Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division

Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division

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Send the Alabamians recounts the story of the 167th Infantry Regiment of the WWI Rainbow Division from their recruitment to their valiant service on the bloody fields of eastern France in the climactic final months of World War I.

To mark the centenary of World War I, Send the Alabamians tells the remarkable story of a division of Alabama recruits whose service Douglas MacArthur observed had not “been surpassed in military history.” The book borrows its title from a quip by American General Edward H. Plummer who commanded the young men during the inauspicious early days of their service. Impressed with their ferocity and esprit de corps but exasperated by their rambunctiousness, Plummer reportedly exclaimed:

In time of war, send me all the Alabamians you can get, but in
time of peace, for Lord’s sake, send them to somebody else!

The ferocity of the Alabamians, so apt to get them in trouble at home, proved invaluable in the field. At the climactic Battle of Croix Rouge, the hot-blooded 167th exhibited unflinching valor and, in the face of machine guns, artillery shells, and poison gas, sustained casualty rates over 50 percent to dislodge and repel the deeply entrenched and heavily armed enemy.

Relying on extensive primary sources such as journals, letters, and military reports, Frazer draws a vivid picture of the individual soldiers who served in this division, so often overlooked but critical to the war’s success. After Gettysburg, the Battle of Croix Rouge is the most
significant military engagement to involve Alabama soldiers in the state’s history. Families and geneologists will value the full roster of the 167th that accompanies the text.

Richly researched yet grippingly readable, Nimrod T. Frazer’s Send the Alabamians will delight those interested in WWI, the World Wars, Alabama history, or southern military history in general. Historians of the war, regimental historians, military history aficionados, and those interested in previously unexplored facets of Alabama history will prize this unique volume as well.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817318383
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 05/13/2014
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Nimrod “Rod” Thompson Frazer is a retired investment banker, formerly CEO of Enstar. He earned his MBA at Harvard and was awarded the Silver Star for his military service in Korea. His research on the Rainbow Division of WWI stems from his father’s stories of the famous team. Edwin C. Bridges served for thirty years as the director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

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Send the Alabamians

World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division

By Nimrod T. Frazer

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2014 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8769-3


Mobilization of the Alabama National Guard, 1916

On June 19, 1916, the Montgomery Advertiser reported the mobilization and federalization of the Alabama National Guard by the Militia Division of the War Department. The "call up" was a nationwide order for possible duty on the Mexican border. The Alabama regiments, having previously served at the state level, were to enter federal service. They were ordered to Montgomery's Vandiver Park.

The National Defense Act, passed on June 3, 1916, was considered "Milestone Legislation" and stated that when in federal service, the Guard was an integral part of the Army of the United States. When mobilized on June 16, it was unprepared for the possibility of war and had to adjust rapidly to its new, higher status. According to Henry Reilly, these units faced two primary adjustments: "The first was the dismissal from the ranks of the officers and enlisted men unwilling to enter Federal service or physically unfit for such service. The second was the raising to war strength of those units by a large number of green recruits who were recruited for war service."

Alabama units, the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Alabama Infantry and the 1st Alabama Cavalry were provided with uniforms, weapons, equipment, and some training by the army, but the Guard was a second-class service. Most officers in the Regular Army were West Pointers serving full time. Officers of the militia were part-timers and usually had no more than a high school education. Enlisted men usually needed the part-time work of soldiering.

The Guard, despite having "been ill trained and poorly equipped in the past," suddenly offered young men an opportunity to walk away from the simple lives that many had never been able to escape. Now they might travel to unknown places, eat healthy food, wear good clothes, and earn income for doing work that upright citizens respected and valued. Many young men without money, education, or training relished this new kind of work. It promised a better way to make a living than jobs that usually required long hours, often combined with sweaty, dirty, sometimes dangerous labor for little pay. Few Alabama men could rise above that kind of work, but some were intelligent enough and adventurous enough to take advantage of an opportunity to do so.

Not many in those days traveled outside of the South, or even across the state. Most were skeptical about the unknown, but some possessed enough imagination to think that enlisting in the National Guard could mean opportunity. Especially those with no family farm to inherit or business to enter saw the Guard as a possible chance for promotion and adventure. Raised on the stories of Confederate veterans, most boys in 1916 knew tales of heroes finding glory in faraway places. Almost every town or courthouse square in Alabama boasted a Confederate memorial, such as a rifleman facing north. Under their shadows many Alabamians coveted their own chance at glory.

Trouble in Mexico

Their new opportunity to fight would come from the south, after trouble arose in Mexico. Civil war was raging and the US Army was going there out of fear that it might spill over into the United States. Revolution was respected as an internal matter, but Mexico and the United States shared a two-thousand-mile border that had been troubled since 1910. In January 1916 the Mexican irregular leader "Pancho" Villa launched the first of two significant attacks on Americans. The first, a train attack in Mexico, led to the deaths of nearly all the American workers present. Later "a band of nearly 500 Villistas" entered American territory to invade Columbus, New Mexico, where they again killed American citizens. Many US citizens, "especially those living in fear near Mexico, demanded retribution." President Wilson authorized sending 15,000 Regular Army troops and 156,000 National Guardsmen to the border. At the same time Wilson was conducting peacekeeping efforts with Germany and seeking reelection on the campaign slogan "He kept us out of the war" raging in Europe since 1914. His response to the Mexican conflict surprised some and angered those who considered it a "politically ill considered foray."

The army mission was announced in a State Department message on March 14, 1916. They would "enter Mexico with sole object of pursuing and capturing Villa and his band."

Two cavalry brigades and one infantry brigade led by Brigadier General John J. Pershing immediately penetrated four hundred miles into the interior. On March 16 the US Congress passed a resolution authorizing "the use of the armed forces of the United States." Thereafter the expedition was referred to as the "Punitive Expedition."

The Alabama National Guard

Captain William Preston Screws (see fig. 1), having served as training supervisor of the Alabama National Guard since it was established in 1912, was mustering officer of its four militia regiments. Few companies had the authorized strength of three officers and sixty-five men. The Montgomery Advertiser described Screws as lieutenant-colonel-elect of the 4th Alabama, his having been put in charge in February by a vote of the soldiers. The new commander replaced Colonel E. H. Graves. Mortimer Jordan, a medical doctor and K Company commander from Birmingham, expressed his satisfaction with the choice: "This is the best thing that could happen for all of us. We are now assured that we will have the best regiment in the Alabama service."

Most in the Guard were proud to be involved and derived prestige from being members. John H. Gardiner, a cavalry man who joined the military because he "wanted to see some action," remembered: "In 1917 joining the service was 'the thing to do.'" It set people apart in a world where there was little distinction. Without education to fall back on, some turned to the military. It also held allure for some with education. Jordan, who balanced his medical practice with his dedication to serve, wrote his wife, "I can't tell you how fine I feel. This is certainly the life. Money could not buy the benefit I am deriving. Then, of course, the military training is of great value," adding in the next letter, "This fascination of soldiering, especially with a company to command is irresistible."

Local units were anxious to be called up for service on the Mexican border. Screws told the Montgomery Advertiser that those nearest full strength would be summoned first. This brought on a flurry of activity as units worked to sign up new men. K Company, Birmingham, was typical. With about ninety-five men, it reached Vandiver Park on June 26, 1916. Its captain, Mortimer Jordan, said, "We are still up in the air. We are working early and late on our paper work. In order to get mustered in we must do a month's book keeping in two days. Have been at it since we got here." Officials took in many new recruits without proper physical examinations or full equipment. President Wilson activated the entire National Guard—123,605 enlisted men and 8,589 officers—on June 16. The Alabama men passing physical examinations were sworn in at Vandiver Park on June 28, 1916.

Muster at Vandiver Park

At the time of mobilization, Montgomery had a population of about forty thousand. Vandiver Park was about four miles north of town. It had an active racetrack that had long been used for militia training and was a good place to camp, shoot on rifle ranges, drill, and from which the men could go on road marches.

During the mobilization process an army doctor visited every company in its hometown armory. All personnel were examined, and anyone medically unfit for military service was supposed to be discharged. There was lobbying for exceptions, as "Most men were willing and even eager to go overseas." Disease among the units was rampant, and the rejection rate was generally 25–30 percent. About 60 percent of men in the state later examined for selective service had hookworm. However, most dismissed by the Guard were put out for "being underweight or having venereal diseases (gonorrhea and syphilis), 'bad teeth,' tuberculosis, or heart disease." With such high rejection rates, "Civilian recruits became a necessity." Beginning on June 18, 1916, National Guard recruiters covered the state, posting notices in public places.

Governor Charles Henderson decreed that Alabama join fifteen states in celebrating the Fourth of July holiday of 1916 as "Preparedness Day." It commemorated the call-up of the Guard, called attention to the recruiting drive, and announced the beginning of training at Vandiver Park. It was a national event. Civilians visited the camp on Sunday of the holiday weekend and bands played in downtown Montgomery until the parade of new troops began at three that afternoon.

Some 2,600 soldiers marched before 30,000 civilians—quite a turnout for units that had never been on extended active duty and included some marchers with less than two weeks of military training. Only the original Guard members knew the arcane way to stay in step as they headed up Commerce Street on the traditional parade route. This show of strength was an opportunity to build confidence and perform military exercises as a unit. Recruiters brought in scores of new men, and individual volunteers showed up at the camp gates every day. Some eager recruits paid their own fare to get there quickly and enlist.

Basic Infantry Training in Montgomery

The 4th Alabama included three rifle battalions of three companies and a support battalion. Every company commander bore responsibility for training his men, for turning civilians into infantrymen. Like the men they supervised, most of the regiment's officers had been recruited as local youth and worked up through the ranks in the National Guard. Doing a good job of soldiering bestowed hometown status. Although most officers held jobs in small businesses or management of larger companies, people knew them more for their leadership in the local units than for their civilian careers. They were believed to be good men making themselves fit for war, and parents entrusted their sons to them.

Like those sons, every officer in the 4th Alabama was a volunteer. Many Alabama youth had not worked outside their own family. Few had experience with a chain of command, had received orders backed by the force of law, or had been yelled at by strangers. Some people struggled with these realities.

A lot of confidence came from their commander William P. Screws. At age forty-one, he knew the men, having professionally evaluated every officer in the unit and written efficiency reports on them. Screws had made many visits to each of the hometown units, had looked into the eyes of every member of the regiment during inspections in ranks, and knew which promotions had taken place during his tenure. It was said that "he knew his bunch as their own fathers never knew them." The men trusted him and understood his authority, surreptitiously granting him the nickname "Boom-Boom" to refer to his loud and direct manner of presenting commands. There was never doubt as to who was in charge, and the men responded well to Screws's leadership. Captain Jordan said, "He really commands all the time."

Born in Montgomery, Alabama, on January 1, 1875, and raised there, Screws spent a year as a cadet at Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama, making the honor roll one time. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the 3rd Alabama Volunteers in 1898 at age twenty-three, just in time for the Spanish-American War. Promoted to first lieutenant of volunteers in 1899, he went to the Philippines. In 1901 he returned to the United States, where he was appointed second lieutenant in the Regular Army in 1902. On subsequent tours in the Philippines, Screws took part in combat operations during the Moro uprising and served as president of Malabang, governing its civil affairs in a force like an Army of Occupation. On returning to the United States he supervised National Guard units in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri before returning to Alabama for similar duty.

Screws carried himself well and was carefully turned out, whether in uniform or civilian clothes. He displayed command presence and set a good example in personal appearance. A lifelong Presbyterian, he was not given to flamboyance or gossip, but he did swear freely, which likely helped make him appear more approachable to his men. Profanity and gambling were commonplace in his regiment.

Walter E. Bare joined Screws as executive officer and second in command. Employed by the Southern Bell Telephone Company, he organized Company F in Gadsden and was called to active duty with the regiment in 1916.

Chapel services, with voluntary attendance, at Vandiver Park were conducted by First Lieutenant Emmett P. Smith.

Most officers needed the extra income. Even Jordan, more sophisticated and better educated than most, acknowledged the value of his National Guard income in a letter to his wife: "Am glad the cheques came so nicely. We will be paid again in a week or so, and then I will send you a better cheque." Even while preparing for deployment to the Mexican border, Jordan and others remained acutely aware of the demands from home.

Daily Life at Vandiver Park

Everyone knew they faced a bigger undertaking than ever, and some aspects of the transition were nearly overwhelming. However, they were not rookies. They wore the same uniforms as Regular Army soldiers, with whom they had trained previously at Camp Chickamauga near Chattanooga. They knew elements of soldiering and camp life, and they understood how things were done in a proper army. They were not equal to the regulars in training and experience, but order started to emerge from the confusion of mobilization, and they built leadership skills on the job.

Recruits learned the routine of camp life and were assigned to tents, squads, and platoons. Formations were held in the dirt company street in the early morning, at the end of the day, and as needed in between. Men gathered there for roll call, training, work details, and mail. Every recruit learned his blood type and unique serial number. Later he received a metal identity tag to wear.

The camp experienced a shortage of clothing and blankets. Even cots were scarce. The parsimonious US Army quartermaster tried to give full support to the new regiment, but it, too, was short due to the nationwide troop buildup. Despite the scarcity of some items, the first trip to the supply room felt like Christmas for most recruits, who had rarely owned such amounts of good quality clothing and equipment.

Everyone received inoculations against typhoid and smallpox. Some laughed when officers scheduled sex hygiene classes, but the lessons proved important. For small-town men unaccustomed to urban standards and economic freedom, the proliferation of brothels—and the cash to spend at them—posed a temptation and a threat. With the assistance of bellmen, prostitutes discretely conducted their trade in practically all downtown hotels. Regulations forbade consorting with prostitutes, but many soldiers flaunted the rules and discussed their disobedience openly. Medics cautioned men about syphilis, gonorrhea (commonly called the clap), and vermin called crabs. Men learned to inspect their bodies for bugs and infection, and they were urged to turn themselves in to a medical facility called a "prophylactic station" for treatment after exposure to prostitutes.

Screws carefully followed VD infection rates of his men. If unusually large numbers visited the Sanitary Department with infections, he required medics to conduct mass "short arm" inspections. In these inspections, units of soldiers formed a line before a doctor. In turn, each lowered his pants and underwear, stripping down his penis with his hands for the doctor to see if anything came out. Symptoms of infection included swelling, inflammation, or fluid coming out of the penis. It took about a week from the time of exposure for the infection to develop and for the head of the penis to swell and turn blue. Once a soldier had been diagnosed with VD, he would be administered a painful treatment, consisting of an injection of a solution of protargol into the penis. VD caused a lot of suffering, but more importantly, it disabled men and interrupted their training. Despite these problems—and the officers' attempts to prevent them—many men continued visiting local prostitutes.

The guardsmen still accomplished a great deal, and in September Screws led the 4th Alabama out of Vandiver Park for its second parade to the capitol. Large crowds turned out for it—a milestone for the unit—and cheered the 4th Alabama, whose soldiers paraded better than in July. Eager to go to New Mexico or Arizona to fight, the troops complained when they heard of matters there calming down. Captain Jordan wrote, "I am crazy to go—for the sake of the experience and the soldiering." In an article titled "Uncle Sam's Soldiers," the Greenville newspaper outlined the advantages of deployment: "A soldier is given the opportunity to travel without expense to himself ... the Alabama troops will unquestionably be sent to the border for training of about two months and will be equal in its benefits to a year in school or college." This experience was important to men with little education—and to their families.


Excerpted from Send the Alabamians by Nimrod T. Frazer. Copyright © 2014 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps




1. Mobilization of the Alabama National Guard, 1916

2. Pershing's Force on the Mexican Border

3. Making an Infantry Division

4. The Rainbow in the Trenches

5. Champagne-Marne, July 3–18, 1918

6. Aisne-Marne, Croix Rouge Farm, July 24–26, 1918

7. The Ourcq and Brigadier General MacArthur

8. From Saint-Mihiel to the Argonne, September 12–October 11, 1918

9. The Côte de Châtillon in the Argonne, October 12–21, 1918

10. Final Drive to the Rhine and into Germany

11. Return of the Immortals, May 7–13, 1919






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