A Brief Sketch of the History of
Co. F, 6th Missouri Infantry (140th Infantry)
 


B
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Lieut. Jo O. Ferguson

 

This is only an outline and necessarily must be brief, but the briefest sketch of any company of the Sixth Missouri Infantry cannot be complete without referring to the fact that this regiment is not a new organization; back in the forties the Sixth Missouri Infantry won fame with Colonel Doniphan in the Mexican War - later in the sixties the Civil War found a Sixth Missouri Infantry lined up with Confederates and another with the Union. In ninety-eight this outfit was the only Missouri regiment to see service on foreign soil.

In the Spring of 1917, shortly after Congress declared war with Germany, the Governor of Missouri undertook to increase the National Guard to the full quota allowed this state. In order to do this it was necessary to organize two new regiments. The Fifth Missouri Infantry was organized in St. Louis and the Sixth Missouri Infantry was organized in the hills and low lands of South and Southeast Missouri. Walter W. Durnell and Dick Stogsdill were authorized to enlist a company at Cabool and Joe Ferguson received similar authority for organizing a company at Willow Springs. This was late in May, and the full intent of the draft law recently passed by Congress not being clearly understood it was generally thought that no volunteer could enlist for the regular army or for the National Guard after registration day; thus it was presumed necessary that all national guard organizations must be mustered into service prior to June 5th, the day set for registration. This left but a short time to organize the companies at Willow Springs and Cabool and it was found impossible to enlist a sufficient number of men at either place for a full National Guard Company.

Being determined that the boys from Northern Howell and Southern Texas County should have opportunity to volunteer for service before the draft law was placed into effect, Durnell and Ferguson put their forces together and organized Company F. at Willow Spring with men from the localities near that town and Cabool. On the night of June 4, 1917 at 10:00 o'clock just two hours before the day set for registration for the draft, Company F. was mustered into service in the K. of P. Hall at Willow Springs by Capt. Mark D. Springer of West Plains. Walter W. Durnell had been chosen Captain. Joe O. Ferguson first Lieutenant and R. H. Stogsdill second Lieutenant.

Nineteen years before Co. F. 6th Missouri Infantry had been mustered in at Willow Springs for the Spanish American War.

Pursuant to a call of the President, the company reported for duty at the Home rendezvous, Willow Springs, August 5, 1917; mobilized with the rest of the Missouri National Guard at Nevada, on August 12, and was mustered and sworn into the Federal Service a few days later. Here they remained in training until September 29th: by that time a sufficient supply of clothing had been received to give each soldier one outfit and the regiment moved to Camp Doniphan, Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. During the first three or four weeks at Nevada supplies of all kinds were scare. The soldiers all wore civilian clothing and not much of that. When on guard duty the equipment consisted of a home-sick look and a tent stake. It was no unusual sight to see some twenty year old volunteer wearing a straw hat, overalls and canvas shoes, armed with the ever present tent stake guarding a pair of hard-boiled prisoners, who carried axes or picks or shovels depending on the kind of work they were doing. Many of the men wore out their "civie" shoes and were generally excused from drill in the early morning on account of not being equipped to wade through the long dew-soaked prairie grass.

Arriving at Camp Doniphan, the company moved into camp in tents which they pitched at the place previously designated near Tower Number 1, about two miles east of Signal Mountain. Company F. never lived in barracks on this side until they returned to Funston to be mustered out. Theirs was always the tent life. But this was the case with all or practically all volunteers. They lived in tents full of holes thru which the sand or snow came in drifts; a great part of the winter of '17-'18 they bathed under cold showers, and endured various other similar inconveniences which their brothers who had not volunteered lived in steam-heated barracks with hot and cold water at hand and enjoyed every luxury that the war department could afford. Naturally we could not understand why this difference was made.

It was at Camp Doniphan the 35th Division was organized from Missouri and Kansas National Guard troops. Maj.-Gen. W. M. Wright of jackrabbit fame was in command. The Division was composed of various organizations, making a total of about 25,000 men; and an infantry regiment was enlarged to about 3,500 men; and each line company was to have about 250 men. This was in compliance with a new table of organization recently issued by the War Department. In order to meet this requirement it was decided to consolidate some of the units; thus it came about that the powers that be saw fit to make the 140th U. S. Infantry out of the old Sixth Missouri -- the boys from the hill and the Third Missouri - the boys from Kansas City. And Company F. was composed of the Companies F from both the old organizations with Capt. Jefferson Dunlap of Kansas City in command.

Here we lost Captain Durnell, who was transferred to another camp soon after Christmas. The Lieutenants from both the old organizations remained with the company for several months. But sometime in the Spring of 1918 Lieutenant Stogsdill was transferred to the Headquarters Company of the regiment. About the first of the year lst Sergeant Fleming was designated as a candidate at the divisional officers' training camp where he was commissioned in early April, but was never sent back to the Regiment. Sergeant Patterson was transferred to an Engineers' regiment sometime during the winter.

Training at Camp Doniphan made soldiers from recruits. Bayonet, grenade, wave, machine gun, rifle and pistol schools were only some of the various courses of instruction that made the volunteers realize that all his school days had not been spent at the little red school house. Close order drill with plenty of Double Time - the night-mare of the recruits - seemed to be the ruling passion of many of the higher-ups. Parades and Inspections, maneuvers day and night caused many to believe that the front line trenchers would be a cinch. Open tents, a severe winter and daily storm of dust and snow did not help to sweeten the soldiers life. The camp was in the heart of a drought-stricken area and many stories were told to prove just how dry the country really was. One Sunday Sergeant Holloway returned to camp after a day spent near Signal Mountain. he said he had met an old man who started a conversation and in the course of remarks the Sergeant said 'Wouldn't you like to see it rain?" "Well, no", said the old man, "but I got a grandson twenty year old and I'd like powerful well for him to see it rain." "How long have you lived here?' asked the Sergeant. "I don't know how many years," said the old man, "but I 'low its been a long time, fer when I come here Signal Mountain was a hole in the ground."

Company F. lost two men at Camp Doniphan; Privates Clive Findley of Willow Springs and Elmer Weatherman of Dunn, both of whom died of pneumonia.

In April the Regiment moved with the rest of the Division to Camp Mills, Long Island, New York. While here Lieutenant Ferguson was transferred from Co. F to Co. I.

On April 25th the Company embarked at New York on a British transport and arrived in Liverpool on May 6. This trip was made with several other ships under convoy of a British man-of-war. The customary submarine guards were on duty and during the latter part of the voyage several American sub chasers who had come to meet the convoy conducted the fleet thru the Irish Sea and surrounding waters. Arriving at Liverpool the company entrained for Winchester and from that city they went to South Hampton; sailing from there they landed in Havre, France on May 10.

At Havre each soldier was divested of all his equipment which he had so carefully brought across, except one uniform, two suits of underwear, three pairs of socks, one hat, two pairs of hob-nailed shoes and light pack. He saw his Springfield Rifle, which he had been taught to believe the very best gun with which any soldier could be equipped, thrown into the discard, and in its place he was given a British rifle with which he was not familiar, and in most cases they were rifles that had been condemned or should have been condemned by the British Army. His russet shoes were discarded and it was no unfamiliar sight to see British Tommies carrying away from the salvage piles the very shoes which the Yankee preferred, and had brought across but which he had been denied the privilege of wearing.

From Havre the trail of Company F leads into the Somme River sector where about three weeks were spent in training with the Scotch Highlanders and later with the English. In early June they were ordered to leave their British guns behind and proceed in heavy marching order toward the south. After a three days' march they entrained and after another three days landed in the Vosges Mountains in Alsace. Here they were again given guns, this time the American Enfield rifle. After three weeks more of training they went on the line relieving the French in the Hilsenferst sub-sector of the Vosges Sector.

This had been a quiet sector but the Yanks did not believe in fighting a quiet war, and they had not been there long until the enemy awoke to the realization that the folks in the other trenches were looking for a scrap. Grenades were exchanged much in the manner of calling cards; raids were not infrequent; and heavy bombardments soon became the nightly sports. After several weeks of this, during which time many became casualties, the 35th Division was relieved by the 6th Division and the 35th moved east to take part in the St. Mihiel drive. About this time Corporal Clyde Holloway died in a hospital.

After the St. Mihiel offensive came the Argonne and found Company F in the drive that made the 35th Division famous. It was here that Sergeants Guy Holloway and John Vollmar and Private Samuel Floyd were killed in action. Here also Sergeant Hearl Smith commanded his platoon in the face of terrific machine gun fire even after he had been mortally wounded in the head. He could not be induced to go to the rear for treatment until he felt the position which his platoon held was safe. Then it was too late. He died a few hours later. He was awarded the distinguished service cross posthumously. Wallace Rogers lost one leg and was badly wounded in one arm. Ben Collins was wounded so that he is permanently disabled. Almost every man in the company was wounded or gassed more or less seriously during those days of living Hell following the opening of the drive. Thus the history of Company F in the Argonne is written in letters of good Ozark American blood.

After having been relieved by the 1st Division the 35th moved to Verdun and held that part of the line until came November 11 and with it came the Armistice.

After the Armistice the 35th Division took up headquarters at Commercy, and Co. F. was stationed nearby at Bon Court. Here they spent the winter. With the coming of spring, orders were received to move to the coast. About the middle of April they sailed from St. Nazzaire for New Port News after having spent almost twelve months on foreign soil. Before the middle of May practically all the company had been mustered out of service and had returned to their homes and to their civil pursuits.

Such is a brief sketch of the part the boys from Northern Howell and Southern Texas Counties played in winning the war.

Roster


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