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The Watch on the Rhine

March to the Rhine
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3rd Army banner of 2nd Engineers on the Rhine River

On the early morning of November 17th, the Second Division started its hike to the Rhine in two advance columns—the Third Brigade on the right crossing the Meuse at Stenay, and the Fourth Brigade on the left, crossing at Pouilly. Throughout the advance, two Companies of the Second Engineers were maintained with the advance guard. Company "A". with the right column and Company "B", with the left column performed these duties from the Meuse to the border between Luxemburg and Germany, when they were relieved by Companies "D" and "C" respectively. The remaining companies of the Regiment, less certain detachments, marched with the reserve column of the Division.

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The march of the Second Engineers to the Rhine was unmarred by "trouble shooting" and screaming shells, and with one exception, its favorite pastime of "mud-scraping" failed to present itself, due to the very favorable weather. Every effort was made to maintain the highest march discipline both with the troops and with the transportation, and these efforts were rewarded by numerous compliments, those of the Division Commander, the Corps Commander, the Division Inspector, and the Inspector from General Headquarters being especially commendatory. The character of the country was rugged. The hills were high and had very steep, wooded slopes. At several places along the route, one could look almost directly over his head and see ancient castles, almost toppling upon him, and wonder each time who in the world carried all those stones to the top of that hill. Many a back ached and many a foot hurt in the Second Regiment of Engineers, for having to climb those hills, but the long, weary column plodded along from day to day, and the hike was completed by a remarkably large percentage of the men.

With one exception, when the Regiment rested a week on the border of Luxemburg, it moved almost every day until it reached the Rhine on December 10th. On the night of November 17th, the first stop of the hike was made at Chauvency-le-Chateau, near Stenay, but the march was resumed the next day. On this day, the Regiment crossed the French border into Belgium, and the sight which greeted the eyes of the victorious troops — especially those of the advance guard — would touch the hearts of any veteran, except he be made of clay. A country set free was proclaiming its joy. At each village, the column of marching troops was met by an improvised brass band, and the mayor of the town would rush out and ask the leading man for permission to entertain the liberators with a banquet that night. Groups of singing children, with flags and drums, would march at the heads of the columns from one town to another. Flags floated from every flag-staff and hung from every window. The Belgian flag predominated, but there were many French, British and American. Where they came from no one knew, but it was certain that the American flags were hand made, and very quickly done without a pattern. There were large flags and small flags and flags with wide stripes and flags with narrow stripes; flags with one star, two stars, many stars; none of the natives seemed to remember exactly how the American flag was made, but there was a common idea that it had stars and it had stripes.

The second stop was at Dampicourt, Belgium, where the Regiment stayed two days for rest and readjustment. At this place, Colonel William A. Mitchell was relieved from the command of the Regiment, and assigned to duty as Corps Engineer of the VIIIth Corps. The command then passed to Lieutenant - Colonel William E. R. Covell, who had joined the Regiment on November 14th. On the night of November 20th, Regimental Headquarters stayed in Meix-le-Tige, Belgium, the 21st, in Hobscheid, Luxemburg, and the 22nd in Reckingen, also in Luxemburg. A fine rest of one week, from November 23rd to 30th was had at Rollingen, about fifteen kilometers north of the city of Luxemburg, during which time the Regiment spent Thanksgiving. It was also at this place that the Regiment received its highest compliment. The Regimental Colors were decorated with their first Croix-de-Guerre by General John A. Lejeune, the Division Commander, for the Regiment's participation in the Aisne-Marne offensive of July 18th-19th, 1918. Colonel William A. Mitchell, who commanded the Regiment during this campaign was also awarded the same medal.

On the morning of December 1st, the hike was resumed and the Regiment crossed the Sauer River at Wallendorf into Germany. That night it stayed in Geichlingen and the next in Oberweiler. The German border towns furnished very poor billets, and in many instances, the men had to sleep in hay lofts, and on the floors of the dwellings. The rooms were always very small and never well ventilated, which meant that each man had to have his full allowance of space. This necessitated a thorough examination of every room in every house by the billeting parties. The third stop in Germany was at Schonecken, where the Regiment stayed three days. The nights of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th were spent in Gerolstein, Dreis, Leimbach and Ahrweiler, respectively, and on the 10th of December, the Second Engineers first saw the Rhine. From the 10th to the 13th the Regiment lived in Remagen-on-the-Rhine, and on the 14th, crossed the Rhine on the large steel bridge at Remagen, which was built by Allied prisoners of war. That day, the longest days' march was made, up the river to Bendorf-on-the-Rhine, where the Regiment stayed four days. On December 17th, it moved to Heddesdorf and on the 20th settled down in Engers-on-the-Rhine, for the longest stay in one place since the Regiment arrived in Europe.

For its home in Germany, the Regiment was given the small town of Engers-on-the-Rhine — six kilometers up the river from Division Headquarters in Heddesdorf, and eleven down the river from Coblenz. Engers, which has a population of about three thousand people, is a manufacturing town with several factories, foundries, and smelters. The branch of Krupp works, which used to make machine guns and whizzbangs, is now busily engaged making stoves and car wheels. The inhabitants are more or less meek in disposition and, are not only totally resigned to the American occupation, but seem very glad to have the soldiers around. Nearly half of the soldiers sleep in beds, and the others have good quarters with bunks. All the companies have individual mess halls where every man can sit at a table to eat. The Sergeants of each Company have individual messes where, by patronizing the Regimental Commissary, they can have extra fare each day.

Before settling down in its permanent home, the Engineers had to make reconnaissances of the bridgehead area, with a view to selecting positions and resistance lines to be used in the event of an attack by the German Army. Several officers and noncommissioned officers of the Regiment were detailed to do this and the lines were selected within a few days. Positions of strong points and belts of wire were staked out. Upon early investigation, the roads in the area were found to be in good condition and required no repair at first. However, very soon the heavy traffic began to wear them down, and special details were sent to their rescue. The work was done mostly by the Boche themselves, while American non-commissioned officers acted as supervisors. The policy of the Americans was to "make the Boche do it". There were a lot of discharged German soldiers who were idle in the area, and labor was not as scarce as might have been expected.

While the Regiment was located at Engers, Colonel Stuart C. Godfrey wag assigned to its command on April 17th — LieutenantColonel William E. R. Covell, who had been the Regimental Commander since November 20th, 1918, going to the Division Staff a few days later. During this time the construction program prevented the Regiment from performing many military duties, but a half hour drill each morning at Reveille was had by each Company. For a while it was possible to have Battalion parades on afternoons when the work details were small enough to permit it,which subsequently were of value. During the Spring, the construction became so voluminous, that the Regiment could not supply all the details required of it and keep its routine duties going. As a result of this situation, ten officers and two hundred men were detailed from the Marines and attached to the various companies in the Regiment. The Marines came with a willing spirit and their assistance was appreciated by all the Engineers. That friendship between the Marines and the Second Engineers which started nearly a year ago was only strengthened by this association, and everyone hated for the parting day to come. There have been several formal parades and reviews since the Regiment came to the Rhine, notably those when General Pershing reviewed the Second Division, and again when he decorated the colors of each Regiment with eight battle ribbons. Secretary Daniels also reviewed the Division on one occasion, and several Parades have been devoted to the decoration of our heroes.

Second Engineers passing in review before Secretary Daniels.
Second Engineers passing in review before Secretary Daniels.

Target practice was taken up early in the spring, and competitions held for the selection of rifle and pistol teams to be sent to the A. E. F. Championship Meet at Le Mans, France. The Regiment sent a rifle team and a pistol team, both of which made splendid records and assisted very much in winning the meet for the Second Division. The Regiment's track team was also a winner, carrying off the high score in the divisional meet. Each Company, Headquarters Detachment, the Engineer Train, the Band, and the Regimental Supply Office had a base ball team which formed a Regimental League. The Regimental Team, which was a member of the Divisional Major League, finished high in the percentage column. Its home field was one of the best in the bridge-head and was named "General McIndoe Field," in memory of the Regiment's former commander.

Shortly after hostilities ceased the 57th Pioneer Infantry Band was assigned to the Second Engineers and reported soon after the Regiment reached the Rhine. The following events are recorded as reminders of its successful activities since finding its present home. The concert at Neuwied, followed by the concerts at Coblenz January 14th and 15th, rendering the "Civil War" as its principal number earned for the band a popularity for high-class concerts which it enjoys to this day. Three of its members, under the name of the Second Engineer Trio in their recitals of classical music have made such a decided hit that they have been obliged to perform before the most notable gatherings in the Third Army area. The massed band, consisting of about 250 musicians, which proved so successful at the Review of the Division, was formed at the Headquarters of the Second Engineers. Here, under the leadership of Lieutenant Max I. Krulee, the seven other bands of the Division massed, using the Second Engineers Band as a foundation.

On Monday, May 12th, the concert at the dinner for General Pershing by the American commission at Spa, Belgium, may best be described by quoting some of the words said by the Commander-in-Chief to Lieutenant Krulee, in the presence of the band and officers of the commission. “I am surprised at the wonderful music your band has rendered this evening, and I really did not know that there was such a good band in the Third Army."

Herley's notes: This town (Engers) I lived in Dec. 1918 to Sep. 1919. Most time I was motor cycle ordley [sic].

While waiting for the peace treaty to be signed several schools in the Division were organized. The Second Division Engineer School, which was conducted by the Second Engineers, was particularly fortunate. in having for its school building a magnificent structure which had previously been a German War College. About one hundred and fifty student soldiers found here comfortable billets and well-lighted class rooms. Courses were followed in Surveying, Lithography, Sign Painting, Carpentry, Road Building, Mechanical Drawing. and Photography. All courses were practical and the maps, signs, buildings. roads, drawings, and pictures which the students themselves produced not only served to stimulate their interest but proved very useful through out the Division. The Class was organized as an Infantry company and was given just enough drill each day to keep the men from forgetting that they were still in the Army.

The Regiment is proud of its Medical Detachment. Under the very able leadership of Major Foertmeyer, the "medicos" have made a good record. In every action — no matter how thick the shells would fall, or how dense the bullets would come, — first aid stations were always established with the Medical Detachment on the job ready for the first wounded. An especial instance of this was at Vierzy, where stations were established in clear view of the enemy. The men of this detachment also brought in wounded men from dangerous places, and performed many other heroic deeds, as evidenced by the fact that Privates Raffington, Boyd and Holt each wear the D. S. C., awarded for gallantry in action.

Soon after the Regiment settled down on the Rhine it began to make itself comfortable, and as a result a great deal of Engineer work was done. Major Theodore Wyman, Jr., was in direct charge of the work, and under his supervision forty-two stables to accommodate two thousand six hundred and forty horses, seventy-eight barracks where four thousand men could sleep, and eighty-four mess-halls to feed the hungry mouths of eight thousand two hundred soldiers were built. In addition to this work about seventy buildings of a miscellaneous type, such as bath houses, garages, and school buildings were erected. Several grand stands and bleachers for ball parks were constructed, including the one for the Divisional team at Heddesdorf which seats over five thousand people. In this construction twenty-five million square feet of lumber was used, nails enough, if laid end to end, to reach from the Rhine to the Mississippi, five thousand tons of structural iron, enough glass to cover the National Capitol building, and enough sheet iron to put a roof over Engers. Twenty-five thousand pounds of paint, one hundred and fifty pounds of cement, and two and a half tons of putty were used. Also in proportion to these amounts bricks, tar paper, tin, hardware, plumbing and a thousand other things, too numerous to mention were used. Bunks were made for nineteen thousand men to sleep in, and galvanized feed boxes for over twelve thousand horses to eat out of. Chlorinating plants were established in six towns to purify the, drinking water, and three dipping vats were built so that every animal in the Second Divisions could get a swim. The total amount of money spent by the Second Engineers in this work was over two and a half million marks, which was supplied by the Chief Engineer of the Third Army.

Headquarters of Second Engineers on the Rhine at Engers, Germany
HQ of 2nd Engineers on the Rhine at Engers, Germany

In May 1919 a pontoon school was established at Honningen, about twenty-five kilometers down the Rhine from Engers, and Companies "D" and "F" were sent there for instructions and training. After ten day's practice with the German pontoon equipment they were to build the bridge complete across the Rhine. Another Engineer Regiment had already established a record of two hours and twenty-five minutes, and the German soldiers, themselves, after two or three months practice and training had a record of about one and a half hours. The Rhine at this place is one thousand four hundred and forty feet wide and flows seven miles per hour. Ninety-five boats, one thousand six hundred and fifteen chess, six hundred and sixty-five balk, and one thousand three hundred and thirty pieces of lashing were used in the completion of the bridge. It took four hundred men to put the bridge across — two hundred had drilled ten days and two hundred, which had come from the other Companies, had drilled only three days — but everything worked smoothly on the bright Sunday morning, May 25th, 1919, and the bridge was completed in fifty-eight and a half minutes, which smashed all records.

Herley's notes: "I arrived home Sep. 9, 1919. Are [sic Our] good Lord got me home safe."
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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