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!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Jim Hogg, Cornflakes, and Azaleas

On March 1, 1906, Jim Hogg, who declared he was feeling much better after long spell of ill health, set out for the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, The sanitarium was a famous one known for its holistic approach to medical problems. Ima and Will had convinced their father to undergo a thorough medical examination.  Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the sanitarium’s founder, and his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, would be better known as the inventors of whole-grain dry cereals, known as --you guessed it--Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. A patient at Battle Creek named C.W. Post had already invented Grape-nuts cereal in 1897, and soon he, too, developed a cornflakes product he called “Elijah’s Manna” in 1904. It sold much better in 1908, renamed “Post Toasties.” But corn flakes did not appeal to Jim Hogg, who liked ham and eggs and biscuits for breakfast.
With Ima and Will, Jim Hogg took the train from West Columbia to Houston. They stopped to spend the night at the home of Frank Jones, his law partner. The Joneses lived in a handsome mansion at 2116 Travis, and the guests spent a pleasant evening there on March 2. Hogg was his usual jovial self. He happened to remark that when he died he wanted no monuments at his grave, but a pecan tree and a walnut tree, with the nuts given to the “plain people” of Texas. Ima scolded him for talking of his death, but he assured her that he would be around for “many years.”
He died that night. On the morning of March 3, 1906, twenty-one days before his fifty-fifth birthday, James Stephen Hogg was found dead in his bed at the Jones residence. He had died of a heart attack in his sleep. It was Ima who found him. At age thirteen, she had watched her mother die. At age twenty-three, she found her father dead.
James Stephen Hogg, governor of Texas from 1891 to 1895, was larger than life—figuratively and literally. He was the focal point, the fulcrum of an extraordinary family. He was buried in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery next to his wife, Sallie.

Note: Houston’s historic Azalea Trail, with Ima Hogg’s home, Bayou Bend, as a featured attraction, is March 2-4 this year.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Wartime Christmas

A hundred years ago in December 1917, Captain Mike Hogg and his 250 men of Company D, First Battalion, 360th Infantry Regiment, 180th Brigade, 90th Division, spent the holidays learning how to shoot a rifle. This account is from a history of Company D:

                  The adjustment from civil to army life was a grinding ordeal to say the least, yet the spirit and cooperation of the men was such that it was evident Company D would prove of sterling worth when the time to meet the enemy arrived. On December 12th the Company marched to the Division Target Range where it received its first instruction in rifle firing In addition to target practice problems and maneuvres were carried out each day, and proved interesting as well as instructive. Classes of instruction in the use of the Browning, Lewis, Chauchat automatic rifles were also held. The Christmas Holidays were spent at the range, and the bitter experience of being away from the home fireside on festive days was an added test to the quality of the men. However, the new interest held sway. About three weeks were spent at Camp Bullis, then the Company moved back to its quarters at Travis.”
         --“History of Company D.
Excerpt from my book, The Smell of War: Three Americans in the Trenches of World War I (Texas A&M Press, 2017).

         Sometime after Christmas 1917 Mike wrote to Ima that the Red Cross had sent every man in his regiment a wool “trench sweater,” most of them hand-knitted. He wrote proudly of  “my lieutenants.”

         They would sail for France in June, 1918. In August, they would be in the trenches of the Western Front.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

99 Years Ago, an Armistice

On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., a cease-fire was declared in the trenches of World War I. On November 14, Captain Mike Hogg, Company D, lst Battalion, 180th Infantry Brigade, 360th Regiment,  90th Division, wrote to his sister.

. . . I am now only a few kilometers from where I was when we got the almost unbelievable news that there was to be a suspension of all hostilities at eleven o’clock. The Germans were only a few yards away and we were preparing to make a desperate attack that morning. I had already given up all idea of coming through. You should have seen the place where we spent the night—and such a night! Everybody and everything was frozen stiff.
We got the news at about ten-thirty. There was absolutely no demonstration. We could not make a sign or move, because of danger. Shells were still falling. At eleven, we heard the German bugles blow and the men shout. We then saw them get right up from in front of us and “beat it” back. All firing ceased. MY! But it was great. We were too tired and chilled, though, to realize what great luck we and the world in general were in. We have been through a great deal of fighting and I suppose are very lucky. . . .
Raymond came around in his car today, and we had a long and wonderful ride over the great battlefield. I took him to the very spot where my company and myself were waiting through the night to “jump off” in the morning.
He can tell you about my abode that night. , . .
You should see the town we are in. It is in better shape than most any around here and, at that, there is not a single house left whole. I am in one of the best and it has three rooms left. They are only baby rooms. I have a warm fire, just the same, and so have the men. We have all had a bath and have on warm and clean clothesalways get hot and good food after a fight. Sis, if she [the war] had not been over the day she was, you would have been minus one young brother. You know, there is a limit to everything, and I had reached mine. . . . No, I have not written very often, because it has been impossible to write at times. I have been on the front for almost four months and in places where it was not healthy to do any writing. . . . The Americans have had the hardest fighting of the war. You should see this region that we have hacked and carved our way through. It is, truly, a tragic sight. The last time I wrote you, I was some twenty miles in rear of where I now am. It is all the same—an enumeration would be a duplication. . . .
With much love—
Your brother,
P.S. I am enumerating a few of the things I saw one day. I am doing it on separate paper, so that if the censor does not like it, he can take it out.                          
Here is just an enumeration of things which I saw one day while we were on a hill in reserve, on the night we went up to relieve another outfit:
A marsh just below the hill, full of dead horses, torn-up wagons, and cannon. A road just beyond the marsh, winding up a hill in one direction to where a town once stood, but now nothing but white bricks mark the placein the other direction, the road stretched as far as the eye could see over almost level country. From the top of the hill to as far as could be seen, the road was chucked and blocked with trucks, troops, cannon, horses, ration and munition trains.
All along the slope of the hill where I was, torn helmets of Americans and Germans. Fresh American and German graves, old French graves, pieces of rifles, shreds of uniforms, packs, shoes, grenades, small holes in the ground all over the side of the hill where men had dug in.
A railroad track, just this side of the marsh, all torn to pieces. Old pieces of machine guns and ammunition belts of Germans, where they had tried to make a stand.
The top of the hill all around me covered with what used to be brush, but which was now chewed up by machine gun bullets and looked as if rats had been eating it. Three large observation balloons, one of which was brought down by a Boche [Allied slang for “German”]. The air alive with aeroplanes. Some were throwing propaganda, which looked like snow falling. Shells falling and knocking up the earth every few minutes. Our boys sticking close to the ground; cook stoves camouflaged and in full blast. Every hill in sight full of American Infantry or Artillery soldiers; litter-bearers going after someone just hit by a piece of shell.
These are a few of the things I saw from that one spot.

In 1954  November 11 became “Veterans Day” --to honor the veterans of all our wars.