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Colorado Springs and WWI memorialized by words and deeds of Battery C

May 28, 2017 Updated: May 29, 2017 at 3:01 pm
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photo - Historic images taken from the war diary for Battery C in World War I
Historic images taken from the war diary for Battery C in World War I  

​​As much as World War II is celebrated in Colorado Springs, the war that preceded it is all but forgotten.

World War II veterans have their big monument at Memorial Park - five stories tall with bells to toll in their honor every hour. Veterans of the trenches have just a diminutive doughboy to recall their sacrifice. The bronze statue in Evergreen Cemetery had his rifle stolen sometime in the 1960s. He's left with just a hand grenade to defend the memory of his long dead comrades.

But in this centennial year of America entering World War I, vestiges of how the conflict changed Colorado Springs remain evident and the voices of the past can still be heard, or at least read.

"Glorious Glorious, one keg of beer for the four of us," - poem in the war diary of Battery C.

The men of Colorado Springs' Battery C came home to an impromptu early morning parade down Tejon Street when they arrived by steam train in 1919. Formed before the war, Battery C was a group that really represented the city as it prepared to enter the roaring 1920s.

After World War I, a parade in downtown Colorado Springs was held to welcome home their hometown soldiers who fought in the war. Photo courtesy of Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum 

Cowboys from Fountain fought alongside men from the hotel trade in Colorado Springs and miners from Cripple Creek. They elected a pair of local lawyers to lead the unit.

In a book published by The Gazette after the war, the soldiers were described as "Men, Western men, who from their childhood had been taught the history of their forefathers, whose deeds fired their blood."

They were also young men who had just returned from the experience of a lifetime. They arrived back in Colorado Springs with a refined taste for "frauleins" they had met in Germany and "mam'selles" they flirted with in Paris. They also took a liking to Vin Blanc - the battery's choice in white wine.

"They did enough, they did their best,

They're buried here in France." - poem from Battery C war diary

Soldiers from Battery C pose with one of their weapons in the Battery C war diary.  

The Colorado Springs that gave birth to Battery C wasn't the sprawling city that exists today. The town had fewer than 30,000 residents. The city limit on the east side was a dirt road ambitiously named Union Boulevard.

"This was long before Colorado Springs was a military town," said Matt Mayberry, who heads the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Colorado Springs was a tourist mecca, a favored whistle-stop on grand tours of the Rockies.

The Broadmoor, a brand new hotel south of town, symbolized its emergence. It was a place of small shops where street cars vied with horses downtown.

Battery C came into being in 1916 as tensions rose along the U.S.-Mexico border, where revolutionary Pancho Villa launched a series of raids into American cities. In Columbus, N.M., 18 civilians were killed in a Villa raid.

The Colorado Springs National Security Committee decided locals needed to join the fight and Battery C, a Colorado National Guard volunteer unit, was born.

The American military was tiny back then and the National Guard was informal. Leadership for Battery C was decided in democratic fashion.

"Victor W. Hungerford and Daniel W. Knowlton, prominent lawyers of Colorado Springs, were elected Captain and 1st Lieutenant respectively," the history of the unit says.

"We had neither our artillery nor our rifles. Our drill was infantry drill and general instructions necessary for a recruit. We had no uniforms and did not get them for some weeks." - War diary of Battery C.

America in 1917 was not a military powerhouse. Politicians of the day often argued that a full-sized standing Army was too expensive for the American taxpayer and was unnecessary for a country flanked by wide oceans.

"On April 6, the U.S. Army was a constabulary force of 127,151 soldiers," the Defense Department's official history of the war says. "The National Guard had 181,620 members. Both the country and the Army were absolutely unprepared for what was going to happen."

Historic images taken from the war diary for Battery C in World War I  

After serving for several months on the Mexican border, Battery C came home to Colorado Springs and disbanded. When America declared war on Germany in 1917, the Colorado Springs volunteers readied for a new kind of war.

World War I set fire to much of Europe in 1914 after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand divided the continent into military alliances. Germany conquered Belgium and half of France and battered Russia to a standstill.

The war froze into long lines of trenches where enemies sent soldiers in woolen uniforms to face machine gun fire, chemical weapons, heavy artillery, mortar shells and disease. The front was a muddy hell of fear and rotting flesh.

It's estimated that 11 million soldiers from all sides died in four years of fighting. That included 50 men from Colorado Springs.

"In the years to come we contemplate recalling our various larks and adventures with pride and satisfaction." - War diary of Battery C.

"After war was declared with Germany, efforts were made to recruit the Battery to war strength. Practically all of the old men returned and several men from Colorado Springs, and the Cripple Creek District also joined up," the unit's war diary says. "We went in camp at Overland Park, Denver, on July 13th with an approximate strength of 100 men."

American enthusiasm for battle in France was high. Songs like "Over There" touted how the tough kids from America could end a fight started by their European cousins.

But the reality in the trenches across France and much of the globe was horrific. The French, British, Germans, Austro-Hungarians, Russians, Turks, and Italians had bled themselves white.

"It was a war fought with modern weapons and Civil War tactics," Mayberry said.

Battery C trained in Denver then North Carolina. Along the way, a group of soldiers from Oregon filled out its ranks.

Football was a top pastime during training for the unit, which included Lt. Daniel W. Knowlton, an All American tackle from Harvard's 1903 squad and Lt. William Schade, a former quarterback and coach for the University of Colorado Buffaloes.

The games were jammed into a schedule of military drills at Camp Greene, N.C. and time off spent in downtown Charlotte.

Football was a top past-time during training for the unit. A page taken from a war diary of Battery C shows their passion for football and points out that their team was undefeated. 

As to the social side of life in North Carolina, the unit wrote in its diary, "The girls were not a bit bashful and if a fellow didn't get acquainted it was his own fault."

For men who hadn't been to war, football was a way of showing courage.

"Our athletic record is by no means a poor one, and besides making the battery known to other outfits as a real Battery, full of live men, we put ourselves in excellent physical condition for the big game that was to come," the unit recorded.

The deadly nature of war became clear soon after the unit shipped off for France. On the way to England, a German submarine caught up with their convoy.

"We are still in the danger zone and the utmost precaution is exercised to safeguard us. Life belts are never removed. The guard is trebled. All ships follow zig-zag course. We enter the Irish Channel. The Tuscania is torpedoed at 5:26 P.M. Report reaches us by wireless that two hundred men went to the bottom with the Tuscania." - War diary of Battery C.

Battery C arrived in France without artillery or proper training. The French stepped in and issued the unit 155 mm guns and gasoline-powered trucks. The officers and soldiers were trained to use the new gear in French schools.

They were especially wowed by the trucks, huge and loud machines that often belched smoke. The soldiers bragged that they could haul the guns at the rapid clip of 15 mph over level ground.

The closer they got to the front, the more the soldiers experienced the realities of war. The first of those to cause alarm were the lice endemic along the trenches. The Colorado Springs boys called them "cooties."

"They are quite content to rest peaceful during the day but at night they find no greater pleasure than in frolicking about your anatomy, holding sweepstake races around your neck," the unit wrote.

"Take me back to old America, let me live there with the rest." - Poem in the war diary of Battery C

Those clerks and cowboys, miners and farmers sure could shoot.

Historic images taken from the war diary for Battery C in World War I  

Battery C fired its first shells at the enemy in July 1918 as Germans fought to punch a hole in American lines at a place called Chateau Thierry.

After three days of fighting, Battery C moved its guns closer to the trenches.

"We meet here the first stragglers of the war," the diary records on July 17. "We open fire at 10:30 a.m. and put over an intense barrage which lasted many hours. Heavy rain. C Battery men go up front and return with gassed and wounded soldiers."

The allied fire, which included gas shells, stopped the Germans cold. Battery C earned a commendation from the French general overseeing the fight.

"Although fatigued under an intense bombardment, causing sensible losses, upsetting the liaisons, they have accomplished with energy all their missions from the beginning to the end of the action," wrote French Maj. Gen. Jean de Mondesir.

The Gazette crowed about the local soldiers at the heart of the American effort with the headline "Springs soldiers take part in big drive."

On July 18, Battery C suffered nine wounded when the Germans hit its position with mustard gas.

The Chateau Thierry attack was the start of four straight months of fighting for Battery C.

"Because of our accurate shooting we are becoming known as the Long Range Snipers," the diary recorded in August as the battery moved toward St. Mihel, where battle raged through September.

Battery C rained hell on the Germans who retreated in the face of the first all-American offensive.

They moved with the changing allied lines, reaching the corpse-scattered battlefield of Verdun. There in 1916 Germans and French had fed hundreds of thousands of troops into what newspapers called a "mincing machine."

The Colorado Springs troops slept atop German graves. "Probably a graveyard would not appeal to our friends at home, but as the whole Western Front has become one huge graveyard, and as we have spent numerous nights there, the word 'graveyard' has no significance to us other than a place to rest," they wrote in the diary. Photo from war diary of Battery C 

The Colorado Springs troops slept atop German graves.

"Probably a graveyard would not appeal to our friends at home, but as the whole Western Front has become one huge graveyard, and as we have spent numerous nights there, the word 'graveyard' has no significance to us other than a place to rest," they wrote in the diary.

"About ten in the morning we learned officially that the armistice would go into effect at 11 o'clock. The guns are not yet into position and the men work like demons trying to get ready to fire before 11 o'clock." - War diary of Battery C

When the guns went silent across the Western Front, the boys of Battery C reported having trouble sleeping.

They had no love for war. The battery lost four of its men to enemy fire and four more to the illnesses that stalked the trenches.

After four months of cannons, rifles, machine guns and bombs, it was just too quiet.

The unit was assigned to occupation duty in western Germany after the war. Its soldiers complained. A few slipped off to Paris. Others went AWOL and became known as the battery's "river pirates."

One of the battery's poets took up his pen to lament the long wait to come home to Colorado.

"You can hear the gang all curse," he wrote. "War is hell but peace is worse."

They got back home in June 1919.

By then, the veterans of World War I were already seen as different.

The public cheered their return, but also harbored fear about how the war changed the men sent to France. What is now called post-traumatic stress was then called shell shock, and thousands of American veterans brought it home.

The doughboys were among those who picked up the historical reference, "The Lost Generation."

History has not proven kind to what World War I wrought, Mayberry acknowledged.

The treaty that ended the war is largely seen as an eventual but major cause of World War II.

"The war to end all wars just wasn't," Mayberry said.

"Now that the war is over and we have endured the necessary hardships and faced death without hesitation, we feel bound together as only men of our caliber and experience can be bound." - War diary of Battery C

"There's another over here," said Dianne Hartshorn, who manages Evergreen Cemetery south of downtown.

Dianne Hartshorn, manager of Evergreen Cemetery, walks through the graves looking for World War I veterans on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

Hartshorn treasures her walks between the graves at Evergreen, which dates back to 1874, three years after the city was founded.

On a recent spring day, she pointed out the Civil War troops who rest in military formation beneath white stone markers. The Spanish-American War troops are also packed together around a monument for those who "Remembered the Maine" in 1898.

But the World War I generation was different.

Their graves are mostly dispersed around Evergreen far from the watchful sculpture of the doughboy, the city's sole memorial to their service.

The scattered nature of the graves may have something to do with the city and nation that World War I veterans met upon their return.

In America, politicians who had voted for a war that President Woodrow Wilson said would make the world "safe for democracy," rushed to return America to isolationism.

The accomplishments of 1918 were also pushed aside by another crisis, Mayberry said.

"The impact of the Spanish flu happened right at the end of the war and to some degree overshadowed the war," Mayberry said.

More than 116,000 Americans died in less than a year of combat during World War I. The Spanish flu, a worldwide pandemic that spread with the war in 1918, killed nearly 700,000 Americans.

WW I vets also came home to a world of social change so strong that nothing similar would grip America until the 1960s.

Women got the vote. Americans banned booze with Prohibition. Jazz bands wailed. Flappers danced with rouged knees peeking from short skirts. Casual sex, which some said was encouraged by the condoms issued to American troops and the rapid adoption of the automobile with its inviting back seat, became an eyebrow-raising addition to the nation's youthful culture.

"It was an exciting time," Mayberry said.

The sole memorial to World War I soldiers in Colorado Springs is in Evergreen Cemetery. The statue was erected by the Cemetery Aid Association in 1922. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

The deeds of Battery C would later play a big role in the future of the Pikes Peak region.

Their legacy led the Colorado Springs Military Affairs Council to propose donating land to the War Department in 1940. That became Fort Carson, where 24,500 soldiers drill today.

Those World War I veterans pushed for the Air Force to be handed city land for what is now Peterson Air Force base, too.

"That changed the trajectory of Colorado Springs," Mayberry said.

Now, Colorado Springs is home to 40,000 troops and more than 80,000 veterans. The city has five military bases.

The city's fallen heroes of recent fights in Iraq and Afghanistan have several memorials in the city. World War II, Korea and Vietnam are remembered here along with the Gulf War.

Every Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the city's heroes in uniform are lauded.

Maybe that's why that lonely bronze doughboy in Evergreen Cemetery seems to be smiling.

The boys of Battery C saw it all coming.

-

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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