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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Centennial at the Grass Roots: South Carolina's Dress Rehearsal

Apparently, for the 90th Anniversary of America's entry into the war, South Carolina did a bang-up job of commemoration.  Their outstanding work, fortunately, is still on hand on the Internet. Here's a small sample of what they have available. Also, they published a beautiful book as part of their effort. Let's hope South Carolina renews their great effort for the Centennial.

In the Trenches

United States troops arriving in France were immediately coveted by the other Allied powers, who wanted replacements for their own horrifying losses. General Pershing, following Woodrow Wilson’s orders, insisted on the American Expeditionary Force’s independent existence and national chain of command.

The fighting in France was characterized by great lines of fortification dug into the earth, where armies maneuvered in small spaces constricted by artillery and swept by machine gun fire. Thousands of lives might be expended for a gain of a few hundred yards of territory, a gain that was quite likely to be temporary, as the enemy regrouped in a further line of entrenchments to mount a counterattack.

M1918 field shoes of 1st Lt. George D. Levy, 323rd Infantry, 81st Division

The infantryman of the late 19th century had relied on his rifle and expected to march into battle, but in this environment the machine gun dominated long-range fighting and the line tactics of previous generations were suicidal. Trench raids, on the other hand, often devolved into pistol and hand grenade contests where a “trench sweeper” shotgun could prove superior to more conventional long arms. At any range, Western Front fighting was a brutal contest of attrition and had settled into a deadlock that the AEF would help to break.

Adding to the danger and misery was the constant danger of attack by poison gas. Gas warfare originated as an attempt to break the deadlock in the trenches but soon became just another horrific feature of the front. First Sergeant Joseph Etheredge, who served in South Carolina’s Field Hospital Number One (119th Field Hospital, 30th Division), graphically described the effects of a gas attack:

M1917 gas mask of Sgt. William H. Greene, Field Hospital 119,
105th Sanitary Train, 30th Division

In being gassed by Mustard Gas, your throat commences burning as if you have taken a swallow of red-hot lead, your eyes commence burning and swelling shut as if a hive of bees    had stung you, your voice goes from you till you can scarcely whisper, and you have a tremendous pressure on your chest as if there is a weight of from fifty to a hundred pounds there...It was about five weeks from the time I was gassed before I was able to turn over, and in fact it was about Armistice Day when I began to sit up a little.

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