Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 104th Field Artillery Regiment of the New York National Guard, 1916-1919: From the Mexican Border to the Meuse-Argonne — Reviewed by Michael Kihntopf

The 104th Field Artillery Regiment of the New York National Guard, 1916-1919: From the Mexican Border to the Meuse-Argonne
by Pamela A. Bakker
Published by McFarland, 2014

Almost immediately after the ending of hostilities in 1919 a new type of book began appearing — a unit's (it could be company, battalion, regiment, division, or corps) history of their part in the Great War. The few copies that first appeared were the harbingers of the flood of unit histories that flowed into the market, finally dissipating in the mid-1930s as a new war threatened. A look at any one of the histories gave a reader a good idea of what the other ones looked like. The first chapters gave a brief history of the unit's pedigree and were followed by a description of the rigorous training the men received before shipping off to France or any other point. The middle chapters explained the acclimatization of the unit in theater. Then came conflict, the most harrowing action, with the end dealing with demobilization.

Artillery Deployed Near Château-Thierry

Any one of us has read one, two or maybe dozens of these histories in our lifetime and stifled down the yawns as we flipped through the pages. Yet we read on because those books provided us with an almost clinical depiction of the unit in the war. True, some pages could be laced with names of commanders, section heads, or even some heroic deed done by one of the men, but in essence the pages contained cold hard facts: where a company went, what points it guarded, how many men were there for the job, what the overall battlefield was like, and finally, a casualty count. For those of us who endeavored to do the scholarly overview of a battle or the war theaters, that information was priceless.

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Pamela Bakker's book follows this pattern without deviation. Having a genesis among the notes and pictures of her grandfather who was assigned to the 12th Infantry, New York National Guard, 1st Field Artillery Regiment from 1915 through 1919, Bakker did extensive research on how the unit transformed itself from quite nearly a militia into a professional unit of the 1st Army in France. She liberally sowed pictures of the Mexican Expedition through the first three chapters and surrounded them with little known facts about coping with the south Texas climate, people, and circumstances surrounding the American presence at the border in 1916.

Apparent through these first few chapters is the unpreparedness that existed in the American military. However, take heart that over the next chapters, the New Yorkers are trained to a fever pitch and finally arrive in France where they participate in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. The facts that Bakker loads each chapter with are mind boggling. There is a general description of the cannons the regiment fired, what kind of ordnance was used, the rate of fire, angles, and rates of supply. There are even lists of battery commanders as well as supply section movers.

Bakker's book is one of those works that battlefield enthusiasts should keep on their shelf for quick reference to American artillery information. It is regrettable that there was very little personal information from the author's grandfather beyond the images. A quotation of a letter home or from home would have softened the clinical analysis. Nevertheless, the book makes a thoroughly interesting and solid read.

Michael Kihntopf

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review Mike, this one's going on my list to read.