headstone to mark his final resting place.

Application for a military headstone for the grave of Francis Marion Burkhalter.

Application for a military headstone for the grave of Francis Marion Burkhalter.

Grave of Francis Marion Burkhalter, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Grave of Francis Marion Burkhalter, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

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Rossie O. Knight and the WWI Victory Medal

Rossie O. Knight (1892-1963)

Rossie O. Knight as a young Soldier. Born August 28, 1892, Rossie O. Knight grew up in Ray City, GA.

Rossie O. Knight as a young Soldier. Born August 28, 1892, Rossie O. Knight grew up in Ray City, GA. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw and the Berrien Historical Foundation, http://www.berriencountyga.com

Rossie O. Knight was a son of Sovin J. Knight and Ann Eliza Allen,  and grew up on his parents’ farm near Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA.  He moved with his parents to the area of Barney, GA in 1911. His father, Sovin J. Knight, died April 16, 1911 shortly after the move.

Rossie joined the Army in 1913. He was stationed at Fort Hancock, NJ until August 1917 when he shipped out to France with the 1st Division.

WW1 Victory Medal US 1st Div of the type awarded to Rossie O. Knight.

WW1 Victory Medal US 1st Div of the type awarded to Rossie O. Knight.  Image source: http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/169740-ww1-5-bar-victory-medal/

Rossie O. Knight’s service records show he participated in four major 1918 offensives of World War I: Montdidier-Noyon, Ainse-Marne, Saint Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.  He also served in the Toul Defensive Sector. In recognition of this service he received the WWI Victory Medal with five clasps.

Wikipedia provides the following description of the Victory Medal:

 “The front of the bronze medal features a winged Victory holding a shield and sword on the front. The reverse features ‘THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION’ in all capital letters curved along the top of the medal. Curved along the bottom of the back of the medal are six stars, three on either side of the center column of seven staffs wrapped in a cord. The top of the staff has a round ball on top and is winged on the side. The staff is on top of a shield that says “U” on the left side of the staff and “S” on the right side of the staff. On left side of the staff it lists one World War I Allied country per line: France, Italy, Serbia, Japan, Montenegro, Russia, and Greece. On the right side of the staff the Allied country names read: Great Britain (at the time the common term for the United Kingdom), Belgium, Brazil, Portugal, Rumania (spelled with a U instead of an O as it is spelled now), and China.  Battle clasps, inscribed with a battle’s name, were worn on the medal to denote participation in major ground conflicts.  For general defense service, not involving a specific battle, the “Defensive Sector” Battle Clasp was authorized. The Defensive Sector clasp was also awarded for any battle which was not already recognized by its own battle clasp.”

The Victory Medals were awarded after the end of World War I.  Veterans completed an “Application for Victory Medal” and the medals were mailed to the servicemen instead of awarded in person. For example, the boxes containing the Victory Medals for United States Army World War I veterans were mailed out by the depot officer at the General Supply Depot, U.S. Army, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in April 1921. An outer light brown box with an address label glued to it and its postage area marked “OFFICIAL BUSINESS, Penalty for private use $300” contained an inner white box stamped with the bars the serviceman was supposed to receive on his medal. The inner white box contained the medal, which was wrapped in tissue paper.

 

Rossie O. Knight Application for Victory Medal, WWI

Rossie O. Knight Application for Victory Medal, WWI

Rossie O. Knight WWI service record

Rossie O. Knight WWI service record

Rossie O. Knight arrived with the 1st Division in Europe on August 7, 1917.  According to the First Division Museum at Cantigny:

The 1st Infantry Division was literally America’s first division. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, it had no divisions. President Woodrow Wilson promised the Allies he would send “a division” to France immediately. Four infantry regiments (16th, 18th, 26th and 28th) and three artillery regiments (5th, 6th and 7th) were ordered from the Mexican border in Texas to Hoboken, NJ, to board transports for France. On June 8, 1917, Brigadier General William Sibert assumed command of them as the “First Expeditionary Division.” Organized as a “square” division of more than 28,000 men, the First Division was twice the size of either the Allied or German divisions on the Western Front.

From September 21, 1917 to August 6, 1919 Rossie O. Knight served with Company C, 1st Division Ammunition Train (1 Div Am Tn on his service record).  Fellow Berrien countian John Bullock Gaskins was also serving in Company B, of the 1st Division Ammunition Train. The Ammunition Train was a convoy of trucks and wagons:  “For a Division, the ammunition train consists normally of four wagon companies and four truck companies.  This very important unit carries rifle ammunition to the Infantry, and shells to the Artillery.  Usually, the moving of ammunition is accomplished under cover of darkness, but in the big offensives the ammunition trucks are kept going day and night.”

WWI Soldiers loading ammunition for transportation

WWI Soldiers loading ammunition for transportation

The First Division won the first American victory in World War I at the Battle of Cantigny. Cantigny is a small village north of Paris, in the Picardy region of France. Held by the German Army, Cantigny formed a dangerous salient in the Allied lines. On May 28, 1918, the First Division attacked and defeated the German forces in the village and held it against repeated German counterattacks, despite suffering more than 1,000 casualties. The success raised the Allies’ morale, convinced the British and French that the Americans were capable of operating in independent fighting units, and disproved German propaganda about American incapacity.

From  August 22 to October 18, 1917 the 1st Division Ammunition Train and Rossie O. Knight were attached to the Scottish 15th Division at Le Valdahon, France.  According to the U.S. Army Handbook of Ordnance Data, Valdahon was a Field Artillery training camp, where troops were issued 75-mm guns and 155-mm howitzers, and received technical instruction in their operation.

campvaldahon12

Camp Valdahon, France

 

 

MONTDIDIER-NOYON (June 9-13,1918)

Sergeant Rossie O. Knight and the U.S. 1st Division were assigned to the Montdidier-Noyon sector when the Germans made an offensive  there on June 9-13, 1918.  Service in this sector proved to be typical active trench warfare, and the companies of the Ammunition Train were occupied ferrying small arms munitions and artillery rounds to the front lines.

The German infantry launched an attack on the night of June 8-9, 1918.  Twenty-one German divisions attacked the French on a twenty-three mile front extending from Montdidier, France to the Oise River at Noyon.

Effects of artillery shelling, Montdidier, France, WWI

Effects of British artillery shelling, Montdidier, France, WWI

The main assault was against the left of the French division which was on the right of the U.S. 1st Division; In this action the U.S. 1st Division took artillery fire and repelled diversionary raids. The battle was opened by an intense German artillery bombardment, which began at midnight…there was an extensive use of gas, both chlorine and mustard.  The Germans attempted to neutralize the Allied artillery batteries by firing on them with phosgene and mustard gas. Along the roads shrapnel was used and the front positions were shelled with gas and high explosives. The assault continued during the next five days. Though the U.S. 1st Division was not directly engaged, it was subjected to intense artillery fire and its units participated both defensively and offensively in several raids.  The Germans advanced from 2 to 5 km. (1.2 to 3.1 miles) and came close to breaking the Allied lines. But the French had anticipated the assault, and the counterattack was successful in holding the Germans.  This was the first repulse of a German offensive in 1918, and is regarded by some authorities as the true turning point of the war. Activities then diminished rapidly, relatively speaking, but from the time that the 1st Division captured Cantigny until it turned that sector over to the French, there was continuous heavy shell fire, with gas attacks and many raids, though all of the last mentioned were repulsed successfully.   The fighting was over by June 12, 1918. The fighting capacity of  the  German army was critically damaged with little to show for the heavy losses incurred.  For Rossie O. Knight personally, the Montdidier-Noyon Offensive was up and down. He started out the battle as a Sergeant, but on June 11, 1918 he was busted down to the rank of Private for some unknown infraction.

The Ainse-Marne Offensive (15 July – 6 August 1918)

By the end of June, Rossie O. Knight had at least regained his status as PFC. He continued to serve with the 1st Division Ammunition Train,  keeping the front lines supplied with ammunition through the Allied counter-offensive known as the Aisne-Marne Campaign.  The Ainse-Marne action also known as the Second Battle of the Marne,  began on July 15, 1918 when 23 German divisions attacked the French Fourth Army east of the city of Reims, France.  Just days earlier on July 10th, fellow Berrien countian Lawrence Ryan Judge, a sergeant with the 1st Division’s 26th infantry, was killed in action.

In the Ainse-Marne Offensive, British, French and American troops,  including the U.S. 1st Division, held the Germans back for three days at the Marne River.  Even before the German offensive on the Marne, the Allies had been planning a massive counterattack in the area.

July 1918, men of the US 1st Division waiting to enter the Ainse-Marne Offensive.

July 1918, men of the US 1st Division waiting to enter the Ainse-Marne Offensive.

After three days of fighting at the Marne, it became evident the German offensive was weakening.  The German attack failed when an Allied counterattack led by French forces and including several hundred tanks overwhelmed the Germans on their right flank, inflicting severe casualties.  The Allied counterattack was launched on July 18, with fourteen divisions including the U.S. 1st Division.

 

WWI Ammunition Train, July 18, 1918

WWI Ammunition Train, July 18, 1918

According to J. Rickard,  “All around the line the Allies advanced between two and five miles. That night the Germans were forced to retreat back across the Marne river. The rapid Allied advance threatened German communications within the salient and even offered the chance of trapping the German troops around Château Thierry.”   One Berrien county solider who fought at Château Thierry was Private John Lory McCranie, of Adel, GA.  McCranie was fighting with the 42nd Division and also later saw service at Saint Mihiel, Argonne Forest and Sedan. He died shortly after the war as a result of having been gassed.

1918-7-25-moving-up-to-marne-salient

July 25, 1918. Trains moving up to the Marne salient.

Faced with this massive Allied counterattack the Germans dropped back to form a new defensive line along the line of the Aisne and Velse rivers.  As the Germans fell back and the 1st Division moved up,  Rossie O. Knight also advanced, moving to the rank of Corporal on August 1, 1918.

The new German line began to form up around August 3. On  August 6, the Americans probed the new line and were repulsed, ending the offensive, but the German defeat marked the start of the relentless Allied advance.

Saint Mihiel Offensive (September 12-16, 1918)

Since the fall of 1914, the Germans had occupied the Saint-Mihiel salient, a triangular wedge of land between Verdun and Nancy, in northeastern France. By heavily fortifying the area, the Germans had effectively blocked all rail transport between Paris and the Eastern Front. This position had constantly threatened Paris and forced the Allies to maintain defensive positions. It was at a forward listening post at the front lines of Saint Mihiel that Lorton W. Register, of Ray City, had been killed by artillery shelling in March, 1918.

After the Ainse-Marne Offensive in July, General John J. Pershing and Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch decided that the 1st Army of the AEF should establish its headquarters in the Saint Mihiel sector and challenge the German position there.  The attack at the St. Mihiel Salient was part of a plan by Pershing in which he hoped that the American forces would break through the German lines and capture the fortified city of Metz.  Thus, on September 12, 1918, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) launched its first major WWI offensive operation as an independent army.

The attack began with the advance of Allied tanks across the trenches at Saint Mihiel, followed closely by the American infantry troops. Foul weather plagued the offensive as much as the enemy troops, as the trenches filled with water and the fields turned to mud, bogging down many of the tanks.

st-mihiel2

Stalled ammunition wagon holding up an advancing column on the second day of the Saint Mihiel Offensive, September 13, 1918

 

The ammunition convoys to which Corp. Rossie O. Knight was assigned worked around the clock for 80 hours to  keep the advancing American troops supplied.  Also present  during the Saint Mihiel Offensive were Lieutenant Asbury Joe Hall, Jr. and Private John Bryan Thomas, both of Adel, GA, and Private Carlie Lawson of Ray City.   Lieutenant Hall was attached to Company “H,” 3rd Infantry and had been in France since January 1918.  During that time he had been gassed once and wounded twice;  Hall’s luck ran out on the second day of the Saint Mihiel Offensive, September 13, 1918 when he was struck and killed by an artillery shell fragment. John Bryan Thomas served on the Ammunition Train for the 5th Division. Thomas contracted Influenza which resulted in his death on August 15, 1918.  Private First Class Carlie Lawson fought at Saint Mihiel with Company G, 11th Infantry.

Supply trains during the St. Mihiel Offensive, September 1918

Supply trains during the St. Mihiel Offensive, September 1918

Despite the conditions, the American attack proved successful—in part because the German command made the decision to abandon the salient—and greatly lifted the morale and confidence of Pershing’s young army. By September 16, 1918, Saint Mihiel and the surrounding area were free of German occupation.

Machine gunners and supply trains at St. Mihiel

Machine gunners and supply trains at St. Mihiel

But the U.S. offensive at St. Mihiel faltered as artillery and food supplies were left behind on the muddy roads. Plans for the attack on Metz had to be given up. As the Germans fell back to new positions the American forces immediately shifted further south where they combined with British and French forces in a new offensive near the Argonne Forest and the Meuse River.

Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In the wake of the U.S.-run attack at Saint Mihiel, some 400,000 U.S. troops were assigned to the region to participate in what was to be the final operation of the war, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, also known as the Battle of the Argonne Forest.  Under the command of  General Pershing, the American-led attack began at 11:30 pm on September 25, 1918  with a six-hour-long  artillery barrage against the German positions. The preliminary bombardment, using some 800 mustard gas and phosgene shells, killed 278 German soldiers and incapacitated more than 10,000.  The infantry assault, carried out by 37 French and American divisions, began at 5:30 the next morning with the support of more than 700 Allied tanks and some 500 aircraft from the U.S. Air Service.  Led by the advancing tanks, the infantry troops advanced against German positions in the Argonne Forest and along the Meuse River aiming to cut off the entire German 2nd Army. By the morning of the following day, the Allies had captured more than 23,000 German prisoners; by nightfall, they had taken 10,000 more and advanced up to six miles in some areas. The Germans continued to fight, however, putting up a stiff resistance.

On September 30, Pershing called a halt to the Meuse-Argonne offensive, but operations were resumed October 4.

The Germans were exhausted, demoralized and plagued by the spreading influenza epidemic, whereas arriving U.S. reinforcements where strengthening the Allied advance.  American reinforcements in transit to Europe included hundreds of Georgia soldiers, dozens from Berrien County, who went down with the ill-fated troopship HMS Otranto off the coast of Islay, Scotland on October 6, 1918. Among the Otranto dead were Rossie’s cousin, Ralph Knight,  and fellow Ray City resident Shellie Lloyd Webb.  About that same time Sammie Mixon of Allenville, GA, who was fighting in the Meuse-Argonne with Company “H”, 18th Regiment, First Division, was wounded in action and died from pneumonia a few days later. In the early morning hours of October 8, 1918 Isaac R. Boyett, of Adel, GA was fighting with Company C, 328th Infantry  in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive near the the French town of La Forge when he was severely wounded by machine gun fire.  Later that same day, Boyett’s regimental mate, Alvin C. York, earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in capturing 132 German soldiers at the village of Châtel-Chéhéry.  Boyett died  of his wounds two days later. Carlie Lawson also fought in the Battle of the Argonne Forest with Company G, 11th Infantry; he returned from the war and lived to be 100 years old.

The German troops stubbornly held on in the Argonne Forest for another month before beginning their final retreat. William Wiley Tison, of  Ray City, was with the 51st Infantry, 6th Division, which participated in the Meuse-Argonne operation from November 1-8, 1918. With arriving U.S. reinforcements the Allies had time to advance some 32 kilometers before the general armistice was announced on November 11, bringing the First World War to a close.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was a part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front. It was fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice on November 11, a total of 47 days. The battle was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, and was one of a series of Allied attacks which brought the war to an end. The Meuse-Argonne was the principal engagement of the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War and was “probably the bloodiest single battle in U.S. history”.

1918 Meuse Argonne

1918 Meuse Argonne

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From May 1918 to the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the First Division suffered more than 20,000 casualties, including killed, wounded and missing. With commanders such as MG William Sibert, MG Robert L. Bullard and MG Charles P. Summerall, the First Division established a reputation for excellence and esprit de corps.

Post Armistice  Activities  November 12, 1918-August 14, 1919
On November 12, the 1st Division moved into Bois de Romagne.  On Nov 13,  the Division moved via Malancourt and Verdun-sur-Meuse into billets near Domremyla-Canne and Gondrecourt, and prepared for the advance into Germany as a part of the Army of Occupation.

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Carlie Lawson and the Battle of the Argonne Forest

Carlie Lawson was born in 1897 in Valdosta, GA, the son of Missouri Spivey and Mitch Lawson.  Some time before 1910, the Lawson family moved to Ray’s Mill, GA (nka Ray City) where Mitch Lawson was engaged in farming. 

In 1917,  20-year-old Carlie Lawson left Ray City and went to  Ft . Oglethorpe, GA where he enlisted in the Regular Army on August 11.  He served as a Private First Class in World War I and fought in France. 

His service record shows that he served in the 11th Infantry, Company G throughout the war. He served overseas from April 24, 1918 to Dec. 30, 1918.  On May 5, 1918 he was promoted to Private First Class. 

PFC Lawson was in the engagement at St. Mihiel – Meuse, Argonne, France. 

 The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also called the Battle of the Argonne Forest, was a part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire western front.  The Meuse-Argonne offensive, fought in the Argonne Forest September 26 – November 11, 1918, was the biggest operation and victory of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in World War I. The bulk of the AEF had not gone into action until 1918. The Meuse-Argonne battle was the largest frontline commitment of troops by the U.S. Army in World War I, and also its deadliest.  The scale of the overall offensive, bolstered by the fresh and eager but largely untried and inexperienced U.S. troops, signaled renewed vigor among the Allies and sharply dimmed German hopes for victory.  The Battle of the Argonne Forest is credited in part for leading to the Armistice on November 11. The American forces suffered 117,000 casualties and losses in the battle. Although the Meuse-Argonne was “probably the bloodiest single battle in U.S. history”, in the sense that it had the largest number of U.S. dead in a single battle it is little remembered today in the United States.

 BATTLE OF THE ARGONNE FOREST. <br> THE FIRST DAY AT ST. MIHIEL.<BR>Temporary trenches dug by American s on the first night of the St. Mihiel drive, near Beney, Meuse.  Shortly after this picture was made, the troops drove five kilometers further ahead, September 25, 1918.

Carlie Lawson received an honorable discharge on March 22, 1919.

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