New Book “The Lost Sketchbooks” Is ‘Time capsule’ for the American Doughboy Experience

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A kind of visual time capsule, The Lost Sketchbooks: A Young Artist in the Great War, by Rex Passion, provides an extraordinary and previously unknown window into the experiences of an American Doughboy in the First World War. For some 90 years, the original wartime drawings and watercolors of artist and illustrator Edward Shenton, who went to France as a soldier in the 28th Infantry Division in 1918, had been locked away; recently rediscovered, they form the basis of this rich portrait of American participation in “The War to End All Wars.”

Harry Edward Shenton, Jr., was born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania in 1895 and later grew up in Philadelphia. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, he showed extraordinary talent as a sketch artist, and by the time he graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1916, Ed, as he was known, had served as the art editor, and editor-in-chief of the school newspaper The Western while enrolling in studies independently at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts. Joining the Pennsylvania National Guard after high school graduation, he found himself a member of 28th Division’s 103rd Engineers at the time of America’s entry into the war.

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Mobilization for war saw the 103rd Engineers engaged in training at both Camp Meade, Maryland, and Camp Hancock, Georgia, until sailing to Europe in the late spring of 1918. Before shipping out for training, Ed Shenton stocked up on sketchbooks and art supplies which he carried with him through his entire wartime experience through his return home in 1919. Throughout his service, he continually documented what he and those around him witnessed, producing hundreds of sketches and watercolor paintings which captured the life of the American Doughboy in all its facets – from the routine and humorous, to scenes depicting the shock and pity of war.

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Once in France, Ed Shenton and the 103rd Engineers went into the front line in July 1918 at St. Agnan when the last phase of Ludendorff’s spring offensive was halted. Later that summer, Ed and his fellow Engineers operated in and around the frontline town of Fismes, building or repairing while under fire some 14 bridges that allowed troops, equipment and ambulances to access the front line. In the fall of 1918, they advanced with the American 1st Army in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive building and repairing roads and railways, and maintaining and camouflaging key positions in the American drive. After the guns fell silent on November 11, the 28th Division remained in France until the following spring. Throughout the first months of 1919, Ed drew scenes of local color showing rebuilding and recovery in war torn France, and reflecting the attitudes and experiences of the Doughboys waiting to return home.

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After the war Ed Shenton’s remarkable collection of Doughboy art was of little interest as post-war Americans sought to forget The World War and the political turmoil generated at home in its aftermath. His sketchbooks – some cut in half so that he had been able to carry them in a uniform pocket in France – were carefully packed away, and Ed went on to a distinguished career that spanned some 50 years as an illustrator and author of numerous books and magazines. Through a fortunate connection with Ed Shenton’s son, Ned, author Rex Passion has been able bring to the light of publication, after more than 90 years, the remarkable drawings and paintings created by this soldier-artist during World War I. Carefully researching the history and of the 103rd Engineers, Passion was pieced together Ed Shenton’s Doughboy journey, writing a compelling narrative context for the selected artwork.   The Lost Sketchbooks: A Young Artist in the Great War is a genuine gift to Americans of today as they strive to connect with and understand the meaning and impact of America’s experience in World War I.

For more information, visit the book’s website here.

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Journey to Romagne

The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.  At center in the distance, is the memorial chapel.

The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. At center in the distance, is the memorial chapel.

As a young man in my mid-20s, more than 20 years ago,  I had been teaching high school history for several years, right out of college.  I was passionate about my job and eagerly seized professional enrichment opportunities whenever they appeared – and travel was form of enrichment that I particularly enjoyed.

Having a strong interest in the history of the First World War, I decided one year to spend the spring break visiting some of its battlefields, and so I booked a flight to Luxembourg City from which a rental car would put me in easy reach of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France.  I’d never been to the continent of Europe before, and so this would be a landmark trip for me, though I would undertake it alone as none of my friends was particularly interested in spending a potentially dreary week in March driving around the French countryside.

As an undergraduate, my consciousness of the First World War had been sparked by the publication in the mid-1980s of Siegfried Sassoon’s Long Journey – an abridged version of Sassoon’s Sherston Memoirs edited by Paul Fussell.  I was captivated by the story and from that point on I read every narrative I could find and eventually became particularly focused on the British experience in Flanders, and the French experience at Verdun.  My understanding of the contributions of the American Expeditionary Forces was limited, though I had been fortunate to have grown up with a World War I “Doughboy” as a next-door neighbor – a kindly old gentlemen who had been in the front line in 1918 as a sergeant in the Signal Corps.

Arriving in Luxembourg City in March ’92, I loaded my travel possessions – a backpack, a 35mm camera, and a few pre-digital-era roadmaps – into a tiny Renault rental car and set off for Verdun.  Heading southwest through the Luxembourg countryside, I crossed the border into France near Longwy, making my way along a winding, hilly route through rural towns and villages with names like Longuyon and Etain.  As I drove, the miles of French countryside seemed dotted with remnants and markers of numerous European conflicts – wayside crosses from 1870, crumbling pillboxes from the First World War rising up from newly plowed fields, and an occasional Maginot Line outpost jutting unexpectedly from a hillside.  As the road crested a few miles east of the Meuse river that first day, I recall looking down and seeing in the distance the unmistakable twin spires of Verdun Cathedral which seemed so familiar from all the images I’d seen – “Wow,” I recall thinking at that very moment, “I’m actually here!.”

Armed with a large-scale battle map from the French national geography institute titled “Forets de Verdun ed du Mort-homme” I spent the subsequent days exploring the lonely and haunting ruins of the battlefields where in 1916 the armies of both France and Imperial Germany were nearly “bled white.”  Forts Souville, Vaux and Douamont, the command post of Colonel Driant, the trench of the bayonets, the Ossuary, and the ruined village of Fleury were just a few of the key stops in my explorations. Wherever I looked, the ground seemed scarred with the overgrown remnants of trenches and shell holes, and along the roadsides I often came upon small piles of unexploded artillery rounds unearthed by farmers working their fields.  The evidence of what had taken place there some 80 years prior was dramatic and unescapable.

Driving northwest from Verdun through the small farm hamlets of the Meuse river valley, I eventually began to see fewer of the French and German monuments and markers so familiar in the previous days, and instead became aware of an increasing number memorials to the Doughboys of the AEF.  More than one million American troops had fought here in the fall of 1918 taking part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which was the culminating event of the American experience in The Great War.

Eventually I found myself at a place called Montfaucon where atop a 305-meter rise lies the remains of a medieval village which in 1918 was a key position in the German line.  There in the ruins of the ancient church, high above the surrounding landscape, the occupying Germans had hidden a reinforced observation post named for Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm.  From this commanding position, they dominated the region for miles, bringing down artillery fire on anything which moved in daylight. On September 26, 1918, this seemingly impregnable position was captured in bitter fighting by the 314th Infantry, 79th Division AEF.

The ruins of the ancient village and church at Montfaucon.

The ruins of the ancient village and church at Montfaucon.

 

 

Adjacent to the ruins of Montfaucon stands the American memorial to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Atop a towering Doric column – the central feature of monument – sits a small observation deck which affords a splendid view of the region in all directions.  Approaching the outwardly deserted monument on the day of my visit, I was disappointed to find that the entrance was locked, but then as I turned to leave one of its French caretakers appeared.  In halting English he asked if I was an American and then explained that the tower was closed on weekdays, but he would open it if I wished to climb to the observation deck.

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Ascending the 234 steps of the winding interior stairwell, I reached the observation platform some 200 feet above the entrance, and from there I could see the battlefields of the Meuse-Argonne, and indeed those of Verdun in the distance, spread before me as a panorama as far as the eye could see.  Contemplating the view from the quiet solitude of the tower, high above the sparsely populated countryside, I felt utterly alone.  It was then, for the first and only time on that solo trip to Europe, that the adrenaline of the adventure gave way to pangs of homesickness.

Returning to ground level, the Frenchman and I began a brief conversation – he in broken English, and I in broken French – and it soon became apparent that he thought it terrifically important that I, as an American, visit another nearby site; “Romangne,” he kept repeating “Romagne” and after retrieving my map, he pointed to the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon with its notation “Cimatiere Americaine”.

Taking his advice I drove toward Romangne, though I didn’t really know what to expect and wondered what I would find.  Passing through the village and following the signs I soon saw what the caretaker had thought so important for a young American to see – rising from a nearby hillside the unmistakable outline of thousand-upon-thousands of trim headstones segmented among perfectly manicured tree lines and hedgerows.   This was the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery –  largest American cemetery in all Europe;  larger than that in Normandy, larger than that for the Battle of the Bulge, and in fact second only to the American Cemetery in Manila for the number of war dead interred there.

Situated on ground personally selected by General Pershing, the cemetery occupies more than 130 acres and is the final resting place for over 14,000 Americans, most of whom were killed in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of September-October 1918.  More than 500 of those buried there are unidentified and the cemetery also features a monument to some 954 Americans missing in action during World War I, including those from the expedition to North Russia in 1918-19, who have no known graves.

Acre upon acre of headstones at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.

Acre upon acre of headstones at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.

Beautifully landscaped, wonderfully cared for, the cemetery contains acre upon acre, row upon row of white Latin-cross and Star-of-David headstones; it is a place of incredible peace and dignity.

As I walked that afternoon among the headstones, reading names, and recognizing the familiar home states of the deceased – Maryland, and Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, and indeed every state and territory in the Union at that time – I suddenly felt not quite so alone, nor as homesick as I had been standing atop the monument at Montfaucon.  I felt a sense of connection with those laid to rest there, so very far from home.  Taking in the scope of this memorial, it dawned on me for the first time what a remarkable and unprecedented effort the mobilization of American manpower in 1917-18 had been.

At the time of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, more than 2 million Americans had arrived in France, and more than a million of these had fought in the Meuse-Argonne. Their collective experiences were something that their generation alone could fully appreciate, and yet I as a young American, born more than 50 years after the start of The Great War, felt profoundly moved by this haunting parcel of American ground tucked away in rural northeastern France.  As we approach and experience the centennial of the First World War, I am hopeful that today’s generations of Americans will come to feel that same sense of connection with those who went “Over There”, and those who stayed.

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Cambridge, Maryland Plans Monument For World War 1 Soldiers

 

Long Warf Park in Cambridge, Maryland - site of the proposed new monument

Long Warf Park in Cambridge, Maryland – site of the proposed new monument honoring five WW1 soldiers of the 29th Division.

Five soldiers of the US 29th Infantry Division who received the Distinguished Service Cross for valor in 1918 are the subjects of a proposed new monument in Cambridge, Maryland.  Henry Anson Barber, Carl Horseman, Harry B. Insley, James R. Miller, and Harford D. Smith, all members of the 29th Division in World War I who hailed from Dorchester County, Maryland, were each awarded the DSC, the US Army’s second highest award for bravery, for actions in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

"Blue and Gray" the insignia of the US 29th Infantry Division.

“Blue and Gray” the insignia of the US 29th Infantry Division.

Comprised of National Guard troops from regions which had been on opposite sides in the American Civil War, the 29th Division received the nickname “Blue and Gray” after its formation in 1917.  Arriving in France in the summer of 1918, the division took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September and October that year – the climax of the American Expeditionary Forces’ participation in the First World War.  The 29th Division later went on to fame in World War II for its landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day, as well as the subsequent campaigns in Europe through the spring of 1945.

Community organizers in the town of Cambridge, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, along with the 29th Division Association and the local Rotary Club, have proposed a monument honoring the five World War 1 soldiers in Cambridge’s Long Warf Park to be placed near a WW1 memorial fountain.  At least half of the $50,000 estimated for the memorial has already been pledged, and community officials are considering the proposal.

For more information, see the story in My Eastern Shore MD here.

AEF Veteran’s Letter Excerpts Tweeted from Colorado

American artillerymen in action during World War 1.

American artillerymen in action during World War 1.

World War 1 AEF artillery veteran Charles H. Stewart wrote some 86 letters home during his time in France which included combat action at St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne in 1918.  Carefully preserved in a trunk, the letters were rediscovered and donated to the History Colorado Center in Denver in 2003.    Now Stewart’s letters will highlight a new exhibition titled “The American Soldier” which runs through September.  In addition to exhibiting Stewart’s letters, History Colorado Center will feature excerpts from them on Twitter.

For more information, visit the Denver Post online story here.

US Army Will Publish Commemorative WW1 Series

American Doughboys "Over There" 1918

American Doughboys “Over There” 1918

The U.S. Army Center of Military History will observe the centennial of the First World War by publishing a series of commemorative brochures, announces Glenn F. Williams, senior historian at the US Army Commemorative Office.  These will be illustrated with maps and images, and appear similar in format to those published for the World War II and Korean War 50-year commemorations, and currently being done for the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.  The series will follow the progress of American participation in the war as defined by the campaign streamers on the Army flag.  A summary of each monograph is briefly outlined below:

The Mexican Border Campaign will be the introductory publication and provide background explaining how the Army became a much more professional, modern force in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and leading up to 1916.  It will describe national mobilization for possible war with Mexico and the efforts to chase Pancho Villa.  The lessons learned served as a rehearsal and prelude to the buildup for entry into World War I the following year.  The narrative also provides context as to why the publication of the Zimmerman telegram helped to overcome American isolationism, and will introduce key personalities such as John J. Pershing.

Campaign Streamer: Mexican Border.

Joining a Global War covers the U.S. military buildup, and details the Army at the start.  It explains how the Army expanded prior to conducting major combat operations, sets the stage for the remainder of the series, and covers the initial participation of Army units in small defensive actions alongside Allied forces and as part of their training.

Campaign Streamers: Cambrai, Somme Defensive, and Lys.

From Defense to Offense covers the first major engagements in which U.S. divisions were committed, detailing the shift from marginal participation in Allied defensive actions to undertaking division-level offensive operations.

Campaign Streamers: Aisne, Montdidier-Noyon,

The Marne narrates the defensive operations to stop another German offensive and U.S. participation in the large-scale Allied counter-offensive that followed to eliminate the Marne Salient.

Campaign Streamers: Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne.

Supporting Allied Offensives covers three major operations in which U.S. divisions served as part of Allied armies engaged in major offensive operations.  This American participation was a smaller subset of much larger campaigns that were all connected as part of the overall Allied strategy.

Campaign Streamers: Somme Offensive, Oise-Aisne, Ypres-Lys.

St. Mihiel describes Pershing’s successful effort to field the first American army-level formation in the war – which also included command over French divisions – and the rapid reduction of a long-held German salient.  Although the battle was of a relatively short-duration, it is presented as a separate monograph to include a discussion of Pershing’s successful maneuver to form an army, and the state of U.S. forces, doctrine, and training, that allowed him to conduct a lightning campaign.

Campaign Streamer: St. Mihiel.

Meuse-Argonne covers the final offensive conducted by U.S. armies along the Western Front; and adds the participation of a single regiment in the Italian theater.  This publication may potentially reflect the biggest topic of the series, including operations through the end of October, as well as the renewed American offensive beginning on 1 November 1918, the operation in Italy, and the end of the war.

Campaign Streamers: Meuse-Argonne, Vittoria Veneto.

Occupation and Demobilization, although involving no combat, this monograph will analyze what had been learned from the global conflict, and which involved the largest employment of American forces since the Civil War.

The brochures will be available to the public in two formats as they are published, starting in 2016.  They may be viewed and downloaded at no charge on the USACMH website.  Print versions will be available for purchase through the U.S. Government Printing Office bookstore starting in 2016, details available here.