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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Shadowboxing the Apocalypse: The WWI Correspondence of Dr. Theo Hascall, 103rd F.A. 26th Yankee Division

By Dr. Theo Hascall Foreword by Shawn A. Pease
Publisher:, 2018
Terrence J. Finnegan, Reviewer

Dr Theo Hascall, a Rhode Island native who served in the Yankee Division in World War I, was a prolific letter writer to his wife. The testimony of their relationship was the deeply felt syntax covering their experiences during this tumultuous event in history. Dr Hascall was one of several medical doctors within the 103rd Field Artillery, 26th Yankee Division.

155mm Artillery Piece and Crew from the 103rd FA

Shawn Pease has launched a labor of love by transcribing Dr Hascall's story in a voluminous text of 156 letters containing as much detail as a self-censored letter could allow. The book provides limited background to Dr Hascall's location with brief discussion of the battles being fought from February 1918 at the Chemin des Dames to the Armistice. Shawn Pease and his friends at the Rhode Island Philatelic Society should be congratulated for getting a primary source published through vanity press. It provides a glimpse into deployed lifestyle at the battlegrounds in contrast to the domestic world that his wife experienced.

The value of this work falls into the category of curiosity about an individual's experience. Hascall mentions influenza on 9 June 1918 with "Everybody around here has been having a '3 day feaver'–quite an epidemic." Detailed correspondence briefly mentions some figures such as Chaplain (Lieutenant) William J. Farrell, who earned the Distinguish Service Cross at Seicheprey on 20 April 1918. The two were friends and shared a room—to include a rat that slept one night in the bed—"he gave a slap and this huge thing jumped out." 

He describes an interesting German tactic employing captured French aeroplanes. On 25 July eight planes flew over the front lines and shot down two U.S. captive balloons. "How the anti-aircraft guns and machine guns got after them!"

On 23 June Lieutenant Hascall wrote "No word about promotions for the Medical Lieutenants of this Division yet. Guess we're out of luck." On 10 November 1918, Lieutenant Hascall received word that he had been promoted to captain. Apparently 30 lieutenants from the Medical Corps serving in the 26th Division were promoted on 30 September but didn't receive word until the day before the Armistice.

My own intent was to find any mention of the Sanitary Detachment members or memorable experiences related to the Medical Corps. In my case, the story had particular interest because in the latter months of the war my grandfather, Private 1st Class Cyril Finnegan, was a medic serving the 103rd Field Artillery and working for Lieutenant Doherty. For what it's worth, on 26 July he writes, "Talk about your traveling circuses. This is a regular 'off again on again Finnegan' sort of life." I wonder if he shared that with my grandfather.

The most disappointing feature of Shadowboxing the Apocalypse is the lack of relevant sources to further relate each event. The primary reference employed is The War Story of C Battery, One Hundred and Third U.S. Field Artillery, France 1917–1919 by Henry T. Samson and George C. Hull. To my amazement no mention is made of the primary source on the unit in World War I—History of the 103rd Field Artillery (Twenty-Sixth Division, A.E.F.) by W.F. Kernan and Henry T. Samson. Not only is there more detail associated with the 103rd Field Artillery contained in the latter source, some exceptional maps are included which would have provided the reader greater appreciation of the unit's service throughout 1918 along with the places where Dr Hascall served.

The Centennial released the floodgates of a lot of personal accounts such as Shadowboxing the Apocalypse (although the title is worth noting as being attributed to a Grateful Dead song). The casual reader will applaud the work for relating to the human experience of the time.

Terrence J. Finnegan

[Editor's Note: We previously published a letter from this collection on Roads to the Great War that described the aftermath of the St. Mihiel Offensive.  It can be visited HERE.]  


  1. I believe “on again off again Finnegan” was a phrase from a showtune or a popular novel. My mother was born in 1918 and she would say that us often.

  2. Thank you for this sketch of personal history, Terrence.