World War One logistics Friday, Jan 10 2014 

Finishing up a transcription here, from a letter by Capt. Bradford Ellsworth (306th Inf, 77th Division) to his sister Helen van Loben Sels, written in January 1919.  While those in the military are acutely aware of the headache that getting a force from one side of the globe to the other entails; those of us who are civilians tend to overlook it.  The almighty traffic jam after WWI is hinted at in this paragraph:

“Not much of interest happens now that Jerry has quit and even the threatened revolution doesn’t seem to come off and the only excitement has been the rumors which were many and interesting until last night when our preliminary order for going home came in. We leave this area (ed. note: unspecified area of Northern France) before 14th February and go to the delousing – pretty word- station at Le Mons and from there to the ports as the boats become available. We ought to sail about 15th March and be in New York 1st April, where a quarantine of 2 weeks will make us all sore. About 15th May we ought to be out of uniform and sitting around and telling ‘what a helluva a fellow I was’ and other stories. Everyone has cheered up immensely and we’ve forgotten to knock even the Y.M.C.A. which has always been a favorite indoor sport with the A.E.F. We say ‘the military police of Paris Won the war, the Marines got the glory, and the Y.M.C.A. got the money, where does the doughboy come in?’

His comment on the revolution, refers of course to the upheaval in Germany, and that rather nasty affair in Russia…in which a few American forces did end being involved in.  The rumors probably had been quite wild.

His estimated timing for demobilization wasn’t too far off, only about two weeks too optimistic, the advantage of being the I.O.

Letter Excerpt, Dec. 30th 1918 Saturday, Dec 7 2013 

Also known as: ‘And we think we have problems with the mail, and waiting more than five minutes for a reply? Horrors!’

“Dec. 30, 1918

My dear Dad,

Your letter of Dec. 9th and mailed on Dec. 12th just received so mail is going to be better perhaps. It usually has taken much longer you see. By Dec. 9th you should have heard from me, but Lord only knows what becomes of mail from this end. No! I’m not a Major but have had the pleasure of running three of them as operations officer thru the fighting and am back at my old job as Reg. I.O. and quite content as I’ve written before. When anything is fresh in my mind, it seems as if I could sit down and write reams of interesting stuff, but the old war is stale already and tonight no incidents pop into my head to come out on paper – when the things you wanted to know about happened old boy Censor was on the job, (he still is by the way on certain matters – casualties for one) and opportunities to sit down and write those reams were few and far between. What we want most is to sit down and talk about it and as the soldier was never accused of being any kin to the violet we will do some talking one of these days – even in talking amongst ourselves the stories that were originally concerned with patrols are now all about attacks – from some of the clippings you have sent, New York is already suffering. Wait ‘til we all descend on you!

New Year’s Eve is almost here and our mess is much troubled over the outlook – shopping for food hereabouts is difficult but today I managed to find some wild boar meat and know where the champagne tree grows – it still flourishes here – so we won’t fare badly at all. Our Xmas was a great success – did I write to thank you for the cigarettes? They helped a lot – at that time none had received a Xmas 9 x 4 brick and we All appreciated this one.”

From a letter by Capt. Bradford Ellsworth, A.E.F. 306th Infantry, 77th Division; to his father, William Webster Ellsworth, back home at Esperanza. (although by the time he received the letter, they would have closed the house for the winter and would have been in NYC, delaying its arrival even more!)

Yes, still working on that transcription project.

11 a.m. November 11 Monday, Nov 11 2013 

23 November 1918

La Neufor (near St. Menehould, France.)

My Dear Dad and All:

It seems strange to start a letter by naming a town, and stranger still this town, for this is where we started the great drive through the Argonne Forest to the Meuse, which we had crossed when the Boche quit.

…Since August 10th this regiment has slept under the open sky, right up until the 11th of November. On August 10th we went in on the Vesle River and scrapped there and to the Aisne. As soon as the Aisne was reached we came here, or rather to Givry in trucks, and started the greatest forest fighting in history.

…We have not had the publicity or the limelight of some others but Gen’l Pershing has said, “there is no better in the army and none that can be banked on to accomplish its task as well as the 77th.” That’s praise enough for us, and history will tell the story someday.

…Sept. 20th at 5 A.M. was the start of the attack with artillery. Lordy! How they did roar. Some days we would nibble off a kilo (kilometer), other days not a foot, but never could the Boche make us give way a foot. The Argonne is as thick a woods as you have ever seen; steep ravines covered with thick underbrush, and it was defended by the 120th division Landwehr troops, who had been in these same woods for eighteen months. They were a first-class division, and made up of woodsmen who knew every path and trick in those damnable woods…

I’ll never go into the woods again or underbrush without my heart in my throat. It was literally impossible to discover a machine gun nest except by the sudden cutting down of yourself or someone else. The manual says that machine gun nests shall be destroyed by ‘flank attacks and by the use of hand and rifle grenades and the 37 mm. gun” Oh Jay! The man or board who wrote that knows nothing. Did he ever try to throw a ball and have his arm caught by brush? Or fire a rifle grenade which would be stopped by woods in ten feet? Or pull the lanyard on a 37mm gun knowing that the shell would explode as soon as it left the muzzle? You can bet something he wasn’t thinking of the Argonne. ‘Use your auxiliary arms” Another joke. The arms you used were your own and twenty-two days of hand to hand fighting was what we got. The regiment got just that and ended up with the brilliant and expensive taking of St. Juvin and Hill 182. That was in the open, wide open, and it was this that carried men forward who were so worn and weary that they would sleep when halted under the heaviest kind of shell fire. It was the relief after being stifled by underbrush and woods that made us take that hill and carried two and part of another battalion against three regiments of Germans – youngsters this time of a Guard Division – and we licked them to a standstill. Two regiments of Hell’s children counter-attacked…and they were literally beaten to death, those that didn’t get by as prisoners.

I’ll never forget the days of October 10th and 14th. It took twelve of my best friends in the regiment that one afternoon of the 14th, but they died the most glorious death in the world and we mourn them not….

Right after St. Juvin we were relieved for fourteen days, staying just behind the lines for replacements and equipment, preparing for the push to the Meuse…and then back for another go at the Hun. We started almost exactly where we had left off…We jumped off Nov. 1st and crossed the Meuse near Stenay-Autrecourt on the night of the 6th and held there under the Boche’s nose until the armistice went into effect.

…As for staying in the army, no. I’ve done enough. I’m tired, so damned tired I’ll never get rested it seems to me…Personally, the war has brought me knowledge of men and things, what they think even without their speaking. It has brought me a greater love for my country, it has brought me the satisfaction of doing my job well.…and Dad, I’m through.

Will see you soon

Your affectionate son,


(Captain Bradford Ellsworth, Intelligence Officer, 306th Regiment, 77th Infantry Division)

Bradford was the son of William Webster Ellsworth and Helen Yale Smith Ellsworth.

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