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New York Units at the Mexican Border, 1916-1917 (O'Ryan)

The following was taken from Chapter Two of The story of the 27th division by John F. O'Ryan, (New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co, c1921).


An account of the Mexican border service of the New York Division is included in this history for two reasons. In the first place, the Mexican border service was hardly completed before the division was called for service in the World War, and in consequence, there has been no opportunity to record a history of that most interesting and valuable service. Had we not participated in the World War I feel sure that many volumes would have been written covering the various phases of the border service. For that reason alone it is desirable to include as part of this history at least a narrative of the more prominent features of that experience. But there is another and controlling reason which links it with our service in the great war. The New York Division went into the World War composed very largely of disciplined and seasoned soldiers. So substantially was this attributable to the long service on the Mexican border, that it may truly be said that the border service was a preparatory course of training for the participation in the World War, and to that extent a part of it.

The reader will doubtless remember that for many years there existed in Mexico conditions which produced revolutions against the authority nominally in control. Armed conflicts between the forces representing the government of the hour and those in insurrection were frequent and where these combats took place close to the international boundary American citizens suffered in their persons and property. At various periods irresponsible bands of Mexican marauders crossed into the territory of the United States with resulting international complications. So frequent did these forays and raids become that our government finally maintained a border patrol of regular soldiers to guard against such incursions.

In the early spring of 1914 serious affront was given us by the Mexican authorities at Tampico, and the United States naval forces were sent into the harbor of that city. The demands of the United States not being met, our navy was sent to the port of Vera Cruz, where, after shelling the defenses, a force of sailors and marines was landed and possession of the city secured. This naval force was shortly thereafter augmented by a reinforced brigade of regular troops, commanded by Major General Frederick Funston. This force continued to hold and administer the city of Vera Cruz and its environs for a period of several months.

Nevertheless, the disorders in Mexico continued and raids and forays into American territory were not uncommon. On March 11-12, 1916, the bandit, Pancho Villa, with a band of his followers crossed the international line and in the presence of one or more squadrons of regular cavalry attacked and successfully raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico. The result of this was the organization of a punitive expedition for the purpose of capturing and punishing Villa and his followers. This expedition, composed of regular troops, under then Brigadier General John J. Pershing, advanced some distance into Mexico, but were unable to effect the capture of Villa.

The organization of General Pershing's punitive expedition necessitated the use of additional forces as reserves and for the patrol of the border. This led to the mobilization of the National Guard and its distribution along the Mexican border.

On Sunday evening, June 18, 1916, while sitting at my desk at the Camp Headquarters at the Infantry School of Application at Peekskill, New York, a telephone message was received from the Governor, to the effect that the President had called into the active service of the United States, for the purpose mentioned in the call, the National Guard of the United States, and that the quota from New York state was a complete tactical division. Governor Whitman read the order to me and directed that necessary action be taken. The Governor's verbal orders were later confirmed by a written order, which appears in the Appendix as Exhibit 1.

Division orders were immediately sent out directing all units to assemble at 8.00 p. m. the following evening in field service uniform. Pursuant to these orders the commands were assembled, and thus within twenty-four hours of the first telephone call 15,289 officers and men were assembled and ready for duty. The figures of strength are in addition to the Coast Artillery Corps, which at this time aggregated 3,398 officers and men. The composition of this force by units is interesting to record, and accordingly a summary of their strength is included in the Appendix as Exhibit 2.

Orders were issued for the reorganization of the 65th Infantry of Buffalo as the 3d Field Artillery (howitzer). All troops assembled in their armories, and the routine of a rigorous form of garrison life established. The parks in the cities and towns throughout the state, where units of the National Guard were stationed, were utilized as drill grounds. The large and modern armories, most of which had facilities for messing the strength of the regiment, had no difficulty in subsisting the troops. Where such facilities were lacking, company kitchens were established in an adjoining street, just as they would be in the field. A percentage of the men of each unit were required to sleep in the armory, while those who lived nearby were permitted at the close of the day's work to sleep at their homes. The system worked out most satisfactorily, both as to discipline and in relation to economy.

On June 20th the 69th Infantry and two battalions of engineers were sent to the mobilization camp near Green Haven, Dutchess County, New York, and these troops began the work of clearing the land and installing a water system for a large unit.

Division Headquarters in the meantime had moved to the Municipal Building in New York City, so as to be in close liaison with the Eastern Department Headquarters at Governors Island, where Major General Leonard Wood was in command.

During the period of activity which followed, many apparently unsurmountable obstacles afforded by federal rules and regulations were removed solely through the willingness of General Wood to assume responsibility to ignore them.

It may be said in connection with this mobilization, so far at least as the New York Division was concerned, that practically all of the delays and shortcomings which followed were directly attributable to the War Department and its methods—none to the state or to the authority of the Eastern Department commander.

As far back as two years prior to this call I had urged upon the War Department the urgent necessity of maintaining the war stores of clothing, equipage, supplies and material for the division, at some point or points within the state where they would be immediately available at the time of call. Major General Wood had studied this subject, and as a result had recommended the approval of what was proposed. The plan, however, was never favorably acted upon. The result was that when this call came the Philadelphia Arsenal, where much of our war property was stored, had to ship property to many other states. Not only delays, but errors in shipment inseparable from rush work performed by additional and inexperienced help, followed.

The War Department had provided cumbersome regulations prescribing the physical examination of each officer and man to be made prior to the time of the muster into the active service and had sent half a dozen medical officers of the army to make such examinations. These examinations included the recording of height and weight of a man, the condition of his eyes, ears, heart, teeth, bones and joints and nervous system. Certainly ten minutes would seem to be the minimum of time required to make any kind of physical examination. At that rate men could be examined by medical officers at the rate of six an hour. Such work is exacting, but in the stress of the emergency medical examiners might be required to work ten hours in each twenty-four, thus examining sixty men per day. At this rate it would take the examining officer assigned to a regiment twenty working days to make this rather cursory examination of the 1,200 officers and men in the average regiment. All this while other raids like the Columbus, New Mexico, affair threatened. The thing was ridiculous, but there were the War Department's regulations, and regulations to many elderly professional soldiers are like the laws of the Medes and Persians. The military crustaceans complained of by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt at the outbreak of the Spanish War were in evidence again.

Another feature which delayed the immediate utilization of the troops were the regulations governing the accountability for military property. This property was United States property in the possession of the state troops. Nevertheless, the regulations treated it as if it were state property —even foreign property—to be received, examined and receipted for from some other government. Such regulations were survivals of a former period, when the states equipped their troops and when it was necessary upon the United States taking over the state property to make a proper record of its transfer. And so the regulations provided that an inventory in quadruplicate, setting forth every item of military property, was to be made out. At a time when the officers and men were intensely occupied with other and important work, they were compelled to engage in this apparently endless paper work, and many and frequent were the inquiries and discussions which followed. Rulings asked for were given in most solemn manner, as to the methods involved and the orthodox manner of describing various articles. Frequently were these modified or reversed. I might continue at length in pointing out the inconsistencies of these federal regulations, all of which had been presented to the War Department again and again for years prior to the call, but without result. It was through this period that General Wood in informal conference assumed responsibility to disregard absurd requirements and to modify rulings and interpretations which had the effect of creating confusion and delay.

Shortly after the call the War Department decided that the emergency which called forth the troops was not to be considered sufficient to warrant the subordination of the country's commercial railroad transportation to the troop movements. Accordingly, there was time between the mobilization of troops, which immediately followed the President's call, and their transportation south to meet many of the requirements of the ancient federal regulations. The entraining of troops from New York for the Mexican border was in charge of the Department Quartermaster of the Eastern Department. The Assistant Quartermaster on the Division Staff at that time was Captain James T. Loree, in civil life the general manager of the Delaware and Hudson River Railroad. His special capacity for the carrying out of this work soon developed and with the approval of General Wood he was placed in charge of our troop movements. After he took hold there were no further hitches or delays.

The order in which the troops were transported is shown in a table which appears in the Appendix as Exhibit 3. This table shows the date of departure of each organization, the date of arrival at the border and the date of its return from the border. There were also shipped with the troops 3,377 horses and mules.

With the arrival of the division on the border we were assigned to three camp sites. These were at Mission, McAllen and Pharr, respectively, about sixty miles from Brownsville, near the mouth of the Rio Grande River. Preparation of these camps was under way when we arrived. Some of the errors in their preparation illustrated the complete unfamiliarity of the average army officer, accustomed to handling small units such as companies and battalions, with the requirements of a relatively large body of troops. For example, we found that the water system would not furnish water to more than half the camp at McAllen. No adequate allowance had been made in the pipe installation for the carrying of water sufficient for the units near the source, plus an excess sufficient to pass on to all units to the end of the system.

House moving on the Mexican Border
House moving on the Mexican Border

The first problem, and a most important one in that hot country, was, therefore, to secure an adequate water supply. The problem presented afforded a remarkable instance of the almost unlimited capacity of a National Guard division composed as it is of virile men in the professions and industries of civil life, to meet the many demands of active military service, with a maximum of efficient response. A glance through the card index of the commissioned officers of the division served to recall that Lieutenant Colonel Merritt H. Smith of the 1st Field Artillery was the chief engineer of the great water supply system of the city of New York. A conference between this officer and the one who had installed the system, followed by an examination of the plan, soon disclosed the trouble. Colonel Smith recommended the matter be turned over to two other officers of the Division for attention. One of these was a hydraulic engineer, whose specialty it was to design water supply installations for small cities and towns. This officer was Captain Ernest F. Robinson of the 22nd Engineers. The other officer was Major James M. Hutchinson of the 71st Infantry, whose specialty, when he could afford time from his National Guard soldier duties, was construction work of such character for municipalities. These officers soon designed and installed an adequate system at a minimum of cost to the government.

After the camps were prepared intensive training was commenced, awaiting possible orders for an invasion of Mexico. In the event of invasion the New York Division, which became known officially as the 6th Division during the period of the Mexican border service, was to constitute a striking force.

Doughboys moving at double time
Doughboys moving at double time

The Mexican border along the Rio Grande River in the vicinity of our stations consisted largely of a desert country inflicted with intolerable heat except for two or three months of what in the north would be called the winter season. No rivers flow into the Rio Grande from United States territory for many miles from the mouth of the river. The Rio Grande is, however, fed by a considerable number of streams flowing north from Mexican territory. The region occupied by the division was a part of what was known during the Mexican War of 1846 as the disputed territory. It will be remembered that when Texas entered the Union a dispute arose between the United States and Mexico concerning the southern boundary of the former republic of Texas, the United States claiming the Rio Grande as the boundary line, while the Mexican government claimed the Nueces River as the true line. When the Rio Grande was established as the boundary as one of the results of the war, the intervening territory was occupied almost wholly by Mexicans. There was little to invite American occupation, and accordingly conditions in relation to population which obtained at the time of the Mexican War continued in a general way until about twenty years ago, when, due to the richness of the soil and the irrigation possibilities, parts of this territory attracted the influx of American planters. Nevertheless, at the time the New York Division occupied its area the population was almost wholly Mexican. Villages of from 100 to 300 inhabitants would include but two or three Americans, or none at all. Towns like McAllen, Mission and Pharr were known as American towns, yet the population of McAllen at the time we were there was made up of 800 Mexicans and 300 Americans.

A company of the 12th N. Y. Infantry deployed along the Rio Grande in
maneuver exercises at Hidalgo, Texas.

Many of the Mexicans regarded the presence of the American troops in an unfriendly way. Some of them seemed to feel that the troops had invaded Mexican territory. I was told that some of the peons felt that the United States had never rightfully secured sovereignty to the land lying between the Nueces and the Rio Grande, and that the day would come when this land would again be a part of the Mexican Republic.

A small Mexican family
A small Mexican family

As to this Mexican population, they were for the most part Indians, representing a number of Indian tribes. I met a few who spoke very little Spanish and whose Indian dialects were so dissimilar that it was only with A small Mexican family difficulty that they could converse. There were, however, exceptions. The mass spoke a character of Spanish known as "Mex." Undoubtedly there was a strain of Spanish blood among these people and the extent of it appeared to vary. I think it can be said so far as the mass of our men were concerned, that they came to like the Mexicans. At least they did not dislike them. In the first place they were as a whole very temperate. They were polite, especially when one considers their lack of education and opportunity to acquire a knowledge of the conventionalities which obtain among more cultivated people. We observed that they were strong believers in the family. It was not infrequent to find a family of twelve or fifteen children. The peons carried themselves in the presence of Americans with dignity, and they were not given much to speech. The fathers and mothers of this class were very fond of their children and seemed to lead happy lives. Certainly their lives were simple, for during the summer most of them seemed to live wholly or in part outdoors, frequently in the shade of a roof made of Type of native dwelling along the Rio Grande thatched leaves set on poles. They subsisted on tortillas and frijoles, occasionally supplemented by goat's meat. They also used goat's milk supplied by the small herd of goats which every Mexican family seemed to possess. On Sundays it was noticeable that the families rested from their work and did considerable walking about. On such occasions one would see them on the roads and trails and always it was the man of the family who carried the baby, the women never being used as a burden carrier. There was, of course, a small percentage of unruly Mexicans who frequented the drinking places, some of whom were inclined to be quarrelsome. We discovered when we employed Mexicans that they could be developed into very good mechanics. They were skillful in the use of tools and could imitate very successfully the construction of such articles as tables, chairs and desks placed before them as models. These peons were extremely fond of music, and many of them could play one or more stringed instruments, such as the guitar or mandolin. Their attitude toward us at the beginning was one of fear and resentment. After a time this changed and became one of reservation and suspicion. In spots this was removed by closer association. I visited at various times the families of Mexicans who were admittedly good Americans and, of course, was well and graciously received. On other occasions I visited the huts and camps of Mexicans who lived mostly in the brush. The sense of hospitality of these people seemed to be so great that in a few moments their suspicions and noticeable reservation gave way to an effort to show courtesy and hospitality. They seemed very appreciative of any confidence and courtesy shown them. I believe the Mexicans would have received from our officers and men a rather complete assurance of confidence and good will, except for the fact that most of the Texans continually warned us that the peons were not to be trusted.

Type of native dwelling along the Rio Grande
Type of native dwelling along the Rio Grande

When we first arrived along the Rio Grande the sounding of an automobile horn by the driver of one of our motor cars would drive into the brush any peons on the road ahead who were within hearing of the horn. They seemed to feel that they had no rights on the road against Americans. This attitude was soon changed when it was found that our troops accorded them the full rights which the law and fair dealing demanded.

The main saloon of McAllen, Texas, one of many, none of which our soldiers could enter
The main saloon of McAllen, Texas, one of many,
none of which our soldiers could enter

Having made an inspection of our territory and finding a large number of saloons, cafes and other places where strong liquor was sold, I felt that The main saloon of McAllen, Texas, one of many, none of which our soldiers could enter such conditions in connection with the almost intolerable heat of that region would make desirable the total abstinence of officers and men from the use of liquor. Venereal disease has ever been the curse of armies, and such disease and the use of liquor have been intimately related. It was felt that by prohibiting the use of liquor effective measures might be adopted to keep down the venereal rate. Accordingly, the order which became somewhat famous, known as G. 0. 7, was issued prohibiting officers and men of the New York Division using intoxicating liquors in any form during their service on the border, or entering houses of prostitution or places where liquor was sold. A copy of G. O. 7 and the order amending it are included in the Appendix as Exhibit 4.

It is interesting to note that this order was the forerunner of the rigid prohibition against liquor which obtained in and about our camps in America during the war. The order was in fact scoffed at by many very capable officers of the army. Some few of them argued that soldiers had always been permitted to use strong drink and that it would lessen their efficiency if such drink were denied the mass of them. Others, while acknowledging the evils flowing from the use of such stimulants, were convinced that prohibition could not be enforced, particularly in the absence of the support of state and federal laws. Many officers of the army have since said that they held such views at the time and that they watched with keen interest the progress of the enforcement of G. O. 7.

Major General Funston, who commanded all the troops on the border, told me laughingly one day that he was personally glad that my jurisdiction was subservient to his and that in consequence there was no danger of G. O. 7 being applied to Fort Sam Houston, which was at that time his headquarters. He told me, however, that the matter of the use of liquor was one to be regulated by me within my own division and that he would not interfere with my effort. His attitude was a great help for very great pressure was brought to bear to compel a rescinding of this order. Liquor dealers, brewers and promoters of disorderly houses in numbers had planned a rich harvest from their proposed enterprises in the area of the New York Division. Their efforts and intimidations profited them nothing. One lawyer representing the proprietor of a liquor saloon, who had expended a considerable sum of money in preparing it for the advent of the New York troops, threatened me with an injunction, stating that my action was in restraint of legitimate business. The sale of liquor was, of course, a legitimate business in Texas at that time. It was explained to him that a military commander possessed the right to keep his men confined to the limits of their camps even for the period of their entire service if he felt such order to be necessary and the same was not overruled by higher military authority. Furthermore, that he might, for example, lawfully require his men to walk on one side of the street and never to walk on the other side, and that following out this authority he could prohibit them entering places where liquor was sold.

Permanent guards were established by the military police on the highways covering the front and rear entrance to every saloon and disorderly house in our area. They arrested soldiers of the division who attempted to enter such places. In three weeks we had driven out of our territory every house of prostitution but one and this closed down a week or two later. The conditions which existed in other parts of the border have frequently been described in the public press.

The most remarkable feature of this project was the magnificent response of the 19,000 officers and men of the division to this unusual prohibition. At least 80 per cent of them saw the reasonableness of the regulation and made no attempt to violate it. This attitude of so large a percentage insured its success from the beginning. Of the remainder, most of them were deterred from violating the regulation by the fear of the consequences, while a small percentage, perhaps 3 to 5 per cent of the whole, continually made effort in one way or another to contravene the regulation.

The result of this order and of the high standard of conduct which accompanied it, produced the most remarkable health record ever made by an organization of similar size in the history of the army up to that time. Venereal disease practically did not exist in the division throughout the period of its service on the Mexican border. The same comment applies to typhoid fever. The sick and venereal record of the division from July 19th to November 30th is included in the Appendix as Exhibit 5.

One particularly interesting feature of the Mexican border service was the assignment to our division of the 3d Tennessee Infantry when the 2d New York Infantry was relieved in September. The assignment of this regiment to the New York Division was a happy circumstance, because the same regiment in the World War became part of the 30th Division and throughout the service in Belgium and France we saw much of them. The regiment was commanded by Colonel Carey F. Spence, who continued in command throughout the border service and the World War as well. The 3d Tennessee Infantry was a fine regiment and soon felt perfectly at home in its new environment. All the officers and men of our division will remember its fine band. This band in fact was the best in our division.

While on the border some of the officers and men of the division, with the authority of Division Headquarters, established a divisional newspaper known as the Rio Grande Rattler. The motto of this paper which appeared at the head was "The strength of the Wolf is the pack, but the strength of the pack is the Wolf." This well typified the determination of officers and men to make of every member of the division a soldier, individually efficient in the performance of his duties, and at the same time to weld the individuals into a harmonious whole, into which should be breathed a dependable esprit-de-corps. This was accomplished and the result stood the division in good stead in all its future service, both on the border and in the World War.

It was in this paper that Lieutenant Edward Streeter of the Field Artillery first published his remarkably successful "Letters to Mabel," which have appeared in many editions during and since the World War.

The Rio Grande Rattler was in charge of Major Franklin W. Ward as Managing Editor. Major Fred M. Waterbury, Editor, had as his assistants Captain Wade H. Hayes of the 7th Infantry and Lieutenant Samuel J. Fisher of the 12th Infantry. Private Donald Emery, who later distinguished himself in the fighting abroad, was the Art Editor.

During the summer of the border service many tactical exercises were carried out in which the various arms of the service were combined and practical understanding was had by the officers and men of each arm of their duties and obligations in relation to the others.

The camp defenses of a company on outpost duty
The camp defenses of a company on outpost duty

These field maneuvers usually consisted of an operation which employed a reinforced brigade, opposed by a small force of cavalry and infantry, screening or covering an assumed larger force. This necessitated coordination in the combined use of the several arms constituting the reinforced brigade. Our infantry came to know something of the capacity and limitations of the auxiliary arms and the latter had impressed upon them that "the infantry is the army," and that accomplishment of the auxiliary arms would be measured by the extent of their assistance to the infantry.

County Court House, Hidalgo, Texas
County Court House, Hidalgo, Texas

One of the exercises planned contemplated the forcing of a crossing of the Rio Grande in the vicinity of Hidalgo on the American side. This small town was opposite Reynosa, a similar town on the Mexican side. The latter place was the headquarters of Major Flores of the Constitutionalista Forces, who had a garrison of troops under his command. There existed a flat boat ferry across the river between the two towns. Our previous exercises had all been carried out away from the river, so that the firing of the blank ammunition and the concentration of the troops might not excite the forces on the other side and perhaps bring on a clash. An "entente cordiale" had already been established with Major Flores, who on one occasion had dined at Division Headquarters, after which he reviewed the 7th Infantry. Accordingly it General Flores' visit to the New York Division.  General Flores center, General O'Ryan on right, Colonel Bandholtz on left, Colonel Ward and Lieutenant Wainer in rearwas decided to take him into the plan. He came over to Division Headquarters and was asked if he would have any objection to an exercise so near the line. He not only had none, but graciously gave assurance that all his people would be informed of the practice character of the operation and offered to help in any way he could. The statement of the exercise was interesting, for it indicated that his troops had been forced to retire towards Monterey, on the approach of a large force of Villastas and that our division, in order to cross the river and go to his assistance, would be opposed by the common enemy. The exercise was carried out without unhappy incident and with great wonderment on the part of the natives. Much profitable experience was gained by all who participated.

Among other exercises the infantry and cavalry of the division made a 110-mile practice march. Some of the details affecting this march may be noted by reference to the division order on the subject, copy of which appears in the Appendix as Exhibit 6. We also provided a very advanced type of rifle range for field firing at a place called La Gloria, Texas. This was in the early fall of 1916. The course of field firing followed the completion of the ordinary course of target practice. In the field firing exercises, each company was deployed General Flores' visit to the New York Division. General Flores center, General O'Ryan on right, Colonel Bandholtz on left, Colonel Ward and Lieutenant Wainer in rear for combat and advanced through the brush, where it came in sight of targets representing the silhouettes of enemy individuals and groups, in prone, kneeling and standing positions, the exercises terminating in an assault against an entrenched position. The enemy trench to be assaulted was occupied by silhouette hats, which could be seen and which were made to appear and disappear by means of wires controlled by men in pits. As service ammunition was used in all of these exercises, it will be understood that considerable risk was assumed in carrying them out. Yet so excellent was the discipline and so perfect the arrangements, in relation to supervision, that not an accident marred the long course of training carried out at La Gloria.

The officer in charge of this important work, and who was largely responsible for the discipline which prevailed in the execution of the problems, was Major George F. Chandler, Adjutant of General Lester's First Brigade, at present writing, the New York State Commissioner of Police. An editorial which appeared in the Rattler, describing the value of the field firing as conducted at La Gloria, is worth preserving for future reference. It appears in the Appendix as Exhibit 7.

After some months it developed that there was to be no invasion of Mexico. With the arrival of 150,000 National Guard troops at the border, order was restored. No more raids were attempted. The mission of the National Guard had been accomplished and the War Department ordered the gradual relief of organizations.

A company of the 22d N. Y. Engineers passing in review. The soldiers of this regiment were unusually large men
A company of the 22d N. Y. Engineers passing in review.
The soldiers of this regiment were unusually large men

Another feature of our border service was the occasional divisional review on the big plain south of Sharyland. Here the division was reviewed on different occasions by Major General Frederick Funston, who commanded the Southern Department; United States Senator James W. Wads worth, Jr., and Governor Charles S. Whitman of New York. The review of a complete tactical division was something which had not been seen in this country since the Civil War. The formation with nine regiments of infantry, three regiments of field artillery and a regiment and one separate squadron of cavalry, together with engineers, signal troops, sanitary units and trains, was most impressive. It was an opportunity for officers and men, as well as the few sightseers who were present to gain a comprehensive idea of the magnitude and power of a fighting division.

The Field Artillery Brigade passing in review near McAllen, Texas
The Field Artillery Brigade passing in review near McAllen, Texas

On September 30th the division had a great Frontier Day, staged on the drill field of the 7th Infantry. Cowboys and vaqueros for many miles about came in to compete in tests of broncho busting and roping while there were numerous exhibitions showing the efficiency of military units. Much to the surprise of the spectators, the best exhibitions of broncho busting were not given by the Texans and Mexicans, but by two men of the division, Privates Hathaway of the 2d Field Artillery and Joe Hooker of the First Cavalry. Much of the success of this great occasion was due to the energy of Lieutenant H. LeRoy Whitney of the Field Artillery Brigade, assisted by Sergeant M. A. Hart.

The division lost a number of very good men during the period of the Mexican border service. Sergeant Arthur Lockwood of Company L, 12th Infantry was drowned in the Irrigation Canal near Sharyland at noon on August 26th. The following is a list of other deaths with causes between July 19th and November 25th, 1916.

Name Rank Co. Organization Cause of Death
Martin, Clarke Private Hq. 69th N. Y. Infantry Pneumonia
Locher, Joseph Corporal M 12th N. Y. Infantry Typhoid
Healy, Clinton Private H 23d N. Y. Infantry Tuberculosis
Whelan, Hans S. 2d Lieutenant   69th N. Y. Infantry Tubercular Meningitis
Chichester, Geo. 1st Sergeant B 7th N. Y. Infantry Dysentery
Winslow, Claude Private B N. Y. Signal Corps Gastroenterocolitis
Boldtman, Harold O. Private L 7th N. Y. Infantry Paratyphoid "A
Cohn, Joseph Private B 12th N. Y. Infantry Intestinal obstruction
Johnson, William Private E 2d N. Y. Field Art'y Accid. kick by horse
Bishop, Fred E. Private   N. Y. Amb. Co. No. 1 Gunshot wound
Riley, Peter Private B 1st N. Y. Cavalry Dysentery
Baker, Willett Mas. Sig. Elec.   N. Y. Signal Corps Interstitial nephritis
Smith, Robert J. Private D 12th N. Y. Infantry Paratyphoid "A"
Webster, William J. Private B N. Y. Signal Corps Paratyphoid "A"
McEvoy, Joseph F. Private F 12th N. Y. Infantry Tuberculosis
Vassar, Rufus P. Private E 7th N. Y. Infantry Nephritis
Smith, William N. Private E 12th N. Y. Infantry Paratyphoid "A"
Flynn, Richard J. Private B 3d N. Y. Field Art'y Gunshot Wound
Murtaz, Peter Private K 69th N. Y. Infantry Endocarditis


During the period of the Mexican border service every regiment developed an entertainment troupe, while most of the companies had their local talent for ordinary occasions. The best of all these entertainers occasionally appeared in a big bill on an improvised stage near the Division Headquarters. The veterans of the border service can look back to many pleasant evenings of entertainment furnished by the men under Lieutenant William A. Halloran, Jr., of the 1st Cavalry.

Every regiment also had its fighters and wrestlers and gradually the championship of each regiment was determined. In the fall of the year many fights were held before large audiences, between champions representing the various regiments. Barney Williams of the Field Artillery was one of the best. Private Diamond of the 12th Infantry was another good man. Privates Cohan and Mack of the 69th and Crottie of the 12th frequently exhibited. Private McDermott, Troop B, 1st Cavalry, Private Ray Rourke, Headquarters, 1st Cavalry, and Sergeant Eugene Sullivan, Supply Troop, 1st Cavalry, were among the fighters and wrestlers who gave exhibitions.

A "yellow leg" of the 1st N. Y. Cavalry furnishing experience to an ambitious doughboy
A "yellow leg" of the 1st N. Y. Cavalry furnishing experience to an ambitious doughboy

The training on the border played so important a part in the preparation of the division to enter the World War effectively, that something should be said concerning the results of that training. Unless the principles underlying this training are understood, it will be impossible adequately to sense the tremendous devotion and intelligent spirit of sacrifice which later characterized in such forcible manner the conduct of the division in the World War. In the earlier part of the border service these principles were not disclosed to the men. Some would not have understood them. Others might have doubted their practicability. But later on opportunities were made to explain the motives which had determined the methods employed. One of these occasions was an address delivered at the Y. M. C. A. Building at McAllen to the soldiers stationed at the latter place. Mention was made of this address in the Rattler a day or two later, and, as it seems to cover the subject very fully, it is quoted in part.

In this address I referred to the fact that a previous speaker had said "God never made anything finer than a good soldier," but reminded the men that it was also true that "God had never made anything more dreadful than a bad soldier—the man of laziness, selfishness and lust—the man with the animal desire to satisfy the passions of the moment and without restraint except as the efficiency of the military law imposes it upon him." The following is quoted from the Rattler:

" 'It is not my purpose,' said the General, 'to paint the ideal good soldier as a holier-than-thou individual, who takes an unnecessarily solemn view of life, or an ascetic who wears a hair shirt possessing the hospitality of the cactus plant. The good soldier is a very human type of individual. He makes mistakes, he has his off days, and, in fact, is a regular fellow. But you will find in his character those fundamental qualities which we greatly admire in others, whether we possess them or not—generosity, courage, the habit of truth telling, respect, and the sense of responsibility. The world has always admired the good soldier and it always will admire him, while men and women have hearts and ideals. And I say to you that the very people at home who call themselves pacifists and who profess to see in you a menace to peace and happiness, do not dare permit themselves to know you as you are, but must continue to base their fears upon the picture they paint of you. The picture, needless to say, is that of the bad soldier. Were they to come here and see you as you are they would become infected with admiration for men who are practicing what they and others are preaching—courage, self-denial, respect for authority and truth telling.'

"The General then told of a soldier of the Headquarters detachment who was out after taps. The following day the General told him that the men of the detachment were expected to act as examples for the rest of the division in the observance of regulations and asked him whether on the previous evening he had violated the regulation prohibiting men drinking any form of intoxicating liquor. The soldier was warned that the General had no evidence against him, that if he convicted himself he would be punished, but that the question was justified by the rumor that one or more men of the detachment had violated the rule. The soldier promptly answered, 'Sir, I did drink one glass of beer-last night.' It was the first drink he had taken since coming to the border four months ago. The General went on to explain that the soldier was tried the next day and sentenced to five days' confinement with hard labor, and continued, 'but he told the truth. He subordinated expediency to honor. His dependability was tested and not found wanting. He possessed the soldier virtue of self-sacrifice and therefore subordinated his personal interests of the moment for the ideal of truth. When he went into the guard house he took his self-respect with him and kept it untarnished.'"

"General O'Ryan then proceeded to point out the necessity for Spartan training in the development of soldiers. He said that this was not generally understood, that the average person believed that soldier development had to do solely with learning the manual of arms, how to ride and shoot, how to make and break camp. He pointed out that these are qualifications requiring physical dexterity and are readily acquired; that war requires self-sacrificing and dependable men, men who will suffer and endure without unreasonable complaint and that these are qualities not grown overnight. That they are the result of a biological and psychological process, and that such process compared with the mere acquisition of manual dexterity, is slow. He mentioned that the hikes developed the good material and weeded out the weaklings. The rigid rule against liquor, while it safeguarded the health and morals of the division to an extent that is difficult to appreciate, performed a most valuable service in the development of morale, in that it stimulated self-control and pride in individual accomplishment."

"He said that it taught men to regard themselves as composed of a dual being—the commander and the machine, that when a man's stomach pleaded for a 'beer,' and the man had developed enough morale to say to his stomach, 'Shut up, I am running this machine, nothing doing with the beer,' he knew he had developed a MAN, a good soldier who would command his legs and keep them moving on the hike when they pleased to fall out. Such training he pointed out was the best kind of fire training, because when the nerves of the body wildly telephoned to the head their fears in battle, his command over the body would dominate and insure a proper performance of duty."

"These are the fundamental principles which have guided the training of the New York Division for the past few years, and that training has been intensified during the past four months, with results that speak for themselves."

The Mexican border service afforded opportunity for the weeding out of officers and men who for one reason or another lacked capacity to be efficient soldiers. It afforded opportunity to harden and endure officers and men to the fatigue and hardships of service in the field. It developed their qualities of leadership. The morale and esprit-de-corps of most of the regiments were greatly increased. Finally and perhaps more important than all else in connection with the future, was the opportunity offered for the development of efficient staff officers.

The division had been mobilized, transported to the border, fed, equipped, drilled, trained, disciplined, exercised and returned to the state of New York by its own corps of officers. In a force as large as a division, the. problems and difficulties affecting such activities and accomplishment are numerous and require the services of a trained staff. In our country no opportunity had been offered our army officers to engage in work of this character in a large way because of the small size of the Regular Army and of the policy which at that time prevailed of scattering its units about the country.

Supplementing the government ration. From left to right, Captain Johnson, Lieutenant Colonel Conrow, William Sterling, Major Humphreys and Captain Lane
Supplementing the government ration. From left to right,
Captain Johnson, Lieutenant Colonel Conrow, William Sterling, Major Humphreys and Captain Lane

The Mexican border service provided an extraordinary experience for the staff officers of the division in the performance of their important duties and they profited mightily.

No account of the Mexican border service would be complete without some mention of the work of our various commanding officers.

There was Brigadier General James W. Lester, who commanded the 1st Brigade, composed of the 2d, 14th and 69th Infantry Regiments. General Lester at one time commanded the 2d Infantry. He was an officer eminently qualified for his work, for he brought to it long experience, sound judgment and the soldierly virtues of loyalty, determination and leadership. He was the last general officer of the division to leave the border, he having been left to supervise the departure of the 1st Cavalry and the 23d and 74th Infantry, which were the last units to leave when the border service was concluded. He reached his home station in the spring of 1917, just prior to our entry into the World War, in the early part of which he commanded the 54th Infantry Brigade of the 27th Division, during its period of training at Camp Wadsworth.

Then there was Brigadier General George R. Dyer, a soldier of long service in the New York Division, who was in command of the 2d Brigade, composed of the 7th, 12th and 71st Infantry Regiments. General Dyer was the kind of an officer, who when asked for his views by a superior, always stated them with complete frankness, whether or not he believed they would be approved. With equal zeal, however, he carried out his orders whether or not they conformed to that which he had recommended. He possessed a great quality in a soldier—optimism. His subordinates respected and liked him, and he was one who could always get work done.

Brigadier General William Wilson another officer of long service and experience commanded the 3d Brigade composed of the 3d, 23d and 74th Infantry Regiments. General Wilson commanded at Pharr and had a very healthy and efficient command.

The Field Artillery Brigade composed of the 1st, 2d and 3d Artillery Regiments, was commanded by Brigadier General William S. McNair, of the Regular Field Artillery. I had applied for General McNair, because I believed him to be specially fitted to give our Field Artillery Brigade a proper start. I had known him many years and we were together in the same class at the Army War College in 1913 and 1914. He was respected and liked in his brigade and succeeded in developing a high standard of efficiency.

Colonel H. H. Bandholtz, U. S. A., who was the Divisional Chief of Staff, served continuously with us on the border, in New York state during the brief interval between that service and the World War, and in the latter war at Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, South Carolina, until he was promoted to the grade of Brigadier General to command the 58th Brigade of the 29th Division. He was a most efficient officer and while we regretted to lose him we knew that his promotion in the early part of 1918 was well merited.

Then there was Colonel James M. Andrews of the 2d Infantry, who had served in that regiment in nearly all grades after some years of service in the Regular Army. He had an excellent regiment and had succeeded in surrounding himself with a considerable number of very capable officers. The regiment possessed a very good esprit-de-corps and its men were characterized by excellent behavior and a willingness to go anywhere and do anything. This regiment augmented by the transfer of several hundred officers and men from the 71st Infantry, later became the 105th Infantry of the 27th Division in the World War and served throughout under Colonel Andrews.

Colonel John H. Foote commanded the 14th Infantry, a fine old regiment with a Civil War record of distinction. Colonel Foote's men particularly distinguished themselves on one occasion during the period of the great hike when a tornado with forty-eight hours of heavy rain and hail struck them while they were bivouacked at La Gloria. During the long period of the storm they had literally to hold themselves to the ground for fear of being blown away. Without shelter they endured hardship to the point of exhaustion, but never was there a murmur of complaint from them. They won the respect of the division by the manner in which they conducted themselves on this occasion. This regiment in the World War became the 2d Pioneer Infantry, Corps and Army troops, and served in France and Germany.

Colonel William N. Haskell, a permanent Captain in the Regular Army, commanded the 69th Infantry. Colonel Haskell had been an Inspector Instructor with our division before the border service, and when a slight physical disability resulted in the disqualification, to his great disgust be it said, of the then Colonel Louis D. Conley, Haskell was recommended as the man best fitted to take the regiment. He performed his work so well that the entire regiment developed a great admiration for him and clamored for his retention as Colonel when the regiment entered upon its service in the World War as the 165th Infantry of the "Rainbow Division." As will be explained in another part of this book, this was not to be.

The 7th Infantry Regiment was commanded by Colonel Willard C. Fisk, who had a short time before the beginning of the Mexican border service succeeded Colonel Daniel Appleton in command. Colonel Fisk had about thirty-five years of continuous service in the 7th and was noted as a rigid disciplinarian and an excellent tactician. At all times his regiment performed its work in accordance with the high standards of its traditions. This regiment, augmented by the transfer of several hundred officers and men from the 1st Infantry, in the World War became the 107th Infantry of the 27th Division and served with great distinction in Belgium and France, especially in the fierce attack against the Hindenburg Line in September, 1918.

The 12th Infantry was for a time commanded by a Captain from the Regular Cavalry, whose service was unsatisfactory and who was relieved. The regiment thereafter was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Reginald L. Foster, another officer of long service and experience and a newspaper man in civil life. Colonel Foster while a Major served as Chief of the Military Police of the division, and it was largely due to his energy and determination that G. 0. 7, which prohibited the use of liquor, was so effectively enforced. This regiment at the time of the reorganization of the New York Division for the World War was designated as the 52d Pioneer Infantry, Corps and Army troops, and served under Colonel Foster in France and Germany.

Colonel William G. Bates commanded the 71st Infantry. This was the first regiment to return from the border service and so had a considerable period of time between its muster out and the commencement of the World War to prepare for its next service. Colonel Bates began his service in the 7th and served in the Spanish American War both in the states and in the Philippines. He later served in the World War as Commanding Officer of the 54th Pioneer Infantry, by which name the 71st became officially known and which was designated as Corps and Army troops. His experience, therefore, has been long and varied.

Colonel Edgar S. Jennings commanded the 3d Infantry, which, like the 2d Infantry, was composed largely of separate companies from the central part of the state. His regiment, consolidated with a large number of the personnel of the 74th Infantry of Buffalo, later became the 108th Infantry of the 27th Division. Like its service in the World War under Colonel Jennings, who commanded it throughout, its service on the Mexican border was always dependable and satisfactory.

The 23d Infantry was commanded by Colonel Frank H. Norton. He was another officer of long service and experience and one who held the regard of officers and men of the division generally. This regiment, augmented by the transfer of a number of officers and men from the 14th and 47th Infantry, also of Brooklyn, became the 106th Infantry of the 27th Division and served with great distinction, especially in the attack against the outer defenses of the Hindenburg Line in September, 1918.

The 74th Infantry, whose home station is Buffalo, was commanded by Colonel Nathaniel B. Thurston, known to soldiers throughout the country as "Peggy Thurston," one of the fathers of rifle practice in America. This really remarkable man deserves a chapter in any military book dealing with the soldiers of New York. Alert and virile, both in intellectual strength and bodily vigor, he was an intense partisan in his likes and dislikes. He possessed keen judgment, great loyalty and strong determination. He was a natural leader. His instruction to officers and men always compelled interest because always replete with original and picturesque illustrations given in convincing fashion. He always distinguished between his official and personal relations with his comrades, being very formal and exacting in official life, sympathetic and kindly in his social life. He contracted fever on the border and after a severe illness, much wasted away, was sent north to recuperate. After some months he returned, apparently completely recovered, but died suddenly in January, 1917, at McAllen, Texas. The division lost a great soldier and thousands of officers and men a true friend. The 74th Infantry was later designated as the 55th Pioneer Infantry, Corps and Army troops, and served abroad.

Colonel Henry H. Rogers commanded the 1st Field Artillery. He had served in the 22d Engineers and on the staff of the 1st Brigade before he became an artilleryman. In the 1st Field Artillery he had served as Adjutant and as a battery commander. He had an excellent command on the border and later served with distinction in France. The regiment in the World War was the 104th Field Artillery of the 27th Division.

Colonel George A. Wingate commanded the 2d Field Artillery. Like the other regimental commanders, his service had been long and varied. He brought to his job the point of view of the division staff, for he had served under Major General Roe as Chief of Staff of the division. He won great distinction not only during the border service, but during the World War in which he was promoted to the grade of Brigadier General and in command of the 52d Field Artillery Brigade of the 27th Division, gained the award of the Distinguished Service Medal. This regiment served in the World War as the 105th Field Artillery of the 27th Division.

Colonel Daniel W. Hand, a Captain from the Regular Army, commanded the 3d Field Artillery. This officer was another of those who had served as an Inspector-Instructor with our division prior to the Mexican border service. He had come to be recognized not only at Division Headquarters, but throughout the Field Artillery Brigade, as a leader of exceptional ability. It was Colonel Hand who organized the 3d Field Artillery from the old 65th Infantry of Buffalo. To this day they talk of Colonel Hand as the father of the regiment. It is men like Hand and Haskell, who have by their conduct and example, established in the hearts of the National Guard a belief in the capacity and square dealing of the mass of regular officers. To Colonel Hand's zeal and accomplishment in organizing this regiment is due much of the credit for its fine service in the war abroad, as the 106th Field Artillery of the 27th Division.

Major William L. Hallahan, quiet and efficient, commanded the 1st Battalion, Signal Corps. In Texas his men established radio communication with Department Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston and saved the government thousands of dollars in telegraph tolls, by enabling us to transmit most of our rush communications by radio. His men were always at work and they built a large number of government military lines in our section of Texas. Major Hallahan as Lieutenant Colonel and Signal Officer of the 27th Division gained the coveted Distinguished Service Order of the British army and won distinction in Belgium and France.

The engineers of the division first consisted of two battalions, one commanded by Major Frederic N. Whitley, later succeeded by Major Frederic M. Humphreys, who had up to the time of his promotion been my Aide. Major Humphreys was an honor graduate of West Point and had served in the Engineer Corps of the Regular Army. Major Whitley was a most efficient engineer. Major William S. Conrow who commanded the second battalion and who later became Lieutenant Colonel, when the two battalions were organized as a regiment, was an officer of long and distinguished service, including important work in the Philippine Islands. When the regiment was formed Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Division Inspector, was made Colonel and placed in command. His service on the border won for him this merited promotion. The service of this regiment as the 102d Engineers of the 27th Division was most distinguished during its operations in Belgium and France.

Heavy pontoon bridge erected by the 22d N. Y. Engineers west of Mission, Texas
Heavy pontoon bridge erected by the 22d N. Y. Engineers west of Mission, Texas

The 1st Cavalry was commanded by that sterling soldier Colonel Charles I. De Bevoise, organizer, disciplinarian and great leader, who had commanded the regiment from the time of its organization in 1913. Everyone intimately acquainted with the service of this officer predicted a great future for him in the event of war, and well indeed did he measure up to the expectations of his friends when the opportunity afforded by the World War came. In the great war he commanded the 107th Infantry in all its battles and engagements, and was promoted on the field to be Brigadier General in recognition of his distinguished service. Thereafter he commanded the 53d Brigade of the 27th Division. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. In the reorganization of the 27th Division preparatory to its service abroad, the 1st Cavalry was broken up and formed the 104th and 106th Machine Gun Battalions, while Troop "I" of Buffalo became the 102d Trench Mortar Battery. All these units served with distinction in the operations abroad.

The sanitary units under Majors Dunseith, Gaus, Slee and Harnden and Captains Sears, Boswell, Shearer and Latta were developed into efficient organizations and rendered most important service. These units later became the 102d Sanitary Train of the 27th Division and served in various parts of Belgium and France under Lieutenant Colonel Robert P. Wadhams.

The Supply Train under Major T. Harry Shanton, who later became Chief of the Military Police of the 27th Division, was organized under difficulties affecting its recruitment, but under Major Shanton's leadership met these problems successfully, and entered into the World War as the 102d Supply Train of the 27th Division.

The Field Bakery Company, organized and trained by Captain Jesse A. Millard, gained distinction as the most efficient bakery company anywhere in the army. It was later expanded into two bakery companies and Millard became a Major.

At Division Headquarters the Chief of Staff was assisted by Majors Franklin W. Ward and Edward Olmsted. For most of the period of the border service the position of Division Adjutant was filled by Major Allan L. Reagan. These three officers had an intimate knowledge of the personnel of the division and were thoroughly acquainted with their functions. Their services were invaluable.

General O'Ryan and staff
General O'Ryan and staff

I have already mentioned the remarkable health record of the division. In no small measure was this due to the medical staff led by Lieutenant Colonel William S. Terriberry as Division Surgeon, Major Edward R. Maloney, assisting him, and Major William H. Steers as Sanitary Inspector. The team work through the division was so well developed that these medical officers at all times secured the sincere and active cooperation and support of all unit commanders. Much of the operative surgery at the Divisional Hospital at McAllen, Texas, was performed by Major Robert P. Wadhams and with most satisfactory results.

The supply end of the staff work was in charge of a most experienced officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry S. Sternberger. He brought to the performance of his duties not only an intimate knowledge of the ration, its issue and preparation, and of the problems of regimental supply officers in relation to property, but a considerable experience in the clothing, equipping and feeding of large masses of troops, the result of his long service on the staff covering numerous maneuver periods. He was ably assisted by Captains James T. Loree and Hugo F. Jaeckel.

The ordnance work of the division was in charge of Major Fred M. Waterbury, who brought to his department the experience of fifteen years of rifle work in the National Guard of New York. He had charge of the construction of rifle ranges at Sharyland and Pharr, as well as the range for field firing at La Gloria. The New York Division was the only one on the border which was practiced in individual rifle and pistol work, as well as in group and field firing with ball ammunition.

Captain Joseph J. Daly of the 22d Engineer Regiment was detailed to Division Headquarters as Engineer Officer. He had general charge of all road and bridge construction and took over the construction of the water supply system from Major Hutchinson.

Pistol practice along the canal near McAllen, Texas
Pistol practice along the canal near McAllen, Texas

The Division Inspector, until he assumed command of the Engineer Regiment was Major Cornelius Vanderbilt. This officer on the border acquired the nickname of the "Salamander." No matter how high the temperature—and during the summer it varied between 120° and 135° during the day—Major Vanderbilt was traveling about making inspections and observations in a most thorough manner. For many years he had quietly and modestly progressed through the grades, and so it was with much amusement that the officers and men of the division who knew so well his thoroughness and capacity at the time of his promotion to the command of the engineer regiment, heard the comments of civilians who knew the Colonel only through financial and social news columns. While some men with a fraction of the demands that were his were impatiently awaiting the relief of their commands from further border service and complaining of the uselessness of being kept there, Major Vanderbilt was not only uncomplaining throughout, but was as cheerful and exacting in the performance of his duties on the last day of his service on the border, as he was on the day of his arrival. His soldierly bearing and demonstrated capacity in Texas, left no question in the minds of his superiors of the character of service that would be rendered by the engineer regiment when it was again called into service for the great war and which later was acknowledged by the President's award of the Distinguished Service Medal to then Brigadier General Vanderbilt, who trained and took the engineer regiment to France.

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© NYS DMNA: Military History Museum: New York Units at the Mexican Border, 1916-1917 (O'Ryan)
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