Friday, November 24, 2017

“All Things in The Army Have to Be in The Right Form.” July-August 1917

by Captain William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment returned to Camp Harris, Macon, Ga. June 30, 1917 from their duty in Jacksonville, Fla. and began a rigorous schedule of training as recounted by Sgt. Robert Burton.

July 8, 1917 letter written by Sgt. Robert G. Burton

Camp Harris, Macon, Ga.
July 8, 1917
My dear mama,
My application for discharge was sent back for proper military form. You know, You know, all things in the Army have to be in the right form 
or they are sent back. I think that when it does go thru these headquarters it will go all right and I will get my discharge.
We are working nearly all day these days. Our day starts at 0530 and lasts til six in the afternoon, so I haven’t much time to get into any trouble. At night I am too tired to go to town and spend any money much. I am spending only what I have to have. Don’t you know it looks funny to see me get up at 5:00 o’clock and eat breakfast at 6:10.
Had a letter from my Jaxville girl this morning. I think that after I come home I will go to see her. She asked me when I was coming back to see her.
Write to me real soon and let me know what you think about my coming home.
As ever, your devoted son,

Burton’s discharge and hopes for leave were soon dashed.

Camp Harris
Saturday Morning (July 14, 1917)
My dear mama,
I can’t come this weekend. Lt. Dickinson took one of his crazy notions yesterday afternoon and would not let me come. He told me yesterday morning that I could come, and I had a grip packed ready to get in the car and he told me that I could not come.
He let Jack Felker go and he went home while we were in Fla. He let (Sgt) Tom Hensler go and he was absent without leave while we were in Fla. I have never been absent without leave.
I think that perhaps I can come next Friday and if I can I will stay over till about Wednesday. I hate the very air that Lt. Dickinson breathes. I am going to run him to the dogs when I get there.
I surely did want to come home and be with all the children.
I am getting along just as fine as can be.
There is no news today. Will write to you again this week.
Hoping to see you by this time next week. I am.
Your devoted son,

Burton did get leave the following Friday and spent a joyous weekend at home in Monroe. It was the last time Burton would be home before sailing for France.

Sgt. Robert G. Burton (Right) at home on leave in July, 1917.

Big changes awaited the regiment in the coming weeks as related by Burton.

Hotel Lanier, Macon Ga.
Wednesday Night (August 8, 1917)
My dear mama,
The regiment is being reorganized under the new law and so we have been pretty busy since the 5th of August. A machine gun battalion has been made out of one battalion of the Second. All of the best non-commissioned officers of the regiment have been transferred to it. Out of our company, Ed Williamson, Tom Hensler, C. J. Mears and myself have been transferred as privates so after tomorrow just address my letters as Mr. R. G. Burton. It is expected that we will be sent to Mass or somewhere near New York City. The general opinion is now that we will leave about Tuesday.
I suppose that by the papers you have seen about the Macon companies being reorganized into machine gun companies.
Capt. (Sidney L.) Conner of B Co has been assigned to Co H since the discharge of Capt. Aycock. We all like him fine so far.
I am getting along just as fine as possible I suppose. If I can’t come home will let you know by mail.
Your devoted son,

Sgt. Robert Burton wrote home from the Hotel Lanier August 8, 1917

The machine gun battalion Burton referenced was the 151st Machine Gun Battalion which was destined to serve in the 42nd Infantry Division. But for now, that information was unknown to Burton or his comrades.

Days later, Burton sent the following telegraph informing his parents of his impending reassignment.

Western Union Telegram Camp Harris, Macon, Ga. 1045 AM August 28, 1917

Next Chapter:  Camp Mills, New York

Thursday, November 16, 2017

“250 Degrees In The Shade.” March-June 1917

by Captain William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Within days of their return from the Mexican Border, the Georgia Guardsmen of the 2nd Georgia Infantry were on the move. Across the nation, cities were taking precautions to protect water supplies from poisoning by German agents. On March 31, 1917, At the request of the Macon Water Commission, the Albany Guards of the 2nd Georgia were dispatched to guard a waterworks plant north of Macon. Additional Soldiers were detailed to a reservoir south of Macon. Other units were on the move to secure vital infrastructure sites and Burton wrote to his family of his expectation that they would soon be detailed to South Georgia.

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked a special joint session of Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. Congress voted to approve the declaration April 6, 1917. Following the declaration, Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry was dispatched to Jacksonville, Fla. where it would guard the railroad bridge spanning the Saint Johns River. Company H went into camp on the south bank near the present location of the Baptist Medical Center while a detail of ten Soldiers led by 2nd Lt. Dennie Launius were sent to Homestead, Fla. near Miami.

Burton, writing home to his mother April 8, 1917 recalls the movement to 

Jacksonville, Fla.
Sunday Afternoon (April 8th, 1917)
My dear mama,
We arrived here last night or this morning as you know by the cards I have written you.
We did not know when we got on the train exactly where we were going but as I wired you, we came to Jacksonville. We are down here guarding the Florida East Coast RR bridge. I like this place all OK. We crossed the St. Johns River and are now in South Jacksonville. The people here are mighty nice to us so far. We are on the river nearly and get the sea breeze all of the time. I think that fishing will be good. That is about all we will have to do. I hope that we will stay here for some time. I had rather be here than in Macon so far. Of course, we happen to be farther away from home but this is a nice place.
I think that this is about all the news that I know at this time. My address is Co. H. 2nd Ga. Inf., South Jacksonville, Fla.
Write to me soon.
As ever, your devoted son,

Robert Burton photo of the Florida East Coast Railroad Bridge
According to Burton’s recollections, the citizens of Jacksonville were very welcoming towards the Monroe Soldiers. Burton expressed relief to have been sent to Jacksonville, far away from Camp Harris and the discipline and rigor of camp life.
Nearly three weeks later Burton wrote of his recreational exploits.

So. Jax Fla. April 27, 1917
My dear mama,
Well! I have seen the ocean!! I think that it is the most wonderful thing I most ever saw.
One of the superintendents of a Sunday school here came down and took four of the boys down to Atlantic Beach and Pablo Beach. We had one grand time surf bathing and fishing. We saw all kinds of sea life. (Sgt.) Tom Hensler and I caught a sack full of crabs. Then we caught a string of fish. It was a grand day for us.
I am going out to a six o’clock dinner tonight. (Sgt. Augustus S.) Clay, (Pfc. Emory J.) E. J. Moore and myself. A Miss White is giving it. She is from Ga. and she has been more than nice to us since we have been here. Some class to your son eh?
The people here continue to be so nice to us. The ladies of the Presbyterian Church gave a little party at one of the club houses for us the other night. We met the nicest girls and had a big time generally. I talked to a girl from Maryland most of the time.
If I don’t forget it I am sending a picture of the bridge that we are guarding. It is 5/8ths of a mile long and has a draw bridge that turns around nearly in the center of it.
Tell all the children my address and tell them to write me sometime. I would like very much to hear from all of them.
The weather is hot as the mischief, but we get a breeze from the sea most of the time, so it is not so bad. The mosquitoes are as big as automobiles down here. They don’t worry us too much as we have mosquito nets. I had lots rather be down here under Maj. Beck than under Col. Thomas.
Well Mama, write me another letter soon. I surely did appreciate the money that papa sent.
Your devoted son
-I have been to church every Sunday that we have been here. -G

Western Union Telegraph Dated April 17, 1917 from Cpl. Burton to his father

Presently, camp life gave way to routine. With little to do other than daily guard mounts, the Soldiers made the best of their surroundings by visiting the beach and organizing a baseball team. Burton wrote home requesting his old baseball glove and shoes. Orders were passed down that Soldiers were not to leave camp in civilian clothes, but the Soldiers simply took civilian clothes with them and changed once outside the camp boundaries.

In the weeks of idle time, Burton’s parent suggested that he request a discharge from the Guard and resume his studies at the University of Georgia. Burton’s response was adamant.

May 15, 1917
Hotel Flagler, Jacksonville, Fla. (on Hotel Flagler Stationery)
My dear mama,
Your letter came today. Was indeed glad to hear from you.
I think that I would drop that about getting me a discharge. There is no chance now. Would you have me desert the flag now when it is in the greatest danger when men are needed? Men who have had the experience? The flag is in danger. Do you think what the flag means to every American citizen?

Guard duty droned on. Rumors swept the camp that the Guardsmen would be sent to the Florida Keys. 1st Lt. Launius Dickinson, commanding Company H, was hopeful that the unit could be thus transferred but orders were not forthcoming.

In June Robert’s brother Frank visited the camp of Company H and found Gober Burton acting as company clerk, a duty he was not exceptionally pleased with.
Writing home June 2, 1917, Burton described the weather as “hot as blue blazes. It feels like 250 degrees in the shade.”

By June 8, Burton had been promoted to sergeant and his pay had been increased to $17.00 per month. His discharge papers had been approved and forwarded to 1st Lt. Dickinson for approval. 

The Soldiers of Company H visited Saint Augustine and surf bathed to pass the time. Local churches held socials for the visiting Georgia Soldiers and Burton began attending a local church. He kept his mother informed of his regular church attendance and advised her that he had been “out to see the preacher’s daughter several times.” In the months to come, Burton and the preacher’s daughter, Miss Mildred Richards, corresponded regularly. Burton reported to his mother after giving Mildred a picture of himself in uniform that Mildred exclaimed “Gober, I know you have a grand disposition. Your face tells me that.”  

At the end of June, Company H received orders recalling them to Camp Harris in Macon. Burton bade good bye to the Richards family and promised to write.

On June 30, 1917, Company H returned to Camp Harris carrying with them Burton’s budding romance and uncertain future in the Army. 

Next chapter: Reorganization