Friday, October 1, 2021

The 121st Infantry Regiment Turns 104

 By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


The 121st Infantry at Camp Wheeler, near Macon Ga. February 1, 1918. LOC

Early History

The companies that would eventually form the 121st Infantry have a long and varied history. The first company to form was the Baldwin Blues, originally organized May 11, 1810 in Milledgeville, Ga.[i] The Blues, along with other predecessor units of the 121st – the Albany Guards and Barnesville Blues, were mustered into Confederate service as elements of the 4th Georgia Volunteer Infantry which would see extensive service in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.[ii]

On December 20, 1860, other early elements of the 121st Infantry Regiment were organized as the Independent Volunteer Battalion of Macon to include the Macon Volunteers, which had fought in the Seminole Wars, and the Floyd Rifles.[iii] Mustered into Confederate service in April 1861 as part of the 2nd Battalion, Georgia Infantry,[iv] the 2nd Battalion served in the brigade of Brig. Gen. Ambrose Wright and was the skirmish element on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in which the brigade crested Cemetery Hill.[v] The battalion surrendered at Appomattox Court House with the Army of Northern Virginia April 9, 1865.

The Codori Farm and Emmitsburg Road at Gettysburg viewed from Federal lines. The 2nd Battalion, Georgia Infantry assaulted across this field July 2, 1863.
Photo by Maj. William Carraway

1874 to 1917

The 2nd Battalion was reorganized June 15, 1874 in the Georgia Volunteers, precursor to the Georgia National Guard. The battalion was expanded and reorganized January 23, 1891 as the 2nd Regiment of Infantry. Elements of the 2nd Infantry were mustered into federal service in May 1898 for the Spanish American War and returned to state control in November 1898.[vi]

On July 2, 1916, the 2nd Regiment of Infantry was mustered into federal service and dispatched to the Mexican Border. For the next eight months, the Infantrymen patrolled the border from El Paso, Texas to Noria, N.M. in support of Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing’s punitive expedition.[vii] The regiment returned to Macon in March 1917 but remained in federal service. In August 1917, Companies B, C and F of the 2nd Georgia were reorganized as the 151st Machine Gun Battalion. The 151st would serve with the 42nd Infantry Division during World War I. The remaining companies of the 2nd Georgia Infantry were redesignated the 121st Infantry Regiment on October 1, 1917.

CAMP WHEELER, Macon, Ga., February 5, 1918 – 121st and 122nd Infantry Regiments, on a road march at Camp Wheeler, Macon, Ga. Feb 5, 1918.
Photo 4670, NARA.

Colonel Thomas and the Gray Bonnet Regiment

The commander of the 121st Infantry Regiment in the years leading up to World War I was Col. James Adrian Thomas Jr. of Macon, Ga. On November 18, 1912, Col. Thomas assumed command of the 2nd Infantry. Shortly after assuming command, Thomas designated the 121st Infantry Regiment the Old Gray Bonnet after the popular song "Put on your Old Gray Bonnet" by Stanley Murphy and Percy Wenrich which was first released in 1909.[viii]

The 121st departed for France October 5, 1918 aboard the transport USS Orizaba. Arriving in the port of Brest, France the 121st was compelled to remain onboard until the ship could be unloaded. It was in the harbor that Col. Thomas, beloved regimental commander, died of pneumonia October 16 having never set foot in France. He was 48.[ix]

Reeling from the loss of their commander, the Soldiers of the 121st were dealt a second blow. Having reached Le Mans October 22, the Soldiers were informed they would be parceled into replacement units rather than enter combat as a regiment. Having trained so long for combat, many of the Soldiers of the 121st would reach the front lines just as the war was coming to a close.[x]

Following World War I, the Georgia National Guard was reorganized. The 121st Infantry Regiment was federally recognized May 31, 1921 as the 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment. It would not regain its 121st designation until 1924 by which time the regiment was part of the 30th Division. [xi] By 1939, on the eve of war, the 121st Infantry was comprised of three battalions based in Macon, Brunswick and Dublin, Ga.

Colonel Lewis Pope, The Gray Bonnet Insignia and Federalization

In September 1940, the 121st was accepted into federal service under the command of Col. Lewis C. Pope. Pope was born June 23, 1884 in Laurence County, Ga. and enlisted in Company A, 2nd Infantry, Georgia Sate Troops November 24, 1899. He served through the ranks from private to sergeant before commissioning as a second lieutenant in Company K November 7, 1906. Pope was appointed captain of the Dublin Guards August 28, 1919, was promoted to major January 25, 1921 and lieutenant colonel July 22, 1922. Upon the unexpected death of Georgia’s Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. J. Van Holt Nash, Pope was promoted to brigadier general and appointed as Nash’s successor by Governor Thomas Hardwick. Pope served as the adjutant general until January 13, 1923 when he was appointed colonel, commanding the 121st Infantry Regiment.

During a ceremony in Macon, Ga. October 14, 1928, ten years after the regiment sailed for France, the 121st regimental colors were presented amidst much fanfare. The ceremony also marked the first appearance of the unit’s distinctive insignia as described by Capt. Charles F. Stuart, regimental adjutant:

“All of the men were equipped and wearing the Old Gray Bonnet insignia, and it looked mighty good in its first appearance.”[xii]

Twelve years after the first appearance of the Gray Bonnet, Pope was still in command of the 121st Infantry Regiment when it was dispatched to Fort Jackson, S.C. for sixteen weeks of initial training.[xiii] In June, the 121st participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers followed by the Carolina Maneuvers. In September, Col. Pope was succeeded by Col. Aaron J. Becker.[xiv] Shortly after Becker assumed command the reorganization of Army divisions resulted in assignment of the 121st to the 8th Infantry Division.[xv]

Reinforcements for the 121st Infantry move up a snow covered road in Hurtgen, Germany Jan 6, 1945. Photo 270807, NARA.

World War II

On June 30, 1944, the 121st began loading transports in Belfast Harbor. Four days later the 121st Infantry Regiment splashed ashore on Utah Beach and entered the Normandy Campaign. Within a week of landing, the regiment would suffer its first casualties and in less than 10 months, the casualty list of the 121st would grow to 70 pages as the regiment fought its way from La Haye du Puits France to Schwerin Germany and the liberation of concentration camps near Wobbelin.[xvi]

Reactivation and the 48th Division

The 121st Infantry Regiment was inactivated for less than a year following World War II when it was assigned to the Georgia National Guard as part of the initial allotment of National Guard ground force units for the state of Georgia on July 11, 1946. The 121st Infantry Regiment formed one of three infantry regiments assigned to the 48th Infantry Division in addition to the 122nd Infantry Regiment of Georgia and the 124th Infantry Regiment of Florida.

Reorganization of the 48th ID as an armor division in 1955 scattered the 121st Regiment into battalion and company-size elements. Company D, 121st became headquarters company of the 48th AD. Four companies of the 121st constituted the 121st Armored Infantry Battalion while two more formed the core of the 171st Armored Infantry Battalion. Company K and M formed the nucleus of the 190th Tank Battalion while the 162nd Tank Battalion was comprised entirely of former 121st Infantry units.[xvii]

In 1959, the 121st and 171st AIB were combined to reform the 121st Infantry Regiment, consisting of 1st and 2nd Armored Rifle Battalions.[xviii] The 121st was expanded to four battalions under the ROAD reorganization of 1963.[xix]  With the reorganization of the 48th AD as 3rd Brigade, 30th Division in 1968, the 121st Infantry Regiment was again reduced to two battalions.[xx]

Infantrymen of the 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Armored Division pass in review before Governor Carl Sanders during Governor's Day
activities at Fort Stewart Ga. The 48th Armored Division was at Fort Stewart for Annual Training August 7 to 21, 1966. Georgia National Guard Archives.

The 48th Brigade and Overseas Mobilizations

In 1973, at the request of the governor of Georgia, the National Guard Bureau assigned an infantry brigade to the state. Designated the 48th Infantry Brigade in honor of the 48th Division, the 48th Brigade welcomed the 121st Infantry Regiment into its force structure where it remains to this day.

The 48th Brigade and 121st Infantry Regiment were activated for service during Desert Storm but fighting ended before the units mobilized overseas. Elements of the 121st Infantry mobilized to Bosnia in March 2001.[xxi] These units were in Bosnia when terrorists struck on September 11, 2001.

Elements of the 48th Infantry Brigade, later the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, have mobilized four times since September 11, 2001, and infantrymen of the 121st have been part of all overseas combat deployments. From the 2005 deployment to Iraq to the 2018 mobilization to Afghanistan, the 121st Infantry Regiment has provided security, mentoring and combat power to kinetic operations. During its last deployment, the 121st Infantry mobilized overseas with three battalions for the first time since 1944. The 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, which had been inactivated in 1968 with the loss of the 48th AD was activated in 2016 with its headquarters in Cumming, Ga.[xxii]

Company D, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, 4in Kunduz, Afghanistan in January 2010, Georgia National Guard Archives.
Continuing Operations

Soldiers of the 121st Infantry Regiment have supported response operations for COVID-19 and civil disturbances throughout 2020 lending medical support to hospitals in Hall County, staffing COVID-19 testing sites and foodbanks and assisting law enforcement during civil disturbances in Atlanta and Athens. Simultaneously, the 121st has continued to support overseas training deployments by contributing personnel to Operation Saber Junction in Germany in 2020 and African Lion in Morocco the following year.


Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion 121st Infantry Regiment assist law enforcement officials during civil unrest in Atlanta May 30, 2020.
Photo by Maj. William Carraway.


[i] The 121st Infantry Regiment. The Gray Bonnet: Combat History of the 121st Infantry Regiment, 1810-1945. Army Navy Publishing Company, 1946, 18.

[ii] Lyle, Thomas E., Larry O. Blair, Debra S. Lyle, and J. Harmon. Smith. Organizational Summary of Military Organizations from Georgia in the Confederate States of America. Marietta, Ga. 1999, 61.

[iii] Lyle et al,40-41.

[iv] Center for Military History. “Lineage and Honors Certificate, 121st Infantry Regiment”

[v] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol XXVII/2. -- SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/2: JUNE 3-AUGUST 1, 1863--The Gettysburg Campaign. Washington DC: War Department, 1897.

[vi] CMH

[vii] Carraway, William. “We Are Having a Big Time Now: January-March 1917.” April 17, 2017.

[viii] The first official authority for this designation appears March 24, 1924 in GO No. 1 in which the 121st Infantry was officially designated the Old Gray Bonnet Regiment. This much was affirmed in an October 28, 1926 outline of the history of the 121st Infantry certified by Charles H. Cox, Georgia's Adjutant General.

[ix] The Georgia State Memorial Book Adopted as the Official Record by the Military Department of the State of Georgia. Atlanta: 1921, 31.

[x] Gray Bonnet, 18.

[xi] Pictorial Review of the National Guard of the State of Georgia, 1939, 44.

[xii] Gray Bonnet, 17.

[xiii] Pictorial Review, 45.

[xiv] Gray Bonnet, 20.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] The Gray Bonnet, 85.

[xvii] NGAROTO 325.4 Oct 17, 1955

[xviii] RA 73-59, June 10, 1959.

[xix] RA 57-63 March 21, 1963.

[xx] RA Dec 14, 1967.

[xxi] “Bosnia Bound: The Countdown Begins.” Georgia Guardsman, Spring 2000, Vol. 1, No. 3, 10.

[xxii] OA 545-15 January 8, 2016.

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