Thursday, June 25, 2015

An American's Experience During World War I

Alexander Hutchison was my first cousin twice removed and served as a private with the 314th Engineers Regiment, which was attached to the 89th Division during World War I. Among the Missouri State Archives holdings is a pamphlet entitled, From Camp Funston to the Rhineland with the 314 Engineers, 89th Division, Army of the United States, 1917-1918.

After reading this pamphlet, I learned the 89th Division was organized in 1917 and most of the men were drawn from Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arizona, and New Mexico. Specifically, the men of the 314th Regiment came principally from Missouri. Alexander was inducted into the Army on 2 April 1918, left camp and traveled to Europe via Hoboken, New Jersey, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, for England aboard the S/S Carpathia. They arrived in Liverpool on 24 June and went by train the same day to Winchester Rest Camp. Four days later they entrained for Cherbourg, disembarking on 29 June and marched to an American rest camp in the vicinity of Cherbourg. On 30 June they entrained for the Training Area, arriving 2 July at Humberville and marched to quarters.

A vigorous course of training was undertaken. The 89th Division was the first American division to move up to the line by truck transportation. They relieved the 82nd American Division in the Lucey Sector northwest of Toul. During their relief of the 82nd, central parts of the sector were subjected to a severe bombardment of mustard gas by the Germans. It was the 89th's baptism of fire.

The Engineers regiment was stationed at Lagney, near division headquarters, and spent most of its time working on construction of a second position, or main line of resistance, constructing strong points, building concrete pillboxes, dugouts, putting up entanglements and in gas-proofing dugouts and doing other engineer work in the front line position.

On the morning of 12 September 1918, the 89th Division commenced its first offensive, in company with three other divisions, they began the St. Mihiel Offensive. The division captured all of its objectives and established its record as a reliable fighting division. The Engineers were assigned to each infantry brigade for wire cutting, demolition, forward road work.

314th Engineers Regiment stringing barbed wire during the St. Mihiel
Offensive; photograph courtesy of (original source unknown)

The general situation on 1 November 1918 was the the enemy was endeavoring to withdraw from France and Belgium and was using desperate efforts to stop the pressure coming up from the south and applied by the American Army. If the Americans were permitted to get to the Meuse, it was clear they could cut important southern railways the Germans needed for their retreat. The 89th Division jumped over the top of the trenches that morning; by afternoon the Heights of Barricourt were in their possession. It is said that Marshall Foch stated, when he received this news, "the war is over." The fighting continued day and night but the Germans were pushed across the Meuse.

During the battle the Engineers were on road construction and maintenance, doing emergency work necessary to ensure the advance of artillery and ammunition and rationing of the troops. Bridges were rebuilt, old roads repaired, new ones made and information secured in regard to Meuse river crossings. Foot bridges for the passage of the infantry were built at Stenay and near Pouilly, two pontoon rafts were constructed, ferrying two infantry regiments across the the Meuse the night of November 10-11. A floating balk and chess bridge was also built.

After Armistice Day, the 89th Division entered Germany on 4 December and became an occupation army stationed neard Kyllburg. The Engineers' work involved building construction, supervision of public utilities and repair and maintenance of roads.


From Camp Funston to the Rhineland with the 314th ENgineers,: 89th Division, Army of the United States, 1917-1919, (Trier, Germany, 89th Division, 1919), 8 pages

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