Saturday, August 5, 2017

Second Idaho Regiment Brought into Federal Service for World War I [otd 8/5]

On August 5, 1917, the War Department drafted the Second Idaho Regiment (National Guard) into the U.S. Army for duty in World War I, part of perhaps 300,000 guardsmen taken into Federal service at that time.

A year earlier, the government had directed the state to mobilize the Second Idaho to patrol the Mexican border [blog, June 18]. Under that call-up, the troops could not be sent outside the country. The troops had been demobilized when that duty was over.
Idaho Guard troops headed for training camp.
Library of Congress.

In response to a telegram from  Washington on March 25, the Governor mobilized the Second Idaho, and its companies gathered at Boise Barracks. With a declaration of war close at hand, the Secretary of War wanted Guard units called to duty: “This duty to consist for the time being of protecting traffic, [the] means of communication and the transfer of mails within the state. (Idaho Statesman, Boise, March 26, 1917).

Then, in May 1917, Congress authorized the President to begin inducting Guard units into national military service. Nationalized troops could be sent outside the country. The Idaho regiment was not up to its authorized wartime strength, so officials instituted a vigorous recruiting campaign. By the time the draft order arrived on the 5th, the unit actually exceeded the required enrollment.

The regiment consisted of three battalions. The First Battalion was from northern Idaho: Coeur d'Alene, Grangeville, Lewiston, and Sandpoint. The Second came from Boise, Buhl, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls. The Third represented Caldwell, Nampa, Payette, and Weiser.

About seven weeks after the draft, the regiment traveled to Camp Greene, near Charlotte, North Carolina. There, commanders parceled the Idaho battalions out to various units of the Army’s 41st Division. Then, when the 41st arrived in France, the high command made it a “replacement” division, so individual units were further distributed. These breakups make it somewhat difficult to track exactly where the Idaho companies fought during the war.

Of course, not every Idahoan who saw World War I action enlisted in the Second Idaho. According to Hawley, the Second Idaho enrolled 5,060 men, while another 12 thousand Idahoans served in Regular Army units, the Navy, or the Marines.

One unit history indicates that an Idaho company provided support to the U. S. Marines in their famous Battle of Belleau Wood, in June 1918. However, the first major action for Idaho soldiers was in the Second Battle of the Marne, in late July.  There, Idaho troops suffered their first significant casualties, including the death of Lieutenant John Regan [blog, Feb 6].

In mid-September, Idahoans participated in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. American forces caught the Germans in a staged withdrawal and turned it into a hurried retreat. Reportedly, the advance stopped mainly because the American troops outran their artillery and material support.

American soldiers attack at Meuse-Argonne. U. S. Army.
Idahoans next fought in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in which American and French divisions captured the vital railroad hub at Sedan. The battle began in late September and ended only with the Armistice on November 11. This was by far the bloodiest battle experienced by American troops in the War.

An incomplete casualty list for the Great War, published in 1920, gives the names of 348 Idahoans who were lost to battle deaths, sickness, or accidents. Unfortunately, there may be as many as one hundred names missing from that list.
References: [Hawley]
W. M. Haulsee, F. G. Howe, A. C. Doyle, Soldiers of the Great War, Vol III, Soldiers Record Publishing Association, Washington, D. C. (1920).
Mark A. Shields (ed.), The History of the 116th Engineers, Training Section, U. S. Army (1918).
Richard A. Rinaldi, The US Army in World War I – Orders of Battle, Tiger Lily Publications, Takoma Park, Maryland (2004).

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