Chapter 6
Flooded Trenches, Chlorine Gas, and Cold Steel: Training the 27th Division

The 27th Division received perhaps the best state side training of any World War I American division.  On September 19, 1917, General O'Ryan was ordered overseas to make a personal inspection of conditions and tactics in France.  Until General O'Ryan's return in December, temporary command of Camp Wadsworth fell to Brigadier General Charles L. Phillips of the 52nd Field Artillery Brigade.1  Intensive training began as soon as feasibly possible.  In a letter home dated September 27, 1917, First Sergeant Gow wrote that his life had become very busy.  He recorded his schedule at follows:

6:15 A.M.-Reveille and assembly.
6:35 - Mess.
6:55 - Sick call.
7:25-First Call.
7:30-Assembly for Drill.
11:30-Recall from Drill.
11:35-First Sergeant's call.
12 Noon-Mess.
12:55 P.M-First Call for Drill.
5:40-First Call for Retreat.
6:00-Mess Call.
10:45-Call to Quarters.
11:00 Taps.2

Menial tasks like tent dressing and the cleaning of showers or latrines had to be performed outside of drill times.  Gow also wrote "Am taking up advance machine gun work, bomb throwing and hours of drill in going 'over the top' and through barbed wire entanglements.  An elaborate system of trenches, redoubts and parapets has been constructed.  So, you see, we have started.  It is going to be hard plugging from now on, and no time for nonsense."3  In addition to basic drill, soldiers of the 27th Division participated in a variety of schools that taught specific combat skills.  Sergeant Gerald F. Jacobson writes "Classes were formed for special courses in various branches of army tactics, and during the later weeks of training scarcely a man but was or had been a member of at least one of these special schools.  Each squad was able to specialize in a single branch of warfare since the British regulations under which we were trained required that every company be divided into specialty groups.  Nor were the men picked at random for this special training.  A man most adept at hand grenade throwing was made a grenadier; one most proficient at machine gunnery was put into a machine gun squad, and so was each company divided, with the result that when the regiment went into action each man and each squad had one particular job and knew how to perform that job."4  Of training at Camp Wadsworth, Major Stanton Whitney of the 105th Machine Gun Battalion recalled "…don't for a minute think that drills and hikes were neglected.  Drills were necessary and still more drills; hikes were indispensable and still more hikes.  And then there were the schools.  Officers' schools on every conceivable subject and French lessons.  Non-commissioned officers had schools on the Machine Gun (the Battalion was armed with some Colts), the use of the Bayonet (we never carried a bayonet), Military Hygiene, Map Reading, Use of Instruments (such as the Prismatic Compass, Clinometer Mil Scale, etc.), Field Sketching, Military Courtesy, Gas Instruction, Field Baking, Bugling and every other conceivable and inconceivable military subject.  There were plenty of schools.  Each non-com., on finishing his course, returned to his company and conducted schools for the enlisted men, supervised by graduates of the Division Officers' Schools.  Drills and hikes continued as usual.  New equipment was issued.  Scores of pamphlets were forwarded by the War Department, and from these the Division authorities evolved new subjects on which to establish additional schools.  It was a busy period."5   A Third Series Officer Training School was established at Camp Wadsworth from January 5 to April 15, 1918.6  This school enabled many NCOs to gain their commissions in the 27th Division.  At the same time, enlisted men took pleasure in watching their sergeants being drilled and tormented for a change.

            The training trenches at Camp Wadsworth were truly impressive.  The system had a frontage of approximately 8 miles, and was divided up into three main types of trenches.  Closest to the "enemy" were the front line trenches.  These were reinforced by support and reserve trenches to the rear.  This provided defense in depth, and also allowed troops to be gradually rotated out of the system once their time was served.  A fresh unit would start in the front line trench and later move to the support trench.  After this, it would move to the reserve trench and later be rotated out of the system.  All three lines were linked by an elaborate network of communication trenches that allowed the movement of troops and supplies.  French, English, and Canadian instructors were sent to make sure that Camp Wadsworth's trench system mirrored the conditions found on the Western Front.  These instructors were all veterans who had been incapacitated for further combat service.  Almost all activity occurred at night.  The trenches were first occupied on November 19, 1917.7  Serving in them was never a glamorous experience.  Sergeant Jacobson writes that:

"Officers of the British and French armies who had had many months of actual   fighting overseas described the routine of trench life in France, and the training of the troops during the occupation of the trenches followed as closely as possible the methods used in actual warfare.  Reliefs were effected, patrols sent out, and attempts made by patrols of other units to capture our lines.  Assault and defense   methods were worked out with the French instructors.  When the wind was such that the lives that the lives of the men not in the lines would not be endangered light gas attacks were launched.  During the greater part of the time the men were compelled to be in the lines violent electrical storms raged, and the forward   trenches became roaring torrents.  Washouts were frequent, dugouts were made untenable, and nowhere in the entire system of trenches was it possible to find a patch of ground where one could lie down.  What suffering there was in those trenches was due entirely to the elements.  Improvements in the drainage system later on, however, made the tours less strenuous and irksome.  Many things of  immense value were learned." 8

First Sergeant Gow was very impressed with Camp Wadsworth's trench system.  In a letter dated November 26, 1917, he wrote

"The occupation of the trenches is done just as it will be in France.  Troops sneak in at night through long communicating trenches.  Each battalion or regiment, as the case may be, goes in for two days.  This time will be gradually increased.  There are umpires, most of whom are English, Canadian or French officers, on the watch all the time.  Troops coming in at night must get there unobserved.  Flares are used, scouting parties are continually sent across no-man's land, charged barbed wire entanglements are cut, etc., etc., simulating the European battle-front  in every respect."9

The trenches were not dug in straight lines, but were made up of continuous right angles and curves to prevent enfilading fire.  Brush revetments were frequently thrown up over the sides of the trenches to prevent them from collapsing.  The main trenches at Camp Wadsworth were around 8 to 10 feet deep.  Bunkers were also constructed at depths of between 35 and 40 feet.  In a comprehensive account of the Camp Wadsworth trench experience, Gow (now a lieutenant) writes:

We came out of the trenches this morning at 9 A.M., where we had been since 8 A.M. Tuesday, four days.  It rained most of the time during our entire tour of duty, giving us a most realistic idea of what conditions are abroad when it is wet.  I had my headquarters located in a dug out thirty-five feet underneath the ground, in what is termed a supervision trench, which is generally the fourth of fifth  trench  from the front line, and is situated in front of the reserve trenches and just back of the support trenches.  The dugout filled with about two feet of water the second day, and stayed that way until we were relieved by the incoming battalion this morning.  We were absolutely plastered with mud, and of course the men were soaked continuously.  The game was played fair all the way through: no talking in the front line, no smoking except in shelters and dugouts, and not a head sticking above the parapets in the day time.

I had command of four guns on the front line of what is termed the south sector.  The company headquarters, with Capt. Gardner, were situated in a dugout in the real almost a mile away from me.  Our three platoons, with twelve guns, were scattered over the entire trench zone, and we were all connected up by telephone and buzzer.  It is all very wonderful.  I had one sergeant, one corporal and five orderlies in my headquarters.  Our headquarters men are specially trained for the job.  They are all expert signalmen, runners, buzzer and telegraph men.  We were gas-shelled several times by the 'enemy,' and had one night attack, the same occurring at 1.05 A.M., Thursday morning.  It was adjudged a failure, owing to the fact that Sergt. Roger Jones was right on the job and mowed the 'enemy' down in windrows with his machine gun while they were cutting through our wire entanglements.

We had an elaborate system of gas alarms all over the entire trench area, bells, iron bars suspended at intervals, etc.  As soon as a man smelt gas, or if a cloud gas was used, as soon as he saw it coming, he would immediately put on his mask and  then give the alarm by beating on the suspended bar, can or bell.  This would be taken up all over the entire sector; and if the attack was discovered to be general,  this fact was telephoned to headquarters.  In dugouts the alarm is given by placing  a pail full of iron plates, tin cans or other such things at the head of the steps leading down.  A sentinel is always on duty at this doorway, and as soon as he hears the alarm he kicks the pail down the steps, making a h- of a racket, thereby communicating the alarm to those within, who get into their masks immediately and come out of the dugout as quick as the Lord will let them, for dugouts are not    gas-proof, although curtains with a chemical mixture on them are hung over the entrances

We had our dressing stations (medical corps) systematized, etc., etc.  This gas alarm system is what the English and French use abroad.  I would like to tell you all about it but cannot, for I am dog tired, and would have to write all night.  have had no sleep in the last forty-eight hours.  The experience was most instructive and interesting, in spite of the water and two feet deep mud.  The men actually looked as if they had rolled in it, as in many cases they did, for they lay right in the bottom of the trench in the mud and water and slept.  It is wonderful how an exhausted man will sleep.

We dug and fought at night.  The 'enemy' were about 500 men situated in an opposing set of trenches.  We had only about 2,500 in the sector this time, and we were the only M.G. Co.10

Few American divisions received such intensive training in trench warfare before going overseas. 

            Great emphasis was also placed on bayonet training.  This included both the use of bayonet runs and simulated bayonet combat in the trenches.  Training for this hand-to-hand combat in the trenches involved the use of actual rifles with sheathed bayonets.  Participants wore protective helmets, vests, and gloves.  First Sergeant Gow was amazed by the intensity of the bayonet training.  In a letter dated November 22, 1917, he wrote that:

"The bayonet class is the hardest work I have ever had, for both muscle and brain. One of the things we have to do is to jump backwards into a trench eight or nine feet deep.  We have been having three hours daily, and it is going to be increased to six.  In the three hours we have five minutes' rest.  There are only twenty-six of  us, it being a picked class.  We were rated today as to ability and athletic qualities.  I got fifty per cent. - that is, they rated me as average, half the class being better and half worse; which is not so bad in a picked class."  

The head bayonet instructor at Camp Wadsworth was British Sergeant Major Tector, who was extremely popular with the men of the 27th Division.  Interestingly, few of the other British instructors seem to have shared such popularity.  Gow records that most of the British instructors were considered arrogant and haughty.  By contrast, the French instructors were regarded as friendly and courteous. (Gow)

            The infantrymen of the 27th Division trained with the M1903 Springfield bolt action rifle.  This was the rifle that the National Guard had been armed with prior to the outbreak of war.  The '03 Springfield was loaded with a charging clip that held five 30-06 cartridges.  A fine and attractive weapon, the '03 Springfield is now widely regarded as the most accurate rife of the war.  Infantrymen also received training with the French made Chauchat light machine gun.  Much debate has occurred over the effectiveness of this weapon.  America lacked a domestically produced light machine gun, and was forced to adopt the Cauchat out of necessity.  An ungainly weapon, it weighted 20 pounds, and had a length of 45 inches.  The Chauchat light machine guns used at Camp Wadsworth fired the 8.50R Lebel cartridge.  An effective weapon when it worked, the Chauchat fired at a rate of 250 rounds per second.  The machine gun units of the 27th Division are known to have trained with three types of guns.  These were the American Colt, the French Benet-Merciers, and the British Lewis (Gow, 219).  The Colt was considered obsolete, and only used for training purposes in the United States.  The Benet-Merciers was in reality the French Hotchkiss M1909 machine gun.  Like the Colt, it was used only for training purposes.  The British made Lewis was an exceptional weapon.  It fired the .303 British service cartridge at a rate of 550 rounds per minute.  Unlike the Chauchat, the Lewis was utterly reliable.

            The 27th Division's 52nd Artillery Brigade was armed with three principle weapons.  The 104th and 105th Field Artillery regiments were each equipped with twenty-four French 75mm field guns.  The French '75 was the most famous gun of the war.  It had an advanced recoil system that enabled it to fire rapidly with great accuracy.  The gun had a range of five and a half miles, and could fire shrapnel filled shells that were designed to burst over enemy troop concentrations.  The 106th Field Artillery regiment was armed with twenty-four heavy 155mm Schneider howitzers.  This was another French designed and manufactured gun.  The 155mm Schneider had a range of seven miles.  Lastly, the 102nd Trench Mortar Battery was armed with the British Stokes mortar.  Mortars were especially effective because of their ability to lob high explosive shells into enemy trenches.

            The soldiers of the 27th Division needed large tracts of land to fully train with their high powered rifles and artillery.  Military officials selected the Glassy Mountain area in northern Greenville County as Camp Wadsworth's primary artillery and rifle range.  The high peaks of Glassy and Hogback mountains dominated the area.  This terrain provided a suitable backstop for the 27th Division's small arms and artillery.  Construction of the range began with the arrival of fifty members of the 22nd Engineers on September 24, 1917.  It would be difficult to imagine the conditions that these men encountered on their trip to this region.  They came in ten large trucks over roads that were little more than dirt paths.  The range area lay twenty-six miles from Camp Wadsworth, and was sparsely settled.  Despite their small numbers, the local population proved to be of immense interest to the soldiers working on the range.  Moonshiners, Confederate veterans, and Civil War deserters were prevalent throughout the mountains.  Newspaper reporters covering the construction of the range found ex-Confederates who had fought with General Lee's army at Manassas, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Appomattox.  Initially, these tough mountaineers were fearful of the incoming Yankee troops.  This sense of hostility gradually gave way with realization that these men wore khaki uniforms.  In the eyes of the mountaineers, only those wearing blue uniforms could truly be federal soldiers.

            Constructing the Glassy Rock was a significant endeavor.  The 102nd Engineers were aided by the 27th Division's infantry in building gun emplacements, trenches, and a complete rifle range.  Families living within the boundaries of the seven by three mile range area were forced to relocate for their own safety.  The Prewitte family escaped this fate because their house was on the very edge of the range.  Later, the Prewittes benefited from the economic boom that the army was bringing to the area by opening a small store.  The nearby towns of Landrum and Campobello became important staging areas for the troops headed into the mountains.  Railroad cars filled with loafs of unwrapped bread are recorded as arriving at the Campobello train depot.  Supply troops then hauled the bread up to the range in mule draw army wagons.  The muddy trail they took into the mountains is modern Highway 11. 

            Soldiers got to the twenty-six mile range in three ways.  Artillery and supply troops were often sent to the area by rail or truck.  Initially, the infantry was also transported to Campobello or Landrum by rail.  This, however, was not to last.  The army intentionally constructed Camp Wadsworth's primary rifle range at Glassy because it made an excellent hiking objective.  Infantrymen of the 27th Division were hardened for service in Europe by marching all the way to the twenty-six mile distant range.  At the beginning of their training, the soldiers took three days to reach the range.  By the end of it, they could make the journey in a single day's time.  Once at the range, the soldiers participated in rifle instruction and large scale combat maneuvers.     

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