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

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Eyewitness: Attack at Séchault

Postwar: Horace Pippin Artist with a Self-Portrait

By Pvt. Horace Pippin,  Company K, 369th Inf.

About Horace Pippin

A manual laborer with a love of drawing and little formal education, Horace Pippin had lived a hardscrabble life in upstate New York and New Jersey before enlisting in the 369th Infantry Regiment in 1917. 

During the Meuse-Argonne offensive his unit, the “Harlem Hellfighters,” was attached to the French 161st Division and fought in Champagne, apart from the main American army. On 30 September 1918, Pippin was shot in the shoulder, permanently disabling his right arm. 

After the war, he learned to guide his wounded limb with his left hand and eventually became a widely exhibited painter. Pippin’s unpublished manuscript from the 1920s includes this narrative of the fighting around Séchault. The spelling shown in the account is Pippin's original, paragraphing has been added by the editors.

Pippin's Depiction of the Fighting at War's End

At Séchault

AT ONE o clock the artillery were in thir Position and Began to fire. The Germens air plaines were after us good and strong the end of this Day we got 14 machine guns 500 prisners and a town. Then we held the line for the artillery to move up. Prisners were comeing throu our line. Goeine Back and every one were happy. That they were out of it. For they knew that, they would see home a gan some time. We onley hell the line that night. The machine guns were thick they keeped spiteing Bullets a cross our line on till the artillery came up, then that morneing. I got in, with Co I. I had notheing to eait for 3 Days. 

The Germens line were strong. And shells dropeing every where. Yet we were advancing sloley. I were in shell holes that were smokeing, and they were hot, the machine guns were in trees as well as in Bushess and in Housess and any thing they could get a machine gun in. They had it there. Wimens as well as men, ueseing a machine gun we were faceing a nother hill. The snipers were thick all so, I seen a machine gun nest I got him. My Budy and I were after a nother one.

Both of us were in the same shell hole. I were lookeing for another hole that would put me in [ ] of him. After I seen one. I said to my comrad, you go one way, and Ill go the other, and one of us can get him. For we could not see him, from where we were at. For he were Back of a Rock. Now it were to get him in sight and to do that we hat to take a chance of one to get it. Both of us left the shell hole, at the same time, I got near the shell hole that I had pecked out. When he let me have it. I went Down in the shell hole. He cliped my neck and got me throu my shoulder and right arm. 

Yet I had notheing to eait yet and I onley had a little water in my canteen. I Began to plug up my wounds when my Budy came to me and did what he could for me. Then he tole me that he got the Germen and the gun. I were leyeing on my Back. I thought I could get up But I could not do so. I shook hands with him and I never seen him cents. Now the shells were comeing close to me. Piceses of shell would come in near me some times. Then the Germen sniper kepted after me all Day. His Bullets would clep the shell hole that hell me this were 8 o clock in the morning.

Some time that after noon some French swipers came By. They look for Germen that is left Back so he seen me layeing there. When he did so. He stoped to say sometheing to me. But he never got it out for just then a Bullet past throu his head. And he sank on me. I seen him comeing on But I could not move. I were just that weeke. So I hat to take him. I were glad to get his water and all so Bread. I took my left hand and I got some coffee. After some hird time geteing it from him, after that I felt good and I trided to get up a gan. But I were to week to do so. Night were comeing on. And it Began to Rain. Then I tried to get the Blanked from my Dead comrad. That I could not do. And I could not get him of off me. The Rain came more and more ontill I were in water yet I were groweing weeker and weeker all the time and I went to sleep. I cant say how long I slep. But two Boyes came and I woke up. They took the French men of off me and then took me out of the shell hole for some Distens where there were more wonded ones. I were left there the Rest of the night. Every time I would get in a sleep I would Be woken up By the French troops goeing to the line. 

On tell near morning four French took me in to a Dugout and then to a nother on till they found a Dr. Then he did somtheing, I do not no aney more that night. When I woke up, it were Day. Then I were caryed out of the Dugout I seen then that it were full of shot up men like my self some wirst then I. I layed out there for some time in the Rain waiteing for my tirn to be taken Down to the Road to the amblance. Over the hell came some Germen prisners with a French officer and they took me to the Road. It were all they could do, were to stand up under me goeing Down the hell. They had me over thir heads. And I thought that I would Roal of. A shell or two came close to us. But they made the Road. I seen the artillery were Hobe to Hobe and all at work. 

I were shoved in the amblance with 5 others made 6 in all and shells foloed us ontell we got to the feel Hospital. When I got there it were all I could do, to tell them ho I were. So I pointed to my shirt I had Riten down like this 101127 Horace Pippin Co. K. 369. Inf, I new no more. On tell I were taken to the table to see what were Rong with me. They gave me some dop and that did put me a way for good. I cant say how long I were in it. After I came out of it I were not there long. They took me to a nother Hospital Bace 1 in leeon.

Source:  “Autobiography, First World War” in "World War I and America" from the Library of America

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