Saturday, November 10, 2018

One Hundred Years Ago, an Armistice

         On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., (the eleventh day and the eleventh hour) a cease-fire was declared in the trenches of World War I. The carnage that had cost over eight and a half million lives world-wide was over. This weekend we remember them, we honor them.
         When Captain Mike Hogg came home, he and his brother Will and his sister Ima established Houston’s Memorial Park in honor of those who died in the Great War. It opened in 1925, and is still one of the largest urban parks in the nation.
         On November 14, Captain Mike Hogg, Company D, lst Battalion, 180thInfantry Brigade, 360thRegiment,  90thDivision, wrote to his sister about the fateful morning of November 11. He was still at the front. 
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 adesperateattack 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. . . . 

They called it the Great War. No one in 1918 could imagine a greater one. 


         






Saturday, October 13, 2018

Good spirits, even in the trenches

Mike Hogg’s letter to Will, from the Western Front, October 1, 1918:

         Well, to go back--I have learned to sympathize with wildcats, coons, and all hunted animals. I’ll never run them again. You know I have to leave my hole to look things over once in a while and then your wild animal stunt--that is, if it is a pretty clear day. About the time you think all is well, old Fritz has spied you from a “sausage” and here they come, whiz, bang, zip, zam! You run like hell for about a hundred (that is, when you have your first few experiences), then stop, wipe your brow, laugh, cuss the Hun, and then move contentedly on--about that time, sure enough Hell breaks loose all around you. You leap for cover, which might be only a pile of brush, a roll of barbed wire, or anything; you hug the ground and flatten out flatter than anything in the world; Fritz splashes them for a time and then all is quiet again. How the Hell they missed you, you can’t tell, because you have merely been playing the ostrich. Now, take it from me, from this time out there is no slow movement. These old-time wildcat movements ensue and remain till back to your beautiful dugout (with its friendly fleas and everything else thrown in) you scramble--and when there, you are as happy as a fool.
         We had a good time down here last night. My runners have a fine quartet and how they did sing! We had the latest from Broadway down to our war songs. Some wanted to drop in a few sentimentals but they did not get far.          

A battlefront is no place for sentimentality. 

            

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A brief lull before the big battle

During a brief “period of stabilization” after the battle of St. Mihiel, Mike Hogg found time to write to Ima, describing with cheerful insouciance what had been a harrowing combat experience.
                           
                                                               Monday, September 23rd

         You should see me right now. Here I sit, just after having taken the most glorious bath I have ever had. Not that it was up to date, or that I had a good tub, or that I had lots of water. It was a bath--that is all. I am in an old, shell-torn town. The room here is about the only thing left of the house that is whole. The rest has been blown away by shells. This room, however, is great. It can’t rain in here. All my officers (four of us) are here.          You are wondering, no doubt, why that bath was so wonderful. Well, it is this way: I am just back from that big American “push”--St. Mihiel. We were in it up to our eyes. Almost two weeks, we dug, marched, fought and scrambled around in something I know was worse than Hell itself. But here we are, as happy as if we all had good sense --men and all.

         Captain Hogg and his Company D would soon be in the trenches again, in the greatest single battle in American history: the Meuse-Argonne offensive, with a battlefront 75 miles long, and involving more than a million U.S. soldiers, from September 26 until the armistice of November 11. 

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. . . .
THE ATTACK ON SEPTEMBER 12
         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 Amazon.com.


          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 - 
       Mike.

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
         
         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 Amazon.com. 



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.

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.