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

Monday, March 21, 2022

Scouts Find the Way at St. Mihiel, Part II

Helmet of the 26th Yankee Division

By Ben B. Fischer,

Originally Presented 12 June 2006 on HistoryNet

Part II: Continued from Yesterday on Roads to the Great War

"'Anyway, will you try it with me?’ I asked him. Proc got more serious.

'Jim,’ he replied, ‘I honestly think we’re foolish to try it, but whatever you say goes.’

‘We didn’t shake hands or do anything sentimental — we just started and within ten minutes, we were crawling up from their rear about fifty metres from them. We stopped to look the ground over a little better before making the final move. Just behind them a few yards an immense tree had been knocked off about fifteen feet from the ground. They had taken advantage of this by weaving a green camouflage among the branches. This screen kept them from being silhouetted against the skyline, but it also hid them from our view and we had not seen any of them since leaving our first vantage point. The limbs reaching the ground were very large, and we carefully climbed up the largest of these. Then I whispered to Proc: ‘I’ll jump down into the middle of them and you show yourself at the same time. Keep well back however, and kill the first one that shows fight and keep on killing. Don’t shoot at all unless they start it, then do your best.’ — I drew my pistol and jumped almost landing on the head of one of them.

Depiction of the Fighting at St. Mihiel
by French Artist Lucien Jonas

'Hände hoch!’ I roared as I stuck my pistol in his face. His hands shot upward and never, never, shall I forget the terrified expression on his face. Every one of them stood as if paralyzed, and again I roared:

'Hände hoch!'

"Every German word I had ever learned or heard came to me like a flash, and I told them that if any one of them was slow in obeying my orders I would kill them all. Their machine guns lay idle. Most of their rifles were leaning handily near them. They all wore pistols, but no one attempted to draw. Two or three whom I could not cover from where I was sneaked away and opened fire on Proc. He gamely returned their fire. I played my last card. Stepping further into the group, I drew my other pistol from my coat pocket and shouted to Proc to cover those who were between us. I stepped ahead just quick enough to see a pair of legs disappear into the bushes. Using all the profane German I had ever heard, I ordered him to come out. The bushes parted, and out stalked a tall Prussian officer with sullen and intense hatred showing in his every move. His left hand moved a little in his coat pocket. I ordered him to take his hand out but leave his pistol in, and he did. Sweeping the bunch with both pistols, I told them to remove their pistol belts, throw them on the ground, and go over to Proc, one at a time. I let one pistol pause for a moment on the one nearest to me and yelled: ‘Du!’ He removed his belt, threw it on the designated spot, and took his proper place so quickly it seemed like a single move. In like manner, one by one, they were soon disarmed. One of them attempted to hand me his pistol, suggesting it would make a good souvenir, but I could not drop a perfectly good forty-five for a miserable little gun of that sort at such a time. The Officer marched up with his teeth grinding and a terrible scowl on his face. As he neared me, his hand sneaked back into his left coat pocket. I stopped him, for a pistol in a man’s pocket is far more dangerous than a pistol in a closed holster — it is harder to watch. For this reason, I told him he could keep it, providing he would make no attempt to use it, and I would collect it later.

In the Distance—The Ridges of Bois de St. Rémy
Where the Two Scouts Did Their Work

"With his right hand tightly clenched on his heavy cane, and his left twitching nervously halfway down his pocket, he slowly turned toward me. Fixing his evil eyes on mine, he advanced. I could read his cunning design, for I could look right down into the very depth of his black soul. He planned to knock my pistols down with a quick motion of his cane, and then shoot me with his Luger. My own safety demanded that I kill him right there. However, he was worth more alive than dead for the information he possessed, so I stepped back, pace for pace, until I had time to tell him that I knew what he was trying to do and that he would be killed if he advanced another step. With an angry snarl, he removed his pistol by the barrel and threw it far into the woods. His trench knife followed the pistol, his camouflage helmet the trench knife. It had been a terrible battle between two will powers. The haughty Prussian had been conquered, and the relief from the awful intensity left me weak, but highly elated. The worst was over.

"I lined them up close together in a single file, the officer at the head, told Proctor to bring up the rear, and we started for the Grande Tranchée. As Proc came up to take his place, he was fired at by one of the Boche who had been lurking in the woods. He silenced it with one shot and came on. Good old Proc with his one pis-tol had had the hardest part of it all. He had been the most exposed and yet had guarded us both. We made all possible haste and were on the Grande Tranchée but a few minutes when we met a patrol of our own men. They had been sent forward to discover the cause of the sudden silence of the machine guns that had been raking them. One of my men who had returned from the rear, and had been waiting for me then came up, and I rushed him to the telephone with this message: Enemy in full retreat. Bois de St. Rémy clear of Germans. Rear guard captured.

"Having borrowed a guard from the Infantry for the rear, Proc and I, once more shoulder to shoulder, marched our prisoners back three kilometers to Brigade Headquarters where we turned them in. There we had to count them. I counted them, and Proc counted them, and we both counted them again. There were forty — one officer, six non-coms, and thirty-three privates. ‘Forty of them Jim,’ said Proc. We puffed gently on our pipes as we turned back in the gathering dusk, to resume our duties at the front.

The Division's 102nd Infantry Charged Down
This Road to Hattonchâtel  

"Acting on the information which we had sent in, together with what had been picked up from other sources, the General Staff ordered forward one regiment, to march in close column, at greatest possible speed, and at all cost. By a forced night march, they arrived at Hattonchâtel and Vigneulles at two o’clock the following morning, capturing two trainloads of the enemy just as the trains were pulling out of the station. From then on the Drive became a circus."

The machine-gun nest that Carty and Proctor captured had held up the Yankees’ advance for five hours. Carty’s own regiment, the 102nd Connecticut, made the famous march to Hattonchâtel and Vigneulles, which Brig. Gen. George H. Shelton praised as being of ‘unique and important character,’ carried out in an ‘efficient and spirited manner.’ General Edwards ordered the temporary commander, Marine Colonel ‘Hiking Hiram’ Bearss, to reach Vigneulles before the rival ‘Big Red One.’ Bearss beat the regulars by seven hours. When the local German commander refused to surrender, Bearss punched him in the jaw and then ordered the Germans to make coffee for his dog-tired troops.

German Prisoners' Taken at St. Mihiel

Thanks to the German withdrawal, the St. Mihiel offensive, begun on the early morning  of  12 September 1918, was successfully concluded by 16 September. The Americans liberated 200 square miles of French territory and took 15,000 German prisoners. Their own casualties totaled 7,000 — about one-third what the U.S. Army Medical Corps had anticipated. For his small but outstanding contribution to the operation, Carty was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The drive was an important confidence builder for the AEF, but it left the Americans unprepared for the much grimmer Meuse-Argonne operation. Launched on September 26 into a nightmarish combination of dense forest and hilly terrain, every foot of which was stubbornly defended by veteran troops of General Max von Gallwitz’s Fifth Army, the Meuse-Argonne campaign became an agonizing contest that the AEF would not win until 5 November—at a cost of 117,000 American and some 100,000 German casualties.

Carty’s postwar years were only a brief reprieve from death. A semi-invalid, he never recovered from the ravages of gas and constant artillery shelling in the French "forest of death." The "Lone Yankee Fox," as one newspaper called him, died on Thanksgiving Day 1929, an old soldier at 34.

Monument to the 1st Division at Vigneulles, Where the Two Divisions Hooked-Up. The 26th Got There First,
But the 1st Got the Memorial

This article was written by Ben B. Fischer — James F. Carty was his great-uncle — and originally published in the August 1998 issue of Military History magazine.


  1. What a great read. Very heroic actions by Carty and Proc! These are the Soldiers that best the Germans. But at a terrific personal cost. Death at 34!