Winner of two Communicator Awards for Cover (overall) and Cover (design), 2013.They Called Them Soldier Boys offers an in-depth study of soldiers of the Texas National Guard’s Seventh Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I, through their recruitment, training, journey to France, combat, and their return home. Gregory W. Ball focuses on the fourteen counties in North, Northwest, and West Texas where officers recruited the regiment’s soldiers in the summer of 1917, and how those counties compared with the rest of the state in terms of political, social, and economic attitudes.
In September 1917 the “Soldier Boys” trained at Camp Bowie, near Fort Worth, Texas, until the War Department combined the Seventh Texas with the First Oklahoma Infantry to form the 142d Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division. In early October 1918, the 142d Infantry, including more than 600 original members of the Seventh Texas, was assigned to the French Fourth Army in the Champagne region and went into combat for the first time on October 6. Ball explores the combat experiences of those Texas soldiers in detail up through the armistice of November 11, 1918.
About the Author
GREGORY W. BALL received his Ph.D. in United States History from the University of North Texas in 2010. He served on active duty with the USAF from 1995-2006 and remains an active member of the USAF Reserve. Ball serves as a historian for the United States Air Force in San Antonio.
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THEY CALLED THEM SOLDIER BOYS
A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I
By Gregory W. Ball
University of North Texas PressCopyright © 2013Gregory W. Ball
All rights reserved.
RECRUITING THE 7TH TEXAS INFANTRY
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of the United States Congress where he responded to a number of events, including the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany and the disclosure of the infamous Zimmerman Telegram. He then asked Congress for a declaration of war. Congress debated the president's request for several days, and approved a declaration of war in the Senate on April 4, 1917, and two days later in the House.
Although there was debate across the nation as well as within Texas regarding the president's request for a declaration of war, most Texans supported the president. Once war was declared, a different topic became the center of debate in the nation and in Texas: How would the United States raise and field an army large enough to make a difference on European battlefields? The answer to that question affected millions of young men across the nation and thousands in Northwest Texas. The debate hinged on whether or not the United States should raise an army by relying on volunteers or through a mandatory system of service. Such a debate was not new to the nation, and as late as February 1917, the government had expected to rely primarily on voluntary enlistments to increase the army's size. By April, however, the debate became more urgent and crystallized around which system would allow an army to be raised more quickly.
Texans debated the implications of volunteerism as opposed to conscription, but in the end many residents supported selective service and expected their congressmen to as well. On April 28, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, and President Wilson signed it into law three weeks later. Drafted men would form the "National Army," and along with the Regular Army and a federalized National Guard, those three sources of manpower would represent the Army of the United States on the Western Front. Once the president signed the Selective Service Act, the administration of the draft proceeded quickly, primarily because the registration of all men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty would take place on June 5, 1917. The focus then shifted from the national to the local level, where the process of registering, selecting, examining, and sending men off to training camps took place.
While the men of the 7th Texas were not drafted, the passage of the Selective Service Act and its implementation at the county level spurred increased recruiting efforts by the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, and figured in the decision making calculus of the men who eventually joined the 7th Texas. It is not difficult to imagine the pressure on millions of young men who were uncertain about how the draft would actually work and who were surrounded by patriotic displays and recruiting officers urging them to enlist. While patriotic rallies, drill sessions, and rhetoric did not require a commitment, the enlistment of a soldier could be construed as a much deeper, and in some cases final, commitment to the war effort. The rhetoric of speeches and newspaper articles was one thing; it was something else for a young man to offer himself to his country. Across North and Northwest Texas, communities tested the patriotism of young men with the increased recruiting tempo spurred by the declaration of war. More than participating in military drills or talking about joining, when the recruiting sergeants visited their communities many young men were pressured to enlist, although the pace of enlistment never appeared to match the patriotic fervor of communities in North and Northwest Texas. Furthermore, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps had to compete for recruits with another organization: the Texas National Guard, which during the summer of 1917 started its own campaign to fill up its ranks.
In those first few weeks after the declaration of war, the counties across North and Northwest Texas were swept up in the worldwide conflict. Thousands displayed their sense of patriotism through a variety of means, including parades, speeches, and rallies. The men often joined together and engaged in military drill, while women frequently joined Red Cross organizations and participated in numerous events to show their own patriotism. Likewise, African-American and foreign-born citizens showed their commitment to the war. African-Americans formed their own drill companies, while occasionally foreign-born citizens displayed an inflated sense of patriotism in order to downplay their foreign heritage and to protect themselves from citizens who would not or could not believe that they had severed ties to their nation of origin. Furthermore, a paranoid fear of German spies roaming across the state tainted the atmosphere in the months after the declaration of war. Rumors of German spies committing sabotage swept across Northwest Texas while many foreign-born citizens were watched closely and often faced the threat of violence. That paranoia exploded into public view when the leaders of the Farmers and Laborers Protective Association (FLPA) were arrested and tried in Abilene during the summer and fall of 1917 for alleged opposition to the draft.
Within this atmosphere of patriotism and paranoia, the Texas National Guard sought to recruit its ranks to full strength. By the end of the summer of 1917, nearly two thousand men would make their choice to serve in the Texas National Guard's 7th Infantry. They made their choice under difficult circumstances, perhaps unsure if they should enlist in a particular service or wait to be drafted, although with the draft there was no certainty about where they might end up and who they might serve with. Within such a climate, officers of the Texas National Guard arrived in counties across North and Northwest Texas in June of 1917, where they spent the summer recruiting, organizing, and training fifteen new companies of soldiers.
On June 28, 1917, barely three weeks after the national draft registration, the Wichita Daily Times printed an announcement sponsored by the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce. The announcement read: "Attention! You who have registered for [the] Army draft, the Texas National Guard will take 300 men from Wichita, Clay, Archer, and Knox Counties. This opportunity to enlist with National Guard expires Sat. June 30, 1917." The notice enumerated the many advantages of joining the National Guard rather than being drafted as part of the "National Army." For example, the advertisement hinted that a recruit would be able to "select your own associates" and "know your own officers." The prospective Guardsman would receive "efficient training, beginning at once," and might have an opportunity to become an officer in other Texas Guard units. Furthermore, the recruiting advertisement claimed it would be easier for a Guardsman to prove his identity "in case of injury or on application for pension." The final two reasons, however, might have been the Guard's strongest selling points: a Texas Guardsman would "receive the attention, love and respect of the people at home, who are able to give your companies special attention; boxes from home, etc." Finally, he would receive the same pay as a soldier in the Regular Army. The announcement concluded by pointing out that a mass meeting for recruiting draft-registered men for the Texas National Guard would soon be held in the city. Local business leaders who attended the rally were asked to "state that they will hold open all positions now held by men who desire to enlist, and will give back these positions, or better ones, to them when they return." The announcement finished with a phrase popular at the time: "Be a 'went' instead of a 'sent'—if you must go sooner or later, why not go with the boys from home?"
Although the National Guard recruited across the
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations.................... vi
List of Maps and Tables.................... vii
CHAPTER 1 Recruiting the 7th Texas Infantry.................... 1
CHAPTER 2 A Portrait of the 7th Texas Infantry................. 33
CHAPTER 3 Camp Bowie and France.................... 47
CHAPTER 4 "Fit to Get Down to Serious Business"................ 77
CHAPTER 5 The Western Front, October 6–13, 1918.......... 99
CHAPTER 6 The Western Front, October 13–30, 1918......... 125
CHAPTER 7 "Bad Enough at the Best".................... 137
CHAPTER 8 Coming Home and the War's Legacy.................... 155