“Everyone Into Battle”: First-hand Accounts of Ohioans in World War I
By: Michael Fouts
By the late summer of 1918 the Allied forces were pushing Germany to the brink of defeat. American soldiers, who had been fighting with the allies on the Western Front since 1917, were preparing for one final push to end the First World War. A plan was set in motion for a massive attack on the entire German front line beginning in September of 1918. Its architect was the Supreme Allied Commander, Ferdinand Foch who adopted the rather telling slogan, “Tout le monde Ã la bataille”, or “everyone into battle.”
Published in the August 31, 1918, issue of the American Issue, this cartoon captioned “The Psychology of Foch’s Tactics is Perfect” shows a German soldier running from an Allied tank. (Image: ohiomemory.org)
Ohioans part of the U.S. Army’s 37th “Buckeye” Division, 42nd Division and the 2nd Battalion of the 372nd Infantry Regiment, a battalion made up of African American soldiers fighting with the French Army, were soon thrown into the carnage of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Over 47 days, from September 26 to November 11, 1918, around 1.2 million American troops fought against the Germans entrenched in Northern France, not too far away from the city of Verdun.
This photograph shows soldiers in the 37th Infantry Division, aiming their rifles at the sky, posing for the photographer. (Image: ohiomemory.org)
A group of officers part of the 42nd Infantry Division in the Baccarat Sector. (Image: ohiomemory.org)
The 372nd Infantry Regiment marching on Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio, April 1919. The 372nd was attached to the 157th Division of the French army. The regiment was composed of African American troops from Ohio, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland. (Image: ohiomemory.org)
The accounts and images of Ohioans who witnessed the events of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive have been archived on ohiomemory.org.
On October 3, 1918, medic E.A. Pastelnick wrote a letter to Ohio State University history professor, Arthur M. Schlesinger in the hope of “preserving the records of this war for Ohio”. Pastelnick detailed his experiences as a medic during the battle from September 26 to September 29, 1918.
Wounded men being loaded onto a truck during the Somme. (Image: ohiomemory.org)
The work of medics like Pastelnick was pivotal in saving the lives of soldiers wounded during the fight. Dalton Smith Hayes, the grandson of former president Rutherford B. Hayes, was one such soldier.
Hayes wrote in a letter to his mother about the experience, “I saw a Jerry (that’s what we call ’em now) about two hundred yards away aiming his rifle in my direction. The thought sprang to my head ‘Here’s where I make my score three instead of two’; and I jerked my rifle up. That’s the last I remember till I woke up flat on my back in a shell hole with my shoulder hurting like the dickens.” In the end Dalton Smith Hayes did survive his injury.
Dalton and his aunt, Mary Miller Hayes, wife of Colonel Webb C. Hayes, walk through Nice, France. (ohiomemory.org)
Unfortunately, not all were as lucky as Hayes. By the end of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive the Americans claimed victory but suffered around 122,000 casualties, including 26,277 killed in action. German losses were comparable to that of the Americans.
Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, General John J. Pershing later commended the achievements of the soldiers who participated in the campaign. Stating in General Order No. 232, “Your achievement, which is scarcely to be equaled in American history, must remain a source of proud satisfaction to the troops who participated in the last campaign of the war.”
Other Accounts and Photographs of Ohioans in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on ohiomemory.org:
Harold Jackson Gordon letter 1, 37th Division
Harold Jackson Gordon letter 2, 37th Division
Robert C Gill diary, 37th Division
“Official Photographs of the 37th Division A.E.F. Vol. 1”
If you are interested in more WWI based activities for the classroom check out these teacher resources!