Chapter 1. The Beginning


Gilbert H. Crawford
Thomas H. Ellett
John J. Hyland


Colonel Sherill

IT MAY BE said that the history of our Regiment dates from 14th May, 1917. On that day, there gathered together at Plattsburgh, N. Y., the hundred or more men who, under the command of Captain William H. Sage, Jr.* (Corps of Engineers U. S. A.), formed the 15th N. Y. Company (Engineers) of the first officers' training camp. By the middle of June, 1917, this Company had increased in strength to 150 men-most of them experienced engineers, but without previous military training. The Company then moved to Washington, D. C. (American University Camp), and about three weeks later to Belvoir Va. (afterwards called Camp A. A. Humphreys), where it remained and continued its training under Captain Sage until 14th August, 1917. Practically all the men of the Company were then commissioned in the Engineer Officers' Reserve Corps, ranking from Second Lieutenants to and including Majors, and the official existence of the 15th N. Y. Company came to an end.

The purpose of the camps at Washington and Belvoir, as well as at Plattsburgh, was to train civilians to be officers. Many of the candidates for commissions in the Engineer Officers' Reserve Corps had had no previous military experience. At the American University Camp and at Belvoir, special stress was laid upon the mastery of war-time engineering problems and the technique of an engineer regiment. Many subjects were taught intensively and all candidates were earnest in their work and eager to learn quickly and thoroughly.

When the first officers' training camps were organized by the War Department, in the Spring -of 1917, it was decided that the successful candidates, who had been trained together in a single company, should be assigned as officers of a particular regiment of the National Army, holding all ranks below the grade of Lieutenant-Colonel. In accordance with this plan, Special Order No. 186, War Department, 1917, dated 11th August, 1917, ordered certain officers from the 15th N. Y. Company to report for duty to the Commanding Officer, 302nd Engineers, at Camp Upton, N. Y., on 27th August, 1917.

On 25th August, 1917, Colonel Clarence 0. Sherrill, Corps of Engineers, U. S. A., reported as Commanding Officer, 302nd Engineers, to the then Commanding General, 77th Division, Major-General J. Franklin Bell, at Camp Upton. This was the first official act in the history of the Regiment. On 27th of August the officers selected from the 15th N. Y. Company reported to Colonel Sherrill at Barracks J-1, Camp Upton. He greeted them with a few words, significant for their optimism and for their insistence upon united effort and wholesouled cooperation. It was instantly apparent to every man present that in Colonel Sherrill the 302nd Engineers had a commanding officer in every sense of the word. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of this first meeting -this first formal "roll call" of the Regiment.

The remainder of August and early September, 1917, at Camp Upton passed quietly until the drafts of men began to arrive. During this period of comparative inactivity, the officers of the Regiment spent their time in studying the numerous complicated problems with which modern warfare abounds, and endeavored in every way to increase their military and technical knowledge, both in practice and theory.
On 15th September, 1917, the first draft of men was received by the Regiment. These recruits were assigned in a body to Company "B", and included many men with previous military experience, a considerable number of whom were later commissioned. There were one hundred
men in this first draft~ all drawn from the first two thousand recruits assigned to Camp Upton-the first contribution of New York City to the great National Army.
The formation of other companies followed in the order shown below:

Company "B", 15th September, 1917, commanded by Captain ,Frederick S. Greene.
Company"D" 22d September, 1917, commanded by Captain Edward B. Simmons.

Company "E", 23d Septernber, 1917, commanded by Captain Harry La Fetra.
Company "A", 24th September, 1917, commanded by Captain Thomas J. Scully.
Company "C", 25th September, 1917, commanded by Captain Stratford St. J. Bushman.
Company "F", 1st October, 1917, commanded by Captain Albert R. Ullrich.
Headquarters Company, lst October, 1917, commanded by Captain Harry B. Per-Lee.
302Dd Engineer Train, 1st October, 191.7, commanded by Captain Harry B. Per-Lee.

A medical detachment, officered by First Lieutenant Brantly F. Parker, First Lieutenant John G. Gordon, and First Lieutenant William R. Edwards, was organized early in September, 1917, and a number of non-commissioned officers from the Regular Army also reported to Colonel Sherrill during this month.

The engineer barracks at Camp Upton were somewhat detached from the other groups of barracks, being on the slopes and crest of a little ridge. This elevation of our training quarters was accepted as an index to our aim. Colonel Sherrill insisted from the first that the Regiment must be the best, and the will to do never slackened in officers or men. Our start was most fortunate.

Many and varied problems immediately confronted the Regiment. Not only was it necessary to clothe and equip our recruits and instruct them in the rudiments of military science required of every unit in the Division, but it was also necessary to assume at once responsibility for a large part of the engineering work of the entire camp. Thanks to the foresight and energy of Colonel Sherrill, this latter work was coordinated with and became the most valuable part of our training as engineer soldiers. For instance, it was necessary to clear drill grounds of stumps and underbrush. he engineers not only cleared their own splendid parade, but supervised the work for all other units in the Division. The drudgery of stump-pulling in the early days of October, 1917, seemed foreign to the work of soldiers. But the "wilderness of Camp Upton" was a fitting prelude to No Man's Land on the Vesle and the dense thickets of the Argonne Forest. On such hard work, done faithfully and under difficulties, was laid the foundation of our future success.

So, too, was the work "on the hill." The building of the road to Division Headquarters, on a height near the center of Camp Upton, presented many practical problems in timber construction, crib work and bridge-building. This task was undertaken by the engineers and carried on to successful completion, in spite of the bitter cold and cutting winds of the late Fall and Winter. Long will the men who worked there remember the hardships of that task, hardships actually greater than any they experienced later in France.

Bridge near division headquarters.

Instruction in all branches of military tactics continued at the same time as the special work. Every minute was occupied from early morning till late at night. No weather was too inclement for the training. The men, as well as the officers, were progressively trained in discipline and command, not only by actual work on the drill ground and by special engineering assignments, but by lectures and demonstrations which formed the theoretical basis of the practical work.

During this period, several British and French officers gave us the benefit of their experience and knowledge of actual warfare. Notable among these splendid officers was Lieutenant Poire of the French Army, whose lectures on field fortification and the organization of the ground were of inestimable value. Looking back now at our special training at Camp Upton, one is struck with the great difference between the war as it had been up to that time, and the war that the Regiment actually experienced. Many of the specialties that were practiced at Camp Upton were entirely abandoned during the following months in Europe. Fortunately, in our training, the fundamentals of military science were not overlooked. Later, when actually in the field, the Regiment never failed to meet a situation squarely, and always solved its problems-on time.

Under Lieutenant-Colonel Pettis great stress was laid on rifle training, with the result that no regiment at Upton was better trained in rifle fire. The figures, so far as they were compiled, showed that the marksmanship of the Engineers on the rifle range was superior to that of any other unit in the Division. In order to facilitate our rifle training, an underground rifle range was constructed in the side of "Engineer Hill", and thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired with the old Krag rifles, with which the Regiment was at first equipped. This underground range, for which Captain H. W. Wilson, the Adjutant of the Second Battalion, was largely responsible, is an example of the regimental resourcefulness. The Engineers were thus enabled to fire -service ammunition weeks before it would otherwise have been possible.

The development of "esprit de corps" was the constant desire of Colonel Sherill and all the officers. No opportunity was allowed to pass. Each man soon came to understand that pride of regiment is the keystone in the arch of military success. Early was this pride manifest within our Regiment, and it has never ceased to grow. The Engineers were always trying to be the best, and seldom were they disappointed. Even our football team, under Lieutenants Dyer, Ryan, and Darrin, was unquestionably the best in the Division, beating all teams, and experiencing defeat only once (a return game) from the 306th Infantry. This record is all the more remarkable when one considers that our Regiment was only half the size of any of the infantry regiments.

It is to be noted, also, that early in March, 1918, the regimental basket ball team won the divisional championship. The Regiment attended all the games en masse, and the team knew it had the enthusiastic and unanimous support of every company. Company "A" had previously won the regimental championship, Company "E" being the "runner up".

An evidence of the fine spirit pervading the Regiment, even early in its history, was shown when, late in October, the second draft of men was assigned to the Engineers. The men who had been at Upton for a few weeks took hold of the new recruits and themselves became teachers. In an incredibly short time, the recruits absorbed the spirit of the Regiment and were admitted to full membership.

The spirit of friendly rivalry between the companies has always been noteworthy. Above all, the rivalry has been fair. Never has the Regiment been torn by internal dissension. Each company has tried to excel, but no company has ever monopolized the honors.

During the stay at Camp Upton, the Regiment was doubly fortunate in having for voluntary chaplains, Dr. C. D. Trexler, of Brooklyn, and later, Dr. William T. Manning,* Rector of Trinity Church, New York City. It would be hard to overestimate the good influence of these two gentlemen. Dr. Trexler later became an Army Chaplain and served in France with the 82nd Division. After the departure of the Regiment over-seas, Dr. Manning acted as its Honorary Chaplain in the United States, and as President of the 302nd Engineers Home Association, and of the 77th Division Home Association. His efforts on behalf of the Regiment and the Division have been unceasing and tireless. The Regiment has always felt highly honored by this association with Dr. Manning, who is known throughout the English-speaking world, as well as in France, as a most fearless and- forceful champion of freedom and justice. It was largely due to Dr. Manning's good offices and determined efforts that the Division was permitted to pass in review before its families and friends in New York City on 6th May, 1919.

Co. E Sergeants

An important factor in the growth of the regimental spirit was the formation of the Engineer Band. At the beginning of the war no provision was made for bands in engineer regiments. Colonel Sherrill determined to have an informal band, because he appreciated its importance in building up esprit de corps. In his monthly report to the Chief of Engineers for October 1917, Colonel Sherrill said: "We have an informal band that adds considerably to the esprit de corps of the Regiment. It is recommended that action be taken before Congress to secure a band for each pioneer regiment, as its influence on the discipline and cohesion of the command is great." ** Despite many difficulties, the Engineer Band came into existence in October, 1917. Instruments were procured here and there; musicians practiced in addition to their other duties. From small beginnings, the Band grew and developed into a splendid organization. In the only interband competition within the Division (March, 1919) the Engineer Band was awarded second place.

It would be difficult to overestimate the value of a band to a regiment. Without one, all parades, reviews, and other ceremonies necessarily are incomplete.

It was interesting to note how well the bandsmen performed their military duties during active operations. They were well forward, employed on fatigue work. Music was forgotten in the work of the front. The men justified their existence as soldiers, working hard and faithfully, and putting the same enthusiasm into the rough tasks of battle as they had in their early musical training at Camp Upton.

During the Fall and Winter of 1917 many men were transferred from the Regiment to other divisions. A large number were sent to Camp Gordon, Ga. The night before such transfers, blue barrack bags were issued to the men to carry their extra clothing. As may be surmised, no one wanted to leave the Regiment, and the "blue bag" became a bogey. The first sergeants were supposed to list in "blue bag" books everyone who broke the rules of the camp, for the purpose of transferring the offenders when the next call came. These transfers interfered seriously with the training and cohesive strength of the Regiment, but they were required by the military situation and nothing could be done to prevent them.

Similar transfers took place (December, 1917) to a provisional battalion of the 11th Engineers. This battalion was formed at Camp Upton for the purpose of supplying replacements to the 11th Engineers (Railway), then in France. The battalion was trained and equipped under Colonel Sherrill's supervision, and commanded for some time by Major James P. Leaf, attached to the 302nd Engineers.

In spite of transfers, and many other handicaps, the development of the Regiment continued rapidly. In January, 1918, although each line company numbered but 150 men, the Regiment was ready for service. The officers and men were well trained for any duty that they might be called upon to perform.

On 17th January, 1918, about 700 members of the American Society of Civil Engineers visited Camp Upton, were entertained by the Regiment, and inspected the engineer camp and activities. At the invitation of the Commanding General they reviewed the Regiment, and by courtesy of the 307th Infantry, they witnessed an exhibition infantry attack. This review and inspection showed clearly that officers and men were trained and equipped as thoroughly as they could be in the United States, and Colonel Sherrill endeavored to have the Regiment sent to France at once for the final training in the field. Unfortunately, this 1could not be arranged.

On the 20th January, 1918, a theatre party was held in New York City for the benefit of the regimental fund ' Thanks largely to the assistance of Mrs. Irene Harris, of New York, this affair was a great success, the net proceeds amounting to over $1,700.00. The fund was later enlarged by gifts made through Dr. Manning, and has ever since been adequate for the needs of the Regiment.

During the Winter of 1917 Major-General Bell, the Commanding General, became greatly interested in the erection of a community hall for the camp. He entrusted the entire matter to Colonel Sherrill, who was charged not only with the design of the building, but also with raising the necessary funds for its erection. It became the duty of Lieutenants Thomas H. Ellett and Victor G. Thomassen, of the 302nd Engineers, to draw the plans of the proposed hall, which was to be very unusual and effective. Captain Frederick S. Greene, 302nd Engineers, assisted by several New York civilians, acted as head of the "finance committee". A military ball was given on the night of Washington's birthday, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue, New York City. This was a great success and the proceeds from it added $20,000.00 to the Community Hall Fund.

The Community Hall, however, was never completed, largely because the sailing overseas of the Regiment, in March, 1918, severed Colonel Sherrill's connection with the project.

During several weeks of the new year (1918) the different companies and regiments of the 77th Division had been striving to win the prize offered for the best policed and beautified area in camp. Weekly inspections by different teams of inspectors rated the different companies. The result was gratifying to the Engineers, for their regimental area was adjudged the.second best in the whole camp, and Company "F's" area was given first prize of all companies in the Division.

An incident of note in our history was a stirring address to the Regiment by Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University (20th February, 1918).

During the month of February, 1918, the Regiment was increased to full war strength by recruits from the second draft. These men, several hundred strong, came from Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and New England. Originally, and up to that time, the Regiment consisted almost entirely of men from New York City, but, by this recruitment, it became a State-wide organization. Only a few weeks were available for the training of the new men, but they were of a splendid, hard-working type, and the results were remarkable. As a matter of fact, when the Regiment left Camp Upton late in March, 1918, it would have been difficult to distinguish the new men from the old. About this time (20th February, 1918) Lieut.-Col. C. R. Pettis was called away to command another regiment. Lieut. Col. Lindsey C. Herkness took his place as second in command to Colonel Sherrill. Lieutenant-Colonel Herkness remained with the Regiment until the middle of August, 1918, when he, too, was transferred.

The first divisional review was held at Camp Upton on 15th February, 1918. Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. Benedict Crowell, reviewed the Division. The 302nd Engineers led the parade.

Another memorable event was the parade in New York City, through the heavy snowstorm of Washington's birthday, 1918. Ten thousand men of the Division journeyed to New York City to participate in the march down Fifth Avenue, which was really a farewell to New York. For this reason, and because a few days' leave or furlough was granted to officers and men at this time, this parade was a milestone in our history. The Engineers again were at the head of the column. The 69th Regiment Armory,* on 26th Street, was the New York headquarters of the Regiment.

After the Washington birthday parade in New York City, it became a foregone conclusion that the 77th Division would shortly sail overseas. Efforts to complete equipment and to finish rifle practice were doubled, with the result that early in March, 1918, the Regiment was ready to sail at any time.

When packing up for overseas service, it was found necessary to adopt a symbol to be painted on the baggage. The 77th Division chose for its symbol the Statue of Liberty. Since then, the Division has generally been referred to as the "Liberty Division". When, late in 1918, the General Headquarters ordered each division to select and wear just below the left shoulder a divisional insignia, the 77th Division again chose as its emblem the Statue of Liberty on a field of azure blue. As a matter of record, it should be noted that no divisional insignia were worn until after the Armistice.

Good-byes were said and written several times during March, 1918, before the final orders for leaving were received. In the middle of the night, 28th-29th March, 1918, the 302nd Engineers left their comfortable barracks at Camp Upton, which had been their official home since the preceding August, and marched quietly, almost stealthily, toward the new, the unknown. It was a momentous occasion for most of us, the loosening of the last material bond between the comforts of our garrison life and the actual war-life, which we knew to be ahead of us. Never since that time has the Regiment remained a third as long in any one place. Camp Upton was the scene of our regimental childhood, and fond recollections of our experiences there will often fill our thoughts during the years to come. Thus ends the Camp Upton chapter of the history of the 302nd Engineers. The writer lingers, grudgingly turns the page on this happy, hard-working period, during which our habits of teamwork were formed, our pride of regiment came into being. All things end! Good-bye Camp Upton, the birthplace of the 302nd Engineers!
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