Title: American Red Cross, 91st Division death reports Creator: American Red Cross Inclusive dates: 1917-1931 Bulk dates: 1919 Extent: 41 items Abstract:
Colin V. Dyment, Lt. A.R.C., 91st Div. wrote these American Red Cross, 91st Division (World War I) death reports for the benefit of bereaved family members. Written in 1919 and with varying degrees of detail, they describe the circumstances of the deaths of men in the 91st Division - almost exclusively during the Meuse-Argonne and Belgian offensives, September-November, 1918.
Language: The material is in English Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Formed shortly after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, the 91st Division (the "Wild West Division") trained for 10 months at Camp Lewis in Washington State before their deployment to France in June 1918. In August of that year, Major General William H. Johnston took over the command of the Division. Their first combat experience was in the area between the Meuse River and Argonne Forest, France, where they distinguished themselves by breaking through the German lines and helping to secure several strong points including Gesnes, Eclis-fontaine, Very, Epinonville, and Tronsol farm. The charge on Gesnes on September 29, 1918, resulted in heavy casualties. The 91st remained in and around Gesnes and Bois de Cierges during the second phase of the battle. Despite their lack of combat experience, the 91st "captured more artillery, machine guns, and prisoners, and advanced a greater distance under fire than many divisions with much longer combat experience." (I-E Section, 3)
On October 16, 1918, the 91st were ordered to fight as part of the armies in Flanders, under King Albert. They traveled by train to Belgium, where they assisted in pushing back the enemy, October 31-November 11. The 91st fought in the Ypres-Lys offensive and captured Audenande, Welden, Petegem, and Kasteelwijk. The Division remained in France and Belgium until the first men sailed for home, January 1919. The Division was demobilized May 14, 1919.
The American Red Cross 91st Division death reports consist of 29 reports, each of which documents the deaths within a particular company or companies, battalion, or detachment within the 91st. Every page bearing an American Red Cross letterhead, the documents begin with a list of deceased soldiers' names and emergency contacts and are followed by a description of each man's death. The reports comprise 332 pages and relate the wartime deaths of 781 men.
The author of the reports, Colin V. Dyment, Lieutenant A.R.C, was a "searcher" within the 91st Division. His reports each proceed in a chronological fashion, beginning in the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne offensive and ending variously - as the final deaths suffered by each unit occurred at different times. Some of the units lost their last man in the second phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and others not until their service in Belgium.
With as much detail as he was able, Dyment related the military context, troop movements, geographical surroundings, and precise events that led to the death of the soldiers. The descriptions are at times narrative, sometimes including last words, final dialogues with other men, physical descriptions of the men, and exact burial locations (when known). Where he did not bear witness, he attempted to include the contact information of officers or soldiers who had, so that bereaved family members might query them for information about their loved ones. The individual reports often read like stories, telling of the same battles with a focus on different companies, battalions, and detachments.
One report of non-combat casualties describes a train wreck near Bonnieres, France, in which a French freight train crashed into the rear of a military troop train. The 91st suffered the loss of 30 men from the Machine Gun Company and Medical Detachment of the 362nd Infantry unit.
This collection arrived at the Clements Library with twelve additional items: typescript copies of nine letters and two postal cards from Harry B. Critchlow of the 363rd Ambulance Company, 316th Sanitary Train, 91st Division and one typescript document entitled "Who Won the War," written by William H. Johnston in collaboration with General John J. Pershing. These additional materials relate directly to the 91st Division, but their relationship, if any, to the death reports is unclear.
Harry B. Critchlow of Portland, Oregon, sent these letters to his parents and to his brother Walter, mainly in August 1917, while at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, and Fort Riley, Kansas. In them, he described life in military camp and the activities of his fellow soldiers. In a letter dated June 19, 1918, from Camp Lewis, Washington, he anticipated his deployment overseas. Following the War, he sent two postal cards from France, assuring his family that he was still alive.
William Johnston's typescript copy "Who Won the War" is made up of transcripts of letters between himself and General John J. Pershing, regarding the accuracy of Pershing's portrayal of the 91st Division in his memoir of the war.