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The Meuse-Argonne

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The Second Engineers, which left the vicinity of Machault in camions debussed at Les Islettes shortly before dawn, October 28th and hiked four kilometers to Camp Cabaud, on the southern edge of the Argonne Forest. The remainder of the day was spent in resting and sleeping until 6:00 P.M., when the companies left this camp, and hiking all night through the Argonne Forest and across old "No Man's Land", reached a small wood near Eclisfontaine where they bivouacked for three days.

On October 31st, the regular detachments such as wire-cutters, tank men and so forth, were assigned to the various units of the Division. That night, the remainder of the Regiment proceeded to a ravine two miles south of Landres-et-St.-Georges, in the immediate vicinity of the jumping off place, with orders to dig in for the night, and in the morning to move quickly to that town to repair the bridges and roads so that there would be no possible delay in the advance of the Division.

The next morning when the Americans started forward in their final assault of the war, the Second Engineers followed promptly on the heels of the Infantry into the town of Landres-et-St.-Georges. Here, the bridges were found to be intact but the town was badly shot up by our own artillery—much wreckage having been blown across the streets and many large shell holes in the roads that would block the passage of traffic—so a great deal of work had to be done to clear the town.

That day, the Engineer Train moved to Sommerance. A detail of one officer and eight men was sent to each Brigade to mark the line of farthest advance. Special details were sent temporarily to assist in repairing the roads for the dressing stations as ambulances were finding great difficulty in approaching them. That night, the entire Regiment was assembled at Sommerance as it was considered advisable to get all the troops together in view of their special separation during the attack. The next day, the Regiment was put to work on the roads north of Landres-et-St.-Georges, and half of Companies "A" and "D" were sent in trucks south of Landreville and Imecourt so they could get to work quickly. The day was spent in repairing the roads and the Regiment was assembled that night at Landreville. The road situation was not very satisfactory, because the Landres-et-St.-Georges — Landreville-Bayonville road had two unusually steep places on it and the traffic could not make the pull without great difficulty, thereby causing many blocks in traffic.

On the night of November 3rd, Regimental Headquarters and the First Battalion moved to Bayonville, and the second Battalion and the Engineer Train to Landreville. Our expectations as to traffic were not disappointing, because, during the day of November 4th, all of the First, Second and Eighty-Ninth Divisions, a part of the Eightieth, and part of the Corps and Army went through Bayonville, coming from all directions and going their respective ways.

On November 7th, the First Battalion moved over very wet and muddy roads to a German sawmill in the woods near Château Belval, where the men billeted for a few days.

Also on November 7th, orders were received to change the divisional area so the Engineers were promptly moved forward. Regimental Headquarters, Second Battalion and the Engineer Train started to Sommauthe, but orders were changed and Regimental Headquarters and the Second Battalion went to Buzancy. Fifty men from Company "D" were sent to the artillery to help fix a narrow gauge railway to carry ammunition from the main road to their positions. Company "F" was sent from Buzancy to Fosse to make that road passable for trucks again, and the First Battalion continued work on the roads near Château Belval.

On November 8th, the First Battalion had Company "C" on the road near the sawmill, to make it passable for trucks. Companies "A" and "B" continued work preparing the foot bridges, using a raft pattern of their own, which consisted merely of a series of logs held together by skids. The material for these rafts was obtained from old German barracks in Beaumont and from timber available in Latanne. Companies "A" and "B" continued working on the bridges and got them ready to be launched by the afternoon of November 10th. Company "C" continued working on the roads near Château Belval until the afternoon of November 10th, while Company "F" continued working on the road from Buzancy to Fosse. Regimental Headquarters and Companies "D" and "B" moved to Sammauthe from Buzancy on November 9th. Company "D" adjusted and fixed 50 feet of standard trestle bridge, which was found to have many misfits. On the afternoon of that day, Company "D" moved to Yoncq.

On November 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th, Lieutenant Berg, with four sergeants from Company "A" made several reconnaissances along the Meuse which was infested with enemy snipers, to select places for the bridges. On the afternoon of November 10th, the places were selected and that night, "A" Company, under the command of Lieutenant J.J. Wall, Jr., and "B" Company, under the command of Captain Robert J. Chrisman, constructed two foot bridges across the Meuse River in the face of heavy artillery and machine gun fire.

Companies "G" and "H" of the Ninth Infantry assisted in throwing the bridges across the river.

Sections of the bridges had been constructed at Beaumont, which was about six kilometers south of the chosen site on the river. These sections were constructed in 12-foot lengths and were six feet wide. They were loaded on wagons, four sections to a wagon, and hauled to within 400 yards of the riverbank where they were unloaded. The enemy held the east bank of the river in strong forces but was prevented from locating the positions by the very dense fog which covered the valley, and by our artillery barrage which started as the sections were unloaded. The fog was so dense that flares were hardly visible at a dozen yards distance, and so uncertain was the enemy of the location of the Engineers, that flares fired by him lit on the men at work and did not disclose them to the enemy. From the place of unloading, the sections were skidded across a double track railroad embankment, about six feet high, which was lined with underbrush, then along a low bottom land 200 yards to the river's edge where they were assembled. The bridges were assembled complete about 300 yards apart on the bank, and shoved out into the river. A long guy rope was attached to the end of each bridge to keep the current from carrying it downstream. The bridges were made fast on the far bank, and the Marines arrived just as they were completed and crossed without being exposed to the enemy machine gun fire which had been continuously sweeping the near bank of the river.

Just as "B" Company's bridge was being launched, a lashing broke which caused a short delay, but it was soon repaired and the Marines were crossing within 13 minutes from the time the launching was started. However, "A" Company had better luck with its bridge, which slipped across straight as an arrow in the record time of 7 minutes. Detachments of men were left with the bridges to keep them in repair, and the detachment with "B" Company's bridge was kept busy, for during the early hours of the morning, the bridge received a direct hit of an enemy shell.

As all the officers of Company "B" were new, much responsibility was thrown upon the shoulders of Sergeant First Class Willard H. Marshall, who accredited himself well. He was recommended for the D.S.C. and a Belgian Decoration and was later sent to the Army Candidates' School for his action on the night of November 10th. On the morning of November 11th, the details that were watching the bridges were called in to their Companies as the Marines had advanced so far that there was no further danger of the bridges being destroyed. Also, on that morning the Regiment was assembled in Beaumont while the town was still being shelled by the Germans. The last shells were big ones and they came one at a time, but as the eleventh hour approached, the explosions became farther and farther apart, until five minutes before the appointed hour, when they ceased altogether, and the war was no more.

Herley's Notes:

Beaumont small town is where I was at. A piece shrapnel hit. It went in ground 6 to 8" from me 9 AM morning of Nov. 11, 1918. 35 our boys I helped bury them after noon 11th Nov.

Later we started walking thru Belgium to Germany on Rhine. We were 17 days walking in rain & mud. Sleep on wet ground of night. We were wet all time. Very little to eat on march to Rhine.

Floating Foot Bridge across the Meuse Southeast of Villemontry.

On November 12th, two foot bridges were put across the Meuse River near Mouzon by Company "D", and one platoon of Company "C" worked on the demolished German bridge near Letanne. The remainder of the Regiment rested and was given an opportunity to clean up. On November 13th, four platoons were placed on the wrecked bridge near Letanne to clear the wreckage away and build a pontoon bridge, but before this was completed Colonel Mitchell ordered these men to Pouilly to start work on the large two-way bridge at that place. On the afternoon of the 13th, the remainder of the First Battalion, under the command of Captain Tucker S. Wyche, arrived at Pouilly and began work on the bridge. This was a hurry up job and there was little material at hand with which to work, so detachments were sent out to look for material. Some was found at a saw-mill about two kilometers west of Pouilly which relieved the strain of the situation very much. However, some more was found up the river which could be floated down, and an old mill building which was being torn down furnished some more. The men were divided into four shifts of six hours each, and the work went on continously. In twenty hours, the first traffic passed over the bridge and in forty-eight hours the bridge, 186 feet long, was completed.

On November 14th, orders from the Corps Commander also directed that a bridge be built at Villemontry. Major Hetrick, with Company "D", was given some trucks and the necessary instructions for building the bridge. As to material, this bridge was very similar to the one at Pouilly, for the first night was completely used in obtaining the proper equipment. However, by 3.30 P. M., the pontoons and all their equipment were on the ground, and at 5.00 P. M., Company "D", which had never built a Pontoon bridge before, had the bridge completed.

These bridges were evidently very important as the Regiment received a special letter of commandation from the Commanding General of the Vth Corps, expressing his appreciation of the work of the Second Engineers in constructing the foot bridges quickly and bravely, and in efficiently and quickly constructing a two-way bridge for heavy traffic at Pouilly.

On the night of November 16th, Company "A" went to Stenay to join the advance guard of the right column of the Second Division, which left that place at daylight the next morning. Company "B" joined the advance guard of the left column, and the other Companies and Headquarters joined the Divisional reserve for the march to the Rhine.

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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