Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“If I ever have a son and he says I want to join the Army I am going to beat him nearly to death.” Camp Mills, September-October, 1917

Robert Burton's Letter, Sept. 17, 1917
by Captain William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Camp Albert Mills, N.Y.
September 1, 1917
Dear mama,
Arrived all OK this afternoon. Was, or has been raining since we left Ga. Saw Rache (Gober’s Brother) at Athens the night we came thru.
I will write a letter as soon as things are straightened out.
Had a nice trip north. Enjoyed it very much.
Co. F 151st MGB Camp Albert Mills Branch PO 12
Hempstead, N.Y.

Camp Mills, located near Hempstead, New York, was named after Maj. Gen. Albert L. Mills who received the Medal of Honor for actions during the Spanish American War. Established in September 1917, Camp Mills soon became the largest training center for troops bound for France from the nearby port of Hoboken, N.J. It was here that the 151st Machine Gun Battalion would become part of the 42nd Division.

The 151st Machine Gun Battalion was formed from Companies B, C and F of the 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment. In addition, the MGB absorbed non-commissioned officers such as Burton from other companies. The transfer was accomplished August 13, 1917. With the addition of Soldiers from the 1st Georgia regiment, the battalion reached a strength of 591 officers and enlisted men before embarking for Camp Mills.

Burton’s original assignment in Company F, 2nd Georgia was changed to Company A 151st Machine Gun Battalion while companies B and C of the 2nd Georgia were assigned as Company B and C of the new battalion. It seems that the new arrangement took some time to be accomplished according to Burton’s letter of September 1 and 3, 1917.
Robert Burton's return address, Sept. 3, 1917

Camp Mills, Sept 3, 1917
My dearest mama,
Well! I am actually on Long Island New York. What do you think about that?
The funniest thing up here is the way the people talk. You can hardly understand what these Yankees say. Another thing that is queer to the southern boys is that Coca Cola is hardly known at all. But the people treat us fine. Will do anything that they can for you and especially for the southern soldier. They seem to like them very much.
When we unloaded it was raining but I think that before long the weather will clear up and we will like the place OK.
We had a nice trip up the river yesterday morning. Had a good view of New York City.
My address is
Co. F, 151st MGB
Camp Albert Mills
Hempstead, N.Y.
Branch PO
Your devoted son,

Within two weeks of his arrival, the well-traveled Gober wrote of his latest exploits.

Robert Burton's Letter of Sept. 17, 1917

Camp Mills, Monday Night (September 17, 1917)
My dear mama,
Well! I have taken in New York and Coney Island. New York is some big town believe me. I like big crowds and a city, but this suits me most too well. I have ridden on a subway, the elevated and the surface cars. I have seen Broadway by night. I have seen 5th Ave. in the late afternoon. I have seen Chinatown and the Bowery. Also, have seen Central Park, Madison Square Garden, the Flat Iron Building, the Woolworth Building and all the famous parts of N.Y.
I have been to Coney Island during Mardi Gras week and have seen all the wonders there. But greater than that would I rather see my little old mother and father way down in Ga.
Your devoted son,

In his letter of September 27, 1917, Burton responded to his family’s concern for his well-being and uncertain future.

Camp Mills
Thursday night, September 27, 1917
My dearest mama,
Tho I haven’t heard from you in a day or so, will write you tonight as it is likely that I will not get to write to you again in some time. I heard today that this was the last night that we would be allowed to write. After this, all of our mail will be censored. It looks now like we will sail before long. From where, I don’t know, or I don’t when, but I played safety first and wrote tonight so that if it was so, I would have written.
Now mama, please don’t you worry about me. I am not looking on the dark side of this so please don’t. Ed had a letter from Wheeler (Will) Mears the other day. He is getting along fine. By the way, perhaps by the time that you get this Ed will be ‘cross. He left the other morning for Norfolk, Va.
I know that it worries you but please don’t break down about it. Mrs. Mears stood it, can’t you? I look on it just about as the Mexican war was. We will stay behind the lines at least six months before we even see a German.
I am going to be OK and I will take good care of myself so when I do come home, we will have all the bigger reception. It won’t be long.
I am going to try and drop all of the children a card tonight. Just keep on writing to me at the same address till you get a card saying that I have reached the other side safely. Then my address will be:
Co A, 151st Machine Gun Bn., American Expeditionary Forces.
We have been working pretty hard for the last week, so I am pretty tired tonight. I don’t know if I will have time to write to Auntie tonight or not but if I can’t please tell her for me that I appreciate all that she has done for me, more than I can tell. I may not be able to put it in words but deep down in my heart, I appreciate it.
Don’t you worry about me. I think that it is my duty to go. The Flag is calling for men who haven’t got a yellow streak. For men who don’t have to be made to go. I want no greater honor than to think that when the need came I was ready. That I am among those selected to go first.

Over the next few weeks the men of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion trained to build up the physical stamina necessary for combat operations. Gober wrote home requesting custom sweaters for the men of his squad and corresponded with “his girl in Jaxville.” For the first time in his letters home he hinted at the prospect of marriage. He informed his parents that Mildred would be writing to them soon.
As the training continued. the ever-present approach of overseas deployment was foremost in the minds of the Soldiers and families. Burton hinted at that notion in correspondence home.

Robert Burton's letter of Oct. 9, 1917

Camp Mills
October 9, 1917
My dearest mama,
It is raining this afternoon so will write you a letter. It started to raining this morning and has been raining all day. We have been sleeping all day.
It won’t be so very long now till we do go across. We are packing up now all the kitchen outfit has been packed that is always the last thing to be packed.
This is just a note to let you know that I am OK.
This will be the address
Co A 151st Machine Gun Battalion
84th Brigade
Paris, France
Via New York, NY
This is the address they gave us today and I suppose that is OK. I will get it the other way I suppose.
I am going to write to papa this afternoon also so will close.
Your devoted son,

One week passed, and preparations for departure continued.

Camp Mills
Wednesday night, October 17, 1917
My dear mama,
Well before long I suppose you can hang one of those signs on the door that says, “a member of this family in France.” For I think that before another week is over we will have sailed. But mama dear, don’t you worry about me. I have been about enough to know how to take care of myself I won’t do anything rash or take any unnecessary risks. But I shall do my duty. Doing your duty does not mean getting killed.
Yesterday I took out $5,000 worth of government insurance paying $2.40 a month on it. For a year it will cost me $29.00. Pretty cheap I think. I made you the first beneficiary and papa the second. If I should happen to be knocked out, it will leave you in pretty good circumstances. Again, if I should become disabled, I would receive about $20.00 per month from it for 20 years. It is an endowment policy, it takes the place of a pension. I am not worth any more than $5,000. Please tell Frank this when you write him as he urged me to take out some.
I feel lots better than I ever felt in my life. But if I ever have a son and he says I want to join the Army I am going to beat him nearly to death.
Your devoted son,

Burton continued to correspond with friends and family in Monroe. He learned that his girl Mildred had indeed corresponded with his family and received letters from his brothers Frank and Rache.

Burton’s letter of October 27, 1917 is filled with the melancholy and foreboding of a Soldier who has received news he cannot relay.

Camp Mills
Saturday afternoon, October 27, 1917
My dearest mama,
I received a letter from you most every day but haven’t had time to write. So, if you don’t hear from me so often as before just take it that I haven’t the time to write.
I am going to do the best I can. Will try and write you at least once a week.
I am well and getting along fine. Feeling good as can be.
From now on, my letters will be kinder short I expect.
I will just tell you how I am. Can’t tell you where we are or anything else.
I am glad to know that you are fixing me up a scrapbook. It will be good reading when I come back.
I don’t know of a thing interesting to write.
Your devoted son,

Four days later, Cpl. Robert Gober Burton along with 569 members of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion embarked from Hoboken. N.J. Aboard the U. S. S. Agamemnon bound for France.

The U.S.S  Agamemnon at sea.  U.S. Navy Photo NH 77162

Next Chapter:  Arrival in France.