The Battle of Croix Rouge Farm


The Battle of Croix Rouge Farm

July 26, 1918

…the 167th Alabama assisted by the left flank of the 168th Iowa had stormed and captured the Croix Rouge Farm in a manner which for its gallantry I do not believe has been surpassed in military history. It was one of the few occasions on which the bayonet was decisively used.

Douglas MacArthur

Move to the Front

General Foch scheduled the Rainbow Division for more battle immediately following the July 15-16, 1918 victory at Champagne. He ordered it to join a Franco-American drive northeast. His goal was to break up the bulge at Château-Thierry, the point of the German battle line where it projected farthest into the French position. Foch knew he had to capture the Marne Valley if he was to finally close the road to Paris to the Germans. This called for the kind of maneuver war and open field fighting that Pershing had pushed for.

Moving up from the destroyed French town of Château-Thierry, the Rainbow was ordered to exploit the Germans’ sudden and widespread retreat. Weeks earlier, the Germans had believed victory to be at hand. Since then their morale had slumped and the advantage in numbers of rifles available had tilted to the Allies. The Supreme Commander, General Foch, in addition to launching the drive at Château-Thierry, had also launched a successful surprise attack near Soissons. The 1st and 2nd US Divisions participated in an important way. It unsteadied the salient of Tardenois and caused the Germans there to pull back. Very professionally, they positioned rearguards in an organized and desperate defense. It gave them time for an orderly withdrawal and the removal of artillery and stores.

The Allied Command showed confidence in the “Rainbow” when its mission shifted from winning one decisive battle to join in another with barely a pause for rest. It pulled out of Champagne on July 20 after fighting there on July 15 and 16. It moved by train to the area around Château-Thierry and camped there for three days before receiving orders to attack the Germans. The 42nd was moved from control by a French Corps to the American I Corps, but remained in the VI French Army under General Jean Marie Joseph Degoutte. The growing reputation of the 167th for hard fighting brought it to be trusted at the point of the new effort. The 84th Brigade was to jump off first on the attack and the 167th Infantry was to make the Brigade’s first contact with the Germans.

The timing was right and the Rainbow was ready. US I Corps Commander Major General Hunter Liggett, who controlled the 42nd in this operation said later: “It proved itself to be a first class division in every sense, swift in attack and tenacious in attack and defense.” Liggett’s headquarters was located near Epieds. From there, he controlled the 39th Division (French) on its right and the 167th (French) Division on the left with the US 42nd Division in the center.

The Rainbow Division always wanted to go into battle as one unit with the infantry regiments and the artillery going in together. Its units had been building trust with each other and worked well together. But, this time the 42nd would be committed piecemeal over a period of several days. It caused a sense of unease throughout the division and was to lead to future controversies.

The 167th (Alabama) received its warning order for the operation while at La-Ferté near Château-Thierry at 3:20 on the afternoon of July 24, 1918. They were to load in an hour, but in typical army “hurry up and wait” fashion, a departure was rescheduled for 7:45 that evening. The trucks did not show up on time and the troops left Ussy-sur-Marne at 11:30 that night. It took 75 of the camions (trucks) with French Indochinese drivers to move a combat-loaded battalion. Sixteen fully equipped men were crowded on to each vehicle. Driving all night over rough roads in thick dust and fumes, they reached the I Corps in Epieds shortly after dawn on July 25, 1918, The sister regiment of the 167th, the 168th (Iowa), arrived there at about the same time after it, too, had taken an all night ride. German aircraft were adjusting artillery fire by flying in and out of occasional breaks in the clouds. It was raining off and on.

The New Englanders of the 26th “Yankee” Division had recently driven the enemy out of Epieds. A German howitzer was overturned in the street, fires were smoldering and small mounds of German ammunition and equipment were strewn about among enemy dead. There was an active American aid station in the village. American dead lay in the fields on the outskirts. The village was overrun by “Rainbow” soldiers trying to move on. The place was a good target for German artillery. Incoming rounds crashed all around. On the next day German aircraft shot down one of the four American balloons there.

The Approach March of the 167th (Alabama)

Officers of the 167th assembled in the cold rain at Courpoil, about a mile and a half northeast of Epieds. It was about 7:00 a.m. and they were told their units would be moving forward to make contact with the Germans in the afternoon. Everybody was wet. Despite its being July, the wind was cold and chilling. The troops got a hot meal and tried to rest. French speaking First Lieutenant Maurice W. Howe had established the 3rd Battalion P.C.(Post of Command). He later reported the loss of 11 men due to bombardment there and on the move forward.

The 167th took up a combat approach march formation at 2:30 in the afternoon and headed northeast through open fields and woods toward the Forêt de Fère. Soldiers in each of the battalions’ Sanitary Detachments carried stretchers and boxes of medical supplies on their shoulders. It was hard for them to keep up with the troops as they packed the bulky rolls of bandages and medical paraphernalia. Two medics were with each rifle company. Infantrymen’s canteens were topped off and each man carried hardtack and 250 rounds of ammunition in web belts or bandoliers. Some carried small sacks of hand grenades.

There were German and American dead in the open fields and along the hedges on the route of march.

The 84th Brigade of the “Rainbow” had orders to pass through and replace all of the US 26th Division. It had engaged the Germans west of the Croix Rouge Farm and been stopped. The New Englanders had fought for two weeks, since July 10, and suffered big losses around Epieds and in the Forêt de Fère. The division was at less than half strength. It had taken a week to advance 10 miles at a cost of more than 4,000 casualties.

I Corps, to which the “Rainbow” was being assigned, had two divisions, the US 26th (YD) and the French 167th. The US Corps Commander, Major General Hunter Liggett, had nothing but praise for the French but he was unhappy with the New Englanders. He had ordered them to take over the sector held by the French and it proved to be beyond their capacity. Liggett suspended the order after determining that Major General Clarence Edwards, the commanding general of the division, had failed to put it into effect. On July 24 Liggett told Edwards that neither he nor his subordinates obeyed orders.

The “Rainbow” was to take over all of the I Corps front on the nights of July 25 and 26.

Enemy airplanes flew low all day on July 25. They observed the 167th (Alabama) as its battalions trudged forward and also flew over the 168th (Iowa), which was dug in under the trees at Bois de Fary.

A story is told about the 167th as it approached the abandoned 26th Division skirmish line on the afternoon of July 25. A colonel of an Illinois artillery regiment was making a reconnaissance northeast of Courpoil. He saw a battalion of American infantry coming toward him, deployed in the approach march. He stopped as it went by, knowing it belonged to the “Alabam” regiment, and asked the major where he was going. The major said: “Perhaps Colonel Screws who is with the support battalion can tell you, I don’t know until we bump.” The artillery colonel waited until the last unit came along and then easily picked out Colonel Screws with a large fiercely burning cigar in his mouth. He said: “Hello, Bill. Where are you going?” Screws replied, not even taking the cigar out of his mouth: “Damn if I know, but I am on my way.”

The 167th column was led by its 1st Battalion under the command of Major John W. Carroll, and its 3 rd Battalion under the command of Major Dallas B. Smith. They were to be the next day’s assault units. The 2nd Battalion under Captain Everette Jackson took up the rear and was regimental reserve. The assault battalions had been designated for that hard job because they held easier jobs in the previous battle at Champagne. There the 2nd Battalion received the worst of the German attack.

The Skirmish Line

When the 1st and 3rd Battalions reached the abandoned front at dusk they took up positions in foxholes left by the US 26th Division. Each battalion had a Machine Gun Company attached. 1st Battalion had the 167th Machine Gun Company and 3rd Battalion had B Company of the 151st (Georgia) Machine Gun Company. All were in place in the woods by 7:00 o’clock. There were no permanent trenches in the underbrush-covered forests, though the YD had dug some temporary foxholes and shallow trenches. The 2nd Battalion under Captain Everette Jackson would remain in the rear until after the next day’s battle.

These were the worst conditions under which the 167th had ever gone into action. The attached Machine Gun Company (B Company) from the 151st (Georgia) also started at great disadvantage. After the all night truck trip from Château-Thierry, they were doubly exhausted from carrying the heavy guns and man-handling the ammunition carts through the mud and rain for 5 miles from Epieds. Mules would normally have been used for pulling machine gun carts but the animals were being marched to Epieds. The men, guns and carts had been brought on the camions for quicker delivery. Nevertheless, the Machine Gun Battalion’s unit assigned to the 3rd Battalion got into position on schedule. That unit and its willingness to work hard and suffer hardship were greatly appreciated by the infantrymen from Alabama.

This was the most mobile combat operation the 167th had participated in. It was expected to go through the forest that day, July 25, and to take the Croix Rouge Farm on July 26. None in the regiment had seen the objective but officers were told that the farmhouse was in the middle of an open field about a mile square. There were a few logging trails in the woods leading to the front. The woods were littered with debris of combat and smelled of rotting animal flesh, the fumes of high explosives and the sweetish smell of mustard gas. It continued to rain. The cold was penetrating. There had been intermittent artillery fire on the move up and it continued along with some sniper fire throughout the night of July 25 and all day on the day of the assault, Friday, July 26. The situation was daunting and certainly not as advertised. In his own hand, MacArthur later wrote of that time when he had been colonel and “Rainbow” Division chief of staff:

“It was presumed that the Germans were pulling back and our orders were to pass him. But the high command was just in error. The Germans were not retreating with only a small rear guard left to cover their withdrawal. Instead, strong forces had settled down on rugged slopes and in protecting woods. Behind stout stone walls and scattered buildings they had massed machine guns and mortars in determined defense. The death song of German bullets from front and flank made impossible any advances over cleared fields swept by fire. Our artillery was not in sufficient strength to silence the German positions. There was terror and death lurking along the poppy covered hillsides, in the forests, and behind the coverlets of that green countryside. It was to be six of the bitterest days and nights of the Rainbow.”

Neither the Alabama nor Iowa Regiments had artillery support although both had been told by 84th Brigade they would have it from the 28th (Pennsylvania) Division. This absence of Allied artillery was to give the Germans a big advantage for the next few days. Colonel Screws described putting his regiment into position on July 25:

“I was ordered to make a relief of the front line troops of the 26th Division in the woods south of La Croix Rouge Farm at four P.M….I had made a reconnaissance in the woods in the place where I was to make the relief. I…instructed the battalion commanders on the front line to send out strong patrols, and to keep going until they had gained contact with the enemy.…At about six P.M. I received at my PC, Post of Command, just south of the Chateau at the Lake de la Logette and at the southern end of the woods of La Croix Rouge Farm, a report from the patrols that the enemy were about 400 to 500 meters in our front in the woods; that they were occupying a very strong position and that the woods were sprinkled with machine guns. I had two men wounded on those patrols. The information was sent in immediately to Brigade Headquarters. They told me afterwards they forwarded it the same night to Division Headquarters and Division Headquarters said they had forwarded it back to Corps.”

The German Occupied Fortified Farmhouse

According to German records, the large farm compound and the open land around it had been prepared by them a month before as an antiaircraft post. A captured map showed that four antiaircraft machine guns had been dug into a trench running east-west in an open field on the east side of the fortified farmhouse. The Germans had since prepared the farmhouse to defend it from approaches on the ground. They had machine gun and sniper positions throughout the area. Just two days before, on July 23, their 23rd Infantry Division had moved into the position that included the fortified farmhouse.

Croix Rouge Farm Fortified Farmhouse

Croix Rouge Farm Fortified Farmhouse

Reinforcements from the 10th Landwehr Division joined the German position on the night of July 25. They called it the Caesar Position. The 10th Landwehr men were reported to have had very difficult days behind them and were not at their best because of flu. They replaced a battalion of a Schutzen regiment and reported receiving incoming fire from the Americans on the night of their arrival.

The walled compound of the large farmhouse dominated a slight rise from which fire could be delivered in all directions. The Germans had planned a strong defense with a large number of water-cooled 7.92mm machine guns, each served by a five-man crew. About 25 of the guns were later captured. Camouflaged and placed into strengthened, fortified positions, they covered tree lines and trails. Together they could pump out 10,000 rounds a minute and were accurate up to 1,000 yards. Fields of interlocking fire had been measured and mapped by the Germans. Trees had red paint marks on them to help with sighting. Snipers were put into planned positions.

The Germans had already fought the US 26th (New England) Division and the 167th (French) Division and 29th (French) Division to a standstill in the vicinity of Croix Rouge Farm, and they were confident defenders.

Part of the Forêt de Fère extended a couple of miles east of the Croix Rouge Farm clearing. There the Germans had concentrated large quantities of ammunition for use in the “Peace Offensive”, the drive on Paris that failed several weeks earlier. German artillery was nearby and used the stored ammunition freely in the fighting at the Croix Rouge Farm. Artillery concentrations were registered throughout the area and extended deep into American positions. They were fired throughout July 25 and July 26.

German machine guns and riflemen were in positions along the road passing the farmhouse and on its walls. Conditions were cold and miserable. Rain was more or less continuous.

The 167th (French) on the Left of the 167th (Alabama)

The 167th (French) Division was on the left of the 167th (Alabama) skirmish line. They were the furthest advanced of the Allied lines in the sector. Captured German documents said the July 26 assault on Croix Rouge Farm was made by a joint French and American force.

Normally equal to an American regiment, the French division had suffered heavy losses and was down to companies of about 30 men each. The total French force numbered about 340. They had been there a long time and were worn out. Colonel Screws later said the French did not attack on July 26.

167th (Alabama) Attacks

Screws set up his P.C .on the night of July 25 in a gully alongside a trail to the rear of his two assault Battalions. Captain Everette Jackson’s reserve 2nd Battalion was to the rear of it.

The 1st Battalion was on the left of the regiment’s position in an area of thinned forest. It provided little protection but was open enough for the men to run through when the attack started. The 3rd Battalion was on the right in thicker and safer woods, though it made movement slower. Both battalions maintained skirmish lines about 1,000 yards east of the Croix Rouge Farm and several hundred yards from the German line, but within range of pre positioned German snipers and machine guns. No one got much sleep that night. Steak and coffee were brought forward at dawn on the cold and dripping day of battle.

Incoming fire made it impossible to stabilize the skirmish line. Patrols on the left flank were turned back. The two battalions tried but failed to improve their positions. They used foxholes left by the 26th Division and dug more. They were hit throughout the day with intermittent sniper, machine gun and artillery fire. This activity on the front and both flanks hindered communication.

The Croix Rouge Farm battle map

The Croix Rouge Farm battle map

Worried about his left flank, where a patrol had been turned back the evening before, Colonel Screws sent out a strong patrol on the morning of July 26. Led by B Company’s First Lieutenant Robert Espy, Abbeville, it was not turned back. Lieutenant Colonel Bare, who was positioned with 1st Battalion, received a personal benefit from it. Hearing bullets whizzing by his head and seeing some hitting the ground around him, he moved close to a birch tree. A bullet hit the tree about six inches from his jaw. Flying bark blistered his face. He heard Lieutenant Espy say, “I see him colonel.” Without another word Espy upped his rifle, fired one shot and knocked the German out of the big oak tree about 100 yards away.

The 1st and 3rd Battalions had casualties all day and sent them to their aid stations. Every rifle company had been asked for eight men to help the Regimental Aid Station as stretcher-bearers. It took four men to carry a stretcher. They wore blue armbands with the letters LB (Litter Bearer) and did not carry weapons. Major Watts’ Sanitary Department located the Regimental Aid Station in a barn just north of Lake de la Logette, between Colonel Screws’ P.C. and Captain Jackson’s reserve, the 2nd Battalion.

Colonel Screws called battalion commanders and regimental staff to his P.C. on the morning of July 26. He told them to expect an order to attack and went over his plan. The executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bare, and the operations officer, Captain Mortimer Jordan, were assigned positions immediately behind 1st Battalion on the left. They would be responsible for reorganizing casuals and disorganized units. First Lieutenant Powell, commander of I Company, Opelika, was given the same job behind the attacking 3rd Battalion on the right. Powell would shortly be killed.

The battalion Commanders returned to their positions behind the front line and went over the plan with their company commanders and the commanders of the Machine Gun Companies and Mortar Sections. Rain continued to fall periodically. Skies were overcast. There were no German planes flying. There was no observed German artillery fire as long as the Americans stayed in the woods, but previously plotted concentrations were intermittently fired. The troops had slept little in 48 hours.

Colonel Screws sent a penciled note at 2:00 on the afternoon of July 26 to Major John W. Watts, the regimental surgeon. It gave him a line of departure for the assault on a sketch map and estimated the time of attack to be 4:00 p.m. Screws had previously approved the location of the battalion and regimental aid stations as recommended by Major Watts.

Majors Carroll and Smith Launch the 1st and 3rd Battalion Assaults

At about 3:00 on the afternoon of July 26, the brigade commander, Brigadier General Robert A. Brown, assembled his two regimental commanders and the commanding officers of the 101st and 102nd Field Artillery of the 26th Division, at his P.C. To the amazement of Colonel Screws, Brown read orders to attack that afternoon in broad daylight, jumping off at 4:50 p.m. Screws protested and suggested falling back from the woods while bringing artillery down on the strong German position. He asked if the French at his left had received orders and were going to jump off at the same time. The French had no orders and no French were present at the brigade commander’s meeting. Watches were synchronized, and regimental commanders left for their respective P.C.s.

Colonel Screws handed copies of the attack order to Lieutenant Colonel Bare with instructions to deliver them to his two assault battalions. It was about 10 or 15 minutes before jump off time. Bare hopped into the regiment’s motorcycle side car and was driven to 3rd battalion headquarters where he delivered the order to Major Dallas B. Smith. He and the driver then proceeded along a muddy trail through the woods toward Major Carroll’s 1st Battalion P.C. A big tree was blown down across the road and it was impossible to take the motorcycle around it. Running through the woods, Bare and his driver reached Major Carroll’s headquarters and delivered the order. Carroll was ten or fifteen minutes late in getting his Battalion into the attack.

His men were dug in about 500 yards due west of the farmhouse. Orders were to go through the stretch of thin woods around them and cross the open land between those woods and the farmhouse. From there they were to proceed northeast across the open land behind the farmhouse until reaching the La Ventellette woods, about a mile further on. The 1st Battalion was to clean out the machine guns around the farmhouse and go on to the edge of the distant woods. The 167th Machine Gun Company was to accompany the 1st Battalion. It was not possible to carry out the orders.

Major Smith’s 3rd Battalion was due south and southwest of the farmhouse. Its orders were to clear the strip of forest between it and the farmhouse, then to assault the fortress-like farmhouse by crossing the open land to its northeast. The farmhouse stood in the open center of a large V of trenches, facing west, filled with camouflaged machine guns. Long lines of German machine guns were also dug in along the road running north and south directly behind the farmhouse. They dominated the roads, trails and fields approaching it.

The two assault battalions started moving from their skirmish lines in the woods at about the same time. They were in irregular lines going through the woods and forward progress was uneven. German riflemen stayed in place, waiting until the attacking Americans drew abreast, when they fired and fell back.

Major Carroll’s 1st Battalion advanced fastest through the thin woods on the left flank of the regiment. They went toward, then through the field in front, with men falling as they went, advancing at a run across the muddy, shell hole pocked open land in the face of heavy rifle and machine gun fire. The initial assault by the 1st Battalion was made by elements of C and D Companies but they were chewed up as they passed through elements of A Company and B Company, which were laying down fields of fire. A Company was on the right and B Company on the left.

Traversing German machine guns cut into the attacking platoons. The 167th Machine Gun Company attached to the 1st Battalion was hard hit. Its commander, Captain Julian M. Strassburger, was killed as the battle opened.

The initial 1st Battalion assault failed and was pinned down for about an hour in the open field. American dead and wounded were strewn all around. The day appeared lost.

A captured German after action report by the Battalion Commander Hildebrandt said that the American attack came in very thick lines with one infantry group attacking north of the farm and one south of it, both with several machine guns. He complimented the fire discipline of his own men, saying they had stopped and started it several times, which he thought worked. He praised German messengers who brought up ammunition and believed all his men had behaved well while receiving fire that went to the nerves in a difficult situation. Part of his 8th Company had fought the enemy while crying and vomiting from gas.

Hildebrandt wrote that two of his company leaders had, through binoculars, seen the Americans bringing up reinforcements in columns after the failure of their first assault. He said the first enemy attack was destroyed within 15 minutes. He reported a “friendly fire” situation between his own 8th and 5th Companies that had been caused by smoke and that resulted in casualties.

The same report described an hour going by during which more American reinforcements were brought forward with loud noises and whistles from the forest in the west. The Germans claimed that fire effectiveness continued to be good, inflicting overall heavy losses on the Americans attacking against his 6th and 7th Companies. The report claimed that the attackers were met with machine gun and rifle fire lasting until 9:00 that evening.

The Second Effort by Major John W. Carroll’s 1st Battalion

The 1st Battalion’s second effort was made by men from Captain Gardner Green’s C Company and Captain Lacey Edmundson’s D Company that had not been used in the first attack. They were joined by men from Captain Fletcher Haley’s A Company and Captain Bryan Whitehurst’s B Company through which the first assault had been launched. That attack started at about 6:00 p.m. when two platoons under Bessemer’s First Lieutenant Ernest E. Bell, D Company, and two platoons under Abbeville’s First Lieutenant Robert Espy of B Company rushed forward. That assault was successful from the beginning. Firing as they went, spread out across the field, the Alabama soldiers savagely fought German riflemen and machine gunners in their defensive positions. The two officers and their combined forces of about 100 men went through them at a run, killing many with the rifle, pistol and bayonet and rifle butt. Driving remnants back, they sealed the fate of the Germans on the north side of the farmhouse. Bell’s group of 58 from D Company had 23 survivors. Bell was wounded in the assault. Espy’s group from B Company of about the same size had 18 survivors.

Lieutenant Robert Espy, in addition to sharing in the honors of being co-leader of the successful second attack, had led the strong patrol launched that morning by Colonel Screws to protect the 167th left flank. Espy received the Distinguished Service Cross. Colonel Screws later stated that Espy saved the regiment.

The Germans counterattacked after the second assault by the Espy and Bell platoons but were met with 1st Battalion bayonets. During that German counterattack Major John W. Carroll, 1st Battalion commander, was heard to shout, “Save your fire men! We’ll give ‘em hell with the bayonet.”

A full 65 percent of Major Carroll’s 1st Battalion was killed or wounded that afternoon. Carroll received a Regimental Citation for his leadership. Captain Edmundson’s D Company had 80 percent killed or wounded in the assault. Edmundson was gassed.

Major Dallas B. Smith’s 3rd Battalion Attack

First Lieutenant Maurice Howe, L Company, wrote of the timing of the 3rd Battalion’s assault on the farmhouse from the south and southwest: “We attacked at 4:50 p.m., reached edge of woods back of Croix Rouge Farmhouse in one hour and forty minutes, at 6:30, which, for fighting in the woods is quite reasonable…arrived at farmhouse at 7:00.”

K and L Companies, bounded forward from the protection of the trees south of the farmhouse into the open fields at about 6:30. They used bayonets freely. Major Claude M. Stanley, commander of the 168th (Iowa) Infantry’s 2nd Battalion, spoke of “hearing the Rebel Yell as Alabama soldiers held their rifles high and raced across the field.”

First Lieutenant Henry L. Griggs, I Company, Opelika, wrote by hand, “this was the hardest fighting my battalion had during the war and was the only hand to hand fighting I saw during the war.”

Both 1st and 3rd Battalions’ initial attacks, coming at different times, failed to overrun the enemy. The regiment’s mortar sections were ineffective, some lasting as mortar men for about ten minutes. The officer in command of 3rd Battalion’s Mortar Platoon was ordered to fall in with riflemen in M Company. Its First Sergeant Norman L. Summers wrote:

“German shells and high explosives were bursting all around us and it was pitiful to see the sights. Some of our men were blown to pieces. Some had their arms and legs blown into tatters. Dead horses were lying everywhere and the stench was awful. Dead Americans, French and Germans were lying everywhere. It began to get dark. Shells were bursting on all sides.…Large trees were blown to pieces. Long red flashes came from German machine guns. Heavy undergrowth made progress difficult. As I was advancing a boy at my side was shot down by a German machine gun. I ditched just in time to keep him from getting me but I will never forget the look on his face as he went down.”

The 3rd Battalion commander, Major Dallas B. Smith of Opelika describes the action in which he was wounded and for which he was also to receive a Distinguished Service Cross:

“We hadn’t advanced a hundred yards toward the Croix Rouge Farm when it was a matter of hand to hand fighting…using both the bayonet as we had been taught during so many hours of instruction, and the butt of the rifle, the latter being more effective. My battalion suffered many casualties. Lieutenant Powell commanding I Company was killed, Captains Waldron and Esslinger wounded…they were three of my four company commanders. I reorganized the Battalion into two small companies.”

Lieutenant Powell had been killed leading I Company in the charge through the woods. Its losses were about 30 killed and 100 wounded during the battle.

Major Smith said, “It is difficult for me to comment on the Croix Rouge Farm for the reason that I always felt, and I know our regimental commander felt…that it would be a sacrifice of troops to make an attack through those woods without some artillery.”

Final Effort by Major Dallas B. Smith’s 3rd Battalion

The 3rd Battalion appeared doomed when six-foot-tall First Lieutenant Edward R.“Shorty” Wrenn and his detail came up with their one-pounder mortar on a two-wheeled cart. They were very successful. For the first time in the battle, the mortars were effective. It was a day saving event. Wrenn, a former Auburn football player from Talladega, who had been been promoted from Corporal to Sergeant to Lieutenant, was decorated with a Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre for his contribution.

Major Dallas Smith’s battalion pushed toward the fortified farmhouse and the road running north-south behind it. Platoon after platoon had been stopped by German fire. The 3rd Battalion companies had difficulty maintaining organization.

A mixed group of infantrymen and machine gunners was thrown together by Lieutenants Murphy and Kairn of Company B, 151st (Georgia) Machine Gun Battalion, which was attached to Major Smith’s battalion. They charged the farmhouse. Lieutenants Sharp and Alan K. Smith of K Company and Lieutenant Young of I Company also led small groups in charges. Young was seriously wounded. Another force from K and L Companies got closer and took out German machine gunners east of the farmhouse.

With all the attacking forces under heavy fire, the remnants of a platoon from L Company swept forward. Led by First Lieutenant Maurice W. Howe, 15 or 20 men reached the house about 7:00 p.m. There they linked up with a few Iowans and the two machine gun lieutenants. They cleaned out German soldiers dug in along the west side of the road to Fére-en-Tardenois and in the large vegetable cellar at the farmhouse.

Men wounded from the fighting on the east side of the road were brought in after dark. A runner was sent to Major Dallas Smith advising that he assist if he wanted the position held. Major Smith replied that he could not help. Father Carpenter, S.J., Catholic chaplain in the 166th (Ohio) was there. Germans were still active. All wounded from the farmhouse were removed to the woods.

Lines were reorganized and contact was made with Major Carroll’s 1st Battalion on the left and with Major Worthington’s 1st Battalion of the 168th (Iowa) Infantry) which had advanced its troops on the right.

Captain Bryant Whitehurst, B Company, took command of the group of Alabamians at the farmhouse.

Maneuvers of the 168th (Iowa) Infantry

At the beginning of the operation, the weakened New Englanders of the 26th Division failed to furnish guides to either the Alabamians or the Iowans. After leaving Epieds on the afternoon of July 25, neither regiment of the 84th Brigade knew where the other was.

The 167th (Alabama) moved forward that afternoon of July 25 and the 168th (Iowa) did not. Seeking shelter from German artillery the Iowans dug in under the trees of Bois de Fary at noon. They waited. Heavy incoming fire, followed by a pitch black night and tangled woods persuaded them not to move up that night.

Consequently, the costly gap continued to exist between the two regiments of the 84th Brigade. Even after waiting for dawn of July 26 to start to the front, progress for the 168th was difficult. It was the beginning of a frustrating, disorganized and very costly day.

No one from the 168th (Iowa) knew where its enemy was. Incoming artillery and carnage was everywhere. The Iowa battalions did not know their positions with regard to each other. Their 1st Battalion Commander, Major Emory C. Worthington, could not be located and none of his men knew what their orders were.

The 167th and 168th Regiments eventually liaised and worked to establish flank contact but there was no connection until afternoon. By then the 168th (Iowa) regiment’s 1st Battalion under Major Worthington was facing in a northeasterly direction with its assault line a few hundred yards south of the opening in the woods facing the Croix Rouge Farm. It had replaced the 2nd Battalion of the 168th (Iowa) but did not effectively join in the attack. The 2nd Battalion had moved to an even more dangerous place in the Forêt de Fère south of the fortified Croix Rouge Farm.

Neither the 1st nor 2nd Battalions of the Iowans jumped off on time. By late afternoon, about twenty minutes after its 4:50 p.m. jump off time, Major Claude M. Stanley’s 2nd Battalion fixed bayonets and started toward the north-south road about half a mile south of the fortified farmhouse. Their assault force took heavy losses and only a few of its men survived to join the 167th 3rd Battalion in the final assault on Croix Rouge Farm which took place at 7 PM on July 26.  This combined force of the depleted 167th and 168th swept forward at bayonet point and finally took the farmhouse.

Though positioned well to the rear of the action, the reserve 3rd Battalion of the 168th (Iowa) also suffered severe losses from German artillery.

After the Battle

Drizzling rain continued throughout the early night of July 26. Combat slowed. The ground was covered with dead and dying. Groans of the wounded were everywhere. Already very dark, it was made even more so when a hard rain started. Every effort was made to find the wounded and get them to aid stations. The band, every member of the Sanitary Staff and all available soldiers were litter bearers. Narrow paths, with mud and water-filled shell holes made stretcher bearing extremely difficult.

Medics were shorthanded. Five of the 12 men assisting the two doctors in the 1st Battalion Aid Station had been wounded.

That station was located in a hut beside a trail in the woods. The 3 rd Battalion had a similar set up. Casualties walked in or were brought in by stretcher bearers. The doctors performed emergency operations and the medics gave morphine and other injections, put on splints and bandages, wrote out tags, moved men on and off the operating table and treated walking wounded. There was no protection from the weather other than the huts where doctors worked. Men were lying outside on stretchers, waiting while covered with blankets or raincoats. Some were just standing around waiting as the more seriously wounded were helped. The ambulances, slow coming up, would take them back down the logging trail to the Regimental Aid Station or through muddy logging trails on to the clearing station that had been established at Epieds. Major Watts, regimental surgeon, reported:

“Night came on and with it rain, the terribly wounded men staggering along through the deep mud and cold water, stretcher bearers slipping and falling with the mutilated and sometimes lifeless bodies they carried. All of the sanitary personnel of the headquarters section and the battalion sections in support were brought forward and pressed into service dressing the wounded. A dental officer was wounded by rifle or machine gun fire while serving as Assistant Battalion Surgeon with the Assault Battalion. Runners were sent to the rear to contact the ambulance head, but the ambulances had not yet arrived there. The wounded accumulated in great numbers, the aid stations were literally full of them, both Americans and Germans. Those who were unable to walk to the rear were made as comfortable as possible. Many of the wounded lay on the wet ground with practically no protection. The Germans had located us and seeing an ever increasing crowd started a heavy shelling, making two direct hits on the regimental aid post and killing one of the Hospital Corps men while he was in the act of administering morphine to one of his wounded comrades. The ambulances finally located us and drove to the site of the regimental aid post under heavy shellfire; they swung around and were quickly loaded to capacity and departed at once for the field hospital station. The wounded were being brought in during the entire night and were evacuated to the rear as rapidly as possible. The assault battalions advanced about a thousand yards and gained their objective at a cost of approximately one casualty for each yard gained. For when the casualty list was completed the following morning, we sent a list to Regimental Headquarters of over eleven hundred names of wounded who had passed through the aid stations from 5:30 p.m. July 26 to 7:00 a.m. July 27.”

Throughout the rainy night of July 26, German artillery fired explosives and gas into the American positions around the farmhouse, in the Forêt de Fère and throughout the Croix Rouge battlefield, Lieutenant D. W. Green, Company L, said, “I visited the farm house at about midnight and reported the place deserted. Troops were all back in the line of the woods.”

The two attacking battalions of the 167th had suffered heavily in the four hour battle that went back and forth. The attack order originally said that artillery preparation was to have begun at 2:50 in the afternoon and the infantry assault was to have been preceded by an accompanying rolling barrage that moved 200 meters in advance of the infantry advance. Actually, no American artillery fired until after the battle was over.

Lieutenant Colonel Bare said, “The fight at Croix Rouge Farm was purely an Infantry action. It was Infantry against Infantry and to the Infantry alone goes the credit for the capture of one of the strongest enemy positions in the Château-Thierry sector” He continued, “So severe was the fire of the German artillery and machine guns that it is difficult to understand how the two Battalions ever reached their objective.”

Colonel Screws said, “The 167th Infantry jumped off on time; the French did not go…. The 168th (Iowa) Infantry were somewhat late in jumping off. The result was that my regiment had a hand-to-hand fight with the 4th Prussian Guards. Our casualties were so heavy that the next day when I received orders to proceed to the second objective, the Ourcq River, I only had one full strength battalion, and two half battalions making the 167th practically one battalion short all during the fight on the Ourcq.”

Bare described the battlefield and closing action:

“The ground was literally covered with killed and wounded, both American and German. For some distance you could actually walk on dead men. The two Battalions in the attack suffered so heavily that it took a large proportion of those not killed and wounded to move the wounded back to the first aid station, which was established by the side of Lake de la Logette, some two and a half miles to our rear. Just about dusk I received information that on our left there was some movement on the part of enemy troops, which indicated that they might be forming for a counterattack. I sent out a patrol and they reported back in about an hour that they could discover no enemy troops nor could they discover any French on our left who, according to the order, would keep in liaison with us during the attack. However, in a very short time after the patrol had returned, although it was pitch dark, we could hear movement of troops which indicated that it was a counter attack. A great many of the men who had carried the wounded to the first aid station were at that time reporting back to me where I had taken up position at the cross roads. So I called for officers who were to form a provisional company with which to ward off the counter attack if possible. When I asked how many officers were present, it developed that Captain Mortimer H. Jordan of Birmingham and Lieutenant Royal Little of Providence, R.I. were the only ones. I instructed Lieutenant Little to take charge and organize a provisional company of all men who were able to immediately form a line to ward off the attack. This was accomplished with scarcely any loud talking and in a remarkably short period of time the men moved forward as if they had been drilling together for months. I would estimate they had proceeded about a hundred yards when they could see moving objects by looking over the open spaces against the sky line. Our troops opened rifle fire and the enemy, who had formed for a counter attack, retreated in disorder towards the Ourcq River. The provisional company remained in position during the night, which was a terrible one. The ground was wet and soggy and the German artillery kept up a constant fire all night long. We later made connection with the French on our left. I requested the 2nd Battalion, which was in reserve to come forward to fill in the gap.”

The Official “Rainbow” Division History says, “The capture of the Croix Rouge Farm and clearing belongs to that list of military exploits which cannot fail to excite the admiration of those who hear the tale, because of the determination and gallantry displayed.”

Father Francis P. Duffy of the 165th (New York) Regiment said, “Croix Rouge Farm was the last stand of the Germans south of the Ourcq”. In 1928 he said, “There was no more gallant and sustained attack during the entire war than the taking of Croix Rouge Farm by Dallas Smith’s battalion on July 26, ten years ago.”

Colonel Screws’ anticipation of the attack order and his planning conferences on the morning of the attack were critical to his regiment’s success under very difficult conditions. There was no communication in the field through wire, radio or pyrotechnics. His assault battalions and their companies had been briefed and made ready to jump off using only the watch when the order finally arrived from 84th Brigade and set a time. Otherwise the 167th, like its flanking infantry regiments, the Iowa regiment and the French regiment, would have failed to jump off on time. Proper anticipation, planning and strict adherence to orders by relying on the watch was memorialized in 1930 by George C. Marshall when he was a Colonel and Commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. It published a monograph of lessons to be learned from World War I. Colonel Screws’ lesson was the importance of all units getting an attack off on time despite breakdowns in communication.

Some 162 officers and men from the 167th (Alabama) died at Croix Rouge Farm. The list included 3 lieutenants and 2 captains, both company commanders. Twenty lieutenants were wounded while out front and leading the multiple attacks in the open. There were deeds of great personal courage. Officers and men from Alabama died exercising leadership by example.

Colonel Screws confirmed his regiment’s use of the bayonet at the Croix Rouge Farm and of taking prisoners from the 10th Landwehr Division.

When day broke at the Croix Rouge Farm on Saturday, July 27, any further advance seemed out of the question, but a hot meal and no incoming artillery helped. Ammunition and rations were brought up to the decimated 1st and 3rd Battalions.

Private Daniel D. Vann

Private Daniel D. Vann was in the assault element of B Company, 167th (Alabama) regiment, at Croix Rouge Farm and was seriously wounded during the July 26th attack. He was machine gunned in the arm and lower torso. Family history relates that he was in a pile of the dead when someone noticed his hand move. Dan survived the war but never walked again. Several years later he eventually died as a result.

The Croix Rouge Farm with 168th Graves in the Foreground

The Croix Rouge Farm with 168th Graves in the Foreground

Burial parties went to work. They reported 283 Germans killed, many with bayonet wounds. Both German and American dead were buried where they fell.

Search parties brought in more wounded. Twenty two German prisoners were rounded up on the battlefield. The regiment’s head count had been sharply reduced. Survivors of the 1st and 3rd Battalions were combined, reducing the 167th from three battalions to two.

At about 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 27, before leaving the Croix Rouge Farm, First Lieutenant Maurice W. Howe was given command of what was left of L Company, K Company and two platoons of I Company, a total of 210 men. The battalion was made into two companies, with the second company being M Company and others under the command of Captain Ravee Norris.

The enemy was to make an obstinate defense along the ridges on the east side of the Ourcq River. Bitter fighting would very shortly take place there. The French were withdrawn from the sector. After US troops crossed the Ourcq, it was a straight-up battle between the Germans and Americans. Colonel Screws had been frustrated at the Croix Rouge Farm for not having the full support of the Rainbow in the fighting there. He was highly pleased to learn that the entire Rainbow was coming up for the fight on the other side of the Ourcq.

Captain Everette Jackson commanded the reserve 2nd Battalion and brought it up to the farmhouse on July 27. Shortly after 3:00 p.m., he ordered his command to pass through the combined 1st and 3rd Battalions and lead the advance of the regiment to the Ourcq River.

Captain Jackson’s 2nd Battalion filtered through the woods on each side of the road going northeast. By the end of the day it had crossed the Ru de la Taverne, a small branch that ran into the Ourcq, to the east of Villers-sur-Fère. The combined 1st and 3rd Battalions stopped in a wood there behind 2nd Battalion, and Lieutenant Colonel Bare established the regiment’s forward P.C. with them. Water and hot food were brought up. Captain Jackson and his men reached their objective on the west side of the Ourcq at about 8:30 p.m. There was no incoming artillery fire though German patrols came into the area that night and were heard talking. Despite that, for the first time in three days and nights the men had a chance to stretch out and get some sleep.

It had been a long 72 hours.