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Near Soissons-July 18th - 20th, 1918

Maps / Photos / Misc.

After a few days' rest in the woods near Pisseloupe, the Regiment received orders to move on July 16th, 1918. No one, of course, ever knew where the Regiment was going, but everyone had heard of the great offensive the Germans had launched the day before. It was supposed that the Second Division would head off another advance on Paris, but that was to be seen. The evening meal on July 16th was given out early so that everybody would be ready to begin marching at 6:00 P.M. That meal, like some others on former occasions, soon became a memory, and the next several days many thoughts were of that last hot meal. The day was fearfully hot, so the men spent as much time as possible in the shade of the trees, waiting for the time to come to be on their way. That night the Regiment was to embus in Montreuil-aux-Lions, two kilometers away, so the march was not taken up until about sundown. It was still hot, and though only two kilometers, that was a very long hike. The Regiment waited in Montreuil-aux-Lions until 11:00 P.M. for trucks that were due several hours before they arrived. After a few troubles of embussing, the camions pulled out in the middle of the night for parts unknown. They started out that same long road, to Lizy-sur-Ourcq, down which the Companies had marched that memorable first day of June. Going by Marcilly, St. Souplets, Nanteuil-le-Houdoin, and Crepy-en-Valois, the regiment debussed near Lessart l'Abesse Farm, a few kilometers south of Pierrefonds, between the Forêt-de-Compiegne and the Forêt de Villers Cotterets, about noon, July 17th, 1918. This trip is long to be remembered, in that there was no food—except the little bit of reserve rations which the men were allowed to eat—practically no water to drink, the roads were dusty and rough, the sun was hot, and the French driven camions were crowded to their limits.

Herley's Notes on the map of the Soissons Sector: I was here. I helped bury four men killed right beside me. We dug hole about three feet deep. Wrapped each in one blanket and put them side by side. One my buddys got piece shell in his left arm and later died with blood poison. I got hit by big clumps dirt. Only knocked down. I shot rabbit and found some new potatoes. My buddy stood gard [sic guard] over me while I cooked. We sure were hungry.

Soon after debussing, the companies were assembled and, without eating, started to hiking. They were given instructions to follow the column, and going by way of Retheuil and Taillefontaine, they entered the Forêt-de-Villers-Cotterets for protection from observation and the heat of the sun - halting that night up near the Boche, close to Montgobert, twenty kilometers from the starting place. That hike shall never be forgotten. The day was hot - indescribably hot, the roads were dusty and overcrowded with men, horses, artillery and many other vehicles of war. The packs were heavy, as everyone had had a reissue of clothing since leaving Château-Thierry, and the principle reason why all hikes are long — there was no food. The men were hungry and they wondered if they were ever going to be permitted to eat that last box of hard-tack and that last can of "Willie". No one knew when the kitchen and ration carts would catch up. The men were tired when they left the trucks, and were more tired when night came. There was no stopping until the destination was reached, and to cap the climax, as darkness slowly came, to make steps less sure and pitfalls more dangerous, it began to rain. But they plodded along, hungry souls that they were. In the pitch darkness, in the rain, in and out among animals and vehicles of all kinds, through the woods, wound the long, thin column. Soon after midnight, by some wonderful stroke of good fortune, the vicinity of their destination was reached, and without removing clothes of any nature, everybody fell to sleep on the ground regardless of the mud and rain.

Herley's Notes: Boy what a hike. We sure were tired and hungry. No food for days.

At exactly 4:35 that morning-July 13th, 1918, four quick shots ripped the stillness of the night, and a second later the whole earth had awakened. As there had not been a sound, except the falling rain, no one knew how far the front line was, but there was no doubt where it was when this great roar rent the air. The guns on all sides of the awakening men belched forth a mighty barrage of steel. Five minutes after the first gun cracked the Ninth and Twenty-Third Infantry and Fifth Marines, went forward.

The Boche was soon pushed out of the little bit of woods that he had and was started on his hurried way to Berlin. The first reports were that large gains had been made, which meant that the Second Engineers, as Division reserve, would move up. Upon moving forward about 9:30 that morning, they left the woods by the highway that runs northward to Soissons. This highway, for two kilometers, was totally impassable when the Engineers first reached it. The Boche had felled large trees across it, mostly by shooting the trunks with trench mortars at close range. However, two or three companies set to work, and with saws and axes-some in the hands of Boche prisoners-quickly cleared the road and made it passable for four lines of traffic by noon. About this time, it was rumored that "chow" was coming from the rear, so the men sat down and rested hoping that something to eat might soon relieve their famished bodies. While waiting here for "chow" to come, one of the most wonderful sights of the war passed over the newly made road. It was the Allied Army — French, English, and American — advancing in four columns. Artillery at a gallop, Cavalry at a trop, tanks by the score, and ammunition-many truck loads- all going forward; and ambulances, empty vehicles and Boche prisoners going to the rear. During the wait all eyes feasted, but stomachs did not. Orders soon came to advance, and shortly after noon, the companies were assembled and went out of the woods along the road by Vertes Feuilles Farm. Here, they turned to the right off the road, over recently captured ground toward Beaurepaire Farm, and halted about five o'clock in the afternoon in the deep ravine just east of Vauxcastille. Here the Regiment was to await orders and "chow" which, by the way, did come this time. Each man received a large piece of bread, some sugar, and a small bit of meat, which was a great relief. About 9 o'clock, orders came to move, so in the twilight, the whole Regiment moved out of the deep ravine and across the fields in line of Platoon Columns, towards Vierzy, which had just been taken by the Infantry. Each man had been carrying a large entrenching tool all the time. The mission of the Engineers then was to go to the firing line and consolidate it for the Infantry. The food and tool wagons were ordered to this ravine soon after dark, and Regimental Headquarters moved to Vierzy at 10:00 P.M. The Regiment continued to advance in line of platoon columns until the front line, about a kilometer past Vierzy, was reached. Then the First Battalion was ordered to consolidate the line held by the Twenty-Third Infantry, and the Second Battalion that held by the Ninth Infantry. This was done during the night, and at daybreak, the men fell to sleep with the Infantry in the trenches they had dug.

At 10 o'clock that morning, the Sixth Marines, which had been Division reserve, were to attack and the Engineers were to support them—following their support wave as it passed over. The Engineers were located on a sort of plateau, and could see the long advancing waves of Marines and tanks a kilometer to the rear. They were in sight and rapidly approaching, when the orders reached the Engineers to go over the top with them in support. These orders were cancelled, but the runner did not get to "A" Company before the advance waves did, so that "A" Company went over the top that morning with the Marines in a hail of shrapnel, whizz-bangs and machine gun bullets, that it had not experienced before. It was fierce, but not a man quit. "A" Company started with a hundred and seventy men, and had a hundred when it halted with the Marines just south of Tigny—two kilometers east of Vierzy. The other companies did not go over that morning, but remained where they were, in the trenches with the Infantry. "A" Company dug itself in where it halted, and remained there under a constant machine gun and whizz-bang fire all that day, and by 2:00 A.M., July 20th, all the companies, except "A" Company, had been withdrawn. The Division was relieved that night by French troops, but "A" Company got no orders to withdraw until 6:00 A. M., July 20th, when after daylight, a heroic runner brought a message of relief to "A" Company's advanced position. It withdrew and joined the remainder of the Regiment that had assembled in the old camp in the woods near Montgobert. Here a rest and some food was had, which was a wonderfu1 help to the men who had done so much on so little sleep and food.

This was the Regiment's most glorious battle, for since then the Regimental Colors have been twice decorated with the Croix de Guerre for this action.

On July 21st, the Regiment was withdrawn in the middle of a dark, rainy night from this sector and went to a place in the same woods south of Taillefontaine, where it was camped for three days. It then marched to the small village of Villers-St. Genest where it was billeted for two days. These most welcome billets were the first the men had had in nearly two months, and the sight of civilians was greatly appreciated. This village was too small to accommodate every man in the Regiment with a billet, and on July 26th, a long hot hike was made to Monthyon, near Meaux. During the stay in Monthyon, everyone had a fine bath in the Marne, and was given a good rest. Clothes were issued-the first that many of the men had received in several weeks-and passes granted to visit Meaux. On July 31st, the Regiment hiked to St. Mard, near Dammartin and entrained for a long journey to another sector-no one knew where, as usual. The Regiment detrained in the night—July 31st - August 1st—at Jarville, near Nancy, and hiked to Champigneulles, not far away.

United States, and John Archer Lejeune. 1919.
A History Of The Second Regiment Of Engineers, United States Army:
From Its Organization In Mexico, 1916, To Its Watch On The Rhine, 1919
[Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].
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