History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Category Archives: World War I

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

 

 

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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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