Rossie O. Knight and the Nixon Nitration Works

Rossie O. Knight (1892-1963)

Born of the World’s mischance,
Lair bade the newer toys of death,
Mortar, grenade and poison breath-
We smiths of Ordnance.

And none may see the arms we forge,
And laughing pass them by,
Nor do we think to show for sport,
Our ghastly armory.

-anonymous member of the Ordnance Department, WWI

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),  before moving to Barney, GA.   From 1917 to 1919 Rossie O. Knight served  in some of the major European campaigns of World War I. He received the WWI Victory Medal with five battle clasps. But Rossie had enlisted in the service well prior to America’s entry into the Great War.  In the years from 1913 to 1917, Rossie was engaged in America’s preparation for the coming conflict, in military service in the Coast Artillery Corps, and working to produce war matériel at the Nixon Nitration Works.

Rossie O. Knight’s service records show he enlisted at Fort Slocum, NY on August 31, 1913. Other Berrien county men who entered the service via Fort Slocum included Carter H. Exum and Charlie Turner, both of Nashville, GA who enlisted June 22, 1914. John S. Shaw, of Rays Mill, GA enlisted at Ft Slocum on August 5, 1914 and went to bakers and cooks school at Fort Sam Houston, TX.

Rossie O. Knight WWI service record

Rossie O. Knight WWI service record

Fort Slocum, New York was a US military post which occupied Davids Island in the western end of Long Island Sound in New Rochelle, New York from 1867 – 1965. In 1913, it was a major Army induction center

Fort Slocum, New York was a US military post which occupied Davids' Island in the western end of Long Island Sound in New Rochelle, New York from 1867 - 1965.

Gun squad at Fort Slocum, New York. Fort Slocum was a major induction point for the U.S. Army during WWI.

After training at Fort Slocum, Rossie O. Knight was assigned  to Fort Hancock, NJ for duty with the Coast Artillery Corp, Third Company.  Fort Hancock, situated on the island of Sandy Hook, was a coastal artillery base defending the Atlantic coast and the entrance to New York Harbor. Fort Hancock was operated in conjunction with the US Army’s Sandy Hook Proving Ground, where newly manufactured artillery was tested.

Aiming a 14 inch artillery gun at Sandy Hook, Fort Hancock, New Jersey,

Aiming a 14 inch artillery gun at Sandy Hook, Fort Hancock, New Jersey.

It was in 1914, when Rossie was stationed at Fort Hancock that hostilities broke out in Europe.  Americans watched with interest, but President Wilson worked to keep the country out of the war; “While armies moved across the face of Europe, the United States remained neutral.”  The United States attempted to continue trade and diplomatic relations amid the rising world conflict, but the production of artillery and war matériel in America became critically important to the belligerents. America was just coming out of the Recession of  1913-14, and the business leaders and industrialists began ramping up their companies to produce the needed supplies.  Among these men was an industrialist and shipbuilder Lewis Nixon, who began construction of the Nixon Nitration Works to produce “gun cotton,”- for use in smokeless gunpowder.

Americans were largely ambivalent about the war in Europe. But on May 7, 1915 a German submarine torpedoed and sunk the RMS Lusitania in route from New York to Liverpool, causing the death of 1,198 passengers and crew. Reports of the sinking were emblazoned across newspaper headlines in the U.S. and caused a storm of protest, as 128 Americans were among the dead.

Lusitania Torpedoed

Lusitania Torpedoed May 7, 1915, banner headline in the Thomasville Daily Times Enterprise, Thomasville, GA

On May 8th, the day after the sinking of the Lusitania, the Nixon Nitration Works began production of gunpowder. Lewis Nixon announced he would turn his full attention to the completion of the plant.

May 8, 1915 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced the beginning of gun cotton production at the Nixon Nitration Works

May 8, 1915 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced the beginning of gun cotton production at the Nixon Nitration Works

The Brooklyn Eagle
May 8, 1915

Huge Nixon War Plant to Turn Out Guncotton

Lewis Nixon has decided to abandon his political activities to give his undivided attention to the huge war plant which he is erecting near Metuchen, N.J. With but a small part of the 400-acre gun cotton plant completed, the manufacture of explosives began today. Contracts have been made with France and England which will take the output of the plants for the next two and a half years, regardless of the duration of the war, delivering at least 100 tons of gun cotton each month during the life of the contract.

The Fatherland, a pro-German newspaper based in New York, reported in August 1915 that Nixon had closed a contract with the British War Office for 1,000,000 lbs. of gun cotton to be manufactured at the plants at Metuchen, N. J. The shipments were to begin April 15th and to be continued at the rate of 20,000 lbs. a day. The Nixon concern receives 70 cents per pound. Mr. Nixon, when interviewed, refused to give any details of his contracts, but intimated, said the New York World, that they called for much more material than was reported. Within six weeks, according to the New York Sun, the Nixon Nitration Co. erected three big structures in Millville, N. J., for the manufacture of gunpowder and other war materials. Seven smaller buildings were erected. Three shifts of men have been kept working 24 hours a day. The Sun reported that three times as many buildings would be constructed, and that the number of employees would be increased from 500 men to 2,000.”

Although men came from all over the nation to work in the Nixon Nitration Works, the company  struggled to find enough workers for the massive gunpowder works.  At one point labor relations were strained to the point of a strike. After two fires occurred  the plant let go a number of foreign nationals who had been employed there, although Lewis Nixon denied that espionage was the cause of the blazes.

Rossie O. Knight took a job at the Nixon Nitration Works in September, 1916 although his service record does not indicate any break in his enlistment. It appears that the U.S. Army was helping out with the labor shortage by placing soldiers on reserve status so they could be employed at the Nixon plant.

According to the National Archives, Woodrow Wilson was elected  for a second term as President on November 7, 1916 , “largely because of the slogan ‘He kept us out of war.’ Events in early 1917 would change that hope. In frustration over the effective British naval blockade, in February Germany broke its pledge to limit submarine warfare. In response to the breaking of the Sussex pledge, the United States severed diplomatic relations with Germany.”  On top of the resumption of U-boat torpedoing of passenger ships came the revelation of German communiques with Mexico intimating the countries were conspiring for the invasion of the United States.

Mexican-American relations  had been tense since revolution broke out in Mexico in 1910, leading the U.S. to engage in several intrusions into Mexico’s internal affairs. The American Ambassador to Mexico was implicated in the 1913 coup in which General Victoriano Huerta assassinated the President and Vice President of Mexico and seized control of the government, throwing the country into violent civil war. Because of the civil disruption in Mexico, the U.S. began garrisoning troops along the border.  At least two Ray City men served on the Mexican Border. Owen Leonard Clements was stationed with the 4th Field Artillery at Progreso, TX, and Owen Adrian Knight served in Company M, 23rd Infantry. The U.S. Navy occupied Vera Cruz in 1914 to protect U.S. interests in the Tampico oil fields. There was a series of subsequent territorial encroachments on both sides of the border. In a comparatively trivial border incursion by U.S. troops in January 1916, Sergeant Clements  was drowned while crossing the Rio Grand. Following Pancho Villa’s 1916 raids  into New Mexico, the U.S. Army launched the Mexican Punitive Expedition, led by General John Pershing, in a futile attempt to track down the Mexican rebel.

“In January of 1917, British cryptographers deciphered a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt, offering United States territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause. ” News of the Zimmermann Telegram was published in the American press on March 1, 1917.

A few weeks later, Rossie Knight wrote home to his brother Leland Thomas Knight (family referred to him as
T.L.). The letter was written on March 28, 1917 from New Brunswick, NJ, while Rossie was working at the Nixon Nitration Works. It expresses Rossie’s anticipation that the United States would declare war on Germany, and that he would be called back into active duty.

Letter of March 28, 1917 from Rossie O. Knight to his brother Leland Thomas Knight.

Letter of March 28, 1917 from Rossie O. Knight to his brother Leland Thomas Knight. Image courtesy of Bryan Shaw.

 

Nixon Nitration Works
New Brunswick, New Jersey
March 28th, 1917

Mr. T.L. Knight,
Dear Brother, I will write you a few lines to let you
know that I am still living and to find out how you ar gitting along
I am getting along fine exspecting to haft to go to war every day I am
exspecting to be called back to the army.
Congress will meet the second of april which is next monday and I
think that war will be declared and if it is I will be called back to the
service if I am called back I am going home for a few days before I go
back to the army. so you need not be suprised to see me coming to your
house in a few days. I will only have a few days there but that will be
better than not going at all.
say do you remember how we ust to scrapp. I often laugh about it that
was the happiest days after all wasant it.
when we would get off saturday at noon. and all day sunday off I tell you
that is the best life after all back on the farm for mine after this yea
r. I have been working here seven months and I havent lost a day not one
and I have worked seven days a week no sundays off. I am alowed one day
a month off and that is all I get. and I get that off with pay that is
why I say I havent lost a day.
and I have just ben making a good living and that is all if a man is
making a living any where these days he is doing fine I think but
I am getting in a position now that I think I can save a little money
if I stay here.
If I am called back to the army and dont have a chance to go home
I will let you hear from me.
Give my best regards to all the people I know.
Respectifully,
(signed) Your Brother
Rossie

Transcription courtesy of Bryan Shaw

Rossie O. Knight was correct in his predictions. On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress formally declared war on Germany and its allies. By  August 7, 1917 he was serving overseas with the U.S. First Division .

The Nixon Nitration Works continued to produce war matériel,  throughout the war. The Nixon Nitration Works which included a number of plants, covered about 12 square miles on the Raritan River, near New Brunswick, in what was then officially known as Raritan Township (later changed to Edison) and unofficially known as Nixon, New Jersey. The company manufactured some two hundred million pounds of  smokeless powder for the Allies and the United States Government during WWI. As a collateral activity, it manufactured military pyrotechnics for the army and navy and at the armistice was the largest single producer of such pyrotechnics in the United States.

With the coming of peace, the company converted to manufacturing plastic materials of the cellulose derivative type. Nitrocellulose was a highly flammable plastic used to make film and x-rays, among other things.  One of the buildings at the Nixon Nitration Works was leased to the Ammonite Company, which disassembled artillery shells and reprocessed the gunpowder contents into fertilizer.

1924 Nixon Nitration Works disaster

On Saturday morning, March 1, 1924, an explosion destroyed the Ammonite building. The 11:15 a.m. explosion touched off fires in surrounding buildings in the Nixon Nitration Works that contained other highly flammable nitrocellulose  materials.  The disaster killed twenty persons, destroyed forty buildings, and demolished the industrial town of Nixon, New Jersey.

Special thanks to Bryan Shaw for contributions of content and images.

Related Posts:

Military Honors Rendered For Owen Leonard Clements

Owen Leonard Clements and three other soldiers drowned in the Rio Grande during a border skirmish at Progreso, TX on January 26, 1916.

Image detail- military honors for Sergeant Owen Leonard Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916

Image detail- military honors for Sergeant Owen Leonard Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916

Clements was a sergeant serving with Battery D, 4th Field Artillery Regiment, on the Mexican border. Owen Leonard Clements (subject of previous post: see Owen Leonard Clements and the 4th Field Artillery) grew up in the Ray City, GA vicinity and entered the Army as a young man.

The bodies of three of the drowned men were found five days later about five miles down stream from Progreso, as reported in the The Chicago Day Book:

Bodies of soldiers drowned in the Rio Grande recovered.  The Day Book, January 31, 1916.

Bodies of soldiers drowned in the Rio Grande recovered. The Day Book, January 31, 1916.

The Chicago Day Book
January 31, 1916

BODIES OF SOLDIERS DROWNED IN RIO GRAND RECOVERED

Brownsville, Tex. , Jan. 31. – Bodies of three of four United States soldiers who drowned while crossing Rio Grande last week to aid in rescue of two comrades kidnapped by Mexican bandits have been recovered.  They are those of Corp. Michael L. Ring of Lenox Mass.; Private Perry A. Rhodes of Seattle, Wash., and Private Charles W. Wilton-Best of East Boston, Mass.  The two former were of Battery D., Fourth Field artillery, and the latter of Troop A., Twelf cavalry.
     A hat was thrown in river at Progresso, Tex., where men were drowned.  When hat stopped with current at a point five miles below Progreso, two charges of dynamite were exploded in river there.  The three bodies rose to the surface.  None of them bore any wounds, dispelling theory that soldiers were hit by Mexican bullets before they went down.

Additional reports indicated the search for Clements continued:

January 31, 1916 edition of The Day, New London, CT reports on the recovery of the bodies of three soldiers who drowned in the Rio Grande. The body of Owen Leonard Clements is reported still missing.

January 31, 1916 edition of The Day, New London, CT reports on the recovery of the bodies of three soldiers who drowned in the Rio Grande. The body of Owen Leonard Clements is reported still missing.

The New London Day
January 31, 1916

U.S. SOLDIERS NOT SHOT BY MEXICANS

Dynamite Floats Bodies of Three Victims – Examination Shows No Wounds.

      BROWNSVILLE, Texas, Jan. 31. – Use of dynamite has resulted in the recovery today of the bodies of three of the four soldiers drowned in the Rio Grande, Jan. 26,  at Progreso, Texas, when American soldiers entered Mexico in an effort to rescue two companions.  The bodies recovered were those of Corporal Michael Ring and Private Henry A. Rhode, Battery B, Fourth field artillery, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best of the Twelfth cavalry.
    Examination of the three bodies at an undertaker’s establishment where they were embalmed last night revealed no bullet wounds and so disposes of the rumors that they were drowned after being shot by Mexicans.
      Search for the body of Sergt. Owen Clements will continue tomorrow.

Within a few days the body of Owen Leonard Clements was also recovered.   The Army provided a funeral service for the four soldiers with full military honors.

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916.  The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916. The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916. The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916. The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916. The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

† † †

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916. The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916. The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

† † †

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916. The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Quadruple funeral for Sergeant Owen L. Clements, Corporal Michael F. Ring, Private Perry H. Rhode, and Private Charles D. Wilton Best, drowned January 26, 1916. The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 01167, courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

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Military honors for Owen L. Clements, of Ray's Mill, GA. The Schulenberg Sticker, February 11, 1916.

Military honors for Owen L. Clements, of Ray’s Mill, GA. The Schulenberg Sticker, February 11, 1916.

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Gravemarker of Owen Leonard Clements (1886-1916), Cat Creek Cemetery, Lowndes County, GA.

Gravemarker of Owen Leonard Clements (1886-1916), Cat Creek Cemetery, Lowndes County, GA.

1919 Epilogue:

Investigation of Mexican affairs:

Hearing before a subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Sixty-sixth Congress, first[-second] session, pursuant to S. res. 106, directing the Committee on Foreign Relations to investigate the matter of outrages on citizens of the United States in Mexico, Volume 1, 1919:

On January 26, 1916, Pvts. W. P. Wheeler and Biggo Pederson, Battery D. Fourth United States Field Artillery, while swimming in the Rio Grande just south of Progresso, swam to Mexico side. There they were taken prisoners by the Mexicans and carried back from the river. As soon as it was reported to the officers in charge of the commands, believing that it was the intention of the Mexicans to abuse the two soldiers, Lieut. John E. Mort, Second Lieut. Bernard R. Peyton, and Lieut Albert W. Waldron, all of Battery D, Fourth United States Field Artillery, with about 20 men, started across by fording and swimming. All but Sergt. Owen L. Clements, Corpl. Michael F. Ring, Pvt. Perry M. Rhode, and Pvt. Chas. D. Wilton Best landed safely, but those  named were drowned, their bodies being recovered about three days later.
   This detachment was unable to find the two soldiers, though they searched many houses.  Being informed that Carranza soldiers had taken them and would not maltreat them, the expedition return to the Texas side.  On January 27, 1916, the Carranzists commander at Matamoras turned the two men over to United States Consul Johnson and they were soon back on Texas soil.  A court-martial was convened to try the offending officers, who received some minor reprimand, and were detailed for more onerous duties elsewhere.

-30-

More on Sergeant Owen Leonard Clements

Owen Leonard Clements (subject of previous posts: see Owen Leonard Clements and the 4th Field Artillery and Owen Leonard Clements Drowned During Invasion of Mexico)  was a son of Senie Burkhalter and  Benjamin Franklin Clements. He grew up in the Ray City, GA vicinity and as a young man entered the U. S. Army.  He was serving with Battery D, 4th Field Artillery Regiment in Texas on the Rio Grande  in January of 1916 when he and several men in his unit were involved in an ‘unofficial’ invasion of Mexico. Clements drowned while crossing the Rio Grande.  Here is another account of the incident.

Owen Leonard Clements was among soldiers who crossed the Rio Grande in 1916.

Owen Leonard Clements was among soldiers who crossed the Rio Grande in 1916.

Corpus Christi Caller and Daily Herald
Thursday, January 27, 1916

U.S. SOLDIERS CROSS RIO GRANDE – FOUR OF THEM DIE

SQUAD OF ARTILLERYMEN SWIM RIVER AT PROGRESO TO RESCUE THEIR COMRADES

RETREATING TO AMERICAN SIDE UNDER HEAVY FIRE FROM MEXICANS FOUR AMERICAN SOLDIERS DROWN – THREE LIEUTENANTS WHO LEAD FORAY PLACED UNDER ARREST AND MAY BE COURTMARTIALED

TWO SOLDIERS HELD PRISONERS BY MEXICANS

Sensational Incident Precipitated by Act of Four American Artillerymen Who Swam the River, Two of Them Being Captured as They Climbed the Bank on Mexican Side – Eighteen of Their Comrades Went to Rescue and Battle Resulted

MERCEDES, Texas, January 26. – Four American soldiers are known to be dead and two others are missing as the result of the first armed invasion of Mexico by United States troops, which occurred at Progreso, seven miles southwest of Mercedes at 3:30 o’clock this afternoon.  None of the Americans, however, were killed by Mexican bullets, the four who lost their lives having been drowned while swimming the Rio Grande.

The Dead

SERGEANT OWEN L. CLEMENT
CORPORAL MIKE F. KING
PRIVATE HARRY A. RHOADE, all of the above are of Battery D., Fourth Field Artillery
PRIVATE CHARLES D. WILTON BEST,  troop A., 12th Cavalry

The Missing

PRIVATE WILLIAM P. WHEELER,
PRIVATE BIGGO PATTERSON, both of Battery D.

Beginning of the Trouble

      The trouble started when four men of Battery D., Fourth Field Artillery, which is on patrol duty at Progreso, swam the Rio Grande to the Mexican side.  As soon as they had scrambled up the bank the party was confronted by a number of armed Mexicans, apparently regular soldiers, who demanded their surrender.  Two of the Americans plunged back into the river and escaped, although a fulisade of shots was fired at them.  The other two, Wheeler and Patterson, were captured and the last their comrades saw of them they were being taken toward the brush.
       Shortly after the men who escaped had reported the affair Lieutenant John E. Mort, commanding Battery D., with Lieutenants Peyton and Waldron, fourteen men of the battery and one trooper of the 12th Cavalry, left camp and swam the river with the avowed intention of rescuing the men taken prisoner by the Mexicans.  For two hours the rescue party searched the brush on the Mexican side penetrating for a distance of three-quarters of a mile into the interior, but failed to find any trace of the missing men.  On their return to the river they were fired on from the brush, but did not return this attack.

Men Lost in Retreat

      As the American soldiers plunged into the river to return to their own side Mexicans, who apparently had been following them, opened a brisk fire on the swimming me, which was returned by other men of Battery D., and of Troop A., 12th cavalry, who had mustered on the Texas side of the river to cover their comrades’ retreat, several hundred shots being exchanged.  It was during this retreat that the four artillerymen were drowned but as their bodies have not been recovered it is not known positively whether or not they were struck by bullets.
      As they acted without orders from their superior officers the three lieutenants who lead the dash across the river have been placed under arrest, pending an investigation.  The privates who participated in the affair are confined to quarters and also may be brought before a courtmartial.
     Major Anderson, commanding this department of the border patrol, has telegraphed a report of the affair to Major General Funston at San Antonio, with a request for instructions as to further action.
      Among soldiers and civilians the incident has created the most intense excitement, many alarming rumors having been in circulation throughout the afternoon and evening.  One of these was to the effect that an organized invasion of Mexico had begun and that a score or more American soldiers had been killed.
      Army officers have taken steps to prevent any recurrence of the trouble but men of the ranks are greatly aroused over the probable fate of Wheeler and Patterson.  They remember that in previous cases where American soldiers have fallen into

SQUAD OF ARTILLERYMEN SWIM RIVER AT PROGRESO TO RESCUE THEIR COMRADES
(Continued from Page 1)

hands of the Mexicans only their mutilated bodies having been recovered.

Another Version

      The following version of the affair, somewhat different from the above, which came to The Caller early in the evening by long distance telephone, was received at midnight over the Western Union wires from The Caller’s correspondent at Mercedes:
      “While American soldiers of Battery D, stationed at Progreso, were bathing in the Rio Grande river this afternoon two got too close to the Mexican side, were captured by Mexicans and taken into the interior.  Four other American soldiers who went to their rescue were drowned.
      “About three-quarters of an hour after this happened a detachment of fifty men crossed into Mexico in search of their comrades but returned in an hour or so without them.  They were fired at continually by bandits.”

Owen Leonard Clements Drowned During Invasion of Mexico

Owen Leonard Clements (subject of previous post: see Owen Leonard Clements and the 4th Field Artillery) grew up in the Ray City, GA vicinity.  He entered the U. S. Army and, serving with Battery D, 4th Field Artillery Regiment, advanced to the rank of sergeant.

In 1916, Sergeant Clements was stationed with his unit on the Mexican border near Brownsville, TX.  During a border skirmish incident Owen Leonard Clements died, along with three other American soldiers, while crossing the Rio Grande.

One of the first accounts of the death of Sergeant Owen Leonard Clements came in the El Paso Herald, Thursday Evening Edition, January 27, 1916.  ( Note: In this early account, the newspaper misprinted his name as “Owen B. Clements.”)

El Paso Herald, Thursday Evening, January 27, 1916, El Paso, TX. Owen Leonard Clements drowned along with three other soldiers.

El Paso Herald, Thursday Evening, January 27, 1916, El Paso, TX. Owen Leonard Clements drowned along with three other soldiers.

4 BODIES OF DEAD ARE NOW SOUGHT

Parties Search Rio Grande For the Drowned Who Attempted Rescue.

THREE OFFICERS UNDER ARREST

Returned Privates Say Promise of Mescal Was Decoy Used By Mexicans.

    Brownsville, Tex. Jan 27. – Privates Wm. C. Wheeler and Viggo Pederson of Battery D, Fourth field artillery, who were kidnaped late Wednesday by Mexican bandits and taken south from the border, were rescued by Carranza soldiers and brought to Matamoros today, crossing the international bridge into the United States at 11 oclock.  Dressed in Mexican clothes, they were turned over to American authorities.
     No word had been heard from the men since their crossing the river.  They wore no clothes.  A searching party was sent out from Matamoros and at an early morning hour the Americans were found.
Wheeler and Pederson said they were decoyed to the Mexican side by a Mexican who appeared on the bank while they were swimming.  Wheeler said the Mexican did not appear to be a soldier, but when surrounded by eight Mexicans later, some distance from the bank, they found their captors were all soldiers.  The men were taken to Rio Bravo Wednesday night by their captors, held in jail until midnight, put on a train at 1 a.m. this morning and reached  Matamoros at 8 oclock.  They were taken before Col. Quintinella, where they were told that Mexican civilians were not authorized to arrest them and that the Mexican soldiers were also at fault.  Both men were turned over to United States consul Johnson at Matamoros, who delivered them to Fort Brown. 

     Three American artillerymen and one cavalryman were drowned when three United States army lieutenants and 14 privates invaded Mexico opposite Progreso, Tex., in an unsuccessfuly attempt to rescue Wheeler and Pederson, who swam across the Rio Grande while bathing and were captured by two armed Mexican bandits.

Officers Are Arrested.

     The Americans crossed under a crossfire from the American and Mexican side, but no one was killed or wounded by the gun fire.  Lieut. J. E. Mort, commanding battery D, Fourth field artillery, and Lieuts. Payton and Waldron of the same battery, were ordered arrested Wednesday night by Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston.
Col. E. H. Plummer, commanding the 28th infantry at Mission, Tex., was instructed to send a field officer to Progreso at once.  Progreso is 33 miles west of Brownsville.

Mexican Troops Sent.

     Maj. Gen. Funston reported the occurrence to Col. J. R. Quintinella, commanding on the Mexican side, in the absence of Gen. Alfredo Ricaut.  Col. Quintinella said there was no Mexican patrol opposite Progreso, but immediately telegraphed the Carranza commander at Rio Bravo, Mex., nine miles south of Progreso to send a detachment of troops to the rescue of privates Wheeler and Pederson.

Two Effect Escape.

     According to reports received here, the trouble started when four members of D Battery stripped and swam across the Rio Grande at Progreso.  Two of them, Wheeler and Pederson, were taken prisoners and marched into the interior.  The other two soldiers swam back to the American side, several shots being fired from the southern  side of the river.

Officers Search for Men.

     Nearly an hour later Lieuts. Mort, Payton and Waldron, with 13 artillerymen and one cavalryman, swam the river, under protection of gunfire from the American side.  On the Mexican shore they are said to have searched two Mexican houses without finding any trace of Wheeler and Pederson.  On their return to the American side, an hour later, they were fired upon 10 or 12 ties by men in the Mexican brush.
The Americans drowned were: Sergt. Owen B. Clements, Corp. Michael F. King, private Harry A. Rhodes, all of D battery, Fourth field artillery, and Private Charles D. Wiltenbest, troop A, 12th cavalry.
Maj. General Funston said the blame apparently rested with persons on the American side of the border, and that he had issued the strictest orders to officers and men not to cross the Rio Grande under any circumstances.

      Bad feeling had existed among Americans and Mexicans in the Progresso district since last summer when there were  many conflicts there during the Mexican bandit operations.  Two American soldiers were killed in that vicinity.

Bodies Not Recovered.

           The bodies of the four soldiers who were drowned had not been recovered today, but those searching for the corpses  expected to find them before dark. Parties  are searching the river between here and Progreso, Tex.     
(Continued on page 5, Col. 3)

MEXICANS RETURN AMERICAN SOLDIERS
(Continued from Page 1.)

     There were no boats available at the point of crossing.  The officers and men swam the river carrying only pistols and cartridge belts.

Funston Reports to Washington.

     Washington D. C., Jan 27. – Maj. Gen. Funston reported to the war department today the drowning of four and the capture of two American soldiers near Brownsville, Tex., Wednesday. His dispatch contained a  report by Maj. Anderson, commander of the 12th cavalry, and says:      “I have directed Col. Plummer, 28th Infantry, to send one of his field officers to investigate.  Mr. Garza, Mexican consul, has been informed of the contents of Maj. Anderson’s telegram and of the arrest of the three officers concerned.  He has gone to Matamoros to inform the commander general there and to ask that immediate search be made for privates Wheeler and Pederson.  The Mexicans on the other side were not in uniform.”
The state department has not yet taken up the subject with the defacto government of Mexico.  The war department’s information regarding the incident near Brownsville was turned over to the state department for its information and secretary Lansing took it  under consideration.

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Owen Leonard Clements and the 4th Field Artillery

Owen L. Clements was born February 11, 1886 in Berrien County, GA,  a son of Benjamin Franklin Clements and Senie Burkhalter.  He was more frequently known by his middle name, Leonard.

In the Census of 1900 Leonard Clements was enumerated along with his family in the Rays Mill District, Georgia Militia District 1144 of Berrien County.  Leonard’s father was a farmer who owned his home and land free and clear of mortgage. While his father worked the fields, 14-year-old Leonard,  and his siblings who were of age, attended school.

Some time before 1910, Leonard joined the U. S. Army. He was stationed at Fort Russell near Cheyenne, Wyoming and assigned to Battery D, Fourth Field Artillery. The 4th Field Artillery Regiment was first activated in 1907 from numbered companies of artillery.

Fort Russell, Cheyene, Wyoming. Image courtesy www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com

Fort Russell, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Stables, Fort Russell, Cheyene, Wyoming. Image courtesy of www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com

Stables, Fort Russell, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Image courtesy of http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com

In early 1913, the 4th Field Artillery Regiment was dispatched from Fort Russell to Galveston, Texas by President Taft in anticipation that intervention would be required in Mexican civil unrest. Portions of the 4th Field Artillery were involved in the occupation of Vera Cruz in 1914 and afterward returned to Texas.

4th Field Artillery, Texas City, TX, 1914.

4th Field Artillery, Texas City, TX, 1914.

By August, 1915 Clements’ unit, Battery D, Fourth Field Artillery was stationed at Mercedes, Texas on the Mexican border.
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