Wednesday, April 19, 2017

“We Are Having a Big Time Now.” January-March 1917

by Captain William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

American Military Novelty Company cartoon marks a new year on the border.
Georgia National Guard Archives

January 1, 1917 marked a new year for the Georgia Guardsmen stationed on the Texas / Mexico border. From his tent, not two hundred yards from Mexico, Corporal Robert Gober Burton of Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry, balanced a book over his knee and wrote a letter home to his mother in Monroe Ga. Rather than travel with the rest of the Georgia Brigade on a fifteen-mile march as he had earlier reported, Burton and his fellows from Monroe remained to guard Camp Cotton.
Georgia Guardsmen of Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry
Georgia National Guard Archives
Burton wrote that word was sweeping the camp that Brig. Gen. John Pershing would be recalled from Mexico soon and that the Guardsmen encamped in posts along the border would soon be sent home. Burton enclosed Kodak images with the letter and returned some clothing items that had been sent as gifts.

“I am thinking of sending the muffler and laundry bag home as everything here is so dirty that I am afraid that I will spoil them. The muffler is surely nice but I can’t wear it as it doesn’t suit very well with government clothes. Besides, we are furnished all the war clothes that we can wear. I have some under clothes much heavier than those I wore at home. We have a big overcoat that weighs about 15 pounds and a hood that goes over the head so I keep very warm and comfortable.”

In his letters home, Burton continued to comfort his mother and reassure her that the men were in no danger.

El Paso, Texas
Monday Night (envelope post marked January 6, 1917)
Mama Dear,
Mama, you need not be afraid that the Mexicans will get us as there are just 129,000 more Soldiers here besides us and I think that the Mexicans are not hankering to come over and see how straight we can shoot.
I don’t see why we are being kept down here. The border is sleeping like a top and we are not really needed down here. I fear that a petition has been gotten up in Ga. asking the War Department to recall us. If it gets to you, I know that both you and papa will sign it. The Macon Board of Trade has sent one to the War Dept, also the Savannah B of T.
I have already shaved off the moustache and am again my natural self. I hope that by this time the picture has reached you. Also the letter with the Kodak pictures that I sent you.
Miss Bessie is coming out here to see Capt. Aycock. She left Atlanta tonight. Lt. Launius is due to come with her, but I think that his leave of absence will be extended so that he can stay with his father.
Now Mama, don’t get the blues because if I can stand it, I think you should. If you write blue letters I get blue and it makes both of us unhappy.
The Company is on guard tonight and I haven’t very much longer so will close. Write soon.
As ever, your Devt Son

By January 14, 1917 the 2nd Georgia received orders to man guard posts along the Southern El Paso Railroad linking Columbus, N.M. with El Paso.

My Dearest Mama,
We find that we will have to go out on the outpost duty after all. We are going to go with the First Ga. Regiment. I do not know whether we will get any mail out there or not but I will try and write you from out there. I think that we can mail our mail from there. We are going down into New Mexico so by that I will add another state to my list of states that I have been in.
Mama, please don’t worry about me being out there. I will be OK. The whole 1st Georgia will be with us.
I hear mess call sounding so will go eat dinner, then come back and finish this letter.
A light snow fell last night but melted away this morning. The weather this morning was not cold enough to wear a sweater and much of the boys are in their shirt sleeves.
I hope that by the middle of Feb. or the finish of March we will be on our way to the red hills of Ga. The middle of Feb. seems to be the most likely time.
Things along the border are as peaceful as in Ga. Things go on just as anywhere else, only you see Soldiers everywhere, and at all times.
When you wrote me about the turkey, I though that I would have some of the town boys down to eat dinner with me. Capt. Aycock, Miss Bessie, James Matthews, Jack Felker, Charlie Mears and Ed Winslo. How do you think that would be?
This may be the last letter in 15 days so I am making a long one of it. I think that we will get to post letters out their tho.
Miss Bessie’s coming was certainly liked by the whole company. We are more than glad to see her.
What is worrying me most is what I am going to do when I do get back home. Tell the boys to keep looking for me a job.
Well, will write again as soon as I get a chance. Write again soon
Your devoted son,
Noria New Mexico, station of Company H, 2nd Georgia
Infantry. Photo by Capt. William Carraway
On January 17, Burton and his comrades in Company H loaded into trucks and were driven 40 miles west along the border on a road that paralleled the El Paso Southwestern railroad. Reaching Noria, the troops unloaded and surveyed their newly assigned post. Save for an east-west railroad, a water tower and a depot building, there was nothing much to look at. Although the terrain was flat, the wind had shaped the sand into a series of undulating dunes topped with sage brush. The effect of these wind-formed terrain features was that a Soldier could stand on the flat ground in Noria and not be able to see the Mexican border just one mile south.

Over the next two weeks, Burton and the Soldiers of Company H found much to enjoy about their new post. Whereas at Camp Cotton, the troops were subject to camp rules and discipline, in Noria they were their own bosses. Burton established a canteen in the newly formed tent city of Noria and reported doing brisk business. Bessie Aycock, Capt. Aycock’s wife traveled with the company to Noria where she stayed at the depot office. By day she circulated about the camp bringing good cheer and encouragement to the Soldiers who welcomed the addition of a friendly face from home.
Bessie Aycock, wife of Capt. John Aycock with Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry
Georgia National Guard Archives
Days passed without incident. The Soldiers watched as trains passed east and west while clouds drifted lazily in the sky. While the Georgians marked time guarding the railroad, news reached them that as many as 25,000 Guardsmen had left the border. This again buoyed expectations of a swift return home, but Capt. Aycock cautioned the men to expect a duty extension.

By January 31, 1917, Burton appeared resigned to a long stay on the New Mexico border.

Jan 31, 1917
My dearest mama,
We will be stationed here indefinitely. You just send the coke and the candy to my old address. We get the mail every day.
I had lots rather be here where we are than at camp in El Paso. Here we are our own boss, get up any time of day that we choose and go to bed when we please.
I went down to Columbus, N.M. the other day. That is the place where Villa made his raid about a year ago. Nothing can be seen except at some places where a bullet spattered.
The El Paso (paper) says that several thousand more National Guard are to be ordered home. We believe that we will be stationed here until they are ready to send us home. I hope that this will be the way they do.
You just send the coke and things right on. I will enjoy them more out here than I would at El Paso.
Write me soon at El Paso
Your devoted son,

Before Gober’s letter reached Monroe, the Georgians were recalled from Noria to Camp Cotton. Returning by truck February 1, 1917, the Georgians began preparing to return to their home state. Although they were no longer independent of camp regulations, Burton noted that they were glad to return to tents with wooden floors. He was happy also to receive a box of chocolates “from my girl in Winder” and Coca Cola from home.

Shortly after the Georgia Guardsmen returned to Camp Cotton, Brig. Gen. John Pershing was recalled to Fort Bliss ending the punitive expedition. The return of the regulars was greeted with a wave of celebration and rumors of the Guard units returning home. Burton reported camp duties greatly slackened and the men enjoyed liberal leave to El Paso. There was so much revelry that Burton wrote for his mother to send him a suit to wear to town.

“Mama, get my heavy suit of clothes, about two shirts, half dozen collar, buy me a cap and necktie or two. Cap size 7 1/8 and make it a loud one. My pair of slippers, pack them up and send them to me. We want to dress up sometime on Sunday and it is no longer against the rules to wear civilian clothes. Don’t forget to send me a collar button or two. We are having a big time now.”

On March 8, 1917, four inches of snow fell but Burton and Sgt. Williamson, sharing six blankets between them, suffered no ill effects from the cold snap. The next day, the 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment received preliminary orders to prepare for a return to Georgia. The 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment was scheduled to return first, followed by the 5th and 2nd Georgia.

El Paso Herald Headline
Georgia National Guard Archives
Transportation of the units commenced March 22, 1917. The Georgians packed their tents and baggage and began a long spine-jarring ride home by rail through Dallas, Memphis, and Birmingham on the way to Atlanta and, ultimately Macon, Ga., headquarters of the 2nd Georgia Infantry.

Medal presented to Soldiers
of the 2nd Georgia by the
City of Macon
Author's collection
Upon their return, Soldiers of the 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment were formed into ranks along Cherry Street in downtown Macon Georgia. There they were presented with medals custom ordered by the City of Macon in honor of the regiment’s service. Following the medal presentation, the Soldiers were treated to a barbecue in the city’s central park. Their medals glistening in the spring sunlight, the Soldiers of the 2nd Georgia had completed their Mexican border mobilization. But war clouds loomed, and a second mobilization was less than one week away.

Next Chapter: War Declaration and Mobilization

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