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Preface


FROM UPTON TO THE MEUSE WITH THE 307th

W. KERR RAINSFORD

PREFACE


PREFACE

The following brief history was written for the most part during the latter months of the Regiment's stay in France, and was pieced together, in so far as the events recorded had not come under the writer's direct observation, from a number of sources. Such documents as the Regiment still held in its possession were carefully studied, but these were very insufficient and often inconclusive. They consisted largely of orders, which might afterward have been countermanded, or else simply never have been carried out as contemplated. They consisted also of reports which had been called for on specific subjects or actions; but these also would often have been written without adequate time for their preparation, and under stress of more pressing matters by officers greatly overtaxed. The battalion war diaries in General Headquarters at Chaumont were also studied. But there again the line or two devoted to the day's activity of a battalion was too meager a contribution to be greatly helpful; and when action had been serious and continuous it was often represented simply by a gap in the records.

The barest skeleton of the story could thus be built and the filling in of it was found to be best accomplished by continuously interviewing those who had taken part in its various phases. In this connection the reader may be struck by a slight but unintentional overemphasis of the battalion to which the writer belonged, and with the life-history of which he was more intimately familiar. There may also be an under-emphasis of any headquarters higher than that of battalion, which, rather than regiment, is the combat-unit of the modern army. But the effort has been consistent and very painstaking for truth of both fact and color; and the story herewith presented is primarily a true story. On that point the writer wishes to be emphatic.

The reader will find herein little of the colorful melodrama with which the public's taste has so largely been vitiated in the stories of war. As a case in point he will find no mention of bayonet-fighting. It is difficult to turn to a single magazine-illustration of fighting in the Argonne Forest wherein at least one of the American soldiers is not seen driving his bayonet through the body of a German machine -gunner, while the latter raises inadequately protesting hands to the sky-and quite probably every American in the picture will be so engaged. Yet, at the risk of deeply shocking his public, the writer gives it as his careful opinion that probably no German machine- gun crew was ever bayoneted by Americans in the Forest of Argonne. Although his regiment, perhaps more than any other, bore the bitter brunt of fighting down the whole bloody length of that forest, he yet thinks it improbable that any soldier of the regiment, either there or elsewhere, ever used his bayonet at all. It may have occurred, but if so it was a rarity. Nor does this imply any slightest lack on the part of the troops engaged-certainly not any lack of intelligence. The bayonet became obsolete with the passing of trench warfare. Place a group of men, armed with machine-guns, magazine-rifles, and automatic pistols, free-footed in the woods, and try hurdling the barbed-wire toward them with a spear in your hand. You will infallibly be mourned by your relatives-if they loved you -and the machine-gun will still be in action. In innumerable conversations with officers from almost all the American combat-divisions whom be met in hospitals, the writer has never heard an authentic and first-hand account of bayonet-fighting. It is altogether unworthy of true courage and self-sacrifice that the story of it should be falsified to suit a supposedly popular taste.

The story herewith presented is then primarily true. In so far as it deals with the 307th Infantry alone it is known to be true; and in so far as it touches upon other organizations it is believed to be so-but not as the result of any special investigation. Since writing the chapter on the crossing of the Aire, for example, the writer has learned of some dispute between the 153rd Brigade and the 82nd Division as to the taking of St. Juvin. On this, or on similar subjects not directly germane to his narrative, he has made no great effort to investigate, and has not thought it worth while to qualify his reference to the taking of St. Juvin by the 153rd Brigade. The references made to other organizations are merely intended to give the story of the 307th its proper setting, and to suggest the relation of its movements to the scheme of larger events, rather than to define the movements of those organizations.

The sketches and photographs used to illustrate the text were made by the author-the first when, as an ambulance driver with the French in 1916 he traversed in part the same region, and the latter when he revisited the battlefields of the Vesle and Aisne in March, 1919-six months after they had been fought over. He greatly regrets that the subjects presented should not be of more obvious and general interest, and he made every effort, though unsuccessfully, to secure some that were.

Yet to himself the photographs are of deep interest, as were those few days of March on which they were taken. The return, as of a spirit escaped from purgatory, to that drear half-forgotten country-the battered villages, with their pitiable inhabitants creeping back to ruined homes; the broken woodlands with their trampled wreckage of equipment, still un-gathered, rotting slowly into the ground; the flooded marshes, where the river, choked with d6bris, backed and spread into stagnant pools; the bleak, scarred uplands, seen through a mist of rain and driving snow, where black flocks of rooks winged back and forth, or perched in hordes along the tangled wire; and from the hills, where the French engineers were setting off unexploded shells, the same heavy orchestra as of yore. It is a land accursed whose regeneration will be long in coming.

The two poems have both previously appeared in the Outlook. The first was written on February 21st, 1918, while spending a night alone as Officer of the Day in the 71st Regiment Armory in New York, where the 307th Infantry had left its arms under guard for the parade of Washington's Birthday. The officers of the Regiment had recently adopted for it the old Gaelic motto of the Irish Inniskillen Dragoons, "Faugh-a-Ballagh" ("Clear the Way"), and had agreed to carry blackthorn sticks as a regimental emblem. It was said that the Regiment would be known as the Blackthorn Regiment, although actually the name never clung very close. These verses were afterward read to Congress by the member from Michigan, and reprinted in the Congressional Record. The second was written in hospital, late during the fateful month of October, 1918, when it was becoming evident to those behind the lines that the final act of the great drama was about to be played.

Finally the writer thinks it well to say that, though largely written in France, this book was at the time of the mustering out of the Regiment on May 9, 1919, still in very fragmentary form, so that it was not read by any superior officer. Should there appear in its pages any passages seeming by implication to be critical, such criticism is that solely of the writer and of the brother officers with whom he has conferred, and does not in any way bear the endorsement of the greatly respected colo-nel or the general who have so generously prefaced it, but who have never had the opportunity to see its contents. Criticism is far from the purpose of this present volume, but in deal-ing very frankly with the facts, as seen on the Line, it may occasionally seem to be implied.

The writer was informed by the Regimental Adjutant, shortly before demobilization, that be had received notice of the Regiment being chosen from among the others of the Division for perpetuation in the Army of the United States. This, to become fact, would be conditional upon the proposed enlargement of the Regular Army to five hundred thousand, under which circumstances one regiment is to be selected from each of various divisions for perpetuation. The 77th Division, already distinguished as the first division of the Draft to be sent overseas, has been officially credited, in the report of Gen. Peyton C. March, Chief of Staff, with the greatest aggregate depth of territory gained from the enemy of any American Division in France-77.5 kilometers, or 9.14 per cent. of the entire advance of the American forces-there being twenty-seven divisions listed in all, and the 2nd Division coming next with 60 kilometers.

The 307th Infantry has been selected permanently to represent the Division, than which no greater recognition of its service could well be accorded it. This, then, is the story of the Regiment, the purpose of which is truthfully to portray some aspects of an epoch very memorable in the life of the nation.

W. K. RAINSFORD
Captain 307th Infantry
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