Wednesday, December 25, 2019

In Memoriam: Capt. William McKenna, 121st Infantry Regiment

By Major William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

William McKenna circa 1939. Georgia Guard Archives.

Early Life

William Andrew McKenna was born in Macon, in 1910 or 1913[1] to first generation Irish Americans William and Mary McKenna. The elder William worked as a bookkeeper in a jeweler’s store while Mary tended to seven children of which young William Andrew was the third.[2]

In May 1927, McKenna joined the local National Guard company, the famed Floyd Rifles, which had served in the 151st Machine Gun Battalion in World War I. Though still in high school McKenna took to Soldiering quickly and was promoted to private 1st class.
The 151st Machine Gun Battalion in France in 1917. Georgia Guard Archives.
 McKenna graduated from Lanier High School in 1930. Nicknamed Duck by his classmates, McKenna had played baseball, basketball and football. His high school quote was prophetic: “All great men are dying – I feel ill myself.”[3]

Preparing for War
First Lieutenant William McKenna in 1941. 
Georgia Guard Archives

McKenna rose through the enlisted ranks and by May 1939 was first sergeant of Company F. In November he was commissioned a second lieutenant. On September 16, 1940 he was accepted into federal service with Company F and the 121st Infantry and dispatched to Fort Jackson S.C. for sixteen weeks of initial training. On Dec. 26, 1940, McKenna married Ms. Cecile Cassidy during a ceremony at St. Joseph’s Church in Macon.

McKenna was promoted to 1st lieutenant March 14, 1941 and two months later, the 121st participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers followed by the Carolina Maneuvers. In the fall of 1941, the 121st was transferred to the 8th Infantry Division. 

McKenna participated in the grueling train up through the Second Army Maneuvers in Tennessee to the Desert Training Center in Yuma Arizona. He displayed impressive leadership qualities and was promoted to captain August 22, 1942. Finally, on November 25, 1943, McKenna, and the Soldiers of the 121st boarded a train bound for Camp Kilmer, N.J. before embarking from Brooklyn, N.Y. aboard the U.S.S. Beanville and Columbia. While at sea, McKenna confided that he had a suspicion that he would never return to the United States.[4]

After a ten-day voyage, the Gray Bonnets arrived in Belfast Harbor. Over the next six and a half months the 121st conducted field problems and combat training in anticipation for the Normandy Invasion.


On July 4, the first Soldiers of the Gray Bonnet Regiment splashed ashore on Utah Beach. Upon landing and consolidating, the 121st was dispatched south to La Haye du Puits where the U.S. VIII Corps was attempting to dislodge German forces and advance out of the swampy lowland terrain. Arriving on July 8, the 8th Division was assigned as the main effort of the attack which would strike a narrow front between Lessay and Perriers. 

The next morning, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 121st assaulted La Haye du Puits from the northeast moving out under cover of artillery. Having advanced perhaps 500 yards, the Gray Bonnets were checked by withering German machine gun fire. The 1st Battalion, in the vicinity of Hill 95 found itself in a particularly desperate situation with elements of Company A temporarily isolated. Though outnumbered, the German Infantry were well entrenched in strong hedgerow positions with interlocking fields of machine gun fire and mortar coverage. 

During the heavy fighting, McKenna led companies of the 2nd Battalion forward to reestablish contact with 3rd Battalion. Surveying the enemy line, McKenna perceived that hostile fire had ceased from a sector and moved forward to investigate. McKenna advanced to a hedgerow which concealed a considerable force of German troops. Calling loudly for their surrender, McKenna was rebuffed when the German commander ordered his Soldiers to open fire. Calmly, McKenna secured a string of hand grenades and continued to advance within a few yards of the enemy where he destroyed the German strong point with hand grenades. For his actions, McKenna was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.[5]

Soldiers of the 121st Infantry move through the ruins of Hurtgen, Germany in December 1944. National Archives.
From France To Germany

McKenna fought with the 121st Infantry Regiment through Normandy and the successive Brittany Campaign. He endured savage fighting in the Hurtgen Forest and by December 1944 was leading Company B in the attack on Obermaubach, a German town that overlooked a dam on the Roer River.

On Christmas Day, 1944, McKenna was characteristically leading his men from the front, crawling ahead of the company and reporting the positions of machine gun positions for artillery. McKenna remained thus exposed until machine gun fire compelled him to return to Company B’s fighting positions just as his company was receiving a heavy artillery barrage. Ignoring the incoming fire that split fir trees and caused geysers of frozen earth to erupt around him, McKenna moved among his men’s fighting positions encouraging them to maintain their fire. When the enemy artillery fire slackened, McKenna once again moved to the front of his men to direct a counterattack. He was out in front of his company when he was killed by small arms fire. 

McKenna was posthumously awarded a second Silver Star in recognition of his bravery in the face of the enemy. He was buried in the Netherland American Cemetery with full military honors. 

On October 23, 1960, an armory was dedicated in honor of Capt. William McKenna in his hometown of Macon. 
Dedication ceremony of the William McKenna Armory October 23, 1960. McKenna’s widow Cecile participated in the unveiling ceremony as did
Lt. Col. Holden West, commander of the 3rd Medium Tank Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment. West would later serve as the first commander of the
48th Infantry Brigade and would ultimately command the Georgia Army National Guard.

[1] National Guard Registry, 1943, 784. McKenna is listed with birthdate in 1913 while 1930 US Census identifies him as 20 years old.
[2] 1920 U.S. Census
[3] The Lanierian, 1930.
[4] The Gray Bonnet: Combat History of the 121st Infantry. Baton Rouge, LA: Army & Navy Publishing Company, 1946, 43.
[5] Carraway, William. It Shall Be Done: The 121st Infantry Regiment Enters Fortress Europe.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas in Combat: Georgia Guard Soldiers Observe Christmas in 1944

By Major William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

A cartoon depiction of the rapid mobilization of the Georgia National Guard’s 179th Field Artillery Battalion and 4th Armor Division to the Ardennes 
in December 1944 as drawn by a Soldier of the 179th. 179th, 17.

Seventy-five years ago, seven battalions of Georgia Guard Soldiers spent Christmas engaged in the Ardennes following a surprise German counterattack remembered today as the Battle of the Bulge. This chapter of the Georgia Guard History Blog takes a brief look at how each Georgia Guard unit passed Christmas 1944.

945th Field Artillery Battalion

When the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive, the 945th Field Artillery Battalion was engaged with the IIX Corps, 3rd Army in the Lorraine Campaign near Nancy. In action throughout December, the battalion had taken severe casualties with just 72 men remaining for duty in Battery C.[1] On December 19, Lt. Gen. George Patton ordered the XII Corps to move via Luxembourg to the Ardennes. The 945th, still recovering from the counterbattery fire of December 18, did not get started until the next day.[2] Due to the heavy snow and unbearable cold, the route of march was torturous and delayed. A Soldier in the 945th recalled that the mud froze to their boots and that men clustered to ride on the hoods of M5 tractors in order to stay warm.[3]

On Christmas Eve, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton 
distributed these personal messages to the Soldiers
of the 3rd Army including members of the Georgia Army National 
Guard’s 945th Field Artillery Battalion.
The 3rd Army was moving to first stabilize the German penetration, then counterattack.[4] The American counterattack brought with it 108 artillery battalions with nearly 1,300 guns.[5] The guns of the 945th FAB went into action December 23 in Luxembourg targeting roads, bridges and enemy counterbattery fire. The next day, the 945th fired 549 high explosive rounds and 17 white phosphorous rounds.[6] That evening, Patton distributed a personal message and prayer written by Chaplain James O’Neill to the Soldiers of the 3rd Army.

On Christmas Day, the Soldiers of the 945th received turkey dinner. Patton circulated through the divisions of the 3rd Army congratulating the men for their efforts. He subsequently wrote that “No other Army in the world except the American could have done such a thing.”

179th Field Artillery Battalion[7]

A communications section of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 
179th Field Artillery Battalion struggles against the elements to 
set up a relay station in this humorous cartoon generated 
by a 179th Soldier. 179th, 16.
Also moving out with the 3rd Army on December 20 was the 179th Field Artillery Battalion, a Georgia Guard unit which had been based in Atlanta prior to the start of the War. Moving with the 4th Armored Division, the 179th arrived in Nagen, Belgium where the Georgia Guardsmen delivered their first salvos into German flank positions on December 23, 1944. From their firing position, the 179th Field Artillery Battalion supported the 26th Division and would continue to do so through Christmas. In January, the 179th, moving with the 4th Armored Division advanced to Bastogne to relieve the encircled 101st Airborne Division.

121st Infantry Regiment

The 121st Infantry Regiment had spent November and December in the bloody Hurtgen Forest, an experience one Gray Bonnet Soldier recalled as “hell with icicles” During the fighting, Staff Sgt. John Minick led an element of Soldiers through a minefield, silenced an enemy machine gun, killed 20 Germans and captured 10 before he was killed by a mine explosion. For his valorous actions, Minnick posthumously received the Medal of Honor.[8]
A mortar crew from Company D, 121st Infantry Regiment, Georgia National Guard fires rounds at a German observation post across the Roer River. National Archives.
In late December, the objective of the 121st Infantry Regiment was the town of Obermaubach, east of Hurtgen. Near Obermaubach was a dam on the Roer River. If the Germans destroyed the dam the resulting flood would hamper 1st Army efforts to cross.[9]

The 121st attack jumped off on Dec. 22, 1944. Company B, under command of Capt. William McKenna achieved early success, driving 300 yards through enemy mortar and machine gun fire. Company C gained a foothold in the town and the 121st began clearing operations. An enemy sniper felled Maj. Joseph Johnston, commander of 1st Battalion but he refused medical evacuation until the engagement was decided.[10]

Christmas Eve and Christmas came with the infantry still heavily engaged. Company F
Men of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment eat 
their first hot meal in 15 days after fighting in the Hurtgen Forest 
in December 1944. National Archives
cleared four bunkers while Soldiers of Company K knocked out two enemy strong points and cleared an approach for armor forces to move forward in support.

Stories of individual heroism were replete during the Christmas Day attack of the 121st against Obermaubach. Technical Sgt. Raymond Kommer moved out ahead of his squad which had been pinned down by machine gun fire. Incredibly, Kommer managed to crawl within arms reach of the enemy machine gun position. When the enemy gunner paused to reload, Kommer reached into the machine gun nest and unceremoniously pulled the gun right out of the gunner’s hands.[11]

While leading Company B, Capt. McKenna low crawled through enemy minefields within sight of enemy positions and called in artillery fire. He remained in an exposed position calling in targets before machine gun fire compelled him to return to his men. Still, he moved from foxhole to foxhole encouraging his Soldiers through personal example. During the attack that followed, McKenna was killed by small arms fire.[12]

118th Field Artillery Battalion

The Georgia Army National Guard’s 118th Field Artillery Battalion went into 
position near Malmedy, Belgium in which American Soldiers had been 
murdered by the Waffen SS days previous. 230th FA, 54
On December 16, 1944, the Soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 118th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 30th Infantry Division, were in Langweiler, Germany when they received the order to be prepared to mobilize following the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes. Hastily loading personnel, equipment, and Christmas souvenirs onto trucks, the battalion moved out of Langweiler at 8:00 p.m. into darkness and swirling snow.[13] The vehicle column endured a night attack by the Luftwaffe the next morning and by December 18, the 118th was passing through Malmedy. Going into position near the town of Spa, Belgium, the Soldiers would soon find themselves firing at their old nemeses from Mortain, the 1st SS Panzer Division.[14] The resolve of the Soldiers was strengthened after learning of the American Soldiers who had been ambushed and murdered along the road in Malmedy through which they had passed just two days previous.

On December 19, the 118th batteries received fire missions and began firing at the rate of one round per minute against the advancing German vanguard. Presently, the batteries were ordered to increase their rate of fire to two rounds per minute. This rate of fire was sustained until the guns became red hot and the falling snows sizzled on tubes. Soldiers of Service Battery were hard pressed to keep up with the ammunition requirements of the line batteries and were compelled to race about on steep, icy roads bringing ammunition forward.

Over the next several days, the 118th fought the Germans and the elements with freezing cold temperatures and low clouds preventing American aircraft from flying over the lines. Finally, on Christmas Eve, the clouds lifted, and allied aircraft were soon bombing German positions and strafing supply lines.

The fighting continued in earnest on Christmas and the Soldiers had to rotate from their positions to enjoy their turkey dinner. From December 19 to 25, the battalion fired approximately 20,000 rounds.[15] They would continue to fire with deadly effect into the New Year and halfway through January before the Allies began to push the Germans back.

230th Field Artillery Battalion
Georgia National Guard Soldiers of Battery A, 230th Field Artillery Battalion in action near Malmedy, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944.  230th, 50.
Like its sister battalion, the 118th, the Georgia Guard’s 230th Field Artillery Battalion received an urgent alert to move while stationed at Langendorf, Germany[16]. Shortly before midnight December 17, the battalion abandoned their comfortable houses with decorated fir trees and began the movement to the Ardennes. Along the route, the 230th experienced the same Luftwaffe attacks as related by the Soldiers of the 118th. Moving south from Aachen, the 230th established firing positions near Malmedy. Although in proximity to the 118th the 230th did not receive the same quantity of fire due to the terrain of the valley in which they were emplaced. Nevertheless, the guns of the 230th supported the 120th Infantry Regiment was positioned to their front.
Happy Soldiers of the Ga. Army National Guard’s 
230th FAB receive Christmas packages from
 home Dec. 24, 1944 near Spa, Belgium. 230th, 54.

The 230th had perhaps the most fortunate position on Christmas of any Georgia Guard unit in Europe. The battalion’s headquarters was near the Belgian town of Spa. The Soldiers were able to rotate from Malmedy to Spa where they enjoyed Turkey dinner along with the hot bubbling mineral springs. Without ornaments, the Soldiers decorated small fir trees with bright paper and bubble gum wrappers. Not content to enjoy the blessings of Christmas by themselves, the Soldiers collected truckloads of candy and food to provide for the children of nearby Malmedy. Having enjoyed a relatively peaceful Christmas interlude with the moonlight reflecting of the quiet snowy valley, the Soldiers would soon advance to provide artillery support as the Infantry Regiments of the 30th Division pressed east.[17]

[1] Cosgrove, William M. Time on Target: the 945th Field Artillery Battalion in World War II. Place of publication not identified: W.M. Cosgrove, III, 1997, 111
[2] Cosgrove, 125
[3] Ibid
[4] Cosgrove, 126
[5] Cosgrove, 127
[6] Ibid
[7] History and Battle Record of 179 F.A. Bn., 1857-1945. Regensburg, Germany: Frederich Pustet, 1945, 16.
[9] Gray Bonnet, 41
[10] Gray Bonnet, 42
[11] Gray Bonnet, 43
[12] Ibid
[13]Smith, Gordon Burns. History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: Florida “Gator” Chapter, 1988, 83
[14] 118, 85
[15] 118, 88
[16] Jacobs, John et al. On the Way: A Historical Narrative of the Two-Thirtieth Field Artillery Battalion Thirtieth Infantry Division. Poessneck, Germany: F. Gerold Verlag, 1945, 48
[17] 230th, 54

Thursday, December 19, 2019

55 Years Ago: Ga. Guard Unit Takes to the Air to Demonstrate Alert Mobility and Joint Capability

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Ga. Army National Guard

DOBBINS AIR FORCE BASE, December 20, 1964 – Members of Rome’s Company A, 2nd Medium Tank Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment prepare to board a Ga. Air National Guard C-97 Stratofreighter of the 116th Air Transport Wing as part of a rapid assembly and mobilization drill. The Guardsmen reported to the Rome Armory at 6:00 and were transported to Dobbins by 9:30. For some of the men, it was their first time in an airplane. After flying a circuit throw North Alabama and Tennessee, the C-97 returned to Dobbins and the Rome Soldiers returned to their armory. Georgia Guard Archives
When the Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers of the Rome-based Company A, 2nd Medium Tank Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment reported for duty Sunday Dec. 20, 1964, they received a surprise mission order. The Soldiers were briefed of a simulated emergency situation that required rapid deployment by air to assist Georgia citizens. The Soldiers hurriedly drew their weapons, assembled in formation and were loaded onto trucks for transport to Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Ga.

By 9:30 a.m., the Soldiers were transporting south in columns of trucks. Huddled together in the back of the 2 ½ ton trucks, the Soldiers endured the chill December air as the trucks rumbled south over surface roads bound for the Marietta headquarters of the Georgia Air National Guard. Arriving at Dobbins, the men received a boxed lunch from the unit’s mess section and were directed to the flight line to board a waiting C-97 Stratofreighter of the 116th Transport Wing. For many of the Soldiers strapping themselves into the seats in the cargo hold of the transport plane, this would be their first flight. As the men peered from tiny windows dotting the aircraft’s fuselage, the four engines roared to life and propelled the lumbering aircraft to the runway. Taking to the air, the plane flew north to simulate transportation to an impacted town. The men passed the time playing cards and viewing the North Georgia terrain from an entirely new perspective.

DOBBINS AIR FORCE BASE, December 20, 1964 – Members of Rome’s Company A, 2nd Medium Tank Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment catch a ride on a Georgia Air National Guard C-97 Stratofreighter of the 116th Air Transport Wing as part of a rapid assembly and mobilization drill. Georgia Guard Archives
The Stratofreighter flew the Rome Guardsmen on a loop over North Georgia to Gadsden, Ala. And Chattanooga, Tenn. to demonstrate the rapid reach capability in the event of a local emergency. Before returning, the Air National Guardsmen circled the aircraft over Rome to afford the Guardsmen a birds-eye view of their hometown. The Aircraft then bore them back to Dobbins where the men boarded their trucks for the return drive home.

Captain John. Yarborough, commander of Company A, considered the mobility
DOBBINS AIR FORCE BASE, December 20, 1964 –
Members of Rome’s Company A, 2nd Medium Tank Battalion,
108th Armor Regiment pass the time during a flight aboard a Ga.
Air National Guard C-97 Stratofreighter of the 116th Air
Transport Wing as part of a rapid assembly and mobilization drill.
Georgia Guard Archives.
exercise a complete success lauding the cooperation between the Georgia Air National Guard personnel and the Georgia Army National Guard Unit. Yarborough also praised the Soldiers for their response.

“The alert was 100 percent,” said Yarborough. “The assembly order went out at 6:00, and by 8:00, 85 percent of the unit’s officers and men were present.”

The unit left the armory at full-strength at 9:30 a.m., less than four hours after the initial notice. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that the alert did not have modern communications capabilities afforded by internet or cell phones. The alert required total commitment of the unit and the Rome community to communicate the assembly order and assemble the entire unit in short order. The exercise demonstrated not only the partnership between the Georgia Air and Army National Guard but the synergy between the Soldier and community.

Fifty-five years later, Rome Georgia is home to the Georgia National Guard’s 1160th Transportation Company. In 2019, the 1160th completed a mobility test of its own when its nearly 200 Soldiers completed back-to-back rotations at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

48th IBCT Bids Farewell to Col. Matthew Smith, Welcomes 28th Commander

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard
 Colonel Matthew Smith, outgoing commander of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team receives the colors 
of the 48th IBCT from Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Marks during a change of command ceremony at
 the Macon Readiness Center Dec. 7, 2019. Colonel Anthony Fournier assumed command as the 
28th commander of the 48th IBCT. Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Colonel Matthew Smith relinquished command of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Col. Anthony Fournier during a ceremony at the Macon Readiness Center Dec. 7, 2019. 

Smith, who led the brigade since December 2016, passed the 48th IBCT colors to Col. Anthony Fournier, signifying the official transfer of power for the 48th IBCT Volunteers, an organization of more than 4,000 Georgia Guardsmen. Smith’s tour of command culminated with the successful deployment of the 48th to Afghanistan in 2019. It was the brigade’s fourth overseas combat deployment since September 11, 2001.

 Georgia Guardsmen of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team assemble at the Macon Readiness Center Dec. 7, 2019 
for a ceremony marking the transfer of command from Col. Matthew Smith to Col. Anthony Fournier. Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Smith led the 48th through a period of transition and increased partnership with the 3rd Infantry Division. Assuming command just six months into the brigade’s associated unit pilot with the 3rd ID, Smith integrated the IBCT training with the Fort Stewart-based division. From June 5 to 25, 2017, the Volunteers endured extreme temperatures and long training days in the humid fields of Fort Stewart during an eXportable Combat Training Capability exercise. 
Soldiers of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment and the 177th Brigade Engineer Battalion move
 out on an approach march to reach their objective during the eXportable Combat Training Capability exercise at
 Fort Stewart, Ga. June 21, 2017. Photo by Capt. William Carraway

A joint command post training exercise held at Fort Stewart in April 2018 further cemented the relationship between the 48th IBCT and 3rd ID before the brigade headed to Fort Polk, La. for a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center. The 48th returned to Fort Stewart for pre-mobilization training and its first elements began to deploy to Afghanistan from Hunter Army Airfield in December. By the end of January, the brigade had completed the transfer of authority for its new mission and served for the next six months before returning to Fort Stewart in July. 

Following the change of command ceremony, Smith was promoted to brigadier general. His next assignment is as the Deputy Director of Operations, Readiness and Mobilization, Headquarters, Department of the Army.

Colonel Anthony Fournier accepts the colors of the 48th 
IBCT during a change of command ceremony at the 
Macon Regional Readiness Center Dec. 7, 
2019. Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Colonel Anthony Fournier has served over 30 years in the Georgia National Guard. Fournier enlisted as a private in 1989 and commissioned through the Georgia Military Institute’s Officer Candidate School in 1994 as an infantry lieutenant. He served as a platoon leader in the 1st Battalion 121st Infantry Regiment and in Troop E, 108th Cavalry, both of the 48th Infantry Brigade. In 2000 he deployed to Bosnia as the executive officer of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment. Upon returning from Bosnia, Fournier assumed command of Company C, 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment and lead the company through the 2005-2006 deployment to Iraq. Fournier also deployed with to Afghanistan with the 48th IBCT serving as the chief of operations for Task Force Phoenix which consisted of more 11,000 Soldiers from 27 countries charged with training the Afghan Army, Police, and Border Police. From 2012 to 2015, Fournier commanded the 2nd Battalion 121st Infantry Regiment. In 2014, Fournier deployed to Guatemala as the task force commander of a joint, interagency, multinational training team charged with training a specialized Guatemalan unit in combating transnational organized. In his most recent assignments, Fournier served as Chief of Future Operations and then Chief of Exercise Branch for US Army Europe, Wiesbaden, Germany in 2018 and 2019.

The 48th IBCT is comprised of units whose history and battle honors predate the American Revolution. Its colors bear the campaign streamers of The Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, The Civil War, the Seminole War, both World Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. The list of commanders for the 48th IBCT encompass those of the 48th Infantry Division (1946 to 1955); 48th Armor Division (1956 to 1968); 3rd Brigade, 30th Infantry Division (1968-1973) and the 48th Brigade (1973 to present).

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Creation of the 48th Brigade and its Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard
The United States Army Institute of Heraldry final approved design of the shoulder sleeve insignia for the 48th Infantry Brigade. Georgia Guard Archives

The Macon, Ga. based 48th Brigade was established in the Georgia National Guard by National Guard Bureau Reorganizational Authority 153-73 effective December 1, 1973. That same day, Brig. Gen. Holden West, of Bolingbroke, Ga., was appointed as the first commander of the 48th.[1] 

The designation of the 48th Brigade echoed the history and heritage of the 48th Infantry Division which existed from 1946 to 1955 and 48th Armor Division whose tanks thundered across Fort Stewart, Ga. from 1956 until its January 1968 inactivation whereupon several of the 48th Armor Division units were reorganized to form the 3rd Brigade, 30th Infantry Division. For the next five years, the Soldiers of these units would wear the patch of the 30th Infantry Division.

FORT STEWART, Ga. June 7, 1972- Governor Jimmy Carter prepares to fire an M60 machine gun during a visit to Georgia Army National Guard troops undergoing annual training at Fort Stewart. The Soldier of the 1st Battalion 121st Infantry Regiment assisting the Governor wears the patch of the 30th Infantry Division. Georgia Guard Archives.
 The 48th Brigade was formed from existing elements of Georgia’s 3rd Brigade, 30th Infantry Division as well as other elements within the Ga. ARNG’s existing structure. The allocation of an independent brigade brought an increase of 278 Soldiers to the Ga. ARNG.[2]

Initial Structure of the 48th Brigade

Several veteran Ga. ARNG units remained intact from their previous designations in the 3rd Brigade. Among these were the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 121st Infantry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment; and 1st Battalion 230th Artillery Regiment. Joining these units were the Griffin-based Troop E, 348th Cavalry Regiment and the Douglas-based 848th Engineer Company, which was organized from the former Company B, 878th Engineer Battalion.[3] The 148th Support Company, headquartered in Macon, was organized from previously established units.[4] The original strength of the 48th Brigade was 3,482 Soldiers.[5]

The 48th Brigade Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

The Department of the Army Institute of Heraldry authorized the shoulder sleeve patch for the 48th Brigade April 16, 1974. It was described as follows:

On a light blue shield, rounded in base 3 ½ inches in height and 2 ½ inches in width overall, two right oblique bars throughout; the upper blue and lower scarlet, both edged white and surmounted over-all by a left oblique yellow lightning bolt all within a 1/8 inch white border.[6]
On January 15, 1975, Brig. Gen. Holden West, commander of the 48th Infantry Brigade was appointed Assistant Adjutant General of the Georgia Army National Guard by Governor George Busbee. This is the earliest known published image of a uniformed Georgia Guardsman with the 48th Infantry Brigade shoulder sleeve insignia. Georgia Guard Archives.

The design elements in the shoulder sleeve insignia were all symbolic of the design of the 48th Brigade itself. The light blue represents the infantry which is the basic structure of the brigade. The colors of the state flag of Georgia: scarlet, white and blue are represented in the patch with scarlet additionally symbolizing the artillery element of the brigade. The yellow of the lightning bolt symbolized the armor while the lightning bolt itself characterizes the mobility and effectiveness of the combined forces present in the brigade.

Wearing the Boar in 74

While the 48th Brigade’s patch was approved in 1974 it had not entered production by the time of the brigade’s first annual training. Thus, when West led the 48th Brigade to Fort Stewart to train from July 29 to July 13, he and the nearly 3,500 Volunteers wore the Oglethorpe crest shoulder sleeve insignia prescribed for the Ga. ARNG Headquarters Detachment and non-divisional units of the Ga. ARNG. 

FORT STEWART, Ga., July 1974 - A tank crew from the 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment prepares to conduct live-fire tables during annual training at Fort Stewart, Ga. Photo by 124th Public Information Detachment

To view more images of the first annual training of the 48th Infantry Brigade, visit

[1] Georgia Guardsman Magazine, November 1973, 8
[2] Georgia Guardsman Magazine, November 1973, 6
[3] NGB ARO-0 207-02-GA Reorganization Authority Number 157-73, 3
[4] 157-73, 3
[5] Annual Report, Georgia Department of Defense 1974, NPN
[6] Department of the Army Institute of Heraldry Memorandum Dated April 16, 1974

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Franklin: The Death Angel Gathers Its Last Harvest

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

If you have participated in a staff ride at a Civil War battlefield, it is likely you learned of tactics employed, leadership tests and decisions made in the heat of conflict. A staff ride provides the opportunity to connect with leaders and great events of the past, to reveal the human dimension of war and to apply lessons of the past to present and future Army operations. One human dimension hitherto lacking in the staff ride experience, has been the roll of post-traumatic stress on the veterans of these great battles. We are left to assume that our generation is the only one to combat PTS, and yet, a study of Civil War letters reveals a connection between our experience and the experiences of the Civil War Soldier. It is critical that we make this connection, that our veterans know that they are not alone in their experiences. 

The Battle of Franklin Tennessee, fought on November 30, 1864, provides a study in the savagery of war and its lasting impact on those who return. Samuel Watkins, a private in the 1st Tennessee wrote of the Battle of Franklin:

“Kind reader, right here my pen, and courage, and ability fail me. I shrink from butchery. Would to God I could tear the page from these memoirs and from my own memory. It is the blackest page in the history of (the war). It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any war…  I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today. My heart almost ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I had never witnessed such a scene!”[1]

Writing in his memoir, Co. Aytch, nearly 20 years after the Battle of Franklin, Watkins reveals the difficulty in discussing the battle, an experience shared by Veterans of 21st century conflicts:

“I cannot describe it. It beggars description. I will not attempt to describe it. I could not. The death-angel was there to gather its last harvest. It was the grand coronation of death. Would that I could turn the page. But I feel, though I did so, that page would still be there, teeming with its scenes of horror and blood. I can only tell of what I saw.”[2]


In the waning days of November 1864, the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood had pursued the smaller Federal army of Maj. Gen. John Schofield to the town of Franklin approximately 15 miles from Nashville, Tenn. Hood intended to isolate the Federal Army before it could reach the safety of Nashville and its Federal garrison.

Federal forces arrived in Franklin in the early hours of November 30 and began improving defensive works left over from a previous battle. The division of Brig. Gen. George Wagner was the last Federal force to reach Franklin. Wagner ordered his three brigades to take up position about a half mile forward of the main entrenchments. Colonel Emerson Opdycke of Ohio refused the order and marched his brigade to the rear of the Federal lines and went into camp. This decision would have far-reaching impact on the coming battle. 

Post-war map of the Franklin Battlefield.  Library of Congress

Survey of the Battlefield

As the Confederate Army drew into a battle formation on the crest of Winstead Hill its 20,000 Soldiers looked down on two miles of open ground and Schofield’s 25,000-man army. The defensive line was anchored near the brick home of Fountain Branch Carter. The Columbia Turnpike pierced the Federal center adjacent to the Carter House. Running perpendicular, in a crescent shape, from the Carter House and the turnpike, massive earthworks rose eight feet high topped with head logs. The lines on the Federal left were fronted by a grove of thorny trees. Fort Granger, located on the opposite bank of the Harpeth River, overlooked the fields southeast of the Franklin Line with guns that could range the field. Rather than wait to consolidate and reconnoiter the lines, with daylight fading, Hood ordered an assault at 4:00 p.m. Major Gen. John C Brown’s Division with 10 Georgia regiments would advance west of the Columbia Turnpike while Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s Division would advance east of the turnpike. Major Gen. William Bate’s Division would attack to the left of Brown’s Division. Lieutenant Gen. Alexander P. Stewart’s Corps would assault east of Cleburne’s Division with the divisions of William Loring, Edward Walthall and Samuel French. Lieutenant Gen. Stephen D. Lee’s Corps, on the march from Spring Hill, would arrive with three additional divisions including nine Georgia regiments after the initial assault. Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest would harass and attempt to turn the Federal flanks.

The home of Fountain Branch Carter was at the center of the Battle of Franklin
Photo by Maj. William Carraway
The Attack

With perhaps a half hour of daylight left, eighteen Confederate brigades with over 100 regiments began the two-mile march from Winstead Hill to destiny. Wagner’s 3,000 Soldiers watched as a vast gray tide surged towards them. Some of the veteran Soldiers began to run for the main line of defenses. The rest waited until the Confederates were within 100 yards, then unleashed a volley. Cleburne’s men returned the volley and surged forward over the works. In moments Wagner’s position was overrun. Worse than the loss of more than 700 captured, Wagner’s fleeing men prevented the Federals from firing. Cries of “follow them into the works!”[3] echoed across the field and a desperate footrace ensued. Unable to fire because of their fleeing comrades, Federal troops watched in horror as the full force of the frontal assault closed the distance and broke upon the earthworks. Confederate Soldiers surged unchecked onto the Carter House grounds clubbing and bayoneting in a ferocious melee. Those in the breach, both Federal and Confederate, were subject to a hailstorm of fire from all directions. One captured Federal recalled huddling in terror against a trench wall with his captor as bullets sailed above them. A captain of the 72nd Illinois recalled that the shriek of powder and lead was so loud that his orders could not be heard even as he shouted them to men within arm’s distance. Within moments, a 200-yard section of the Federal line had been swept away by a tsunami of Confederates. Two hundred yards south of the pandemonium at the Carter House, Opdycke’s six regiments were resting and eating rations. Hearing the sounds of battle, these veteran Soldiers from Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin took up arms and charged south into the smoky hell of the Carter House lawn. Opdycke’s charging westerners met Cleburne and Brown’s juggernaut at a dead run in a scene reminiscent of medieval hand-to-hand combat. Eyewitnesses recalled the two armies crashing together like a great wave.

Opdycke emptied his revolver then used the weapon as a club in close quarters. Major Arthur McArthur at the head of the 24th Wisconsin had reached the Carter House when he was shot by a Confederate officer. MacArthur rose and ran the officer through with his sword. MacArthur survived his wound to become the father of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.

A Scene from The Bowels of Hell

Out buildings on the Carter House property bear mute witness to the savage
fighting that occurred at Franklin, Tenn. Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Slowly, the counterattack pushed the enemy back, but the Confederates still held the outer trenches. Men clung to opposite sides of earthworks raising muskets and firing blindly and desperately over the opposite side. In the sixty yards between the inner and outer trenches a scene out of the bowels of hell played out as Federal officers and infantrymen serving the cannons of the 20th Ohio Battery raked the grounds between the trenches with canister, reaping men like a great iron scythe. Those who tried to surrender could not be heard over the din of musket and cannon fire. A severely wounded Federal Soldier was observed through the smoke furiously swinging at a throng of Confederate Soldiers with a pickaxe.[4] A Soldier of the 41st Tennessee had to stand on bodies of his comrades to fire over the trench. Handing him loaded muskets was his brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Otho Strahl, an Ohioan by birth. Struck in the neck, Strahl managed to crawl 20 feet across the bodies of his brigade before being fatally struck in the head. Strahl was one of six southern generals killed at Franklin. Hiram Granbury had fallen in front of his Texas Brigade while his division commander, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, had been shot through the heart while on foot. Brig Gen. John Adams reached the works east of the Columbia Turnpike. Grasping the colors of the 65th Ohio, he was shot through both legs, mortally wounded. To the west of the Carter House, Brig. Gen. States Rights Gist led his South Carolinians and Georgians forward when he too was fatally struck. Brigadier Gen. John C. Carter fell in front of his brigade while moving in support of Gist. Within 60 minutes of the attack’s commencement, the sun had set, and the Confederates had suffered more casualties than the U.S. suffered in the 24 hours of D-Day. But the fighting was not over. Stephen Lee’s Corps arrived on the battlefield and began funneling troops into the fray. Marching forward in darkness, the troops used torches to align their ranks. By 7:00 p.m. Their assault was broken with heavy loss and Hood decided to end the attack for the evening. Firing continued through the frozen night air, breaking the constant wail of the wounded. Ghastly scenes greeted those brave enough to move about the field. John K. Shellenberger of the 64th Ohio wrote that the dead “were piled high as an artillery embrasure.”[5]

This ground just south of the Carter House was the scene of savage hand-to-hand fighting. Photo by Maj. William Carraway


By 2:00 a.m., the Federal Army withdrew across the Harpeth River. The Confederates were in no shape to pursue. Fourteen Confederate generals had been killed or wounded and nearly sixty regimental commanders were casualties. Federal casualties were relatively light: 2,300 compared to 6,300 for the Confederates. Nevertheless, Hood ordered his army to pursue Schofield to Nashville, where in an ill-conceived siege, his army would be annihilated by Maj. Gen. George Thomas.


The July 3, 1863 assault at Gettysburg, popularly remembered as “Pickett’s Charge” is
Memorial to fallen Georgia Soldiers in the 
McGavock Cemetery in Franklin. Photo by
Maj. William Carraway
 perhaps the most famous attack of the American Civil War, but it paled in comparison to the assault at Franklin. Franklin witnessed nearly twice as many men charging twice the distance with no reconnaissance and one-battery of artillery support against three-lines of earthworks. Yet, unlike Gettysburg, the Franklin battlefield is largely forgotten. Until recently, the ground on which Maj. Gen. Cleburne fell was occupied by a pizza restaurant. Gettysburg’s silent marble monuments invite visitors to celebrate the honor and valor of war. Franklin, meanwhile, seems to exist in a forgotten corner of our national memory not as a commemoration, but as a grim reminder us of the agony and misery of conflict. A Mississippi private wrote of the battle:

“Franklin was the only battleground I ever saw where the faces of the majority of the dead expressed supreme fear and terror… Their very attitude as they lay prone upon the ground, with extended earth clutching fingers, and with their faces partially buried in the soil told the tale of the mental agony they had endured before death released them.”[6]

The Civil War generation wrote about and experienced these memories just as our veterans experience them now. But we must not allow the horror of war to be something left to the memory of our veterans. The experience of Franklin must be available for future generations just as surely as the experience of Gettysburg. We cannot allow ourselves to forget the savagery of war, lest, as Robert E. Lee admonished, “we should grow too fond of it.”[7]

[1] Watkins, Sam. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of ‘Co. Aytch’, by Sam R. Watkins.” Gutenberg, August 17, 2004.
[2] Watkins
[3] Sword, Wiley. The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah. Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1993, 193
[4] Sword, 210
[5] Sword, 249
[6] Sword, 267
[7] Alexander, E. Porter. Memoirs of a Confederate. New York, Charles Scribner & Sons, 1907, 302.