November 28, 1914: New York Stock Exchange Reopens for Trading

 

 

Obscured in our view by the greater conflict of World War II, it is hard for us to realize what an apocalypse World War I appeared to those who had the experience of living through it.  One sign of what an immense cataclysm it was, is demonstrated by the fact that the New York Stock Exchange closed for trading on July 31, 1914.  This was caused by the closure of all European stock exchanges with the advent of the War.  Stocks continued to be traded off the Exchange, and the Exchange was reopened on November 28, 1914 to allow for the trading of bonds.  Regular trading resumed on December 12, and a bull market ensued, proof positive of how durable financial markets tend to be and how quickly they adapt to most changing circumstances.

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November 9, 1918: Abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II

 

You [recruits] have sworn loyalty to me. You have only one enemy and that is my enemy. In the present social confusion it may come about that I order you to shoot down your own relatives, brothers or parents but even then you must follow my orders without a murmur.

Kaiser Wilhem II, November 23, 1891

Ah, Kaiser Bill.  In World War I he became a monstrous figure in Allied propaganda, a bloodthirsty ghoul thirsting for world conquest.  The reality was rather different.  This grandson of Queen Victoria, who spoke English fluently with only a trace of an accent, fancied himself an autocrat of supreme genius to be feared and obeyed.  Actually he was a weak-willed man of limited intelligence, easily dominated by those around him if they were craftier than him, which was not a high bar to clear.  His tendency to give blood curdling, tough guy utterances, was the dismay of ever German government during his reign.  Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor who made the German Empire, and who the young Wilhelm II dismissed, had the measure of his sovereign, who he regarded as a blundering young idiot who would lead Germany to ruin.  That was an accurate assessment.  The Kaiser was the worst type of fool, one who regarded himself as a genius and had no clue as to his limitations.  During World War I the Kaiser became a sad, pathetic figure, as the Army increasingly ran Germany, paying only lip service to him as Supreme War Lord.  Lusting for conflict throughout his reign, he was dismayed as millions of German youth died in the war that he so long had wished for.  In his long years of exile in Holland, he died in 1941, he continually blamed the Jews and the English for his downfall, and never demonstrated any insight at all as to the dismal role he played in propelling Germany down the path that led to Hitler, a man who had nothing but contempt for the man in whose Army he had served.

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November 1, 1918: Captain Harry Truman Writes to Bess

 

Prior to World War I Harry Truman had not met with much success.  Hard working, personable and ambitious, none of the many jobs he took on, or the business ventures he launched, gave him long term financial security.  He had served in the Missouri National Guard from 1905 to 1911, attaining the rank of Corporal.  When the US entered World War I, he rejoined the Missouri National Guard, although this entailed a considerable financial sacrifice for him, at 33 he was older than most of the soldiers he would serve with, and, heart-breakingly for him, he would have to delay his marriage to his beloved Bess.  Once his decision was made, he threw himself into his new role as a soldier, helping to recruit others into the Guard and being elected a Lieutenant by the men in his unit.

After 8 months training his unit, the 129th Field Artillery, sailed for France.  Newly minted Captain Harry Truman was assigned to command Battery D, a hard case outfit consisting largely of city dwelling Irish Catholics.  They attempted initially to intimidate their bespectacled new commander, but quickly learned that Truman was far tougher than he looked.  Truman enforced stringent, but fair discipline.  Most of his men came to respect him, and many of them became lifelong friends with the man they called “Captain Harry”, including the Catholic chaplain of the 129th, Monsignor L. Curtis Tiernan.

Truman’s unit fought throughout the Meuse-Argonne offensive and fired some of the last shots of the War.  On November 1, Captain Truman sat down and wrote one of his many letters to Bess:

 

 

 

[Somewhere in France]

 

 

Dear Bess:
November 1, 1918

I have just finished putting 1,800 shells over on the Germans in the last five hours. They don’t seem to have had energy enough to come back yet. I don’t think they will. One of their aviators fell right behind my Battery yesterday and sprained his ankle, busted up the machine, and got completely picked by the French and Americans in the neighborhood. They even tried to take their (there were two in the machine) coats. One of our officers, I am ashamed to say, took the boots off of the one with the sprained ankle and kept them.

The French, and Americans too for that matter, are souvenir crazy. If a guard had not been placed over the machine, I don’t doubt that it would have been carried away bit by bit. What I started to say was that the German lieutenant yelled “La guerre fini” as soon as he stepped from the machine. He then remarked that the war would be over in ten days. I don’t know what he knew about it or what anyone else knows but I am sure that most Americans will be glad when it’s over and they can get back to God’s country again. It is a great thing to swell your chest out and fight for a principle but it gets almighty tiresome sometimes. I heard a Frenchman remark that Germany was fighting for territory, England for the sea, France for patriotism, and Americans for souvenirs. Yesterday made me think he was about right.

I got a letter of Commendation, capital C, from the commanding general of the 35th Division. The ordnance repair department made a report to him that I had the best-conditioned guns after the drive that he had seen in France. The general wrote me a letter about it. My chief mechanic is to blame, not me. He knows more about guns than the French themselves. As usual in such cases, the C.O. gets the credit. I think I shall put an endorsement on the letter stating the ability of my chief mechanic and stick it in the files anyway. I am going to keep the original letter for my own personal and private use. It will be nice to have someday if some low-browed north-end politician tries to remark that I wasn’t in the war when I’m running for eastern judge or something. I’ll have the “papers” and can shut him up. If ever I get home from this war whole (I shall), I am going to be perfectly happy to follow a mule down a corn row the balance of my days–that is, always providing such an arrangement is also a pleasure to you. I think the green pastures of Grand Old Missouri are the best looking of any that I have seen in this world yet and I’ve seen several brands. The outlook I have now is a rather dreary one. There are Frenchmen buried in my front yard and Huns in the back yard and both litter up the landscape as far as you can see. Every time a Boche shell hits in a field over west of here it digs up a piece of someone. It is well I’m not troubled by spooks.

I walked out to the observation post the other day (yesterday) to pick an adjusting point and I found two little flowers alongside the trench blooming right in the rock. I am enclosing them. The sob sisters would say that they came from the battle-scarred field of Verdun. They were in sight and short range of Heinie and were not far from the two most famous forts of his line of defense. You can keep them or throw them away but I thought they’d be something. One’s a poppy, the other is a pink or something of the kind. A real sob sister could write a volume about the struggle of these pretty little flowers under the frowning brows of Douaumont the impregnable.

Please keep writing, for I look for letters eagerly even if I don’t write them as often as I should. I love you

Always,

Harry

By his service in the War Truman found that he had a hitherto undiscovered talents for leadership and making friends of men who initially viewed him with suspicion and disdain.  These abilities would come in handy for Truman in the years to come.

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October 23, 1918: Wilson Responds to the German Note of October 20, 1918

The Secretary of State to the Swiss Chargé (Oederlin)

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 22d transmitting a communication under date of the 20th from the German Government and to advise you that the President has instructed me to reply thereto as follows:

Having received the solemn and explicit assurance of the German Government that it unreservedly accepts the terms of peace laid down in his address to the Congress of the United States on the 8th of January, 1918, and the principles of settlement enunciated in his subsequent addresses, particularly the address of the 27th of September, and that it desires to discuss the details of their application, and that this wish and purpose emanate, not from those who have hitherto dictated German policy and conducted the present war on Germany’s behalf, but from Ministers who speak for the Majority of the Reichstag and for an overwhelming majority of the German people; and having received also the explicit promise of the present German Government that the humane rules of civilized warfare will be observed both on land and sea by the German armed forces, the President of the United States feels that he cannot decline to take up with the Governments with which the Government of the United States is associated the question of an armistice.

He deems it his duty to say again, however, that the only armistice he would feel justified in submitting for consideration would be one which should leave the United States and the powers associated with her in a position to enforce any arrangements that may be entered into and to make a renewal of hostilities on the part of Germany impossible. The President has, therefore, transmitted his correspondence with the present German authorities to the Governments with which the Government of the United States is associated as a belligerent, [with the suggestion that, if those Governments are disposed to effect peace upon the terms and principles indicated, their military advisers and the military advisers of the United States be asked to submit to the Governments associated against Germany the necessary terms of such an armistice as will fully protect the interests of the peoples involved and ensure to the Associated Governments the unrestricted power to safeguard and enforce the details of the peace to which the German Government has agreed,] provided they deem such an armistice possible from the military point of view. Should such terms of armistice be suggested, their acceptance by Germany will afford the best concrete evidence of her unequivocal acceptance of the terms and principles of peace from which the whole action proceeds.

The President would deem himself lacking in candour did he not point out in the frankest possible terms the reason why extraordinary safeguards must be demanded. Significant and important as the constitutional changes seem to be which are spoken of by the German Foreign Secretary in his note of the 20th of October, it does not appear that the principle of a Government responsible to the German people has yet been fully worked out or that any guarantees either exist or are in contemplation that the alterations of principle and of practice now partially agreed upon will be permanent. Moreover, it does not appear that the heart of the present difficulty has been reached. It may be that future wars have been brought under the control of the German people, but the present war has not been; and it is with the present war that we are dealing. It is evident that the German people have no means of commanding the acquiescence of the military authorities of the Empire in the popular will; that the power of the King of Prussia to control the policy of the Empire is unimpaired; that the determinating initiative still remains with those who have hitherto been the masters of Germany. Feeling that the whole peace of the world depends now on plain speaking and straightforward action, the President deems it his duty to say, without any attempt to soften what may seem harsh words, that the nations of the world do not and cannot trust the word of those who have hitherto been the masters of German policy, and to point out once more that in concluding peace and attempting to undo the infinite injuries and injustices of this war the Government of the United States cannot deal with any but veritable representatives of the German people who have been assured of a genuine constitutional standing as the real rulers of Germany. If it must deal with the military masters and the monarchical autocrats of Germany now, or if it is likely to have to deal with them later in regard to the international obligations of the German Empire, it must demand, not peace negotiations, but surrender. Nothing can be gained by leaving this essential thing unsaid.

Accept [etc.]

Robert Lansing
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October 21, 1918: Germany Ends Submarine Warfare While the German Navy Plots to Attack

 

A sign of just how desperate the civilian German government a century ago was to bring the War to an end was the announcement of the end of submarine warfare and the recall of all its submarines back to port.  German insistence on unrestricted submarine warfare had helped bring the US into the War.  Now the new German government was taking this step to convince President Wilson  that they really wanted peace on his Fourteen Points.

 

However, while the civilian government was convinced that the War at Sea was lost, Admiral Carl Friedrich Heinrich Reinhard Scheer, Chief of Staff of the German navy was not, and he instructed Admiral Franz Ritter von Hipper, Commander of the High Seas Fleet, to prepare a plan by which the Fleet would stage what amounted to a “Kamikaze” attack on the overwhelmingly powerful British Grand Fleet.  Hipper prepared the order on October 24, 1918:

Commander of the High Seas Fleet

Op. 269/A I
SMS KAISER WILHELM II, [b] 24.10.1918

VERY SECRET
O. MATTER
O.-COMMAND No.19.[c]

A. Information about the enemy
It is to be supposed that most of the enemy forces are in Scottish east coast ports, with detachments in the Tyne, the Humber and the Channel.

B. Intentions
The enemy will be brought to battle under conditions favorable for us.

For this purpose, the concentrated High Seas forces[d] will advance by night into the Hoofden, and attack combat forces and mercantile traffic on the Flanders coast and in the Thames estuary. This strike should induce the enemy to advance immediately with detachments of his fleet[e] toward the line Hoofden/German Bight. Our intention is to engage these detachments on the evening of Day II of the operation, or to have them attacked by torpedo-boats during the night of Day II or III. In support of the main task the approach routes of the enemy from east Scottish ports to the sea area of Terschelling will be infested by mines and occupied by submarines.

C. Execution
i) Departure from the German Bight by day, out of sight of the Dutch coast;
ii) Route through the Hoofden so that the attack on the Flanders Coast and the Thames Estuary takes place at dawn on Day II;
iii) The Attack:

a) against the Flanders coast by the commander of the 2nd Torpedo-Boat Flotilla with Graudenz, Karlsruhe, Nürnberg and the 2nd Torpedo-Boat Flotilla.
b) against the Thames estuary by the 2nd Scouting Group with Königsberg, Köln, Dresden, Pillau and the 2nd Torpedo-Boat Half-Flotilla
Covering of a) by the fleet and b) by the C-in-C of the Scouting Forces;

iv) Return so as to reach the combat area favorable to us, near Terschelling, one or two hours before nightfall on Day II.
v) Protection of the return (Day II) by part of the 8th Flotilla
vi) Mine laying by the leader of 4th Scouting Group with 4th Scouting Group (supported by minelayers by Arkona[f] and Möwe[g]) and the 8th Flotilla, on the approaches of the enemy, in accord with plan No. I.
vii) Disposition of submarines on the enemy routes in accord with plan No. III
viii) Attack by torpedo-boats during the night of Day II to III, in case an encounter has already taken place, from near the Terschelling Light Vessel towards the Firth of Forth, in accordance with the orders of the commander of torpedo-boats. On the meeting of the torpedo-boats with the fleet in the morning of Day III, see the following order;
ix) Entrance into the German Bight by departure route or by routes 420, 500 or 750, depending on the situation;
x) Air reconnaissance: if possible.

 

 

Only an insurrection in the German fleet on October 30, followed by a mutiny of the Fleet at Kiel on November 3, 1918, prevented the High Seas Fleet from sailing and carrying out this aquatic gotterdammerung.  There was much irrationality in the German High Command as they faced the unthinkable fact of losing the War and this order amply demonstrates this fact.

 

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Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder or a Private with a Chicken On Your Knee?

 

Something for the weekend.   Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder or a Private with a Chicken On Your Knee?  The American involvement in World War I produced an immense amount of music, much of it ephemeral.  Thus it was with this briefly very popular tune, before it fell into deep obscurity, which claimed that privates had more fun in the Army than colonels, a tell tale sign that the lyricist, Archie Gottler, did not serve as a private in the Army.  “Chicken” was 1918 slang for a young lady, a term that would later be shortened to “Chick”.

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K-K-K-K-Katy

Something for the weekend.  KK-K-K-Katy, one of the more popular songs of 1918.  Our times do not have a monopoly on silly music. Kids were still singing this in the Sixties when I was growing up.

 

 

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September 26, 1918: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive Begins

 

The Offensive opened with a six hour bombardment, brief by Great War standards.  In the three hours prior to H hour the Americans fired off more munitions than both sides fired off in the four years of the American Civil War.   Ten American divisions, approximately 260,000 men, advanced along with 700 tanks.  The attack is largely initially successful with some 23,000 German troops captured, with American advances up to six miles.  Here is General Pershing’s report on the first four days of the Offensive:

 

Following three hours of violent artillery fire of preparation, the Infantry advanced at 5.30 a.m. on September 26th, accompanied by tanks. During the first two days of the attack, before the enemy was able to bring up his reserves, our troops made steady progress through the network of defences. Montfaucon was held tenaciously by the enemy and was not captured until noon of the second day.

By the evening of the 28th a maximum advance of 11 kilometres had been achieved and we had captured Baulny, Epinonville, Septsarges, and Dannevoux. The right had made a splendid advance into the woods south of Brieullessur-Meuse, but the extreme left was meeting strong resistance in the Argonne.

The attack continued without interruption, meeting six new divisions which the enemy threw into first line before September 29th. He developed a powerful machine-gun defence supported by heavy artillery fire, and made frequent counter-attacks with fresh troops, particularly on the front of the Twenty-eighth and Thirty-fifth Divisions.

These divisions had taken Varennes, Cheppy, Baulny, and Charpentry, and the line was within 2 kilometres of Apremont. We were no longer engaged in a manoeuvre for the pinching out of a salient, but were necessarily committed, generally speaking, to a direct frontal attack against strong, hostile positions fully manned by a determined enemy.

By nightfall of the 29th the First Army line was approximately Bois de la Cote Lemont-Nantillois-Apremont – southwest across the Argonne. Many divisions, especially those in the centre that were subjected to cross-fire of artillery, had suffered heavily. The severe fighting, the nature of the terrain over which they attacked, and the fog and darkness sorely tried even our best divisions.

On the night of the 29th the Thirty-seventh and Seventy-ninth Divisions were relieved by the Thirty-second and Third Divisions, respectively, and on the following night the First Division relieved the Thirty-fifth Division.

The critical problem during the first few days of the battle was the restoration of communications over “No man’s land.” There were but four roads available across this deep zone, and the violent artillery fire of the previous period of the war had virtually destroyed them. The spongy soil and the lack of material increased the difficulty. But the splendid work of our engineers and pioneers soon made possible the movement of the troops, artillery, and supplies most needed. By the afternoon of the 27th all the divisional artillery, except a few batteries of heavy guns, had effected a passage and was supporting the infantry action.

The initial stage can be rated a success, but with grave deficiencies shown in American training and leadership and hence the pause for reorganization and to replace the initial attacking divisions.  The Offensive would resume on October 4, 1918.

 

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September 25, 1918: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive is About to Begin

 

One hundred and four years ago the Meuse-Argonne Offensive is about to begin.  We will be covering it in detail.  In reading about the Offensive, it should be recalled that American divisions were twice the size of European divisions, and with the losses most German and Allied divisions, other than most American divisions, had sustained, the American divisions were often close to triple the size of those divisions.   Here is General Pershing writing about the American forces on the eve of the great battle:

Meuse-Argonne, First Phase

On the night of September 25th, the 9 divisions to lead in the attack were deployed between the Meuse River and the western edge of the Argonne Forest.

On the right was the Third Corps, Maj. Gen. Bullard commanding, with the Thirty-third, Eightieth, and Fourth Divisions in line; next came the Fifth Corps, Maj. Gen. Cameron commanding, with the Seventy-Ninth, Thirty-seventh, and Ninety-first Divisions; on the left was the First Corps, Maj. Gen. Liggett commanding, with the Thirty-fifth, Twenty-eighth, and Seventy-seventh Divisions.

Each corps had 1 division in re serve and the Army held 3 divisions as a general reserve. About 2,700 guns, 189 small tanks, 142 manned by Americans, and 821 airplanes, 604 manned by Americans, were concentrated to support the attack of the infantry.  We thus had a superiority in guns and aviation, and the enemy had no tanks.

The axis of the attack was the line Montfaucon-Romagne-Buzancy, the purpose being to make the deepest penetration in the centre, which, with the Fourth French Army advancing west of the Argonne, would force the enemy to evacuate that forest without our having to deliver a heavy attack in that difficult region.

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The Long Ride of Colonel Young

 

 

“Get a good life insurance policy, with your family as beneficiary. Bring your Bible and yourself.”

Advice of Charles Davis Young to a friend joining the Tenth Cavalry

 

 

The first black colonel in the United States Army, Charles Davis Young, was born in 1864 in Tennessee, the son of slaves.  His father escaped from slavery in January 1865 and served in the Fifth Regiment Heavy Artillery, United States Colored Troops.  Settling in Ripley, Ohio after the War, Young’s father had saved enough from his military pay to buy land and build a house.  Charles Young attend an otherwise all white school in Ripley and graduated at the top of his class.  Young greatly admired his father, and decided to follow in his footsteps and embark on a military career.  In 1883 he earned appointment to West Point by coming in second on the competitive examination in his Congressional District.  When the first place candidate decided not to go, Young was admitted.

Young’s years at West Point were trying.  He roomed for three years with John Hanks Alexander, the only other black cadet at West Point.   The attitude of the rest of his class to him can be gauged by the nickname he was tagged with:  ” the load of coal”.  As many cadets before and since, he struggled with mathematics and had to repeat his first year as a result.  However, he discovered a hitherto unknown facility for foreign languages and learned several.    The disdainful attitude of most of his fellow cadets was constant, but his endurance and good humor throughout ultimately led to friendships with some white cadets that lasted the remainder of his life.  Young graduated last in his class in 1889.  He was the third black to graduate from West Point and would be the last until 1936.

His service with the Army was largely with the segregated “Buffalo” black cavalry regiments of the Ninth and the Tenth which had earned reputations for valor and professionalism.  On duty Young developed a reputation as all Army, a stern disciplinarian and stickler for regulations.  Off duty he was a kind and cultured man who took an interest in the professional development of his subordinates.  One of those subordinates in 1900 was Sergeant Major Benjamin O. Davis.  Young encouraged him to take the Officer Candidates’ test and tutored him for the test.  Davis passed and was ultimately commissioned.  In 1940 he was promoted to Brigadier General, the first black to attain that rank in US military history.

During the Spanish-American war Young was promoted to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers and commanded the 9th Ohio, a black volunteer regiment, Young thus becoming the first black to command a regiment in American military history.  Due to the brevity of the War, the 9th Ohio did not see service overseas, a fate common to most of the volunteer regiments raised in that War.  Young did serve in combat in the Philippines, commanding a troop of the Ninth Cavalry in the fight against Insurrectos on Samar.  His courage and leadership caused his men to give him the nickname “Follow me”.

Interspersed with command duties with troops, Young had the usual variety of assignments that were common for Army officers during this time period.  He served as superintendent of two national parks and was assigned as military attache in Haiti and Liberia.  In 1912 he wrote The Military Morale of Nations and Races, which postulated that with good training, and good leadership and fair treatment, the members of any race could make good soldiers.  He dedicated the book to Theodore Roosevelt, a personal friend who had taken an interest in Young’s career.  During the Punitive Expedition in 1916 into Mexico, Major Young attained notoriety due to successful cavalry charges against Mexican bandits while commanding a squadron of the Tenth Cavalry.  Young was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned to command Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

With the US heading to War in Europe it was assumed that Young might become the first black general in the US Army.  That prospect came to an end when Young failed a medical exam in early 1917 due to high blood pressure and damage to his kidneys, a legacy from his service in Liberia.  Young was retired, a retirement that Young protested.  It is likely that racism played a large factor in his retirement, more than a few white officers reacting with dismay to the prospect of serving under a black general.   Writing to Theodore Roosevelt for help in gaining reinstatement, Roosevelt immediately offered him command of one of the two black regiments Roosevelt planned to serve in the Rough Riders that Roosevelt had received Congressional approval to raise for service in World War I. Roosevelt said Young would have carte blanche in choosing the officers of his regiment.  Alas, President Wilson refused to authorize the raising of the Rough Riders.

In June 1918, to show he was physically fit for service, Young rode horseback the 500 miles from Xenia, Ohio to Washington DC.  The trip to Washington took 16 days.  Young experienced both racism and respect from the various whites he encountered.  In a town with a bad reputation for racism against blacks, Young’s attempt to gain reinstatement was met with sympathy by local whites who asked what they could do to help.  Young responded that there was nothing they could do for him, but he would be grateful if black troops traveling through the town would receive a kind welcome.

Young met with Secretary of War Baker who promised to look into the situation.  On November 6, 1918 Young was placed back on active duty and promoted to Colonel.  He remained on active duty until his death of nephritis in 1922 .  He is buried, appropriately, in Arlington.  When he was buried, an estimated 100,000 people lined his funeral procession.