Saturday, September 15, 2018

Mike Hogg in Combat, September 1918


          On the night of September 11, 1918, the American First Army under General John J. Pershing prepared for the battle for St. Mihiel, a town on the Meuse River south of the Argonne Forest. It was the key to a vital railroad controlled by the Germans, and must be taken by Allies before a main assault on German lines could begin. . . .
         Promptly at five o'clock [a.m.] the irregular belching of the guns was replaced by the rhythmic roll of the 75's, shooting as though in cadence. The barrage had begun — the signal that the supreme moment had come! Simultaneously, the assault troops of the four regiments [one of them was Captain Mike Hogg’s] climbed from the trenches and took up their place in a continuous line that stretched across the divisional front, and formed a part of the 23-kilometer [about 14 miles long] wave of men in khaki that engulfed the entire salient. 
         There was no hesitating, no holding back, in all that long line as it moved uniformly across No Man's Land. On the other hand, such was the impetuosity of the supporting troops that they were with difficulty kept at their proper distance to the rear of the front wave, and restrained from joining their comrades on the fighting line.
         No one who has ever taken a look at No Man's Land on this front, and seen that twisting, treacherous maze of wire and the hundreds of pitfalls of ancient trenches, has failed to ask how it was possible for human beings to cross such obstacles in the face of hostile fire. French staff officers, sent by Marshal Foch, the Allied Generalissimo, gasped in astonishment when they heard of the facility with which American doughboys had surmounted such seemingly unconquerable difficulties. In fact, this achievement will always remain one of the most amazing features of the entire operation; and the modest heroes who accomplished it, on reviewing this land of desolation, themselves wondered just how they did it. But it is sufficient to say that these men from the Southwest were natives of barbed wire’s native states!
--excerpt from George Wythe, History of the 90thDivision, in Virginia Bernhard, The Smell of War: Three Americans in the Trenches of World War IAvailable from Texas A&M University Press or

          The Battle of St. Mihiel was only the beginning. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Bastille Day in France, 1918

On Bastille Day 1918, Captain Mike Hogg wrote to his brother Will in Houston:
                                          Somewhere in France
                                          Sunday, July 14, 1918
Dear Brother:
       Today is France’s Independence Day. It is at this minute only six-thirty a.m.-- however, not so early for our billet. We have done many things before this. We are now shaved up, “polished” up, cleaned up, eaten up, dressed up, keyed up, exercised up, and are ready to enjoy and observe this holiday. At seven-thirty this morning, my Company has an inter-platoon baseball game; much rivalry and much interest will be had. . . .
        My greatest desire is that this war end as speedily as possible. One is so “hand-tied” by these censorship rules that it is almost impossible to get “anywhere” with what you would like to say. It is really quite exasperating. I could write almost a book of what I would like to say, all of which cannot pass my own censorship. We have made a clean village out of a very filthy one. This is always the rule wherever our troops may be. . . .
       We have a town crier who announces all the news. He is a queer looking animal. Whenever he has any news or makes an announcement, he dresses up in his best clothes, a derby, wooden shoes, and an old, slick, tight, once-black, but now green, suit. He has a snare drum, which he beats most furiously up and down the street before he makes his news known. Everyone runs out to hear what he has to say.. . . I have reached the time for the ball game. I have to umpire, so must say goodbye.
       With love - 

Captain Hogg would not be home until April 1919. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Fourth of July in France, 1918

        Captain Mike Hogg and his men soon arrived at the small village of Rouvres-sur-Aube, on the Aube River in northeastern France, just behind the battle lines of the Western Front. Here they would begin training in earnest for combat just a few kilometers away. He wrote to Ima: 
                                                               Somewhere in France
                                                               Monday, July 1, 1918
         Dear Sis:
         I believe this red stuff is wine that I am writing with. It smells like it. My company just arrived at this place at 2 p.m. today. We made a long, hard hike, the kind you read about, to get here--sixteen miles from the station where we detrained. All men carried heavy packs, which, as you know, weigh about seventy pounds. Ours weighed more, because we had extra stuff to carry. However, not one man fell out. Our march was fine. . . .
         It is late spring here and everything is green. The whole country is alive with flowers. 
         I am trying to learn this lingo. Am doing very well at present. Can say few things and understand more. . . .
         This band of ours is a great institution. When marching through villages, it always plays. You have no idea the impression it makes. Many of the villages have never had a band anywhere near and others have not had one for years. It has afforded us lots of fun and pleasure.
         We had a very interesting Fourth here. We took our companies over to the next town, where there is a wonderful chateau, and had a regular American field day on the lawn in front of the chateau.
         Our work out here is just as hard as as we can stand. Many hours per day. All are doing it, though, and there seems to be nothing hurt by it.
         Well I will close; it is now nine-thirty p.m. It will soon be so dark I can’t see without a light, and I have only a candle.
         With much love - 
         Mike’s “work” was indeed hard: the 90thDivision and all other U.S. divisions were training for offensive warfare. General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, was readying his troops for battle.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Captain Mike Hogg Goes "Over There."

         In the summer of 1918 Captain Mike Hogg, still at Camp Travis, was eager for overseas action. Meanwhile, he and his men, who prided themselves on “having the best singing regiment in Camp,” were hearing local talent: “These darn fool civilians, who have singing societies, or think they can sing, are always inviting themselves out to sing. . . . If they just knew how much misery they caused the poor men, not to speak of the officers! We have had the pleasure of hearing everything in San Antonio croak that even has a semblance of a voice. They come to us as flies go to sugar.”
       In June the men of the 360th Regiment left San Antonio by train, at last on their way overseas. An undated note from Mike to his sister Ima reads: “Just got here last night and leaving tonight. . . . No sleep at all last night. Worked all night. . . . Passed right through New York. . . . Will write you every week over there.”    

For more of Mike Hogg’s war adventures, see this blog in the coming weeks. 

His letters are part of a new WWI book. Look for THE SMELL OF WAR on 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Smell of War

“The war has a smell that clings to everything military, fills the troop-trains, hospitals, and cantonments, and saturates one’s own clothing, a smell compounded of horse, chemicals, sweat, mud, dirt, and human beings.”

         Until recently I knew next to nothing about World War I except what I taught to college freshmen in my US history survey. I was a colonial American historian, working mainly in seventeenth-century sources. Then I detoured into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the Hoggs of Texas. When I discovered Mike Hogg’s World War I letters, I knew they had to see print—and then one thing led to another. In the course of editing Mike Hogg’s letters, I came across the “smell of war” quotation by Henry Sheahan and the history of the 90th Division by George Wythe. When I realized that all three of these young men had connections with one small battlefield in the Great War, I knew their stories could be a book.
         And now it is.
Who remembers World War I these days?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

An Easter letter from 100 years ago.

Mike Hogg, in training at Camp Funston for World War I, wrote to his sister Ima: 

Easter Sunday, March 31, 1918

Dear Sis:       
       This certainly is a beautiful Easter Sunday.
       I finished the Company Commander’s school Wednesday. It was a most strenuous and interesting course. We learned a great deal about the modern methods that the French and English are using. Another Captain and myself tied for high place on the examination. Pretty good for an old man, eh?
       Well, they have torn things to pieces around here. Most all of our beautifully trained men have been sent away. Our regiment is shot to pieces. The officers are all here and it is understood that we will be filled up again, meaning that it will be some time before we get across. 
       We had an inspection of the Companies of the Division by General Allen and this Company got a very good report from him.
       I can’t imagine what has become of the sweaters you have shipped. I have heard nothing from this end. 
       The fight “over there” is too big a problem for me to even contemplate, however, I will say that it looks at present as though the Allies have received at least a great set-back. You can never tell, of course. The Germans may have bitten off  “too large a hunk.”
       Well, I don’t intend to work so hard for a while. I feel that things have let up a little around here. About week after next, I will try to get down [to Houston]for Sunday again.
       Mr. Podsnaps wrote me a note from New Orleans, saying hello, etc. 
       Goodbye -- with much love - 

Mike teasingly called his brother Will Hogg “Podsnaps” after a stuffy, self-righteous character in Charles Dickens’s 1865 novel, Our Mutual Friend.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"90-Day Wonders"

      In the spring of 1917, as World War I dragged on,  Ima Hogg and her brothers--Will, Mike, and Tom--followed its progress with grave concern, but with little thought of American involvement.  Then, on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. About 2 million young men volunteered to serve in the armed forces; another 2.8 million would be drafted. By May 1917 Mike Hogg, age 31, was among 3,000 Texans in a Reserve Officers’ Training program at Camp Funston in Leon Springs, Texas. Funston was the first of many camps hurriedly set up to train officers for combat. Commissioned as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army on May 20, 1917, Mike Hogg, along with many other young men, would undergo three months of rigorous training. Those who succeeded would become known as "90-day wonders.”

 Now we know where that expression came from!