History of the Town of Schaghticoke

the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke

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The Lohnes Brothers: Two More Civil War Soldiers from Schaghticoke

 

I am happy to share the stories of two more local men who served in the Civil War, ancestors of much-missed former historian of the village of Schaghticoke, Dick Lohnes. Edward and Atwater Lohnes were two of the sons of George and Nancy Lohnes. Lohnes family members had first moved to Rensselaer County around the time of the Revolution.  George, born in 1804, died in 1845, leaving Nancy and five children.

By the time of the Civil War, Atwater, born in 1838, was a 24-year-old axe maker, living in Johnsonville, married to Joanna, and the parent of two children. He enlisted in Company K of the 104th NY Infantry on March 5, 1862.  Also in Company K was a Chauncy Lohnes from Brunswick, who must have been a cousin, and two other local men, whom he may or may not have known.  Atwater survived the bloody battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg in fall 1862, but was wounded at the battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, one of 194 casualties among the less than 1000 men of the 104th at that battle. Atwater had his leg amputated at a makeshift hospital in Gettysburg and died there, either on July 6 or August 20, depending on the source used. I have not been able to find a record of his burial. Widow Joanna applied for a  widow’s pension in December 1863.  I believe she may have survived until 1923, not remarrying.

Edward was the youngest of the five children of George and Nancy, just three when his father died. He was 18 when he enlisted in the 1st NY Mounted Rifles in June 1862. He was described as a farmer with grey eyes, a light complexion, and light hair, and was 5’8” tall.  At least two other local men were in the same unit, which served throughout Virginia and North Carolina during the war. Edward was promoted to Corporal, then to Sergeant. He mustered out with his Company on July 6, 1865 in Washington, D.C. The 1865 NY Census for Schaghticoke listed him living with his brother John and his mother, but if he was home, it wasn’t for long.

edward lohnes fort rice 1864

Fort Rice, North Dakota Territory about the time Edward Lohnes was there

Thanks to a blog from the Lake Region Heritage Center in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, I learned that Edward enlisted in the 31st U.S. Infantry in 1867. This is confirmed by the 1870 US Census, which lists Edward as a soldier at the Fort Rice Garrison in the Dakota Territory. Fort Rice was established in 1864 and was an extremely active military post. It sent out a number of expeditions against the Indians, hosted peace conferences with the Sioux Indians in 1868, and sent companies of Cavalry to fight beside General Custer at the Little Big Horn in 1874. Edward and his company helped build Fort Totten nearby, then served in the garrison.

Edward definitely was at peace with the Sioux: he married a Sioux woman named Mary early on during his time in the Dakota Territory. An ancestry.com family tree states her name was Mary Wannatan, or Blue Nest, and that they married in 1865, which seems a bit early to me. The Heritage Center blog states that after his second discharge from the Army, in 1870, Edward was a mail carrier between the Missouri River Forts, a dangerous and demanding job. Then he and Mary were the first settlers of Freshwater Township. According to Dick Lohnes, Edward participated in the 1889 State Convention establishing the state, then the 1894 North Dakota State Constitutional Convention.  The Heritage Center blog adds that he was then elected to the new State House of Representatives, where, his obituary stated, “He did not waste much of the people’s time in long speeches, but always voted right.” The state school for the deaf was located at his home town of Devil’s Lake due to his efforts.

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Edward Lohnes at the time he was in a delegate to the North Dakota State Convention

In the 1900 US Census, Edward was listed alone in Freshwater, ND, as a 56-year-old unmarried farmer. In the same census, his wife Mary Lohnes was listed in the section for the Devil’s Lake Indian Reservation. She was 49-years-old, with children James, 22; Gertrude, 20; Chauncey, 15; Hattie, 13; Mattie, 11; Clement, 18; Aaron, 16; and Sarah, 11.  Son John, 24, and his wife Emma, 22, lived next door.  By the 1910 US Census Mary and Edward were listed together, though he was mis-indentified as having been born in Minnesota, as was Mary, who was listed as 50. She was identified as Sioux, and as having had twelve children, nine of whom were living. Children Clement, 18; Aaron, 16; and Sarah, 11, lived with their parents. Obviously some of the ages have been misrecorded by the census takers. They lived in Wood Lake, North Dakota.

By the 1920 US Census Edward and Mary lived with just daughter Sarah, age 21, but were next door to son James and his family. Interestingly, Edward and Sarah were listed as white in the census, while Mary and James and his family were all Indian. Edward was now 74 and Mary 70, and they were in Mission Benson, North Dakota. Mary died in 1924. The 1930 US Census showed Edward living alone in the village of Crary, North Dakota. He was not listed as a veteran, though he had applied for a pension in 1891, but when he died on March 31, 1933, his son James applied for a veteran’s headstone for him. According to the blog cited above, he was buried in the Crary Cemetery in North Dakota with full military honors. I know that Richard Lohnes, village historian of Schaghticoke, visited Edward’s descendants in North Dakota, Native Americans all.

edward lohnes, crary nd

Tombstone of Edward Lohnes in Crary, North Dakota

This may be the most amazing of all the stories of all the Schaghticoke veterans.  Edward must have had tremendous skill and perseverance, fighting through the Civil and Indian Wars, being the first settler in his part of North Dakota, and raising a large family.  Obviously Edward’s marriage to a Sioux woman did not affect his standing as an important person in his community, representing his fellows in the new state government. The Heritage Center blog was illustrated with a photo of a quilt donated to the center by Edward or a descendant. There is no mention of his wife or their descendants in the blog post, nor of Edward’s birth in upstate New York.

 

 

 

 

 

Beroth Bullard Crapo: From Schaghticoke to Arizona

 

I discovered this Schaghticoke-born Civil War soldier from his obituary in the Schaghticoke “Sun” in August 1897. B.B. Crapo was a pillar of the town of Prescott, Arizona. He was the son of John Knickerbocker and Sally Bullard Crapo, born in Schaghticoke in 1841. John was the son of Peter Crapo, who though born in Massachusetts had fought in the Revolution in a New York Regiment. I have found no connection to the Knickerbocker family, so it seems John was named for a man that Peter admired, perhaps Colonel John Knickerbocker, first Colonel of our local Revolutionary War regiment.

In any event, I did find Beroth, called B.B. in his obituary, in the 1850 US Census for Schaghticoke with his parents. He enlisted in Company E of the 17th Connecticut Infantry Regiment in Weston, Connecticut. He was listed as a machinist. I cannot find him in the 1860 US Census, but perhaps he had moved there for work.  The occupation of machinist implies he was working in a mill.

The 17th Connecticut arrived from the North in Baltimore, Maryland on September 3, 1862. It fought in the battle of Chancellorsville May 1, 1863, when B.B. was both wounded and captured. However he was paroled a couple of weeks later. Did he recover in time to serve with the Regiment at the battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3? We don’t know. Next the regiment served in South Carolina, in actions against Fort Sumter and Charleston. It stayed on the coast, moving on to St. Augustine, Florida by the end of the war in April 1865. In January 1864, B.B. was promoted to Corporal.  He was discharged with the rest of the regiment on July, 1865 at Hilton Head, South Carolina.

B.B. married Jennie Davidson in Prescott, Arizona in 1867, according to Arizona marriage records. Jennie was born in Scotland in 1849. I don’t know how B.B. and Jennie ended up in Arizona at what was basically its founding. He was certainly a pioneer, probably crossing the country by wagon, as the transcontinental railroad was not completed until 1869. I think that he and Jennie returned to Rensselaer County for a time, before returning to settle and farm in the Skull Valley area, near Prescott, Arizona. I found Beroth, 29, working in an axe factory in Pittstown, living with Jennie, 21, and baby son David, 8-months-old, in the 1870 US Census. His parents lived nearby with their son George and his family.

beroth crapo skull valley AZ

Skull Valley, Arizona

The 1880 US Census listed the family back in Yavapai County, Arizona: B.B., 39, a farmer, plus Jenny, 29, and David, 10; Cora, 6; and Alice, 3. It seems amazing that anyone could farm in Skull Valley, but it does get 19 inches of rain a year- still not much. We would love to know how the farming went. In 1881 B.B. applied for a Civil War pension, at the point where they were only awarded for disability. According to his obituary, he was a member of the Masonic Lodge and the G.A.R. in Prescott. He had been a member of the Victor Lodge in Schaghticoke as a young man. The obituary also stated that he had moved to Arizona in 1869, but the public documents, of his marriage in Arizona in 1867, and the 1870 Census in Pittstown, tell a different story.

beroth bullard crapo arizona

Tombstone of B.B. Crapo

B.B. died in Prescott in 1897. He clearly had maintained a connection to Schaghticoke, as his obituary was published a month later in the “Sun.” The obituary says he was buried in Prescott, but Find-a-grave states that he and his wife Jennie, who died in 1912, are buried in San Bernadino, California. I don’t know why there is this difference,but the pictures seem clear. The tombstone also states he was born in Valley Falls and died in Skull Valley. Wouldn’t we like to talk to this couple about their amazing life experiences?

Marching to Victory

 

 

We have reached the point in 2018 when 100 years ago, the fighting on the Western Front in World War I was reaching its peak. After almost three years of stalemate on either side of deep, reinforced trenches, the German and Allied Armies left their defensive positions and attacked. The Germans realized that with the entrance of the U.S. into the war, this was their last chance to win, and launched a series of offensives from April 1918 on. With the addition of thousands and thousands of fresh American troops, the Allied armies were now able to respond with vigor, and they did, leading up to the final push, the Meuse-Argonne offensive in eastern France, which led to the Armistice of November 11, 1918. So it is time to resume my commemoration of the centennial of the war.

My last blog post ended as of March 1918, when the United States was firmly on a war footing. On the home front, citizens were voluntarily restricting their consumption of wheat, meat, and sugar; buying war stamps and bonds to help the government finance the war; and putting on and donating to fundraisers for extras for the troops.  Some workers had missed work when factories closed during the winter’s coal crisis. Everyone watched their friends, neighbors, and sometimes their sons, go off to train for war, and go on to France.

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“USS Calamares” transported troops and supplies to Europe

In spring 1918, the U.S. government was under tremendous pressure from the Allies to get its Army to France quickly, as Germany would be able to concentrate all of its offensive power on the Western Front after the collapse of Russia with the Russian Revolution. At the end of March, the U.S. commander, General Pershing, offered all of the resources of the U.S. to Marshall Ferdinand Foch of France, who was to command the combined armies. Pershing insisted on separate American units, however, resisting the call for him to insert Americans into the French army. The focus was on sending infantrymen, and by June, 10,000 U.S. troops were arriving in France EVERY DAY. Let me repeat that, 10,000 soldiers EVERY DAY.  By April 12, there were 500,000 American troops in France. By June 15 there were 800,000, headed for a million by the first of July.  At the same time, as expected, the Germans launched a multi-pronged spring offensive.

In March, the Troy “Times”, which was our major local paper, began to report on U.S. troops in France, but with little detail, due to security concerns. For example, on March 13, an article reported that “American troops are giving the Germans little rest,” but gave no information on what troops. Of course, as American units began to go into combat, men were killed and wounded.  The paper began publishing a daily list of casualties. Still in March, an article said the practice would cease, as it gave valuable information to the enemy, but the lists resumed shortly- people needed to know about their relatives. Then, the lists included just the name and rank of the man, not his address, but soon the addresses were included as the government was bombarded  with calls and letters to be sure which “John Smith” had been killed, for example.  From then on, the Troy “Times” published a daily list of men who had been wounded and killed in the tri-state area until months after the Armistice. Sometimes a more detailed story on a man killed appeared a few days later.

Charles Waldron

Charles Waldron, killed in action April 12, 1918

The cold truth of the war was certainly brought home to our community when a local boy with deep roots, Charles Waldron, was killed in action April 12, 1918. He had been living in Massachusetts when he enlisted in what became the 104th Infantry, part of the 26th or Yankee Division, one of the first U.S. divisions to reach France, in October 1917. The 104th went into combat for the first time at the start of April in the Bois Brule, in the Ardennes forest of France. Charles was killed during hand-to-hand combat with the Germans. The whole regiment later received the French “Croix de Guerre” for its bravery.  The Troy “Daily Times” of April 29 reported that a memorial service for Charles was held at the Presbyterian Church. He was buried in France at the time, and re-interred in Elmwood Cemetery in 1921. The American Legion Post in Schaghticoke is named for him.

frederick Harrigan

Frederick Harrigan

The Melrose Methodist Church had a special service on May 28 to honor local boys in service: Chester Yahn, Eugene Coonradt, George Wetsel, Frederick Harrigan, Raymond Dormandy, Charles Brenenstuhl, and Wilbur Simon. A parade saw off the latest contingent of drafted soldiers in Hoosick Falls at the same time.  Hoosick Falls was the departure point for all local soldiers in the county, outside of Troy. The church service and parade certainly had acquired more seriousness in view of the casualties being incurred by American soldiers.

The 3rd Liberty Loan campaign began April 6, on the first anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war, with a goal of raising $3 billion in bonds sold to U.S. residents. The newspaper pushed the campaign hard, with articles about the progress, activities, and the donors almost daily. A May 3 article stated “subscriptions to the 3rd Liberty Loan flow in like a tidal wave,” and by May 4, the total raised was already over the goal. May 18, the National Red Cross began a campaign to raise $100 million to aid its support of the troops, hospitals and ambulance corps. In Schaghticoke, the “old Post Office building” was refitted for use by the Red Cross, presumably a place for a fund raising headquarters as well as room to store supplies and for women to sew and knit for the troops. In June the Melrose Red Cross made 22 bed jackets, 14 pajamas, 14 sets of underwear, 15 hospital shirts, 50 first aid bags, 3 refugee dresses, 12 petticoats, 10 pairs of socks, one pair of wristlets, 1 scarf, and 2 sweaters. (Troy “Times” July 6) A Junior Red Cross organization recruited student members. The newspaper reported that half of the students in Rensselaer County schools were members. They worked making bed pillows and refugee garments, planting flowers and vegetables. (May 22, Troy “Times”)

As June began, American troops were in combat in a major way, during the battle of Belleau Wood, near the Marne River in eastern France.  Ralph Osberg, the son of farmers in Easton, who came home to live in Easton himself after the war, was one of the Marines there.  In a major lapse in the policy of not identifying individual units, in June the newspapers reported that the Marines had fought well.  Since there were few Marines in France, people knew who and where they were. The Marines had just been part of the men in the offensive, but they got all the credit, leading to jealousies with the Army. More importantly in the long run, the relatively untrained Americans proved their mettle as soldiers. Our very experienced Allies, France and Britain, had had grave doubts about the abilities of the U.S. troops to fight. By June 21, the newspaper reported that the American Expeditionary Force was holding 38 miles of the Western Front.

A second national draft was held on the anniversary of the first, June 5, 1918, only registering the men who had turned 21 in the intervening year. Draft regulations were revised to say that every man must work or fight. Professional baseball had until September 1 to adjust to this new order. So all players had to either seek essential employment or go into the military. This affected 327 players. Nationally, one million men registered. Meanwhile, men registered the previous year were still being called up, 200,000 between June 24 and 28. In Schaghticoke, the law office of Arthur Case was the draft registration location (Troy “Times” May 31).  By the end of the month, the draft numbers had been assigned, and the newspaper listed the men and their numbers. Men from our town included Leo McCloskey, Arthur Strope, Paul Campbell, and Otis Slyter of Melrose, none of whom actually served.

As the summer went on, new restrictions were placed on folks on the home front; new requests made of the population. People were urged to plant gardens: “If you can’t go, hoe!” There was a ban on use of pleasure boats. New York Telephone announced it would not answer phone requests for the time of day for the duration of the war. There was voluntary (for now) conservation of shoe leather, with shoes not to be over 8” high and available in only four colors. 25,000 student nurses were wanted. Recommended consumption of sugar was 3 pounds per household per month, reduced to 2 pounds in July. The newspaper gave advice on how to preserve fruits with less sugar and how to dry fruit at home. On August 30 a ban on pleasure driving of gasoline engines was imposed.

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German U-Boat

The U.S. faced German attack at home for the first time, as U-boats menaced the East Coast in June and July. The June 3 Troy “Times” reported that as many as 15 merchant ships had been sunk off the Jersey coast. As a result, all display lights in New York City were banned. Observation balloon and seaplane stations were to be established to guard the coast against the threat, in addition to the already existing coastal artillery. Throughout June, the paper reported more U-Boat sightings off Sandy Hook, and Virginia.  Three barges were sunk within view of shore off Cape Cod. The peak of this action was the attack by German U-156 on the coast at Orleans, Massachusetts in July. At the same time, the Allies were destroying the U-boat fleet as a whole, drastically limiting their impact on US convoys of men and supplies. As late as September, a German U-boat sank a troopship with 2800 aboard when it was 200 miles from the English coast. Thankfully, the men were transferred to the destroyers escorting its convoy and none were lost.

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Photo sent by Arthur’s parents to the NYS Veterans Service Data, collected by local historian Alex Banker

Another local boy, Arthur Turner, was killed July 28, 1918. He and his family lived on Turner Road, which goes east from route 40 in Melrose. Arthur was in the 165th Infantry Regiment, part of the 42nd or Rainbow Division, still based in Troy today. The 165th was part of the French 4th Army in the Champagne region and fought in the battle of Chateau-Thierry beginning July 18. This summer, men from the current 42nd Division went to France to commemorate this battle.  Arthur’s mother was told that Arthur survived the battle only to be “killed by a bomb shell the day following the battle…while carrying a wounded comrade.” Though I could find no confirmation of it, she said he had been studying to be a missionary before becoming a soldier. A memorial service for Arthur was not held until October, at the Lutheran Church. He was reinterred somewhere in the area in 1922.

ChateauThierryTurningPointWorldWarCard

A further draft was conducted in August, pulling in those who had turned 21 since June. And August 31, a new national manpower bill was adopted, extending the age for the draft from 18-45, from 21-30.  It was estimated that 13 million more men would register on September 12. The new law would allow more industrial and agricultural exemptions, as the government realized the need to keep production going to supply the military.  The freshman class of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in September 1918, 300 strong, were all to be Student Cadets, training to be in the Army as they attended college. The previously mostly volunteer members of draft boards all over the nation were now to receive compensation of $50-$200 per month. The U.S. was preparing for the long haul.

 

 

Folks in Schaghticoke had sons and husbands serving in all branches of the military, based in various places in the U.S., and in a number of Army units that went to France. I’m sure they read the newspapers carefully. Their soldier sons and husbands could write letters, but those from France were heavily censored. The largest number of local men in one unit were in the former 2nd NY National Guard Regiment, now the 105th NY Infantry Regiment and part of the 27th Division.   They were:  Walter Barber, Charles Brenenstuhl, Ralph Clark, Clyde Heer, Giles Slocum, Clement Subcleff, Francis VanBuren, Richard Ward, Raymond Warren, and Leo White. They had been training in Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina since September 1917. Those men finally went to France in May, for further training with the French.  The Troy “Times” ran periodic reports from men in the 105th, which was really the local regiment. On July 24 it reported that the 105th was finally in the trenches, as of June 24, five miles behind the front. Sgt. Thomas Norton reported “we are all fine over here…we are attached to an English company…It certainly is hell up there (at the front)…the whole of France is pretty well war worn and filled with deserted villages.”

27th div monumnent

Me at the monument to the 27th Division near Mount Kemmel

Soon enough, the 105th was doing its own fighting. August 31-September 2, they went into action near Mt. Kemmel in Belgium, along with the 30th Division, probing an area the Germans were said to have evacuated, aiming to seize the heights. This battle wasn’t reported in the local paper until September 26, probably for security reasons.

giles slocum

Giles Slocum, NYS World War I Veterans Service Data

Giles Slocum from Schaghticoke served in the Battalion Headquarters of the 105th in the mounted orderly section. He would have been in charge of delivering messages from one headquarters to another, riding a motorcycle in what would have been challenging circumstances to say the least. Sometime around this time, Giles got to meet the King and Prince of Belgium, who visited with American troops in the trenches. Giles spoke with Prince, later King, Leopold and “instantly admired him.” The Troy paper reported in 1935, just after the death of King Leopold’s wife, Queen Astrid, that Giles was inspired to write a letter of sympathy to the King, based on that long-ago meeting. He received a lovely reply, in French, from the secretary of the King’s cabinet, of which he was very proud.

4th liberty loan

As fall began, there were a number of new developments. The 4th Liberty Loan, with a goal of $6 billion, was launched and doing very well. The Valley Falls Committee to canvass for the loan included Mrs Rufus Halliday, Mrs Peter Stover, Mrs Emma Carpenter, Mrs George Lohnes, Mrs Joseph Bedell, and postmaster Mark Sweeney. The ladies were all members of the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls and Vicinity.  The goal was reached by October 21, and the newspaper published the long lists of the donors. The drawing of draft numbers for the new draft was completed. As of October 5, 1,850,000 US troops had reached France.

influenza

Sadly, the paper also reported the progress of another cause of many, many deaths in fall 1918: Spanish influenza, a world-wide epidemic. At the end of September, military training camps in the U.S. were riddled with flu. Frank Lewis, a local man, was drafted at the end of July, 1918, and died of flu on September 29 at Camp Meade, Maryland. He was in training there. New recruits were kept at home rather than go to training camps filled with disease. Another local man, John Butler, a Private 1st Class in an Ordnance department, actually died on the ship on the way to France, on October 15. Though the records say he died of pneumonia, it could have been that, or the flu. His body was returned home on the same ship. John, who had been working as an auto mechanic for D.E. Seymour in Schaghticoke before the war, was buried at St John’s Cemetery. The flu spread through the troops abroad as well.

On October 4, the Troy “Times” reported “a few” flu cases in Troy, plus Petersburgh, Berlin, and Grafton. By October 9, all places of amusement in Troy plus all area sporting events were cancelled, to prevent the spread of the flu. As of October 11, schools in Watervliet, Troy and Lansingburgh were closed for the same reason. The peak of the epidemic seemed to have been shortly thereafter. There were 100 cases of flu in Hoosick Falls on October 19.

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Breaking the Hindenburg Line

The “Times” reported German peace feelers as fighting intensified. September 30, it said “the western front is aflame for 100 miles with a huge battle.” September 29 the 105th Infantry and its 27th Division participated in the breaking of the major German defensive position, the Hindenburg Line. This was a huge development both physically and psychologically for both sides. Bernard Taylor, an English immigrant who lived in Pittstown, was in Company M of the 105th and was killed September 27 by a shot fired from an enemy airplane. The Troy “Times” didn’t report this until November 25. Bernard was reinterred in St. John’s Cemetery in 1922.

As of October 7, Germany made its first formal offer of peace as Germans were “in full retreat between Rheims and the Argonne.” (Troy “Times”)  Any proposals were rejected by the Allies as long as the Germans continued to occupy territory in France and Belgium.  From here on, most of the American fighting and dying of the war occurred, especially in the continuous fighting from the end of September to the Armistice on November 11- called the battle of the Meuse-Argonne. 26,000 of the 53,000 American combat deaths of the war occurred during those weeks.   First cousins Augustus and John Madigan both died during that battle. Augustus was killed in action October 26. John died October 31 of wounds suffered just a few days earlier.

Tombstones of the Madigan cousins in St. John’s Cemetery

Augustus was the son of James and Mary Madigan, and served in the 311th Infantry, part of the 78th Division. He served with two other local men: Wilbur Simons of Melrose and Sophus Djernes of Pittstown. The 78th, or Lightning Division was the “point of the wedge” in that final offensive, and lost over 1000 men. Augustus had just been made a Sergeant a few days earlier, and died “leading his company against machine gun nests.”

John was the eldest son of John and Ellen Madigan. He was in Company K of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, which had arrived in France in September 1917 and been in some fighting in July. The Regiment was in the lead at the battle of St. Mihiel in September, then in continuous fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in October. John was wounded in the midst of the battle and died soon after. Buried in France at the time,  the cousins were reinterred the same day in 1921 at St. John’s Cemetery in the biggest funeral the area had ever seen.  Nephew Bill Madigan told me the cortege, made up of cars and horses and buggies,  reached from the Stover house in Valley Falls to the cemetery, about two miles.
I wonder how people at home were feeling, continuing to prepare for more war, but knowing that the Allies were pushing the Germans back, the newspapers full of talk of peace. Turkey, a German ally, surrendered on October 31, Austria on November 4. The headline that day was “Germany’s Military Doom Approaches.” On November 5, the Hoosick Falls draft board listed draft classifications for six more local men, including James Beecroft of Schaghticoke and Charles Hare of Melrose. It announced that Harold Simon of Melrose would leave for training camp between November 11 and 22. On November 7, there was a false announcement of an armistice in Washington, D.C., with people celebrating for two hours before they realized that there was no peace.

Finally on November 11, the headline was “The Greatest War in History Ends. The Long Awaited Dawn of Peace.”  “Troy Delirious with Joy.”  All schools and businesses closed immediately so everyone could celebrate.  The draft calls of 250,000 men in November and 300,000 in November were cancelled at once. There were still 1 million men in training camps in the U.S, plus others on duty, for a total of nearly two million troops.  Already on November 12 it was announced that the U.S. would do police and guard duty in France and Belgium, and that Germany was asking for the same. And ads began to reflect the end of the war. In late October, the regulations for sending Christmas packages to the troops had been announced, and an ad on November 12 encouraged people to purchase items to send to the troops, “Your boy won’t be home for quite a while. Send him an Xmas package.”

uss wyoming fred haner ww1

“USS Wyoming”, dreadnought battleship

The German fleet in the North Sea surrendered on November 21. 20 U-Boats, the German submarines, had surrendered the day before. Fred Haner, who lived with his wife Jessie in Easton after 1940, served on the “USS Wyoming”, a dreadnought battleship, which worked with the British North Sea Fleet, during the war. He may have been present for the surrender. James Kinisky, the son of a Polish immigrant who worked on the Quackenbush farm on Stillwater Bridge Road at the time of the war- now the Corn Maze- was definitely present at the surrender. He served on the “USS Texas”, another dreadnought, which received the German surrender for the U.S. Navy. The “Texas” is the only surviving World War I battleship, and is a museum near Houston. James also served in the Navy in World War II at age 52, and lived to be 99. All the capital ships in the U.S. Navy headed for home soon after the surrender, though the sailors were discharged from service over a period of months.

Francis E VanBuren

Francis Van Buren, NYS WWI Veterans Service Data

In the midst of the joy, word came on November 22 that two more boys from Schaghticoke were dead. Frank VanBuren of Schaghticoke died of flu in France on October 26, at the peak of that epidemic.  Frank was in our local 105th Infantry, and had been in combat right up until his fatal illness. His dad was the local pharmacist.  Daniel McMahon died of pneumonia in a training camp in the U.S. on November 19. Daniel was an orphan as of the 1905 NY Census, when his brother Frederick, 26, headed a farm household consisting of Daniel and his siblings. Though he had not made it to France, Daniel had done well in the Army, which he evidently intended to make a career, as he died in Officers Training School in Virginia. Frank is buried in Elmwood and Daniel in St. John’s Cemetery. Though John Madigan had died in October, his photo appeared in the November 25 Troy “Times”. Indeed, the daily casualty list was published in the Troy “Times” for a couple of months after the Armistice.

daniel mcmahon

Daniel McMahon, from the Troy “Daily Times”

War-connected fund raising in the U.S.  turned to “Fill the War Chest!” this time for war relief agencies, serving the civilians in Europe affected by the war, but also the Red Cross, YMCA, YWCA, and Knights of Columbus, which would sponsor activities to keep the troops occupied. The goal of $650,000 in Rensselaer County was reached by November 21, showing the continuing support of the country for its fighting men. A 5th Liberty Loan was launched by the federal government on November 27, with a modest goal of $600 million.

As it had taken months to transport the troops to France, it would take the same amount of time to get them home. At least the public was now informed where the 35 overseas divisions were based, and soldiers were allowed to write letters home without censorship. The newspaper speculated about which troops would be sent home first, but in the end, a number of divisions composed the Army of Occupation in Germany. Those troops not in Germany were sent to staging camps in various locations in France. Gradually they were moved to French ports for transport home. They were deloused and given new uniforms just before boarding the transports. Therefore, almost all surviving uniforms saved by veterans were not the ones they wore in battle.

77th division

77th Division Victory Parade in NYC

The first troops arrived home from France on December 2, but others didn’t get home until summer 1919. Once their troop ships arrived in the New York area, our local boys were released to go home within just a few days. For example, Arthur Brundige of Schaghticoke, who served in the 305th Infantry, part of the 77th Division, was wounded on November 4, but recovered enough to march with his unit on a “15-day hike back from the front line”  after November 11 to a camp in France. He was kept busy drilling until it was his turn to go home. “The “cotties”, cooties or lice, were “our friends”, and he was happy to be deloused. He boarded the “SS Aquitania” on April 19, 1919 in Brest, France and arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey on April 24. He participated in the victory parade of the 77th Division in New York City on May 6 and was home soon after.

One of the results of this long time with many young men in camps with little to do was the formation of the American Legion in March 1919 by officers in France, including Col. Theodore Roosevelt, son of the former President. The men were anxious to preserve morale, mostly through having many organized physical activities and lots of entertainment for the men. They had seen the benefits of the Grand Army of the Republic to the veterans of the Civil War, and emulated that organization as well. Chapters of the Legion were formed all over the U.S. right away, including the Charles Waldron Post in Schaghticoke.

Even the almost 2 million troops based in the United States couldn’t be released at once. About 30,000 men were to be demobilized per day, with each getting a one- month salary bonus, plus the right to wear his uniform for three months, and the cost of his transportation home. Bureaus at the army camps attempted to find jobs for the soldiers being released. Our country unwound from a war footing as rapidly as possible.  Wartime rules for the home front were cancelled, from ending restrictions on sugar and wheat to restarting sports teams. The Student Training Corps at R.P.I. converted to regular students on December 10.

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Inside the Palace of Versailles, signing of the treaty

President Woodrow Wilson went to Europe in December. While the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919, the U.S. Senate did not ratify it, and did not formally end its involvement in the war until 1921. I am not going to get into Wilson’s 14 Points, the idealistic plan for peace which he first elucidated in January 1918, and the formation of the League of Nations, which was intended to avoid future war. We know that World War II followed in 1939.

So what did this war, The Great War, mean for us locally? I found that most of the men who were soldiers and sailors were able to reintegrate. Our Civil War soldiers were sometimes away for three tough years, and many were definitely disabled in some way by the experience. These World War I soldiers were away for a year at the most. Sailors were sometimes gone for two years, but few saw combat. Some of the men wrote of their experiences for local historian Alex Banker in 1921. A couple wrote quite long narratives, but one, Harry Yates, wrote, “I don’t like to think about it.” He had been drafted in May 1918, in France in the 52nd Pioneer Infantry by July, and served through the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He died of tuberculosis in 1929.

A couple of local veterans really suffered from their experiences. Adrian Gutbrodt, who lived near our town hall, had been drafted into Company D of the 305th Infantry in February 1918 with several other local men: Julius Hansen, Walter Ralston, and Arthur Brundige. Adrian was gassed on October 5, 1918, at the start of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He recovered enough to go home with the regiment in April 1919. He married his neighbor Beatrice Williams on January 10, 1920. Their child Frank was born November 20, 1920 and baptized March 27 at the local Lutheran church. Adrian died on May 17. Certainly he had never recovered from being gassed. He was buried with a full honor guard from the new American Legion plus a firing squad from the Watervliet Arsenal. Beatrice and Frank moved in with her parents. Frank and his best friend Malcolm Douglas were killed by a drunk driver in 1934. Beatrice lived on in a little house on Route 40 until 1993, having been a widow for over 70 years.

Sometimes a disability is harder to discern. Sophus Djernes, a Danish immigrant who lived in Valley Falls, served in the 311th Infantry with local men Wilbur Simons and Augustus Madigan. In fierce fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Augustus was killed on October 26 and Sophus “severely wounded.” In this case, it means he was gassed, like Adrian Gutbrodt. This was mustard gas, which would devastate the lungs. Sophus was listed as 10% disabled on his NYS Abstract of Service card. However Sophus came home and went to work first as a farm laborer. He married Florence O’Connor in 1926 and they had three children. Sophus worked at the Watervliet Arsenal for over 20 years as a tool grinder, but was hospitalized in Veterans’ Hospitals several times through the years, evidently for extended periods, as the newspaper reported that his wife and children visited him during his confinement. Sophus died in 1973 and is buried in our Elmwood Cemetery.

Local men joined together at once to form the American Legion. The Troy newspaper has many articles over the year showing the support of that group for its members, especially in officiating at their funerals. The organization was definitely a social focus for the village.

Some men were able to use the skills they learned in the military through their lives. For example, Theo VanVeghten of Hemstreet Park stayed in the Army Air Force as a test pilot. Several men learned auto repair and stayed in that field. Raymond Dormandy was an electrician in the Navy and for life. Most men came home and went back to what they had been doing. Those who had been abroad certainly had an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives, as well as a different view of the world, having been not only away from home, but out of the country.

World War I enmeshed the country in the affairs of Europe like never before. The major newspaper stories had been the war for at least four years.  Citizens had joined together to support the troops, buying war stamps and bonds, donating to the Red Cross, giving up flour, sugar, and recreational use of gasoline. Partly due to the skills they exhibited in helping the war effort, women had gotten the right to vote in New York State in 1917, nationally in 1920.  The U.S. government increased its penetration into the daily lives of its citizens. The draft had touched all men in the country aged 18 to 45, who all provided personal data to their government. The government had its first propaganda arm, The Committee on Public Information, which had built patriotism and shaped public opinion. The United States Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, controlled food at home and for the troops.  We truly entered the modern age.

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Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, inscribed with the names of 90,000 soldiers who died in the vicinity. The whereabouts of their bodies is unknown.

Of course we in the U.S. were and are isolated from the devastation of land and people suffered by the citizens of Europe. Parts of France and Belgium are still roped off due to unexploded mines, and bodies of soldiers and still being discovered. Cemeteries and monuments dot the landscape of the Western Front. It is impossible to know how many people were killed during the war- perhaps 18 million dead and 23 million injured in total, civilian and military. The U.S. had 116,000 military deaths compared to its major allies Great Britain, with 744,000 and France, 1,150,000; and foes Germany with 1,800,000; and Austria-Hungary 1,016,000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schaghticoke in the American Revolution: A New Perspective on the Death of Major VanVeghten

 

How do we accurately know and report what happened in the past? We learned in school that we should consult primary sources- oral histories; diaries; newspaper reporting; birth, death and marriage certificates, etc. – things created by the people who participated in the events.  Of course, we know that everyone experiences an event differently, people’s memories can be faulty, and recorders make errors, so even primary sources can be inaccurate or incomplete. Then historians put together the information in the primary sources and write journal articles and books- creating secondary sources. I know as a historian who does this herself that it is very hard to be totally objective in this process, and I am always worried there is more information to find. In fact, some writers of history have a deliberate bias. As students, we mostly depended on secondary sources of information when we learned history, along with lectures from teachers with different levels of ability and knowledge. So what we know is certainly a fuzzy snapshot of the past.

So a new source of primary information on a long-ago event is welcome, and surprising.  One of the classic tales in the history of Schaghticoke during the American Revolution is that of the murder and scalping of Major VanVeghten.  As the story goes, Dirck or Derrick VanVeghten, a Major in the 14th Albany County Militia, our local regiment, made a trip to check on his farm, near the Knickerbacker Mansion, just before the battle of Saratoga, in summer 1777. The 14th was based at Stillwater, helping transport supplies for the American Army across the Hudson. VanVeghten and his aide, Solomon Acker, were attacked by a group of Indians and Tories. VanVeghten was killed and scalped, but Acker escaped. He returned with help to retrieve the Major’s body. VanVeghten was shot through the tobacco box, which was preserved by his family.

Acker gave a simple version of the tale in his Revolutionary War pension application in 1832, placing it in July 1777, but told a longer story which long outlived him, making it into Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County” in 1880 and elsewhere, with some variation.  Acker’s tale is a good example both of traumatic events being seared into a person’s memory for life, and the possibility of a bit of change and embroidery of the tale over the passing years.

Recently, a gentleman named Charlie Frye, who has a blog called “Duty in the Call of Liberty,” wrote to tell me of a version of the story told in the “History of the town of Wilton, New Hampshire,” published in 1888. It includes the narrative of another long-lived Revolutionary War veteran, Joseph Gray. Gray’s narrative had been recorded in 1839. As a youth of 16, he marched as part of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment to Ticonderoga in May, 1777. They retreated before the British General Burgoyne down the Hudson Valley, destroying bridges to slow the British advance.  Once they reached Stillwater, about the beginning of August, a detachment, including Gray, was sent to Schaghticoke, “a small Dutch village.” This would have been the settlement around the Knickerbocker Mansion- where there was a church- near the junction of current route 67 and Knickerbocker Road- and a small log fort. The “inhabitants being alarmed at the appearance of savages who were lurking about, sent for a detachment of troops to guard them off.” I have read in the pension files of local militia men that they were either assigned to guard supplies at Stillwater or help move artillery from Fort Edward to Stillwater at this time. If they had been at Stillwater, one might think they would have been able to return to help their families, but perhaps not. They were in the Army, after all, and subject to orders. Hence the need for the New Hampshire men, who were not militia but Continental troops.

american indian rev war

Perhaps this is the kind of “white frock” the Indians were wearing

Residents of the farms from the area had gathered together for safety.   Gray was on guard that night, sitting near the Dutch Reformed Church, “on a beautiful level plain,” now the Weir Farm. If the men saw anything moving they were to yell, then if they got no answer, to shoot. They had been told that the Indians were wearing “white frocks”, probably long, loose linen jackets. He saw something white coming towards him in the starlight and shouted, “Who comes there?” No answer. After three hails, he fired, and found he had shot a “meager white faced bull.”

The next day, two of the local farmers, among those gathered near the church, rode their horses to their farms, “about ¾ of a mile distant,” to get some provisions. The soldiers soon heard “the well-known report of Indian fusees (muskets), and were much alarmed for the safety of the men.” One of them soon rode in at full speed, calling for help. His friend had been shot and scalped, his throat cut. The New Hampshire commander, Major Ellis, called for reinforcements, and the militia men escorted the  villagers four miles down the river “to a place of safety,” presumably Lansingburgh. Gray went on to fight in the battle of Saratoga, then on to other battles of the war with his militia.

Farmers-Cabinet-1

In 1840, Gray’s narrative was published in a magazine in New Hampshire, “The Farmers’ Cabinet.” A resident of Schaghticoke, Mr. B.A. Peavey, wrote to the magazine in reply.  Peavey was inspired by the article to speak to elderly residents of town to see if they knew of this incident. Amazingly, Peavey reported speaking to Major Vanvecton(sic), “aged between 70 and 80”, who remembered the man shot by the Indians. “His name was Siperly;” “the man who came riding back was Old Poiser.” VanVecton even showed Peavey where Siperly had fallen, on the “bank of the Tompanock Creek, where a point of the hill presses the road close to the creek.”

He added that “immediately after the death of Siperly, Major Knickerbocker of the settlement sent his negro to the North River…where some of the neighbors were engaged in placing their property aboard of boats to secure it from the enemy.” Major VanVecton’s father and Solomon Ackerth (sic) started for the settlement. They were shot at by Indians, and “Vanvecton received two balls in his thigh, which passed through his tobacco box in his breeches pocket, and he fell…Ackerth shot one Indian and killed him…took VanVecton’s gun and wounded another.”

Major VanVecton had preserved the tobacco box with the bullet hole. His father had lived just to the south of the Dutch Reformed Church.  Another informant, “Black Tom,” presumably an African-American, was 12 at the time and told Peavey he remembered the bull being killed.

So, let’s look at each part of this wonderful statement. Certainly, this account emphasizes how dangerous it was in Schaghticoke in summer 1777. It also confirms the story of Solomon Acker about the death of Major Derrick VanVeghten, and adds the death of another man. It also makes it seem that Derrick VanVeghten and Solomon Acker went to check on the beleaguered citizens of Schaghticoke, probably including their own wives and small children, rather than just checking on VanVeghten’s property.

First, as to the man writing the letter to the “Farmers Cabinet,” there was a Benjamin A. Pevey living in Schaghticoke in 1840. In the 1850 US census, he was a 54-year old laborer, with a wife and many children. He moved to New Hampshire by 1860 and died in Massachusetts in 1864. Second, as to the “Major Vanvecton” who was the informant, I feel this was John, son of the man killed, Derrick VanVechten. John was born in 1773 and lived until 1860 in Schaghticoke as a wealthy farmer. He did serve in the local militia, though I cannot find he was a Major- perhaps there was an exaggeration of his rank. But he could have been Pevey’s informant.

As to the man who died, Siperly, there was one Sipperly, Jacob, on the roster of the 14th Albany County Militia, but he survived the war. But there were other Sipperlys in town. “Old Poiser” could be Piser, I suppose, and there were Pisers in town early on. For example, a Christian Piser is buried in the Lutheran Church in town. He died in 1800 aged 77. There are just not death records, newspapers, nor surviving tombstones from that era. Plus, Sipperly and Piser were Lutherans, who lived in the Melrose/Pittstown area, so would they have been over near the Dutch Reformed Church? Perhaps they too had moved to what was then the town center for protection? We just won’t know, I think.

Returning to the letter, of course, there wasn’t a Tompanock Creek, but Tomhannock, so we know there was an error here. But the Tomhannock is close to the road along Buttermilk Falls Road today, where there is a hill on the east side, making the location a possibility. It is also interesting that Major Knickerbocker’s “negro” was sent to the North River- this was certainly the Hudson River- and the North River was another name for it. He was actually Colonel Knickerbocker, a higher rank. The VanVechtens did live just south of the church.  And finally, “Black Tom” , who remembered the incident with the “murder” of the bull, was certainly Thomas Mando, who began life as a slave of the Knickerbockers, born about 1767, and lived on in town until at least 1850, when he appeared in the census at age 83. So it seems that much of this account is possible, and perhaps probable.

knickerbocker harpers 7

This article from Harper’s Magazine in 1876 was all about the Knickerbockers of Schaghticoke. Was this supposed to be “Black Tom”?

In doing more research as a result of reading Gray’s account, I found that there was lots of confusion about the murder of VanVeghten in the Van Veghten family itself. “Genealogical Records of the VanVeghten Family”, by Peter VanVeghten (1900) tells a wildly inaccurate version.  In this version, Major Derrick was part of a group including a Colonel Solomon Acker, that pursued the party of Indians and Tories who had murdered Jane McCrea near Fort Edward. As you may remember from middle school, Jane McCrea was the fiancée of a Tory soldier in the British Army and was killed and scalped by Indian allies of the British while being taken to him on July 27, 1777. Her fate was one of the rallying cries which brought American militiamen to fight at the battle of Saratoga.

vanvechten bullet pouch

Illustration from “Spirit of ’76”- now calling the tobacco box a “bullet pouch”

This VanVeghten story promotes Solomon Acker to a Colonel, includes a wild image of the tobacco box,  labeled “Major Derrick VanVeghten 1777”, which it states is in the possession of Henry C. VanVechten of Racine, Wisconsin, a great-great grandson. It adds a quote from the “Troy Telegram” of July 21, 1882: “the bones of Lieut. VanVechten were accidentally exhumed at Fort Edward yesterday by workmen…VanVechten was a soldier…and was killed while in pursuit of the party who murdered Jane McCrea.  He was buried on the brow of the hill near the spot where he fell…the ball was still in the skull when found.”  It seems this story really is about a Tobias VanVeghten, who was a Lieutenant in Colonel Goose VanSchaick’s Batallion, the 2nd NY Regiment in the Continental Army. Tobias and some others were based near Fort Edward and were attacked by a group of Native Americans who were rampaging in the area and were probably those who killed Jane McCrea as well. So this happened on July 27, 1777. Tobias was buried near the spot where he fell.

The inaccurate story in the VanVeghten genealogy also appears in “The Spirit of ‘76”, written in 1896, as a part of a longer article about VanVeghten family and memorabilia, and completely shifts the story from Schaghticoke,  to a Derrick VanVeghten who has now become a Major in the Tryon County militia regiment of Cornelius VanVeghten, with Colonel Solomon Acker. The tobacco box remains but now is pewter.  There was a Lt. Col. Cornelius VanVeghten, but he was with the 13th Albany County Militia. I have found no Colonel Acker. One possible source of the some of the confusion could be that the death of Major Dirck VanVeghten of the 14th Albany County Militia on August 8, 1777, is reported in a list of casualties in a Tryon County regiment at Oriskany on August 6   (Documents relating to the colonial history of the state of New York vol XV, Albany 1887- appendix, p 549). Indeed, a photo of the tobacco box was exhibited at a World’s Fair in Wisconsin in 1893, labelled as from Major VanVeghten, who died at the battle of Oriskany.

So I can conclude that the great article in the Wilton history confirms the very dramatic story of Major Derrick VanVeghten and his aide Solomon Acker riding near the Denison Farm on Buttermilk Falls Road on August 8, 1777, when they were set upon by a few Indians. The Major was shot, killed, and scalped. Acker escaped and returned with help to retrieve his body- and his tobacco box- . It adds the information that another local man was murdered the day before and that the settlers of our little town were evacuated to Lansingburgh with the help of the New Hampshire Militia.  Just to wrap up the story, Major VanVeghten’s wife, Alida Knickerbocker, lived on until 1819, his son John reported the events in 1840. Solomon Acker lived in Schaghticoke until 1836, when, at age 83, he moved to Connecticut to live with his son David. He is recorded there in the 1840 census, listed as 90, but died before 1850.

The A.E.F. Arrives in France and the Homefront Responds

The Centennial of U.S. participation in World War I continues. As I wrote earlier, in the months from our declaration of war in April 1917 through the end of the year, the U.S. instituted the draft and planned to add about 700,000 men to the US military, just to begin, mobilized to feed and outfit those new soldiers, took control of the food supply of the U.S., and began to ship soldiers to France. On the home front, volunteers conducted the draft, joined the Red Cross and began to knit, knit, knit for the troops; and everyone began to eat less wheat and meat to meet the request of the government, bought Liberty Bonds to help finance the war, and boosted their patriotism.

A few men from Schaghticoke enlisted in the old 2nd NY Infantry of the National Guard, based in Troy, before the draft of June 5. The 2nd was now nationalized and renumbered the 105th NY of the 27th Division in the U.S. Army.  It began training at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina in September 1917.  Other local men were drafted beginning about the same time. Many of the draftees trained through the winter at the new cantonment at Camp Devens, west of Boston.  A couple of local men had enlisted in units of railroad engineers in Boston and New York, and were among the first US troops to reach France, by fall 1917,  where they were busy constructing the railroads essential to transport soldiers and equipment to the front.

engineers marching in London

U.S. Engineers marching in London, en route to France

On January 10 1918, the Troy “Times” published a report from the US Secretary of Defense: an Army of 1 ½ million men was now training or abroad, “without dislocation of the nation’s industries.” “No army of similar size in the history of the world has ever been raised, equipped, or trained so quickly.” 16 cantonments to train them had been built.  Remember, the US Army had numbered about 100,000 when war was declared, the National Guard about the same. So this was a very impressive increase.

Throughout the war, the front page of the Troy “Times”, the local paper for Schaghticoke, reported news of the different fronts of battle in great detail, from Europe to Russia to Italy to Jerusalem.  The newspaper was the source of news in those pre-radio days, and those who read the paper would have been very informed on what was going on throughout the world.  It printed transcripts of major speeches by political figures, detailed accounts of world events, and maps of battlefields.   Almost daily, there was a photo from the Committee on Public Information, the propaganda arm of the US Government. The photo showed soldiers training, various allied commanders, patriotic Americans doing things which supported the troops, etc. One of the major developments in the world was the Russian Revolution, which was reported in full. With the collapse of the Russian Army on the Eastern Front of the war, the German Army would be free to concentrate its forces on the Western Front in 1918, threatening our Allies France and Britain even more.  As 1918 began, there really was a race to get American soldiers into battle before the French and British Armies were overwhelmed.

 

 

The November 30, 1917 paper reported that National Guardsmen from every state were in France, though it was not permitted to report who and exactly where. As the new year began, the newspaper began to report US killed and wounded.  While newspapers did list casualties by name, they were careful not to say what units they were in and where the men had been wounded or killed.  The French newspapers republished these lists, and there was concern that the information could be used by the Germans to figure out where and how many US troops were based in what part of the front lines. Soldiers’ mail home was censored carefully for the same reason.  As time went on, there was a bit more information given: on February 16, the paper reported that Americans were fighting west of Verdun and east of St Mihiel in France, but gave no further details.

There was almost a daily report on the continuing examination and induction of men into the Army from the list created by the draft of the preceding June 5. Men were called to Hoosick Falls, examined, and accepted or rejected. For example on January 25, the paper announced that a number of men were to report for their physical exam on Tuesday,  including these from Schaghticoke:  Julius Hansen, Andrew Gatzendorfer, Wilbur Simons, Sophus Djernes, John Roberts, Arthur Brundige, Charles J. Welch, and Walter Ralston. Generally, almost half of men were rejected for one reason or another, but all of those men went on to serve.

arthur brundige

Arthur Brundige, a photo he submitted to the NYS Veterans Questionnaire in 1921

And the paper reported daily events designed to raise money for the Red Cross or other organizations supporting the troops through fall 1917 and spring 1918. For example, there was a card party in Valley Falls, a Kitchen Band and “Sinkphony” Orchestra concert at the Presbyterian Church, and a euchre party at St. John’s Catholic Church in Schaghticoke.  The Red Cross unit in Schaghticoke held a sock social with proceeds to be used to buy yarn to knit socks for soldiers. The “Shady Town Minstrels and Jubilee Singers” performed at the Odd Fellows Hall to raise more money.  In January, the YMCA, the American Bible Society, and the Federal Council of Churches reported that 1 million Bibles were needed for the troops.  On February 9 the paper reported that 200,000 Christmas packages had been sent to soldiers in France, a huge number considering that not that many American troops were in France yet.  A new way to support the troops was reported on February 12, “Smileage Books.” They were booklets of tickets to entertainments at theatres at training camps, and could be purchased to send to the men. They were available at a number of retail stores.

The government continued to sell war bonds to finance the war, and in December added the sale of war stamps, seeking to sell $2 billion worth. The stamps were for sale at Post Offices, schools, and banks in 25 cent denominations with plans “to make every school child in America buy at least one…during the first week of the …campaign.” Once a book of stamps was filled, it could be converted to a bond, thus enabling poorer citizens and even children to contribute to the war effort. The 4 Minute Men, volunteers who gave patriotic speeches at theatrical performances and to groups, had the war stamps as their topic in January.  Most ads in the paper added some touch of patriotism or an exhortation to buy bonds or stamps. “Joan of Arc saved France. Women of America Save your Country. Buy War Stamps.”

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My photo from the WWI Museum in Kansas City

The US government also took further steps to put the country on a war footing. At the end 1917, German aliens were required to register, seeking to “sift out” the few who were “setting fires in munitions plants and grain elevators”, and committing other acts of sabotage. The aliens were not to take ferries, nor live in Washington, D.C. nor go to Panama (where they might threaten the canal), and needed permits to travel. Military enlistees of German and Austrian extraction were to be given duty apart from actual fighting. This was quite a change from the announcements when war was first declared that Germans were to be treated as usual.

On December 18, 1917, the newspaper announced an inventory of food resources in the U.S. issued to food dealers, manufacturers, and “holders of substantial quantities of food”. Then on January 28, 1918 it announced that all families should aim to have “two wheatless, one meatless, and two porkless days per week” and one wheatless and one meatless meal per day.  Cards were given to all households to help families keep track of their meals.  This was voluntary, but commercial bakers were required to manufacture the “Victory loaf”. They would begin by substituting 5% of the wheat flour with a different kind, for example corn meal, rye or barley flour, and increase the amount gradually, reaching 20% by February 24. Shoppers could only buy flour if they bought an equal amount of a flour substitute, like one of those listed.  The goal was for the country to consume 1/3 less wheat than in 1917. On February 5, the Food Administration ordered hotels, restaurants and dining cars on trains to serve 2 ounce bread rations, the same as in Britain.  In addition, “every day…(was) a fat and sugar saving day.” Readers were exhorted to waste no soap, as it was made from fat. On February 22, the paper reported that meatless days had already saved 140 million pounds of beef in four months and that 165 million pounds of beef and 400 million pounds of pork had been shipped to our Allies. Note that neither mutton nor chicken was included in the definition of meat, just beef and pork.

wwi food admin

And in response to an acute shortage of coal in the Eastern states, on January 17, Dr Harry Garfield of the National Fuel Administration ordered businesses east of the Mississippi River to close for the next five days plus the ten following Mondays. Some places were exempt, for example steel plants and schools. Coal was needed for transportation of soldiers and equipment by train in the US and by ship to France, and for manufacture of war materiel. An ad on January 8 exhorted, “Save Coal. Keep your Rooms at 68 Degrees. Uncle Sam Needs it!”   In the end, the heatless Mondays ended February 14, as the shortage had eased, but this would have been quite a sacrifice for a number of businesses- and presumably workers, who would not have been paid.

 

 

The U.S. Government also nationalized all the railroads in the U.S. on December 27. By this I mean that it ran the railroads, not that it took over ownership of them.  The newspaper had a number of articles about the logistics of this- but efficiency was essential in transport of soldiers and their equipment, plus transport of material needed for ship building and manufacture of other essential war materiel. Railroads were the major way that everything was transported in these pre-truck days. In our capitalist country it still must have been revolutionary for the government to take control of the railroads from their millionaire owners.

Once the new Army was trained, the troops needed to get overseas. The US Navy was tiny. The US seized all German ships in US ports as soon as war was declared in April.  German Ocean liners were repurposed as troop transports, along with US and British ships. The US immediately started building ships, but in the meantime- and as it turned out, for the bulk of the war- British ships transported most American men and materiel.  Our German foes planned to sink many of these transports to prevent the American Army from even reaching France. I have read several books about World War I which stated that no American troop transports were sunk by German U-Boats, but this is untrue.  According to “The American Army in France” by James G. Harbord, the “SS Antilles”, an American ship chartered by the US Navy for troop transport was sunk by a U-Boat on October 17, 1917.  Fortunately she was on her way home after discharging her troops in France, but 67 men drowned. Others were rescued by other ships in the convoy.

ss antillesss tuscania

“S.S. Antilles”, sunk by a U boat                 “S.S. Tuscania”, also sunk by a U-boat

And the Troy “Times” of February 6, 1918 reported that the “SS Tuscania”, a liner of the British Cunard Line being used as a troop transport, was sunk by a German U-Boat off Scotland’s Isle of Islay. The ship carried about 2,000 US troops, mostly Engineers, and a crew of about 400. 210 men drowned, and were buried in various small towns on the Scottish coast, where their bodies had washed up. My research shows that at least three more troop transports were sunk in 1918, each with small loss of life. But the bottom line was that virtually all of the US Army reached France, ensuring the defeat of Germany by the Allies.

I will close this chapter of the history of my town and its men in World War I here. The people on the home front were definitely affected by the war by March of 1918, one hundred years ago. There were voluntary restrictions on what they ate. They had bought war stamps and bonds. They were attending fund raisers for supplies for the troops. Some workers had missed work when factories closed during the coal crisis.  And they were seeing their friends, neighbors, and sometimes their sons, go off to train for war. As yet, just a few U.S. soldiers were in harm’s way. In a few months, I will relate the events of the months when U.S. troops were fighting fiercely, up to the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

 

 

Battlefields of World War I : On to Paris

 

 

 

 

For the past few blog posts,  I have been chronicling a bit of the tour my husband and I made of World War I battlefields in Belgium and France. It was a sobering experience. Though most historians believe the US entrance into the war in 1917 really made the difference for the Allies- and I would concur- all the fighting happened “over there.” The US lost about 110,000 men dead- half to disease, half to wounds- certainly significant, but paltry compared to the about 4 MILLION deaths suffered by the Allies and over 3 MILLION by Germany and the other Central Powers. And of course our country was not the one devastated physically by the war. Therefore the war is not much remembered here.

Finally, Germany had to face the failure of a number of offensives in spring and summer 1918, the aggressive Allied offensive of the Meuse-Argonne in September and October 1918, and the seemingly endless ability of the U.S. to bring in new troops against them, and an armistice was agreed to, to begin at the 11th hour of November 11, 1918. After four bloody years, the “Great War” ended.

Our tour, sadly, did not include a trip to the battlefields of the Meuse-Argonne, where the greatest number of American casualties occurred, but we did go to the scene where the peace treaty was signed  on June 28, 1919, the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles in Paris. Versailles was begun as a hunting lodge in 1624 by the French king Louis XIII, but vastly expanded and used as his main palace by Louis XIV, then by his successors Louis XV and XVI  through the 18th century. Of course the French Revolution of 1789 brought the reign of French kings to an end for a while, but the palace was reoccupied, renovated and further expanded by King Louis Philippe, who was King of France from 1830-1848.

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Versailles

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Hall of Mirrors, site of the signing of the treaty of Versailles ending World War I

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Painting of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in the room above

Versailles is one of the must-see places on a tour of Paris- it is just outside the city- and has to be one of the most crowded museums I have ever been in. It’s pretty hard to imagine life there, or the atmosphere of the signing of the Treaty ending World War I while surrounded by so many tourists! The opulence is overwhelming. But in the end it is worth the trip.

The Treaty ending “The War to End all Wars” dictated harsh terms to the defeated Germans- in terms of reparations to be paid, land to be ceded, and limitations on its military. It also established the League of Nations. Many historians say that the harsh treaty made World War II all but inevitable.

Battlefields of World War I: Cemeteries

American Cemeteries in Belgium and France

 

During our World War I tour of Belgium and France, my husband and I visited two American cemeteries: that near the Somme and the Aisne-Marne, both in France.  All American soldiers who died during the war were initially buried near where they died. After the war, families were given the option to leave them in cemeteries which would be maintained by the U.S. government or have the bodies repatriated to the U.S. According to the superintendent of the U.S. cemetery at Aisne-Marne, about 60% of the bodies were repatriated, most in 1921. The others remain. Having seen the condition of many of our local cemeteries and the graves of World War I veterans in them and these two cemeteries in Europe, I can say that the graves in Europe are far-better tended and honored than those here. It’s a shame, really.

The American cemeteries and other memorials are maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. The commission is an independent entity of the U.S. government, established in 1923. The first chairman of the commission was General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who had been the commander of the American Expeditionary Force. He served until his death in 1948. There are eight World War I cemeteries in Europe, with about 31,000 interments and 4,500 men memorialized, as their bodies are missing.  Each grave is marked with either a white cross or Star of David, if the soldier was Jewish.  If the name of the soldier is unknown, the marker states “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.” If the man won the Medal of Honor, the lettering is all in gold, otherwise they are the same for all, officer or Private.  If a marker gets worn, it is replaced immediately. The grounds are impeccably maintained. There is a US government employee on duty every day to guide visitors.

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the Chapel at the American Somme Cemetery

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Taps and daily flag lowering at the Somme American Cemetery. My husband waits to lay a memorial wreath, a tour member waits to help fold the flag

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The 105th NY was made up of men from New York State, formerly in the National Guard

There is a chapel at each cemetery, with the names of the missing engraved on its walls. There is also a flag pole, with the U.S. flag raised and lowered each day, the latter accompanied by the playing of Taps. We were at the two cemeteries at the end of the day, and got to participate in the flag lowering and folding. We also placed a memorial wreath at the Somme and held a ceremony in the chapel at the Aisne-Marne.  The Somme cemetery was particularly significant to us as there are a number of soldiers buried there from the 105th Infantry Regiment, which included many Rensselaer County men. They perished in the battle which broke the famous Hindenburg Line- the German defenses- in September 1918.

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Chapel at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery

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View of the cemetery from the chapel. Men are buried without regard to rank.

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Inside the chapel at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery, where we conducted a ceremony to honor the men buried there

We got to speak at length with the young man who is the Superintendent at Aisne-Marne. He is extremely knowledgeable about his cemetery and eager to know more and honor each soldier. He has a collection of letters and memorabilia brought by relatives of men buried there, and shared a couple of the stories with us.  He was a wonderful representative of our government abroad.

 

Battlefields of World War I : Arras

 

 

My husband and I learned a lot on our recent tour of World War I battlefields on the Western Front. This week I turn to the city of Arras, France. Arras was located right on the entrenched front separating the Allies from the Axis. It was also built right on top of limestone quarries, which supplied the stone used to build it from the Middle Ages through the late 19th century.  In late 1916, the British forces which were defending Arras decided to use the underground quarries in a surprise offensive against the Germans, whose trenches were very close by. Through the winter, soldiers from New Zealand and Britain who had been miners in their civilian jobs worked together to drill tunnels to connect the existing quarries. They dug 12 miles of tunnels, installing electricity and running water, building bunk rooms and lavatories, offices, kitchens, and a hospital, plus a light railway, all underground.

Finally in April 1917, 20,000 British troops arrived and lived in the tunnels for about a week before the surprise start to the offensive. On April 9, exits were dynamited open and the Germans were taken by surprise. Sadly, as often happened in World War I, the follow-up to the great gains made- 7 miles into German territory- was not well-planned and the successes were not built upon. Casualties were heavy- up to 4000 per day in the end, before the offensive was stopped.

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Entry to the Wellington Quarry Museum

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We had to be outfitted for our exploration- hard hats shaped like WWI tin hats

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On our tour- a connecting tunnel and a bit of the small railway

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One of the exits, blown open on the day the surprise attack began.

Since 2008, there has been a museum in part of the tunnel system- the Carriere Wellington- Wellington Quarry- We got to go down in elevators and walk through the tunnels, see inscriptions made by the soldiers on the stone walls, the different types of rooms, and one of the exits.

 

 

More Battlefields of World War I

 

 

Near Ypres is the Essex Farm Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.  Naturally, British and French cemeteries in Belgium and France were located next to hospitals and first aid stations. This site was at the aid station where Dr. John McCrae worked during the second battle of Ypres in 1915. Dr or Lt. Col.  McCrae was a Canadian who served in the war as a doctor until he died of pneumonia in January 1918. He was buried in a different British cemetery in France. He is far more well-known as the author of the poem “In Flanders Fields”, written after the death of a close friend near this aid station in 1915. This is probably the most famous poem of the war. Some of the devastated fields of Flanders sprouted with wild poppies in the springs of 1915, inspiring McCrae.

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Col. John McCrae

                  ‘In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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Aid station where Dr. McCrae worked

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Essex Farm Cemetery- typical of the hundreds of British cemeteries in France and Belgium- beautifully tended and planted with perennials.

The Essex Farm cemetery is a small one, but visited by many tourists due to also being the site honoring Dr. McCrae. As it was so close to the front lines, it was much bombed after its creation, so that once-interred remains were disturbed, and known graves became unknown. Probably the most decorated grave here is that of a soldier who lied about his age when he was enlisted and was killed before he turned sixteen.

Battlefields of World War I

 

 

In September 2017, my husband and I spent two weeks touring World War I battlefields in Belgium and France, a tour run by Road Scholar.  Of course, we are in the midst of the Centennial of the Great War, an opportune time to visit. We were fortunate to have as our tour guide in Europe a retired British Army Major, who has been a battlefield guide for twenty years.

I’ve had a hard time processing everything we learned and saw during our trip. We had done a lot of preparatory reading, but the reality of the death and devastation caused by the war was stunning. Thankfully we stayed in lovely places and ate fabulous French food, which mitigated the somber places we visited. Rather than give you a travelogue, I thought I would highlight a few of the places.

I would just like to remind you that after some initial advances by the Allies- Britain and France- and the Axis- Germany and Austria-Hungary- the war settled to a stalemate reaching from Belgium at the north through France, ending in the mountains at the border of France and Switzerland at the south. Opposing lines of trenches faced each other and the same ground was fought over for four years.

We visited the city of Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium, a medieval city which was almost totally destroyed by the Germans during the war. The medieval cloth hall, constructed about 1300, was one of the largest commercial buildings anywhere when built and a rare survival- until the Germans bombed it. After the war, it was totally rebuilt as it had been, and is now a huge museum about the war. The day we were there, an international fife and drum corps convention was going on in the large open square in front of it, and we met the corps from Macedon, NY, near Rochester!

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Ypres was a walled city and after the war the Menin Gate- the gate for the road leading to the city of Menin- was rebuilt as a war memorial. It is inscribed with the names of 55,000 British soldiers who died in the area during the war and whose whereabouts are unknown. Every once in a while, another soldier’s body is discovered. 100 years later, and buried locally. If he can be identified, the name is removed from the wall.

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The Cloth Hall in 1917

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The Cloth Hall rebuilt. It houses the In Flanders Fields Museum

Every night at 8 since its completion in 1928 there has been a Last Post ceremony conducted to honor the sacrifice of British soldiers, organized by the local fire brigade, except for a period during World War II. The night we were there, buglers from a British Army unit participated. During the ceremony, anyone who wishes may lay a wreath to honor the soldiers. My husband and I asked to participate and laid a traditional poppy wreath. Behind us in the line of those laying wreaths were members of a teenaged rugby team from Australia. A large crowd of people watched.

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The Menin Gate..looking into the city of Ypres. After the Last Post Ceremony in which we participated

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We went back to take a picture the next day- this rack houses the wreaths placed the night before. You can see a few of the names of missing soldiers engraved on the walls of the gate.

 

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