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Chapter VIII— From The Meuse To The Rhine
(November 12. 1918 to December 19, 1918)

Maps / Photos / Misc.
March to the Rhine

Bridge at Pouilly.

Although the armistice had come, the necessity of crossing the Meuse River with heavy artillery and trucks still required considerable work from the Engineers. On November 13, a heavy wagon bridge was started by us east of Letanne. While the 2nd Engineers was also engaged in various work about Beaumont, orders were received from the Corps Commander to rebuild a wooden bridge that had been destroyed by the enemy over the Meuse river at Pouilly. The 1st Battalion and a detachment of ninety men from the 2nd Battalion were at once ordered to the place.

This bridge was in the section of the division on our right, but its Engineers were unable to build the bridge in the time required and also do their other necessary work, so the 2nd Engineers was hurried over to attend to It. Our troops were on the bridge at 1:00 P. M. on the 13th and the work was at once divided up. The bridge consisted of three parts, viz., a short bridge across the canal 30 feet long, a bridge across the river 186 feet long, and a bridge across the mill-race 40 feet long. Company "A" under Lieutenant Wall was given the canal and the flooring of the 186 foot bridge. Company "B" under Captain Rossell was given the stringers of the 186 foot bridge. Company "C" under Captain Smith was given the mill-race and the road through the mill itself, involving two holes through the walls of the mill building. Captain Wyman, with his special carpenter detachments, was given the work of constructing the trestles. This was a hurry-up job and work had to continue day and night without cessation. Large fires were built along the bank, as German aviators were no longer dangerous. We used two complete detachments, that is, twice as many as could work on the bridge at one time. The work continued day and night, each detachment working eight hours, sleeping seven and eating one. The Regimental Commander slept on the bridge, the other officers slept whenever they could, except that Captain Wyman did not sleep at all for the first 36 hours but remained there until his work was completed. There was little material at hand with which to work, so detachments were sent out looking for material. Some material was found at a saw mill two kilometers west of Pouilly and some floated down the river from above, but most of the material was salvaged from a building that was under construction in Pouilly. The bridge was completed as a one-way bridge for heavy traffic in twenty-four hours and the whole bridge was completed for two-way heavy traffic in forty-eight hours. Crossing the Meuse — photos & maps — Appendix 9

On November 14, the Corps Commander also directed that a bridge be built at Villemontry, and Major Hetrick was given trucks to obtain ponton [sic pontoon] equipment. After traveling half the night, and having little success, he managed by daylight to find some ponton boats in various places, and get them to Villemontry by 3:30 P. M. The bridge was finished by 5:00 o'clock by Company "D," which had never built a ponton bridge before.

The work of reorganizing the Regiment was continued. The Personnel Section was ordered to Beaumont. The bath house and electric light plant which had been repaired and put in operation the day before, was maintained for the full benefit of the whole division.

Orders for the march to the Rhine found the 2nd Engineers unprepared, as was practically every other regiment, simply because the campaign had left us in very bad shape. We received some new equipment and did the best we could with our old equipment. However, the 2nd Engineers did not look like victors when they started for the Rhine. One truck had been temporarily taken apart in order to get the others in shape and it was left behind; but even so, the truck train as it finally started consisted of three trucks being towed by five trucks. Also, only three motorcycles were moving under their own power while six were carried on the trucks. However, at the end of about three days all of the trucks and motorcycles except one of each were moving under their own power, thanks to the very energetic work of the motor detachment.

During the march to the Rhine the Third Army was most fortunate in having favorable weather conditions. The roads which had to be traversed during the first few days had been allowed to deteriorate and were in bad condition. Had it been rainy, these roads would have been very troublesome.

The conditions of the Armistice did not allow engineer reconnaissance to be pushed far in advance of the march, which prevented the 2nd Engineers from getting as much advance information on roads as was desired. Advantage was taken of every opportunity to send forward patrols, and the roads to be followed by the marching columns were posted by the Engineers.

Upon entering into Germany an Administrative Bulletin from the Army required that surveys be made of the local public utilities in each town. This information was carefully collected as we passed through the towns along the line of march, in order to be of use to the troops which should come after us. In the larger towns, details were left to see that the Germans operated their public utilities properly.

During the early stages of the march considerable supplies of engineer material were found in dumps behind the "Boche" lines. The contents of these dumps were listed and reported to the Chief Engineer of the Army.

On the morning of November 17, the 2nd Division started its hike to the Rhine in two advance columns — the 3rd Brigade on the right crossing the Meuse at Stenay. and the 4th Brigade on the left, crossing at Pouilly. Throughout the advance, two Companies of the 2nd 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 "C" and "D" respectively. The remaining companies of the regiment, less certain detachments, marched with the reserve column of the Division.

The march of the 2nd 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.

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 17, 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 heart 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 colors. 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 made at Dampicourt, Belgium, where the regiment stayed two days for rest and readjustment. At this place, Col. William A. Mitchell was relieved from the command of the regiment, and assigned to duty as Corps Engineer of the VIIIth Corps. Before leaving, Colonel Mitchell published the following order:


ORDER NO. 19:

1. I have been relieved from duty with the 2nd Engineers and assigned to duty as Corps Engineer. Before leaving the regiment, I wish to express my appreciation of the untiring energy, unquestioned bravery, unusual intelligence, and unswerving loyalty exhibited by practically all members of the regiment during the time that I have been connected with it.

2. As a result of the efficiency of this regiment, the regiment and myself have been decorated with the Croix de Guerre, which is a decoration rarely given to a whole regiment. Likewise, it is well to note that the reputation of the regiment is not surpassed and is probably not equalled by that of any Engineer Regiment in the whole American Army.

3. During six campaigns, the regiment has always done its duty, and more than its duty. It finally wound up this glorious record by what I consider its best work; namely, launching two foot bridges over the Meuse River in the record time of 7 minutes, and building a strong high bridge 186 feet long in 48 hours at Pouilly.

4. Every member of the 2nd Engineers can feel justly proud of his Regiment, and I regret very much that the requirements of the service separate me from it.

W. A. MITCHELL
Colonel, Engineers.

The command then passed to Lieut.-Col. 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 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.

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 2nd 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 — 36 kilometers — 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.

 
 
LOSSES AND REPLACEMENTS DURING THE PERIOD NOVEMBER 11 TO DECEMBER 19, 1918.
  Officers Enlisted Men Total

Morning Report of November 12, 1918

52 1449 1501

Losses by transfer, evacuation, etc

12 150 162

Gains by transfer, replacements, etc

14 287 301

Morning Report of December 19, 1918

54 1586 1640
 
United States, and W. A. Mitchell. 1920.
The Official History Of The Second Regiment Of Engineers And Second Engineer Train, United States Army, In The World War.
[San Antonio]: [San Antonio printing Co.].
 
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