Chapter 5
Stump Grubbing and Reorganization

The trip from New York to Camp Wadsworth took the 7th New York Infantry Regiment two days.  At 1 P.M. on September 13, the 7th Regiment disembarked for their Pullman cars just a little north of Camp Wadsworth at Fair Forest station.  The 7th Regiment marched into Camp Wadsworth through the ankle deep dust that characterized the installation in dry weather.  The site that greeted them filled the men with mixed emotions.  No company streets had yet been constructed, and brush remained everywhere.1  In a letter written home on September 14th, Sergeant Kenneth Gow recorded that:

"The country and the camp location are perfect.  The camp is very incomplete,   and its size is inconceivable.  Total lack of organization; that, of course, will come   later.  Half of our camp site is situated on land that was heavily wooded, and the        other half on what was a cotton field, the crop never having been picked.  We drew the woods.  The trees had been cut down, but the stumps were left, consequently the company had to grub.  It was exceedingly hard work, most of the timber being oak.  The ground is very rough.  We seem to be situated on a plateau.  The camp runs up and down hills, a level piece of ground being a rarity.  Mess-shacks are very fine, with electric lights … The soil is either sand or a very   heavy clay.  It makes bad holding for tent-stakes.  The amount of work to be done fairly staggers one.  I am having the unique experience of sitting on a stump and        bossing the gang, waxing very proficient at the same."2  

Through hard work, the 7th Regiment's camp began to take on a more habitable and organized appearance.  By September 20th, Sergeant Gow could report that "It is now a conviction of the 7th N. Y. Infantry. That a pine stump is the toughest and hardiest plant that grows.  They are slowly disappearing though, thank Heaven."3  Neat lines of pyramidal tents and company streets emerged where brush and stumps had recently predominated.  Drainage ditches were dug, drill grounds laid out, and bayonet runs constructed. 

            The 102nd Ammunition Train arrived at Camp Wadsworth four days before the 7th Infantry Regiment.  Like the troops of the 7th Regiment, they were more than a little disappointed with the status of their camp.  A soldier in the 102nd Ammunition Train recalled that on:

"Sunday morning, September 9, when we awoke it was announced to us that we were in Camp Wadsworth.  We looked out of the windows.  A camp!  Ye Gods! And where?  A big field of cotton was pointed out to us, our camp.  We accepted it good naturedly or otherwise, mostly otherwise, rolled out, set to work, and soon had enough space cleared to pitch our tents.  We rested a day or two when arms were issued to the Ammunition Train.  The arms consisted of picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and garden rakes.  Our first battle took place in the aforesaid cotton field.  Company 6 made a gallant attack and when the dust had cleared away a clean, level parade ground and a graded company street lay before us.  This did not end out stevedore work, however, for we were at it from time to time all fall, building roads and trenches."4 

Regardless of what unit an enlisted soldier was serving in at Camp Wadsworth, his accommodations were almost always the same.  Standard housing was the large army pyramidal tent.  Each pyramidal tent housed a squad of eight men, and initially lacked a floor.  Consequently, finding adequate lumber to floor and wall ones tent was a top priority since winter was fast approaching.  In a letter written on September 16, Gow reported:

"We are gradually getting into shape, although there still remains a lot to be done.  I have a board floor already for my tent, and yesterday I went to Spartanburg and ordered a table and chair.  I still have quite a few things to get, such as a pail, basin, lumber for the sides of my tent, etc.  It costs about $10 to floor an A tent alone.  We thought lumber would be plentiful and cheap here, but we guessed wrong."5

 The men of the Ammunition Train were not so lucky, and had to wait until the first week of December before they could floor and wall their tents.  A member of the unit recorded: "…during this eventful week we received information that our floors and side walls for our squad tents were finished, but as no means of transportation was available, the company proceeded to furnish its own.  This necessitated the carrying of the cumbersome pieces from the Q.M. yards to camp, a distance of about a mile, and, after putting them in place we were ready to call it a day's work."6

 Each tent was furnished with a small heating apparatus known as the Sibley stove.  Dating back to the late 19th century, the Sibley stove was of iron construction and conical shape.  It was fueled with a small amount of wood and regarded as quite efficient.  Smoke was carried out via a stove pipe that passed up through the center of the tent.  This was an obvious fire hazard, and occasionally resulted in tents catching ablaze.  The Sibley stove's heat output was very limited, and it was the subject of frequent jokes and ridicule.  Enlisted men slept on canvas cots, though spring bed frames were eventually provided.7

            Due to the amount of labor necessary to make Camp Wadsworth habitable, actual combat training did not begin at a rapid rate.  In mid September, the soldiers engaged in calisthenics and drill while not working on the camp.  In addition to grubbing stumps and building roads, the soldiers at Camp Wadsworth also began the back breaking task of digging training trenches.  The trenches at Camp Wadsworth were the first constructed in the United States for training during the First World War.  Laid out by the 22nd Engineers, it was left to the other units to actually dig them.  The History of the 107th Regiment records that the trenches:

"…extended over an area about 1000 yards by 400 yards.  The total length of the front line, support, and reserve trenches was about eight miles.  The infantry of the entire division did the actual digging and in doing so became quite expert in   the handling of two of the most important weapons of war, the pick and shovel.  After the completion of the trench system a battalion at a time was sent to occupy them.  The first tour of trench duty for each battalion was of 24 hours duration.  Succeeding tours in the lines were of 72 hours duration."8

            While the infantry labored to construct Camp Wadsworth's trenches, the 22nd Engineers attempted to improve the local road situation.  As early as- 1917, General O'Ryan himself had almost been injured in an auto accident resulting from the atrocious road situation.  In a letter dated September 16, Sergeant Gow commented that "The roads the contractors have built are a joke; in fact, it is an insult to a good road to call them such.  The present road to town is seven miles long.  Gen. O'Ryan is having a military road built which shortens the route to Spartanburg to three miles."9  The primary road linking Camp Wadsworth to Spartanburg was the infamous Snake Road.  This was a curvy, deeply rutted dirt path that was barely passable in the best of weather.  The 22nd Engineers were given the unenviable task of straightening and paving the Snake Road.  Spartanburg County loaned the army a number of African-American chain-gangs to help with the heavy construction.  The 22nd Engineers straightened the road as best they could, and paved it with brick.  The improved path was rechristened the Vanderbilt Road in honor of the 22nd Engineer's commanding officer, Colonel Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Unfortunately, not even the work of the 22nd Engineers could make the Vanderbilt Road truly acceptable.  It remained curvy, and became almost impassable in bad weather.  Only when the National Highway opened in 1918 did a good road between Camp Wadsworth and Spartanburg come into existence.10

            On October 1, orders were issued that required the reorganization of almost every unit stationed at Camp Wadsworth.  The Sixth National Guard Division was redesigned the 27th Division.  The men of the various commands accepted this with heavy hearts.  Many of the New York National Guard regiments had proud histories and traditions that went back to the mid-19th century.  History and tradition gave way to necessity, however, as the amalgamation and skeletonization of the old units was necessary to create regiments that met war time strength requirements.  Prior to reorganization, the largest units at Camp Wadsworth totaled only around 1500 men.  Reorganization brought the four infantry regiments of the 27th Division up to the required strength of over 3500 men each.  Though it increased regimental strength, reorganization had a decidedly negative impact on unit pride and cohesion.11  Mrs. James Scott Moore visited the camp in December and was appalled by results of reorganization.  She voiced her concerns in a letter to the office of the Secretary of War, stating:

"I also found that the spirit-de-corps has been much broken by the changing about.  The boys realize that it had to be done; and find no, fault with the fact, but with the way it was done.  The units that were augmented by men from the tough New York companies cannot feel the same.  Those men are a danger, and a corporal barely escaped being bayoneted by one of them.  One Brooklyn troop was given a number of them, all diseased, and I believe got rid of them.  The 102nd Trench Mortar Battery has a number of them.  Captain Pearson tried to get members of Company H, Rochester, to complete his quota; but was unsuccessful, and these filthy men were sent instead.  One is a gunman who, was mixed up in some notorious case in New York.  When I was at the camp Monday, December 3rd, everything in one tent was airing, as one of these men was alive with lice, and in the tent with boys from good homes and families, who continued to live clean in a tent … I know that the army is supposed to be a leveler, but it cannot safely be cut adrift from human consideration."12

            The pain of reorganization hit the 1st New York Cavalry the hardest.  The men of this outfit considered themselves to be in the premiere branch of the service, and were fiercely proud of their status.  Modern warfare, however, had made horse cavalry obsolete.  The men of the 1st New York Cavalry were ordered to be reorganized into trench mortar and machine gun troops.  With great resignation, the former cavalrymen surrendered their gold hat cords (signifying cavalry) for ones of artillery red and infantry blue.  Regarding this matter, Mrs. Moore wrote "I would like to ask one favor for the Trench Mortar Battery-that they be given a cord designating their branch of the service.  Their pride is much hurt by having to give up the yellow, and wearing the artillery red.  There is no green cord, I think - could they not have a cord of green and the yellow they love?"13  The War Department showed no such consideration to the cavalrymen.  The saddest moment of the entire process occurred when cavalrymen and mounts were separated.  Major Shanton Whitney of the 105th Machine Gun Battalion records that "On October 13, 1917, as we left the train at Spartanburg, the 105th Machine Gun Battalion sprang into being.  The first big wrench came soon; we were ordered to turn in all horses, drawing those to which we - as a Machine Gun Battalion - were entitled.  Remember that we were (or had been) Cavalrymen and took that intense pride in the fact which is a part of every Cavalryman's nature.  But orders had to be obeyed and we turned in our horses.  They had been on our picket lines for only a very short time; but, some few days later, they stampeded from their new location and, in the dead of night, returned to us.  Straight through an Army Camp of some 20,000 men they came back to their old picket lines.  Now can you understand what a wrench it was for us to turn in horses like those!  They were immediately taken away from us again although we did not offer much help to the men who came after them.  Horses that had been cursed and sworn at, once they were take away from us, seemed to have acquired new attributes of speed, docility and intelligence.  The mount once referred to as 'that damned beast' was mentioned as 'that bully little mare I used to have.'  We knew we were at war - we had again suffered casualties; we had lost our horses."14 

For Notes please see Appendix C - Bibliography

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© 2006, Jonathan Brooke and the Spartanburg County Historical Association, All Rights Reserved