NOTE: This history is taken from the "Historical and Pictorial Review: National Guard of the State of North Dakota (1940), a special volume published in 1940, at the time of the unit’s preparation for mobilization into Federal service. Parts have been edited to eliminate repetition.
Historical Sketch of the
North Dakota National Guard
By BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN H. FRAINE, Retired, and LIEUTENANT COLONEL H. A. BROCOPP
This brief chronological sketch is for the purpose of furnishing the bare bones of the history of the National Guard of the State of North Dakota and such other voluntary troops organized and mustered into Federal service during the period from the organization of the National Guard of North Dakota as have had Federal war time service. The war service of the Guard will be found in other chapters. It is not the intention to publish a laudatory or self-serving history of these organizations. It may be necessary from time to time to mention individual names in order to maintain the continuity of the histories, but it is not the intention to build up a central figure or to indulge in laudatory or biographical sketches of an individual.
It is the hope that this volume may explain to the citizens of North Dakota the reason for and the object of the organization and training of a National Guard, and incidentally, to revive some memories of the splendid men who, during the entire period of the existence of a National Guard in this state have rendered unselfish, devoted service to their country in carrying out the object of the existence of the Guard itself.
Chapter VIII - MEXICAN BORDER, 1916
On June 16, 1916, the President called out the National Guard of the states, and in pursuance of such call, the First North Dakota Infantry was concentrated at Fort Lincoln, Camp-A.
Due to delays caused by necessary medical examinations and mustering in requirements, the regiment did not depart for Mercedes, Texas, until July, 1916. On arriving at Mercedes, a location was pointed out for the camp which consisted of the area which the inhabitants of Mercedes had for years used as a dump ground. It was covered with chaparral, mesquite and rubbish.
For some time before, and for six weeks after the regiment arrived, the impression made was that this was a tropical country and the rainy season was in progress. Every day and every night it rained heavily. The soil of the camp was gumbo, silt, sticky and bottomless when wet. The first night the men lay where they could on the camp site, among the mesquite and chapparal with abandoned sheet-iron stoves, broken bed pans, heaps of empty receptacles for canned goods, broken crockery and all sorts of debris which had accumulated in the years the ground had been used as the dump ground of the city.
Considerable excitement occurred at reveille the next morning because of the scorpions which had invaded the shoes and all clothing of the men. The disturbance caused when the men put on their shirts and shoes evidently irritated the scorpions and this irritation, which was manifested by a swift curvature and the subsequent sting of the tail, caused cries allover the camp. The first work was to clean off the chapparal and mesquite; to remove the debris and make a clean and sanitary ground on which tents could be pitched. Every particle of filth and debris was cleaned by hand from the entire area. Not a bit of any grass or growth was left.
A camp was established which, apart from the constant danger of flooding, was a very comfortable one. The routine established by the district commander pre- scribed about six hours of close order drill daily together with early morning marches and other exercises which kept the men constantly and strenuously employed. It was apparent at that time to anyone who observed the trend of events, that these troops would be used in the war in Europe then going on, but no- where in the program of instructions was any instruction given or opportunity to give instruction, in modern military methods such as were being used in Europe. Frequently problems involving marches and technical contact with either real or imaginary forces were carried out, and the strenuous drill and exercise did harden and discipline the men so that when the regiment returned in February, 1917, to North Dakota, they were really fitted for the field except for technical instruction in modern military methods.
The rainy weather did not continue for more than six weeks after the regiment reached Mercedes, and then only occasional rain storms, or northers, varied the monotony of hot sunny days. During the stay on the Border, early symptoms of malaria developed among the men. As no quinine was available from the government, it was necessary for the regiment to purchase a supply out of its own funds. After an adequate supply of quinine was obtained, the malaria disappeared and caused no further trouble. The fund from which this quinine was obtained was forwarded by Governor L. B. Hanna to the commanding officer as a gift to the regiment and was not only very welcome, but was very necessary. The entire fund was not used, but the residue was returned to Governor Hanna on the return from the Border, and later in 1917 when the regiment was again called out to take part in the World War, he again forwarded funds for the regiment which was used for the comfort and welfare of the men. A dengue fever also developed during the stay on the Border, but after that was controlled, there was very little sickness in the regiment. Only one death occurred while on the Border, that of Cook Christian E. Boe of Company E, whose death was very sudden. An autopsy showed that his death was caused by a perforated intestinal ulcer. In one tactical maneuver, the regiment reached a point east of the Palo Alto battlefield of the Mexican War, near Brownsville, and at the conclusion of the maneuver participated in the largest review of troops that had been seen in the United States since the final review of the Union Army at Washington at the close of the Civil War in 1865.
Once again the high character of the personnel of the regiment was displayed in the entire absence of petty offences, boisterous conduct, drunkenness or rowdiness. A very gratifying tribute was paid by the citizens of Mercedes on the entrainment of the regiment for home.
The citizens presented to each man the following testimonial:
"To the Officers and Men of the First North Dakota Infantry:
"After months of detention here in camp you are today leaving for your Northern homes. The citizens of Mercedes having been witnesses of your daily drill- your fidelity to work-your soldierly qualities and man- ly bearing under the restraint of inaction, desire to compliment you upon these facts and desire to congratulate your governor and the people of your home state upon the splendid military efficiency you have shown under circumstances most exacting. Our opportunity for observation has been large and we submit that the American flag can never be lowered when defended by men of your fidelity and character."
"Our homes have been safe, our people fully protected while you have been present, and we desire to express our deep appreciation of your service to us and the country. Our good will accompanies you and may this and our palms and flowers plead with you to return and re-visit us as individuals in happier times." -MERCEDES, TEXAS January 23,1917.
The regiment arrived at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, on Sunday morning, February 1, and marched from the train to the barracks in snow waist deep with the thermometer many degrees below zero, which was particularly noticeable to the men after their eight months' service in a sub-tropical region.
The regiment was discharged from Federal service on February 14, 1917, at Fort Snelling and reverted to their state status, arriving at their respective home stations on February 15, 1917.
On March 26, 1917, the Third Battalion; consisting of Companies A, F, H and K, under Major Dana Wright, were ordered into Federal service as guards at bridges and tunnels along the Northern Pacific Railway from Fargo, North Dakota, to Missoula, Montana, and remained in the service until the entire regiment was drafted under law by the President's call for the World War.
Chapter IX - WORLD WAR
July 16, 1917, was the day designated by the President for the draft of the National Guard of this state into the United States service. The regiment, having been recruited during the months elapsing since its re- turn from Border service, by the private efforts of officers and men of the regiment itself, without financial or other aid or assistance either from the government or War Department, was at full war strength of 2,002 enlisted men with its necessary quota of officers, and was held at its home station until the latter part of September before being ordered into camp at Camp Greene, Charlotte, North Carolina. One battalion had, however, been mobilized under Major Dana Wright for approximately four months, that battalion having been ordered out in March and the companies placed on detached duty guarding tunnels and bridges at various points along the Northern Pacific Railway between Fargo, North Dakota, and Missoula, Montana.
North Dakota Encamps
During the summer of 1917 the Second North Dakota Infantry was authorized by the War Department and was also sent to Camp Greene. The First Infantry Regiment remained at Camp Greene until November 16, at which time it was ordered to Camp Mills at Hemstead, Long Island.
Meanwhile, at Camp Greene the tables of organization had been changed so that the authorized strength of an infantry regiment was fixed at 3,608 enlisted men and 107 officers and the designation of the regiment was changed to 164th Infantry. Replacements were received from various points, some 600 from the Second North Dakota Infantry and others including a draft from Camp Lewis, and when the regiment embarked on December 14, 1917, for Europe on the Leviathan, there were present 3,990 officers and men who landed at Liver- pool, England, on December 24, 1917, entrained for Camp Winnaldown at Winchester, arriving at three o'clock Christmas morning. The regiment remained there until the last day of December, when it was moved from Southampton, England, to La Havre, France, where it landed on New Year's morning, 1918.
While at Camp Greene, North Carolina, the men suffered no particular hardships, as the camp was new. Drill grounds were improved, gullies bridged or filled, stumps and stones removed. No buildings were avail- able while at Camp Greene, except some kitchens which were erected during the latter part of the stay. When it moved to Camp Mills on Long Island, a new situation was presented. It is a matter of wonder that any responsible authorities would put men in a camp such as was found at Camp Mills. Other troops had occupied the space allotted to the regiment and had been moved from there some months before, leaving the tentage standing. This tentage was rotten, full of holes and rips, some of which were caused by rents and others by sparks having burned holes from the size of a pea to holes four or five feet across. It was necessary to super- impose such tents one on the other in order to obtain protection from the rain and snow. The ground had been flooded and was slimy and filthy. The water sup- ply was entirely inadequate. Fuel was unobtainable except for cooking, and then only by the men carrying some condemned railway ties on their shoulders from a point one and a half miles distant. The kitchens were defiled and filthy, the very ground smelling to the heavens.
Another Valley Forge
Much has been written in this country of the hard- ships of camps such as Valley Forge in the Revolution. From all descriptions, except for the lack of equipment of the troops at Valley Forge, the conditions at Camp Mills making for sickness, long continued diseases, death, suffering and hardships, surpassed any conditions at Valley Forge. It is fair to say, however, that one bright spot existed. There was a sufficiency of food, but the facilities for preparing it and consuming it were utterly inadequate. It is not too much to say that the ailments now suffered by many survivors of the 164th Infantry may in part be laid to the conditions existing at Camp Mills in November and December, 1917. Men who take life willfully are called murderers and the laws of every people, civilized and uncivilized, prescribe the most extreme penalties against such enemies of society, and soldiers' lives that are lost unnecessarily as a result of lack of proper provisions merit equally severe punishment. In a country such as this where funds are readily and instantly available to provide for men in the service of the country, public opinion should outlaw those who so utterly fail to perform a plain duty.
From La Havre on the morning of January 2, the regiment proceeded to LaCourtine in Central France, arriving after three days and nights of travel in un-heated cattle cars. The first contingent arrived at three a.m. on January 5 and were immediately housed in stone barracks erected by the French Government for the use of troops during previous years. These barracks had just been vacated by a division of Russians who evidently had had a revolt of some kind wherein one part of the division had parted from the rest, taken to the hills and with such arms as they had, bombarded the barracks, the walls of which were riddled with bullet marks, windows were out, doors smashed and the bar- racks were in a filthy, unsanitary condition.
The North Dakota regiment immediately proceeded to clean up the barracks to make them habitable, but on January 8 and 9 an order was received to send 2,600 privates from the 164th Infantry (formerly the First North Dakota) to the First Division. These men were loaded in open cattle cars in the depth of winter and transported to Houdelaincourt, Abainville, and to points in that vicinity in the neighborhood of Gondrecourt where they were distributed into the 16th, 18th, 26th and 28th United States Infantry, First Division.
The officers and non-commissioned officers and part of the machine-gun company remained at LaCourtine until January 14 at which time the men remaining were divided into three detachments. Four companies were sent to Chatillon-sur-Seine at the Second Corps school, there to furnish the necessary school troops, demonstration platoons and perform other service at the locality in connection with the school. Five companies went to Langres, Haute Marne, to do like duty there, and six companies were sent to First Corps School at Gondre- court, Meuse. From that day, the regiment was hopelessly divided and the history of the regiment, as a regiment, and its former members is difficult to recount. There- after its further history was that of losing non-commissioned officers and officers to various organizations, detached to the corps and army schools of instructors, non-commissioned officers for various purposes at various headquarters in France until the members were scattered far and wide and rarely met each other or heard of each other.
About July I, such trained men as still remained of these three detachments which had been filled up by several replacements of untrained men from the United States, were equipped and sent as replacements to other organizations, and were gathered together in the neighborhood of St. Aignan where, under command of Major Boyd, the ranking officer remaining with the regiment, the organization functioned as a replacement unit and within three months had received from the United States 55,000 men and trained them, equipped them and sent them to combatant units.
Return to America
The amount of work devolved upon Major Boyd and his staff to properly function was tremendous, making it necessary to keep his administrative force at work 24 hours a day. When Major Boyd landed at St. Romain he had with him 27 officers and one enlisted man. His daily reports subsequent to that showed as high as 7,900 men in the regiment at a time and at times some companies had 1,000 or 1,200 men on the rolls, a day or two afterwards it might be down to 100 or even less.
When the regiment, as a regiment, returned to the United States in February, 1919, although quite a large number of former members of the regiment, or the original 3,900 members of the regiment who embarked for France, only about 300 were with the regiment. Others of the regiment did not return until the fall of 1919. Major Boyd's work as a commander of the 164th Infantry in the replacement area was greatly appreciated by the higher command and he was not only awarded the Ordre de 1'Etoile Noire (officer) by Presidential decree of September 24, 1919, but he received through General Traub who commanded the 41st Di- vision, a highly commendatory letter from General Pershing.
World War Casualties
The casualties among the original personnel in the First North Dakota (164th Infantry) were tremendous due to the fact that so great a proportion were sent to the First Division, and to the Second and Third Divisions. Deaths from disease, however, were not great although there was much sickness at times. The prevailing flu epidemic did not spare the regiment, but the percentage of deaths from flu was infinitesimal. For instance, at Gondrecourt as many as 200 per day came down with flu. The attention given the men was such that the percentage of men who were absent from work more than three days was small. None of the men died of influenza while with the regiment. About 30 cases developed pneumonia following the flu, but all ultimately recovered.
The Second North Dakota Infantry was authorized by the War Department in June, 1917. It was recruited to a strength of 1,600 men within two or three weeks. The regiment was officered very largely (entirely in the upper grades) by former officers of the First North Dakota Infantry who had left the service but returned to it to help organize the Second North Dakota Infantry. This regiment was largely engaged in organizing and training its men until about the last of September when it was ordered to Camp Greene, Charlotte, North Carolina. On arrival at that time it was met at the train by staff officers of the 41st Division. It was promptly broken up with four companies to the 164th Infantry. Some units were assigned to form ammunition trains, others as field hospitals. Again, detachments were assigned as trench mortar troops and other auxiliary units, none of which had been maintained in the United States Army prior to the entrance of this country into the World War.
About 600 of these men and a few officers were assigned to the First North Dakota Infantry, the Second North Dakota Infantry being wiped out of existence, its officers being assigned to various duties with other organizations. Its men and officers went overseas and were scattered to combat organizations and its casualties, consequently, were numerous.
END of History
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