The 20th Engineer Regiment was formed by General Order number 108 on 15 August 1917. That General Order authorized the formation of the 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry) at Camp American on the campus of American University in Washington, District of Columbia under the command of Colonel W. A. Mitchell.
The Regiment was to be filled from the Engineer Enlisted Reserve Corps by recruiting from the government Forestry Service and from the Selective Service Draft. Since space was limited at Camp American, many of the 20th troops were camped at Fort Meyer and Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
The draft of the United States filled the ranks of the newly formed regiment beginning on 11 October 1917, and many of the draftees were seasoned lumberjacks from the forests of the Northeast.
In its final form, approximately one year after organization, the regiment consisted of a Regimental Headquarters, 14 Battalion Headquarters, 49 Forestry Companies, 28 Engineer Service Companies (Forestry), and two attached Engineer Service Battalions. The total personnel were 368 officers and 19,385 enlisted men. In addition, there were 146 officers and 10,760 men belonging to Quartermaster units working under the direction of the 20th Engineers.
Prior to the formation of the 20th Engineers, the Army had begun constituting engineer forestry and road companies in May 1917. These companies were built entirely of volunteers though draftees from the forest industry later filled the ranks of the forestry companies. Each company was comprised of 250 men. One of these companies, the 49th Company was obtained subsequently from the New England sawmill units which were sent to Old England in the early summer of 1917 to cut lumber for the British Government. Engineer forest and road companies, later to build the nucleus of the 20th Engineer Regiment, deployed to the European Theater prior to the formation of the 20th Engineer Regiment at Camp American.
These companies, though formed out of New England sawmills, had soldiers that represented all 48 states in the Union. The companies began cutting at a French Mill in the Jura Mountains on 26 November 1917 as the first lumberjacks of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to supply lumber to the war effort. They were established under the Forestry Section as a part of the Office of Chief Engineer, American Expeditionary Force. General Taylor served as the Chief Engineer. On 25 September 1917, their responsibility was changed to the Engineer Supply Office.
A separate Engineer Forestry Battalion also arrived in France prior to the formation of the 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry). The 10th Engineers arrived at Nevers on 9 October 1917 and began operating their mill at Mortumier near Gien on 27 November 1917. The first battalion assigned to the Regiment arrived on 28 November 1917 and commenced operation on 15 January 1918 at Mur-De-Sologne. All forestry units were combined on 18 October 1918.
By 11 November 1918, the 20th Engineers were operating 81 sawmills and producing 2,000,000 board feet of lumber and round products every day. As of 1 December 1918, the Regiment had cut 272,500,000 feet of lumber including 2,728,000 railroad ties. Though the medical officer of the Regiment warned that 20th Engineer lumberjacks were being worked too hard, an increasing amount of lumber continued to be produced monthly.
The battalions of the 20th Engineer Regiment do have distinct histories and are worth mentioning here. A brief history of each of the battalions, auxiliaries, the Regimental Band, and the Canadian Forestry Corps follows.
1st Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The 1st Battalion was organized with the 20th Engineer Regiment at Camp American on 28 August 1917. The 1st Battalion was organized from soldiers of the 10th Engineers after they left for France on 09 September. Throughout September and October 1917, the two original battalions of the 20th, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, conducted close order drill, interior guard, and physical exercise. Also in line with the times, the 1st Battalion trained its soldiers on proper personal hygiene as many newly recruited soldiers lacked those basic skills.
On 11 November 1917 1st and 2nd Battalions left Camp American and boarded the U.S.S. Madawaska. The Madawaska once belonged to the Germans as a liner known as the "Koenig Wilhelm II." Both battalions arrived at St. Nazaire on 28 November. From here, the 1st Battalion would be separated across France for forestry duty. Companies A and C were assigned to the Dax District, newly formed forty miles south of Pontenx in the northern part of the region. Company B was sent to Central France. The district headquarters was established at Dax in a former bull ring. The existence of a bull ring, not a typical feature in France, was due to the close proximity of the city to the Spanish border.
"During the summer of 1918 the district strength was augmented by the arrival of the Sixteenth Service Company (colored) who were assigned to the Arengosse camp." The area was also home to members of the 6th Battalion and even several units of the Canadian Forestry Corps. Logging continued throughout the war until the Armistice was signed. At this point 1st Battalion assumed duties of road construction, but by March they relinquished the Dax District to 4th Battalion. On 21 March 1919, 1st Battalion boarded the transport Roanoke bound for Hoboken, New Jersey. They landed there on 18 April 1919.
2nd Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
2nd Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry), like 1st Battalion, was one of the original battalions of the regiment. The battalions train-up, drill, and preparation for overseas movement closely aligned with 1st Battalion. Unlike the 1st Battalion though, the 2nd Battalion was made up of soldiers from Western states. Many of the officers and soldiers were from the Pacific Northwest, and the battalion came to be known throughout the regiment as the "Native Son" Battalion.
After a couple of weeks at St. Nazaire, the battalion received orders for travel to its various parts of France. Companies D and E with a detachment of Company F were sent to the Vosges region in northeast France. The remainder of Company F were detailed to join the 1st Battalion at Dax in the southwest. Headquarters, 2nd Battalion was established at the city of Epinal. Here the entire forestry activities of the Advance Zone were handled. The Epinal District encompassed all that part of the Advance Zone fronting on Lorraine, and the St. Mihiel and Argonne regions.ii
Company E were the pioneers in what was to be the largest forestry camp in France, except the Burnt Area. They located at the town of Eclaron, seven miles from St. Dizier, in Haute Marne. On 24 January 1918 they were joined by soldiers of Company B of 3rd Battalion. The location of the lumber mill for these units was not far from enemy lines, and the mill was not immune from German air raids. Luckily no soldier was ever killed during the air raids, probably due to relatively ineffective weapon systems used by the German biplanes; however, the company's baseball diamond did suffer damage during one of the air attacks.
After the Armistice was signed, the 2nd Battalion sailed home with 1st Battalion aboard the Roanoke and arrived at Hoboken on 18 April 1919.
3rd Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The 3rd Battalion was formed early in October 1917 from draftees arriving too late to fill the 1st and 2nd Battalions. Since the 1st and 2nd Battalions did not leave Camp American as early as planned, space on that camp was limited. 3rd Battalion moved to Fort Belvoir, then an ROTC camp on the Virginia side of the Potomac, some 20 miles South of Washington, D. C. On 19 November, the 3rd was split in half, one half moving back to Camp American to form the newly authorized 4th Battalion while the other half remained at Belvoir as the 3rd. By Thanksgiving Day, 1917 the 3rd was at full strength.
With Fort Belvoir too confining for a fully outfitted battalion, the 3rd then moved to Fort Myer, Virginia. Here the battalion completed its training. The 3rd at Fort Myer had great difficulty with disease and the mumps, measles and scarlet fever ran rampant through the fort, but on 2 January 1918 the battalion moved to Jersey City, New Jersey to sail for France. They joined the 4th Battalion on the U. S. S. America and sailed for Brest.
The 3rd Battalion arrived at Brest on 17 January 1918. From Brest the battalion was split and Company A accompanied the Battalion Headquarters to Dijon. Company B was sent eastward to the Haute Marne region where they joined Company E of 2nd Battalion on the St. Dizier operation. Company C drew hardwood operation at Sauvigney les Gray in the upper valley of the Saone under the Dijon administration.
Upon signing of the Armistice, elements of the 3rd Battalion continued heavy fuel production. By March 1919 camp operations were complete and the battalion began preparations for the voyage back to the United States. The battalion marched to Genicourt, passed through St. Nazaire, and boarded the converted Holland America transport Zeelandia. The transport docked at Newport News, Virginia on 23 May 1919. The battalion headquarters and one company remained behind in France and sailed on 14 May aboard the Santa Paula. They docked at New York on 28 May and were disbanded at Camp Merritt.ii
4th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The 4th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment was authorized on 28 September 1917 by a communication from the Army Chief of Staff to the Chief of Engineers. The 4th was formed from half of the 3rd Battalion which was training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. By 27 November, the 4th was at full strength and began drilling in preparation for overseas movement. The 4th sailed on 4 January 1918 aboard the America.
The 4th Battalion disembarked on 20 January 1918 and began a period of quarantine in the old Napoleonic barracks of Pontanezen. Like the other battalions, the companies were separated before moving inland. Company D was sent to Marchenoir. Headquarters with Companies E and F were sent to the Landes, south of Bordeaux.
After 16 months of separation, the 4th was reunited on 11 May 1919 at Bordeaux. They sailed with elements of the 3rd Battalion aboard the U. S. S. Zeelandia on that day and landed at Newport News, Virginia on 23 May 1919. The 4th was deactivated at Camp Alexandria, Virginia.
5th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The 5th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry) was formed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The three companies of the battalion were organized 05 December 1917 and the headquarters detachment followed by a week. Again many soldiers of this battalion were recruited from the Northwest, but nearly all 48 states were represented.
After six weeks of training, the 5th was prepared for overseas movement, but before they could deploy the battalion was tasked to build a plank road from Fort Belvoir to Camp Humphreys. Enduring extremely harsh weather, the battalion completed the plank road and was again prepared for overseas movement on 10 January 1918 with the 6th Battalion aboard the Tuscania. However, fate would intervene. A case of meningitis appeared and the battalion was quarantined for a period canceling the embarkation, thus saving the 5th from suffering the tragedy of the 6th battalion aboard the Tuscania.
On 25 January 1918, the 5th marched to Mount Vernon bound for Washington where they occupied the barracks recently vacated by the 6th at Camp American. On 29 January, the Battalion moved to Jersey City, New Jersey and boarded the U. S. S. Calamares, a converted freighter. On 17 February the Battalion arrived at Brest and was broken up. Headquarters Detachment was directed to assume control of the new district in the Loire valley, 100 miles South of Paris. Companies A and B were assigned to operate in this district.
After the Armistice, elements of the 5th took over the departing 10th Engineer mills near Mortumier near district headquarters in Gien. The 5th Battalion was reunited on 10 May 1919 at Nantes, but the companies would not sail together. The battalion boarded the transports Princess Matoika and Henry R. Mallory for the voyage home. The Matoika sailed for Charleston, South Carolina. Elements of the 5th landed there on 23 June 1919 and broken into home detachments at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. The companies were then sent to Camp Lewis, Washington due to the disproportionate number of Pacific Coast soldiers. The Mallory sailed for Brooklyn and landed there on 28 May 1919. The 5th Battalion suffered only two casualties to enemy fire when two officers were killed by enemy machine gun fire near a mill in Varennes on 5 October 1918.
6th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The 6th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment was ordered organized on 07 December 1917. The formation began at Fort Myer, Virginia mostly of men left behind by the previously departed battalions. The 6th moved to Camp American just after Christmas, but it didn't reach full strength until just after the new year when 600 new lumberjacks from the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes region arrived. The 6th moved from Camp American by foot to Fort Myer where they boarded the train for New York. At New York the battalion along with elements of several air squadrons boarded the ill-fated transport Tuscania. (see pages 16-17)
After the battalion's arrival in France on 24 March 1918, it moved to Castets where it would stay until October 1918. At Castets the 6th had the dubious honor of being attached to the British Forestry Service. All three companies remained within five kilometers of each other centered around the city. The battalion, known as "the Fighting Sixth", apparently was honored in this fashion not by their prowess in the trenches, but because of the lack of continuity between the commissioned officers in the battalion. In October, the 6th turned over operations at Castets entirely to the British and moved to Catieux and Labrit. After the Armistice, milling was halted and clean up began.
The "Fighting Sixth" left Genicourt on 11 May 1919 and boarded the transport Santa Paula. Undoubtedly many of the soldiers were weary of the trip home since their trip to France had been marked with the tragedy of the Tuscania. On 28 May 1919 the 6th arrived back in the United States and moved to Camp Merritt and disbanded.
7th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The 7th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment was organized at Camp American on 15 January 1918. It consisted of three forestry companies, headquarters detachment and medical detachment. The battalion was commanded by MAJ C. E. Clark of Wilmington, North Carolina. After the mandatory drilling and preparation period, the battalion boarded the transport Pastores. The 7th was accompanied by replacements for the 1st and 2nd Battalions already in France.
On 4 March 1918 the battalion debarked at St. Nazaire for encampment. After only a few days the battalion received orders to be attached to the French Army. The 7th, like most of the other battalions, was separated. Company B was sent to Blois, Loire et Cher. HQ and company A proceeded to Chateauroux, Indre. Company C went on to Ardentes. Each company began logging operations to supply the French Army at the front. The battalion continued attachment to the French Army until 1 February 1919 almost three months after the Armistice was signed.
After reassignment to the American Expeditionary Force, the battalion was sure it would be sailing for the United States any time; however, the Army had other intentions for the battalion. The battalion was reassigned to rebuild and repair roads. Since 1 August 1918 the battalion had been commanded by CPT H. A. Maas, formerly the commander of Company A. Once the battalion began road repair, he was assigned as district officer in charge of engineer work in that vicinity. A company of the 816th Pioneer Infantry was also assigned to the district.
On 16 May 1919 the battalion moved to St. Nazaire and boarded the Kroonland. The battalion arrived at Hoboken, went by ferry to Jersey City, and then by train to Tenafly. The battalion then marched to Camp Merritt. Since much of the 7th Battalion had been formed in California, it was sent in its entirety to the Presidio in San Francisco where it conducted its final muster on 15 June 1919.
8th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The 8th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment began organization on 20 January 1918 at Camp American. Recruiting brought the battalion to full strength, but several outbreaks of mumps, measles, and scarlet fever forced the 8th to draw soldiers from the newly formed 10th Battalion. The 8th drew 60 replacements from the 10th and left Washington on 25 February 1918 and boarded the U. S. S. Mount Vernon, formerly the German liner Kronprincessin Cecilie. The battalion sailed on 27 February and arrived at Brest on 10 March 1918.
Like the other battalions, the 8th was split at Pontanezan Barracks. Headquarters and Company D were sent to the Loire Valley. Company E was sent to Landes and Company F to the Swiss border. Unlike the other battalions though, the 8th was never reunited and it continued to exist only on paper.
Company D left Brest with Headquarters Detachment for La Mallardais near the town of Le Gavre in the lower valley of the Loire. Headquarters then moved to Bauge where a new district organization was established. The new district included Le Gavre, Rennes, Marchenoir, and several smaller camps. After the Armistice, Company D moved to Company E's camp and began preparations for sailing home. However, like the 7th Battalion, the 8th too would be forced into road reconstruction near Blois. On 8 February the two companies began work on 500 kilometers of highway, their workload reduced somewhat by 500 German prisoners of war. After the completion of the road, half the unit was sent to Paris to complete construction of the Pershing stadium.
The battalion had been separated throughout the duration of the war, so it was only fitting that the companies traveled home separately. Company D was sent to St Nazaire on 13 June 1919 and two days later sailed for home aboard the transport Texan. They arrived at Newport News on 29 June 1919 and dissolved. Company E boarded the transport K. I. Luchenbach on 16 May 1919 and arrived at Hoboken on 1 June. They hiked to Camp Mills and dissolved. Company F sailed on 15 June aboard the U. S. S. Tiger and arrived at New York on 1 July 1919. It was dissolved soon after.
9th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The Ninth was the latest of the original Battalions of the Twentieth to form, its primary organization beginning in February 1918. Both the Seventh and Eighth departed from Camp American University during the latter part of February, leaving the Ninth and Tenth, and the three auxiliary Road and Bridge Battalions, to divide the recruits, then arriving steadily in large contingents from all parts of the nation. The Ninth reached authorized strength early in March, and was rapidly equipped and trained. Earlier difficulties in obtaining troop and engineering supplies had been largely overcome, and the Battalion reported ready with a minimum delay. After the customary inspection the outfit entrained for "an Atlantic port" on 27 March 1918. The battalion sailed two days later aboard the transport Northern Pacific and reached Brest April 8th.
Upon arrival the Ninth Battalion was scheduled for duty in the Jura Mountain region of eastern France, and proceeded to report for assignments to the Besancon Forestry District, the administration of the Second Battalion, Tenth Engineers.
Company A was detached from the organization and sent to the Epinal District, where they became one of the many units of the extensive force operating within range of enemy raids in the Nancy sector. Companies B and C remained with the Bourg District, constructing and operating mills at Mouthe, in the Doubs, and Murat, Cantal, and developing, at Oyonnax, and Brenod, Ain.
In June the district was reinforced by the addition of the 49th Co. (Company D of the 43 Engineers) who took over the operation at Muray, the 26th concentrating at Brenod. Murat was so far distant from Bourg - upwards of 150 miles - that administration presented increasing difficulties, and the situation was met by creating another new district, with the headquarters organization of the Fourteenth Battalion (43rd Engineers), in control. The new offices were established at Le Puy.
After the Armistice all of the companies of the Ninth were included in the list destined for Burnt Area service. Headquarters was not included in the orders, their organization being transferred to Besancon. The battalion started homeward, sailing from Bassens for Hoboken and Camp Merritt and Home, aboard the K. I. Luckenbach on 16 May 1919.
10th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The Tenth and final Battalion of the Twentieth Engineers was formed in December 1917, to function as a Depot unit for the earlier Battalions. For three months it served as a halfway station between the recruit barracks, Walter Reed Hospital, and the outfits destined for immediate embarkation. During this period its personnel changed constantly, and it was not until the 9th left for France on 26 March, 1918 that the 10th was seriously organized as an overseas Forestry unit.
The battalion left Camp American on 8 May, sailing from Hoboken two days later aboard the transport Pastors which had already conveyed the Seventh Battalion across.
The Pastors anchored in Brest on 23 May, and the 10th As with most, Company F was ordered to the Epinal district, under Second Battalion Headquarters, while the remainder of the 10th were assigned a new district, with Bourges, in the center of France as headquarters.
Like the Third and Fourth, the Tenth Battalion went overseas with considerable extra strength. The attached men were designated as casuals, and were to be employed as replacements in earlier Battalions. While at Brest the extra men, 96 in all, were assembled and attached to Company D, with whom they remained until July. On 29 May 1918, 10th Battalion Headquarters and Companies D and E left Brest for the Department of Cher. The Headquarters Detachment took up quarters in the ancient city of Bourges with the companies deployed for duty in neighboring oak forests. Company F left Brest on 1 June 1918 under orders attaching them to Second Battalion Headquarters at Epinal, in the Vosges. A three day trip in third class cars brought them to their permanent station, the village of Cornimont, in Moselotte, about twelve miles south of Granges, where Co. D of the Second Battalion was operating.
Company D arrived at their permanent station on 30 May 1918 at the village of La Celle Bruere, Cher. In July the unit was required to rebuild the ancient bridge spanning the Cher, the required timbers being brought over a thirteen-mile haul. In August a detachment of 29 men were detailed to operate a French sawmill at La Ferte St. Aubin, Loiret, with a force of 220 civilians. The strength of the La Celle operation was increased, early in August, by the arrival of the 13th Service Company. The demand for fuelwood in the northern camp necessitated further increase in the force, and Companies B and C of the 347th Labor Battalion arrived on 21 December.
Apart from cessation of timber felling, the Armistice made no change in the daily operations of Company D. It was not until March 1919 that working hours were reduced from ten to eight. The La Celle Bruere included the repair of about 40 miles of highway.
The next move was to Brest, where Companies D and E boarded the battleship New Jersey. The two companies arrived at Newport News the 4th of July. Two days later final inspection was held and Companies D and E stepped out of the Army lists into history.
Company G of the 10th Battalion was of unique origin and composition. As the records of the Chief of Engineers express it, the Sixth Battalion was authorized to be increased by one company, June 4th, 1918, and this company was transferred, upon organization, to the Tenth. As a matter of fact, the company was an outgrowth of the New England Forestry unit, a civilian group operating in Scotland. Upon completion of their tasks in Britain, the members of the unit were given the option of returning to the States or enlisting directly in the A. E. F.
The new unit was sent to Winchester, in southern England, for training and equipment. Here they spent two months; started for France August 23rd, 1918, via Southampton and Cherbourg and reached the Bourges (Tenth Battalion) District August 27th. For three weeks the unit was attached for duty to the La Celle Bruere. As soon as equipment arrived, they were assigned a lumbering operation at Couleuvre, Department of Allier and there they served until after the Armistice. The bulk of the Burnt Area force, including Tenth Headquarters, Companies F and G, left the Landes on 13 May for Bordeaux, and embarked 17 May aboard the transport K. I. Luckenbach. They landed at Pier 8, Hoboken, 1 June 1919, ferried to a landing on the Hudson, and hiked to Camp Merritt. Here they were disbanded.
41st Engineers - 13th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
Plans for the formation of an auxiliary battalion of the 20th Engineers were finalized in December 1917, and organization was commenced at Camp American in January 1918. As planned, the duties of the new unit were principally the building of roads and bridge production and delivery of forest products.
The unit was organized as a separate Regiment of Engineers with four companies, and an authorized strength of 28 officers and 1024 men. Its training period was brief, and interspersed with construction duty at the new Camp Humphreys, Virginia. On 26 February 1918 the battalion sailed from New York harbor aboard the giant transport Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic.
The battalion landed at Liverpool, England on 5 March 1918. O 10 March, the battalion
crossed the channel from Southampton and arrived at Le Havre. Headquarters arrived at the village of Bricon, in the province of Haute Marne, twenty miles from Chaumont. For two weeks the detachment was the center of attraction for the inhabitants of Bricon, as they were the first Americans stationed there. By this time their permanent duties had been mapped out. The operation at Eclaron, Haute Marne, conducted by the 5th and 8th Companies, had assumed sufficient importance to be directed as a separate district, and 41st Headquarters was assigned to the new administration.
In the meantime Company C was also sent to Eclaron, and added to the work force of the camp. By this time the original plans for employment of the 41st as a road battalion had fallen through completely, and all its units had merged with older forestry establishments. Company A was attached to the Second Battalion, Epinal District, and arrived 8 April at Chatenois, 10 miles east of Neufchateau, where they were added to the force of the 15th Co., logging and operating a French mill.
It was during this period that the most tragic incident in the career of the company occurred. Captain Harry E. McPherson, who was in charge of the mill at Ippecourt, near Soully, undertook a reconnaissance of newly won ground with a view to moving camp forward as soon as the lines were advanced. Accompanied by LT W. A. Fair, a medical officer attached to the unit, and a SGT, the CPT traversed a clearing exposed to the enemy lines. A burst of machine gun fire opened, and the CPT fell mortally wounded. LT Fair hurried to his assistance, regardless of the machine gun, and met death at his side. A determined stand by the Germans made the spot a no man`s land for several days When the ground was finally won the bodies had been interred, and their location could not be determined. For LT Fair's bravery he was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross-the only such decoration accorded a member of the Twentieth Engineers, and the only decoration awarded for other than executive service.
The memory of CPT McPherson and LT Fair is revered by the veterans of the company. The Captain had served with the 41st since its inception, and is remembered by those he led as a man of honor and ability.
Once the Armistice was signed, the company was gradually brought together, and resumed company organization at Bains - les - Bains, Vosges, about the middle of December. Here they resumed routine work, and busied themselves at fuel production. Early in April they journeyed to Tours and served for two months on miscellaneous assignments, including convoy duty. Early in June they moved on to LeMans, accompanied by Company B and sailed from St. Nazaire on 14 June 1919 on the transport Texan. They landed at Newport News the 26th.
The 39th Co. was attached throughout to the Dijon District, under the Third Battalion administration, in the Department of Cote d'Or. Immediately after striking inland from Le Havre, the outfit reported at Vanvey, to assist Co. E of the Tenth Engineers at that operation. Here they labored until the timber available was exhausted, in July, when the force moved to St. Julian, 8 miles north of Dijon. The mill was rapidly built - a 20,000 capacity McDonough - and logging started on a large scale. The strength of the operation was increased to 600 by the addition of the 47th Co. Shortly after the Armistice as E of the Tenth was now designated, left for home and in April the 39th started westward, and rejoined the 38th Co.
Company D, underwent a totally different course. From LeHavre they proceeded directly to the Landes region in the south, arriving at Pontenx on 15 March, for duty with the 1st Battalion, 10th Engineers. At first the unit was split up. Half the company joined the 33rd Co., assisting at their logging camp on Aureilhan River for a month, then transferring to the mill on the lake. Early in August the detachment was moved eastward to the hamlet of Sore, where they built a new mill.
In the meantime the other detachment had been detailed to reinforce the Bourricose detachment of the 10th Engineers operating a 20,000 mill two miles east of Pontenx. On 14 September the Bourricose camp was turned over to the 41st intact, and 32nd relieving the Sore outfit. They sailed aboard the transport K. I. Luckenbach on 17 May and were mustered out at Camp Merrit early in June 1919. Headquarters Detachment was disbanded in May 1919.
42nd Engineers - 14th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
Of all the Engineer troops incorporated in the 20th Engineer Regiment, perhaps the least heralded and least known was the second of our three original auxiliary Battalions, the 42nd Engineers. While their sister units, the 41st and 43rd, were retained as Battalions of the Twentieth, and continued as units, though widely scattered, the 42nd was not accorded this recognition. The 42nd drilled and trained and went to France as a unit, but their personnel came back as separate and orphaned companies. To their credit be it said that no members of the Forestry Regiment brought back better records or a higher morale.
Organization of the 42nd Engineers was commenced early in March 1918. Like the 41st and 43rd, the unit was primarily intended for road and bridge.
After a brief but intensive period of preparation, the unit left Camp American on 8 May 1918. The next morning they boarded the transport Abraham Lincoln and sailed the next afternoon in convoy with twelve other carriers and a cruiser. The trip was comparatively eventful. The Lincoln dropped anchor at Brest on 22 May. The next day, the 42nd landed on French soil, and marched to Camp Bougen. Their first overseas duty was the unloading of the boat, and when the cargo was cleared the anchor was already hoisted home and the screws revolving. The last man ashore was LT Glass of Company D. An enemy sub sank the big vessel on the homeward trip.
Twenty-four hours after the outfit reached camp, the prevailing confidence in immediate service at the front received a knock out blow, when orders arrived for dispersal of the battalion and attachment of the companies to various units of the 20th Engineers for forestry duty.
The scattering was rapid and thorough. Headquarters, Company A, and half of Company D were sent south to the Landes. Companies B and C went to the advance zone in the northeast. The remainder of Company D also went to the Vosges for temporary duty.
From this time on, the story of the 42nd is simply that of its component parts. Headquarters arrived at Pontenx - les - Forges, Landes on 1June and was attached for duty to 1st Battalion, 10th Engineers. Shortly after, the detachment was transferred to Base Section No. 1, and ordered to St. Nazaire, where they severed connections with the Forestry Section.
Company A, after the reorganization known as the 42nd Company, were assigned a sawmill operation at Sabres, in the Pontenx District. Although recruited for road and bridge work, the company took their new mission in stride and within a month were cutting far more than the rated capacity of their mill. They stayed at Sabres all through the war and left the Landes only when the windup of the Burnt Area job released the bulk of remaining forestry troops. Early in May they joined the homeward bound troops at Pontenx, and sailed from Bassens aboard the ship K. I. Luckenbach on 17 May.
Company B, after the reorganization known as the 42nd Company, likewise were fortunate enough to be held together. Their assigned station was the village of Vagney, in the Vosges mountains, not far behind the Lorraine sector. From May 1918 until the middle of January 1919, they logged and operated a mill, under direction of the Epinal District. The Company turned over the camp to a cleanup detail and left on 17 January for Orville, Cote d'Or, where they were employed for four months on road repair, chiefly along the national highway between Dijon and Langres. Upon their release from duty on 16 May, they headed for the coast, and after the inevitable delays, for home.
Company C, later known as the 44th Company, was also assigned to the Epinal District. The northern detachment of the company was first ordered to the northeast. It spent a month cutting fuelwood in the vicinity of Bazoilles - sur- Meuse, six miles from Neufchateau. The detachment was then transferred to the Bauge district in Brittany, and built a sawmill at Rennes. As soon as the operation was producing, the outfit was ordered back to the Vosges, where various auxiliary duties held them until after the Armistice. They were then attached to the Burnt Area expeditionary force, and arrived in Pontenx in February 1919.
In the meantime the southern detachment, which reached the Landes early in June 1918, was attached to the 4th Battalion for service in the Mimizan District. The detachment was again divided, details joining the 11th Company at Lamanchs and the 12th at les Pleyres. A few weeks later, the units were assigned to operate a new 10,000 capacity mill at Bias, south of Mimizan.
After the Armistice, two of the Mimizan District mills were removed to the Burn, and the southern detachment accompanied the 12th Company. Early in March 1919 Company D was brought together but immediately redivided among the three operations.
Upon release on 9 May the company joined the remainder of the old 42nd and left for home. Arriving at Hoboken on 1 June 1919, the units were ferried to a landing eight miles from Camp Merritt, and despite the many railway facilities available, were hiked the distance under full equipment and a blazing sun. Upon dispersal, most of the outfit were sent to Camp Dodge for discharge. The northern central states had furnished by far the largest quota of the 42nd Engineers, though, like all the other Forestry battalions, all sections of the country were represented.
43rd Engineers - 15th Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The last of the three Road and Bridge Battalions, and of the forestry troops which served overseas, was the 43rd Engineers, organized at Washington, D. C. in February 1918. The 41st consisted of a Headquarters Detachment and Companies A, B, C, and D. A large part of the 41st was drawn from recruiting centers and cantonments, largely from the middle west, but a considerable number of men were received from Walter Reed Hospital - men who had been left behind by earlier forestry units. The percent of convalescents making up Co. A was so large as to earn for that unit the nickname, "The Walter Reed Brigade." Camp Dodge was the heaviest contributor to the total strength of the Battalion, which was achieved early in April 1918.
The unit was reported ready for overseas duty by the middle of May 1918. In spite of the tremendous numbers of combat troops waiting for transportation, the demand for forestry reinforcements brought quick action, and the 43rd started for Hoboken on 21 May. They boarded the huge transport Leviathan the next day, and sailed on 23 May. The battalion landed on the shores of Brittany. Following the thousands of their comrades, they plodded up the cobbled streets of Brest to the air of the ''National Emblem March" played by the volunteer band. While undergoing the customary rest, the companies were employed in camp improvements, sorely needed as the survivors attest. Detailed plans for the employment of the 43rd to the forestry section were received shortly. On 7June the Headquarters Detachment, and Companies A and B entrained for eastern France. Three days later the train reached the city of Neufchateau, Vosges.
On account of the proximity of the enemy lines the train was held here until twilight. During the wait occurred what is still remembered by the veterans as the first real thrill of overseas service. It happened thus: The band undertook to liven the wait with an impromptu concert. Among its audience was the French colonel in local command, who was so enthused by the martial airs and general display of allied fraternity that he offered to buy for the bunch. Courtesy and inclination combined to force an eager acceptance, but just as the corks were popping, a conscientious lieutenant took a hand, placed the band men under arrest and ordered them back to the cars. The genial French commandant was much chagrined and was only mollified by a round of apologies."ii
Proceeding to Dijon, the contingent there broke up and was never again united.
Company A moved north from Dijon, arriving at Chatenois home station of the 15th Co. on 16 June. Here the outfit was split into several detachments. One fraction accompanied the First Army in the Argonne. The others were utilized as reinforcements to the many camps of the 20th assisting the 4th, 6th, 25th and 43rd Companies. Routine duties, all heavy and all vitally necessary, filled the autumn and winter. In January 1919, the scattered forces were assigned to salvage the camps vacated by companies moving to the Burnt Area in the Landes. After cleaning up the Granges and Brouvelieures operations, Company A moved to Eclaron. Late in May, the company started for home, and after stops at Neufchateau, LeMans and Burges, they pushed on to the coast, and sailed on 24 June on the battleship Rhode Island. They landed at Newport News and were finally dispersed at Camp Stewart.
Company B arrived at St. Julien, Cote d' Or on 10 June 1918 and quickly got rid of the notion that roads and bridges were their mission. Company E of the Tenth Engineers were conducting lumbering operations on an extensive scale, and Company B was added to the woods force. For the duration of fighting, and seven months after, the outfit labored at St. Julien, leaving only for the home trip. On 7 June the company entrained for the embarkation camp. A stay of ten days at LeMans and five at St. Nazaire, and the outfit was on its way to the states aboard the transport Mercury. They landed at Newport News on 5 July 1919 and were disbanded.
Auxiliary Units, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
No story of the 20th Engineer Regiment in France can be told without recognition of the various auxiliary troops who served with the 20th Engineers. Three distinct groups of auxiliaries existed within the Regiment: the Service Companies, who were at the end actually part of the Twentieth; Engineer Service Battalions, and Quartermaster troops attached for duty to the forestry organization.
Of the three classes, the Service Companies were incomparably the most important in to the Regiment, both by superior training, longer service, and greater administrative efficiency. But chiefly they were important because they actually became a part of the Regiment. Their devotion to duty, when duty meant only hard, continuous unrequited toil, was unsurpassed and probably never equaled in the whole grim business of winning the war.
Practically none of the service companies were organized with a view to forestry service. The 28 companies were formed as seven distinct engineer regiments, only the first of which were in France any length of time before being assigned to duty with the Tenth and Twentieth. The first four service companies went over as the 503rd Engineers. They arrived in France shortly after the 1st and 2nd Battalions, having sailed on 26 November 1917 aboard the transport Acolus and landed at St. Nazaire on 10 December. The outfit was thoroughly scattered; one company was assigned to the Pontenx District, where they took over the operation of trains on several French branch roads, handling the products of the 1st Battalion of the Tenth (11th Battalion , 20th Engineer Regiment), and the 4th and 6th, at Mimizan and Castets. Other detachments of the 503rd served with the 5th Battalion at or near Gien, and with Company E, Tenth Engineers, at Ciez-Colloutre in the same district.
With the exception of the first four companies, all the service units were composed of black troops with white officers and sergeants. Most of them had thorough military training and were sent overseas with the expectation of front-line duties. Considering the abruptness of their transition to Forestry duties, their record is truly remarkable. The 15th Service Company were assigned a newly completed mill of 10,000 capacity, built for the 45th Company at Bias in the Mimizan District. On a few days notice the black men manned and operated the mill, the only outside assistance being a filer and an engineer. The 16th Company performed a similar operation at Arengosse. In general, however, the service companies were employed in loading lumber and in cutting and shipping fuel. Nearly every district employed one or more units.
The 5th Battalion was assisted by the 6th, 12th and 24th Companies in the camps near Gien. Several units took part in the Eclaron district and others around Bourges. The 517th were a part of the lumbering expedition that accompanied the First Army into the Argonne woods. The 9th Company made fuel production records at Provencheres, in the upper Marne valley.
The black service troops were chiefly drawn from Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi, and were a picked force, their comrades of lower physique gravitating to labor units. The morale displayed by them was uniformly high, under circumstances which could not have been foreseen by those responsible for their preliminary training.
The Engineer Service Battalions attached to the Twentieth Engineers were two of a series of units designed to act as labor elements for the Regiment of higher training in special lines, such as the Railway, Highway and Forestry regiments. The 547th and 548th arrived in Cherbourg just as the Armistice was consummated, and were utilized in the great drive to keep the A. E. F. warm during the ensuing winter. Most of their service was in the northern districts and the upper Loire basin.
The Quartermaster troops sent to forestry duty consisted of nearly 11,000 men, employed solely on fuelwood production, and almost entirely limited to the Advance Zone, within shipping distance of the troop concentrations in occupied Germany and the original American areas in northeastern France and the Base ports.
Band, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
The organization of the 20th Engineer Regiment included no provisions for an authorized band. With characteristic initiative, nearly every battalion formed a volunteer band. Some scattered companies also boasted self-made bands, but of all these, it fell to the youngest band of all, that of the 43rd Engineers, later the 46th Company Band, to inherit in part the glories that should have accrued to the march leaders of the greatest Regiment in history.
Without ratings, chevrons, or release from normal fatigue duties, except on special occasions, the 46th Volunteer Band came to be known, wherever camps of the 20th were found, as the ''official'' Band.
Organized by recruits of the 42nd and 43rd Engineers, upon the initiative of MAJ H. L. Bowlby, the band formed on 17 April 1918 at Camp American. At Brest on 7 June, the personnel were transferred to Company A, the 46th, and accompanied the unit to their station at Chatenois, in the Vosges. Until the Armistice, labor was too scarce for the services of thirty husky men to be spared, and it was only on completion of the allotted ten hours work that the instruments came into action. Special occasions were excepted, and most of the nearby camps of the 20th were visited. For a time the band was detailed for duty at Eclaron, and later at Granges, and the Armistice found them toiling at Vagney. News of the great event called for a celebration; ten minutes after the word arrived, the band was leading an impromptu inter-allied parade through the village.
From this time on, the band received recognition in tangible ways. On 15 November 1918 they were sent into Alsace, and for the first time the "Star Spangled Banner" sounded in conquered ground. On Thanksgiving weekend the band was sent to participate in the celebrations attending the restoration of the Alsatian city of Ribeauville to French rule. An uproarious procession, a concert, and a dance, all pivoted upon the talent and endurance of the 46th Band.
In December the "special detail" made a flying trip to Strasbourg, enjoying the distinction of being the first American troops to enter the capital of the province. January 1919 was spent in a tour of all the forestry camps in the Vosges-a tour cut short by abrupt orders to accompany 2nd Battalion Headquarters to the coast. Wild visions of a quick trip home faded after three weeks at St. Nazaire, when the outfit was ordered to the Spanish Border to play at the Luchon leave area. The stay at St. Nazaire was marked by an inspection by General Pershing, before whom the Band performed mightily, with 'Rosie O'Grady."
While at Luchon the band achieved the unusual distinction of crossing the Spanish border in uniform, and playing a concert at the College of San Jose. Leave area duty came to an end early in March, and the Band returned to St. Nazaire, where it was ordered back to the Vosges. After six weeks of concerts distributed over the entire American section, from Vaux to the Woevre, and on to the Swiss border, the outfit rejoined the 46th Company at Eclaron on 8 May 1919. The long trip home began 25 May aboard the U. S. S. Rhode Island. On 22 June the band with the rest of their company closed at Camp Stewart, Virginia on 6 July 1919.
During its fifteen months of existence, the band had performed, besides regular engineer duties, these engagements: 311 Band Concerts, 53 vaudeville shows, 3 minstrel shows, 57 dances, Reveille 72 times, Retreat 10, guard mount 4, and two battalion parades.
Regimental Headquarters, 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry)
Although formation of the 20th Engineers was authorized on 15 August 1917, the first assignment of enlisted men to a Headquarters detachment was 11 Oct, and it was not until later that month that the unit assumed permanent organization. All through the training period in Washington, changes in personnel were frequent, both in officers and men. Early plans for the overseas movement called for headquarters to accompany the 10th Battalion, but it was finally decided to route the organization with the 8th. A small unit under LTC Marks, were left to report the last two Battalions ready and the Headquarters under COL Mitchell, sailed with the 8th Battalion on 27 February 1918, aboard the transport Mt. Vernon. Twelve days later they debarked at Brest and made the customary pilgrimage to Pontanezan.
Three muddy days in rest camp, and ten more at Genicart, and the Detachment reached their permanent station at Tours, the historic city on the Loire, where Headquarters of the service of supplies was developing. The voluminous work of coordinating the activities of the regiment necessitated many increases in the strength of the detachment, men and officers being drawn from several of the battalions. Shortly before the Armistice the long planned amalgamation of forestry troops was consummated. By the terms of General Order 47, dated 18 October 1918, the 10th, 20th, 41st, 42nd, and 43rd Engineers were consolidated as the 20th, and the Regimental Headquarters increased in strength to 11 officers and 82 men.
The Armistice affected headquarters routine but little. It was a foregone conclusion that the unit would stay overseas to the finish, and though several of the Regimental executives managed to draw sailing orders on various terms, the detachment was practically intact when ordered south to assume charge of the fragments of the Forestry forces in the Landes.
Arriving at Pontenx, which had been the base of the 11th, 4th and 10th Battalions, Headquarters picked up the rearguard of the Burnt Area and Dax contingents, and departed for the Bordeaux embarkation area late in June. The augmented force, totaling about 100 men, filtered through the delouser on 2 July and boarded the transport Santa Eliza on 5 July.
The homeward voyage was not all fair sailing. Defects in the engines had developed on the voyage, and when the vessel left the Gironde it was to proceed to Brest and transfer its troops to another ship. Arriving at Brest, the ship shortage led the authorities to order the Santa Eliza to make the passage in her crippled condition. Pausing only to fill all the staterooms assigned to the detachment NCOs with officers, and to quarter the NCOs in troop space shared with a group of general prisoners, including the execrated "Hard-boiled Smith,'' the ship started for America, docking at New York on 20 July 1919. The outfit was demobilized at Camp Mills, their final scattering marking the dissolution of the largest, and undoubtedly the best known regiment of the United States Army.
LTC W. B. Greeley, the Assistant Forester of the United States and the Chief, Forestry Section for the 20th Engineer Regiment, wrote:
The lumbermen and foresters of the United States may well take pride in the men who have represented them on the American Expeditionary Force. Now they are returning, better men for the sacrifices they have made, for the sense of organization and responsibility which they have learned, for the difficulties which they have mastered, and for the understanding which they have gained of forest culture and forest thrift in France. Such a body of trained men represent an asset of the utmost value to the forest industries of America. Let us recognize their worth and their capacity by an intelligent direction of the return of these soldiers to civil life in positions where their experience in national service can be effectively utilized."i
LTC Greeley's tribute to the Lumberjacks of the 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry) is indicative of the significant contributions made by the Regiment to the war effort. Though the American involvement in World War I, the War to End All Wars, was relatively short lived, the American Expeditionary Force expedited the signing of the Armistice by the Germans and the Austrio-Hungarian Empire. The effort of the 20th Engineer Regiment was no less significant, and its contribution also led to a more rapid recovery of the French economic system following the war.
Though 20th Engineer Regiment lumberjacks did not serve in the trenches during the war, tragedy did not escape the Regiment. On 23 January 1918, the 6th Battalion, 20th Engineers loaded the transport ship "Tuscania" bound for France. On 05 February 1918 while in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Scotland, the Tuscania was torpedoed. Many soldiers loaded the available lifeboats and made it safely to the shores of Ireland. When the supply of lifeboats was depleted, soldiers began loading one of the escort British destroyers that had approached the listing Tuscania on her starboard side. Four hours after being struck, the Tuscania sank into the Irish Sea.
A large portion of the 95 soldiers killed were not killed aboard the Tuscania, but in the lifeboats floating aimlessly in the darkness of the Irish Sea. One such boat was loaded with more than 60 men and drifted to Scotland where the small craft was crushed on the rocks of the Isle of Islay. Only eight soldiers from this boat were saved. The 6th Battalion did make it to France though and was known as "The Fighting Sixth" under the command of Major F. S. Kellog.
The 20th Engineer Battalion (Mech), 1st Cavalry Division now traces its history only to the 42nd Engineers. The 42nd upon arrival in France was dissolved, so it can only be spoken of by its four companies. Companies A, B, C, and D were demobilized in June and July 1919 at Camp Merrit, New Jersey and Newport News, Virginia. However, 14 years later (in 1933) the battalion would return as a battalion in the Regular Army. Though now in the Regular Army on paper, the battalion would not be reactivated until 1 June 1940 at Fort Benning, Georgia.
--End of Chapter 1, World War 1