Continuing to quote (with editing for brevity) from the History of the 353rd ‘All Kansas’ Infantry Regiment 89th Division, National Army September 1917 – June 1919, by Capt. Charles F. Dienst and associates, published by the 353rd Infantry Society in 1921.
‘The enemy’s elaborate bands of wire in front of his position had been little cut by the preliminary bombardment, and only by energetically trampling and tearing our way through it could the battalion advance. The enemy had made the mistake of matting it so closely in some places that the determined, big-footed doughboys were able to run over the top. In other places it had to be cut or blown up with bangalore torpedoes. The men lost no time but threw off raincoats and drove ahead.
Our barrage had completely demoralized the scattering outposts and practically no resistance was met in crossing the Ansoncourt line of trenches. But as the advance companies approached Robert Menil trench, they met deadly machine gun fire from the Euvezin Wood. The next half kilometer, from this trench to within the woods was one of bitter fighting. German machine gunners claimed a heavy toll. In Company “G” Lieutenant Wray had fallen, mortally wounded at a hundred yards beyond the jump-off line. Stretcher Bearers Holmes and Lamson of his company had given up their lives in an effort to reach him. Captain Adkins, so severely wounded that he had to be helped along, kept forward in command of his company for almost six kilometers until he was carried from the field near Thiacourt. First Sergeant West was found with his rifle to his shoulder, his head dropped forward. A bullet-hole through his helmet told the story.
Some losses occurred, too, from our own artillery. “Follow the barrage,” were the orders. As soon as the barrage had lifted from an objective ahead the men moved up, not realizing that the artillery would roll back almost to their own position before moving forward again to the next objective. As a result, Lieutenant Shaw was the victim of one of our own shells a minute after he had led his platoon out but his example carried the men forward without their commander and in spite of many losses. While Lieutenant Wickersham was advancing with his platoon a shell burst at his feet and threw him into the air with four mortal wounds. He dressed the wounds of his orderly, improvised a tourniquet for his own thigh and then ordered the advance to continue. Although weakened by the loss of blood he moved on until he fell and died before aid could be administered to him. Everywhere action was heroic. Resistance and difficulties only brought it into the sublime.
Eagerness of the men to get forward in spite of the delay due to the machine gun resistance led to the serious error of telescoping on the part of the supporting units. Company “H” had pushed up to the right of Company “F” and Company “G” to the left of Company “E” and the Third Battalion had come to within a few meters of our assaulting line. The Divisional Airmen swept low over the advancing troops, waving and shouting at them to scatter. However, the aggressiveness of the assault had had its effect upon the enemy. Resistance weakened at the edge of the woods. A few snipers up in the trees continued to cause casualties, but American marksmanship was proof against such tactics. As soon as a treeman revealed his position, the crack of a rifle brought him tumbling like a squirrel to the ground. In the woods, the men fell irresistibly into skirmish line and dashed on through the thick underbrush. When Colonel Reeves asked a small party of stranded marines what they were doing in the rear of our men, they replied, “Tryin’ to keep up with them d—- corn huskers.”
Out into the triangular open space between the Euvezin Wood and the Beau Vallon Wood, combat units began to reform. Some machine gun resistance developed on the left flank, but was quickly overcome. The right was held up for a few moments by a heavy machine gun implacement, until Sergeant Moore of Company “F” succeeded in gaining possession of one of the guns and turning it on the rest of the nest. The Vallon trench was not organized and the enemy was in rapid retreat throughout the sector. The Third Battalion was to pass the lines of the Second and take up the assault beyond the Vallon trench, which was designated as the third objective. Some of the units had already entered the Beau Vallon Wood. Colonel Reeves was on the ground. Realizing the confusion incident to a passage of the lines in the timber, and fearing that in some cases the third objective had not been fully developed, he promptly ordered the Second Battalion to continue the assault until the fourth objective, just beyond the Wood. Here the passages of lines was made.
For five kilometers through the elaborate trench system and the intricate wire entanglements of the enemy, through the densely intertwined undergrowth of the woods, the men of the Second Battalion had carried the assault. They had overcome desperate machine gun defenses, and braved the explosion of shells in their midst. Four hours and forty-five minutes the advance continued.’
More about Lt. Wickersham’s story to follow soon.
Click here to view the list of Kansans from the 353rd Infantry buried at the St. Mihiel American Battle Monuments Commission Cemetery.
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