Preparing For War In Europe

By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.

WWIVictoryAmerica was not ready for war in 1917 but the event was certainly expected by everyone. There had been a long series of notes between President Wilson and the Imperial German Government in which the President objected to the sinking of American ships when many of our people lost their lives. There was much excitement over the mistreatment of the citizens of occupied territory by the Germans. This was later proven generally to be Allied propaganda, but at the time Americans believed the stories of so-called “Belgian atrocities”. These stories contributed much toward molding in this country public opinion favorable to the Allies.

When the National Guard was ordered to the Mexican border in 1916, the immediate reason for the move was to protect American lives and to act as a support for the Punitive Expedition which was in Mexico at the time to punish Villa for attacking the camp of the Thirteenth Cavalry at Columbus, New Mexico. But whether the administration knew it or not, this training was excellent preparation for America’s entry into the World War. Another factor which aided in preparing the country for the coming conflict was the increase in the size of the Regular Army in 1916.

At the request of the President, Congress passed an act on April 6, 1917, declaring war on Germany. It was understood that the war involved larger armies than this country had ever assembled, and a great modification of industrial processes, as well as a radical change in the peace-time activities of the people. Our task was not only to increase the size of our army and navy and to support these with industrial and agricultural mobilization, but to send money and supplies to our allies, who had borne the attacks of the enemy for three years.

Congress passed a law May 18, 1917, to increase the Regular Army to 18,033 officers and 470,185 enlisted men, and to increase the National Guard to 13,377 officers and 456,800 enlisted men. While the men of the first two components were to be raised by voluntary enlistment, at the same time the National Army was to be raised by selective conscription of 1,000,000 men. On June 5 there registered for military service 10,000,000 male citizens between the ages of 21 and 30. This registration was carried out by voluntary efforts of citizens employed on boards who later also had the task of examining and classifying the registrants. This great task was carried out in a most efficient manner under the guidance of the Provost Marshal General’s Office. On July 3 the President called the National Guard into the Federal service and sent it to sixteen divisional camps, which were established generally in the Southern states in order to be able to train throughout the year.

Training camps for officers were opened on May 15, 1917, in sixteen different places, based on the Plattsburg camps in existence since 1914, with the Second Cavalry in attendance to contribute to their success. After a three months’ intensive course, 27,341 officers were commissioned, enough to fill the roster of the National Army and the Regular Army in the company grades. These camps were continued, but after a few months’ time there were plenty of young men in the ranks of the army who were well trained, and the system was adopted that a candidate for a commission must already be an enlisted man.

Sites for cantonments were selected in May, 1917, by Department Commanders, and it was decided to start work at once on thirty-two camps, each to house about 40,000 men, half for the National Guard and half for the National Army. The estimated average cost of the latter was about $8,000,000, but the cost of the former was much less, as the guardsmen generally were placed in tents. A board of competent citizens was selected to plan the cantonments and they in turn obtained the services of experienced town planners. The immensity of the task is evident when we find that an infantry regiment of 2,500 men required twenty-two buildings for enlisted men, six for officers’ quarters, two storehouses, one infirmary, twenty-eight lavatories and bath houses with hot and cold showers, or a total of fifty-nine buildings.

The Second Cavalry was soon engaged in doing its part to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion. A recruit depot was established at Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, where most of the regiment was stationed. Troop I was still at Plattsburg barracks, New York, engaged in training citizen soldiers, and Troop A was at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, on duty with the Officers’ Training Camp, while Troops B, C, and D continued to be stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia.

Pursuant to instructions of May 12, 1917, the Eighteenth and Nineteenth regiments of cavalry were formed from the Second. Two-thirds of the officers, non-commissioned officers, privates, and equipment were taken from the parent regiment to form a nucleus for the new ones. All three regiments were then brought up to strength by increments of recruits. The colonels of the two new regiments were William C. Rivers and Guy H. Preston, both officers of the Second Cavalry. The units trained with the Second at Fort Ethan Allen until November 1 when they were converted into the Seventy-sixth and Seventy-seventh Field Artillery and transferred to Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and later to Camp Greene, South Carolina. Both went to France and saw much active service, the Seventy-sixth with the Third Division and the Seventy-seventh with the Fourth Division.

During the year 1917, the regiment furnished an increment of thirty-one men for General Pershing’s Headquarters. The first men of the Second Cavalry to go overseas were this detachment from the first squadron at Fort Meyer, who were chosen to accompany General Pershing when he sailed on the S.S. Baltic on May 28. They acted as a bodyguard for the General and accompanied him everywhere during the early part of the war. Thus, the Second Cavalry furnished the first American troops for service in France.


[Editors note: the following list notes their rank May 1917 and highest rank during the war.]

Guynn, Dixie B. – Sgt. – Captain, 2nd Cav.
Auer, Philip P. – Sgt. – Captain, 2nd Cav.
Heffelfinger, Jacob P. – Cpl. – 1st Sgt., 2nd Cav.
Smith, Leo J. – Cpl. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Miller, Fred – Cpl. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Austin, Ray – Pvt. 1/c. – Saddler, 2nd Cav.
Baker, Harry – Pvt. 1/c. – 1st Lieutenant, 2nd Cav.
Beaman, Louis A. – Pvt. 1/c. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Fielder, Willie M. – Pvt. 1/c. – Mess Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
McCravy, Albert E. – Pvt. 1/c. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Moline, Carl – Pvt. 1/c. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Newman, Stephen – Pvt. 1/c. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Papp, Steve – Pvt. 1/c. – Stable Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Schroder, Christopher E. – Pvt. 1/c. – 2nd Lieutenant, 2nd Cav
Sedlack, Charles – Pvt. 1/c. – Mess Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Shaughnessy, John J. – Pvt. 1/c. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Zimmerman, Otto – Pvt. 1/c. – Mess Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Abels, Edgar R. – Pvt. – Horseshoer, 2nd Cav.
Chappell, Ralph – Pvt. – Army Field Clerk, 2nd Cav.
Cohen, Abraham – Pvt. – Mess Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Cohen, Edward – Pvt. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Cooper, Harry – Pvt. – Bn. Sgt. Major, 2nd Cav.
Morgan, John W. – Pvt. – Bn. Sgt. Major, 2nd Cav.
Mundy, Clyde E. – Pvt. – Supply Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Murphy, James J. – Pvt. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Neff, Edward E. – Pvt. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Nestroy, John A. – Pvt. – Pvt. 1/c., 2nd Cav.
Newberry, James – Pvt. – Sergeant, 2nd Cav.
Pickett, Raymond J. – Pvt. – Corporal, 2nd Cav.
Rawlings, Edgar B. – Pvt. – Corporal, 2nd Cav.
Williams, Roscoe Z. – Pvt. – Pvt. 1/c., 2nd Cav.

In July Captain George A. Purington and a detachment of men from the regiment at Fort Ethan Allen were transferred to the First Division. Orders came October 8 to organize at the same post the Headquarters Troop, Second Division. This troop went overseas under Captain Archibald T. Colley, with a strength of 105 enlisted men. A similar troop was organized by Captain Paul R. Frank for the Fourth Division. It left Fort Ethan Allen December 16 for Camp Greene, South Carolina, and later went overseas.

Troop A finished the work at the Officers’ Training Camp, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and joined the regiment at Fort Ethan Allen June 3, 1917. During the summer and early fall Troops E and F were on duty at Camp Devens, Ayer, Massachusetts, Troop F acting as Headquarters Troop, Seventy-sixth Division. Troops G and H were on similar duty at Camp Bartlett, Westfield, Massachusetts, in August and September. Troop I rejoined the regiment at Fort Ethan Allen November 30 from training duty at Plattsburg Barracks, and Troop A was sent back to the first squadron at Fort Myer, Virginia, on December 7.

Colonel Joseph T. Dickman left the Regiment June 22, 1917, when he became a brigadier general. He continued for awhile in command of the post, where there were now stationed over 7,000 soldiers. Later he became a major general and after commanding the Eighty-fifth Division at Camp Custer, Michigan, and other large camps, went to France and commanded the Third Division and later the First and Fourth Army Corps. Colonel Arthur T. Thayer reported to the regiment September 11 and continued as its commander during the rest of the war.

2 thoughts on “Preparing For War In Europe”

  1. My Uncle Pvt.Sid Froberg was a member of this group who was stationed in Vt and later transferred to Miss. He contracted TB there and died…never to make it to the European theater of operation. I have his pictures and his telegrams from Miss relating to his illness and death.

    Ken Froberg

  2. My Uncle Pvt.Sid Froberg was a member of this group who was stationed in Vt and later transferred to Miss. He contracted TB there and died…never to make it to the European theater of operation. I have his pictures and his telegrams from Miss relating to his illness and death.

    Ken Froberg

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