Remembering Pete Lynn. 74 years ago today, November 2, Pete was killed in action in the Huertgen Forest while serving with Company B, 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. Here’s a brief excerpt from my book, The Lost Soldier, about that terrible day:
A light rain started falling in in the early morning darkness of November 2, 1944. Like an amanuensis, a soupy mist settled on trees, buildings, and foxholes. The dampness made it feel colder than it actually was, though the temperature was already near freezing. “It was pretty miserable outside,” a German landser recalled.
Gradually it grew light enough to see, but the sun stayed veiled behind clouds the color of dirty cotton. Soldiers stirred. Those selected to attack first rose first. Other companies, like Pete’s Company B and Company K, would not jump off until later so it was 7:30 a.m. before these men shimmied groggily out of their sleeping bags. After eating a hot breakfast, the soldiers packed their belongings.
Col. Peterson woke early in his Germeter attic. One of his first tasks was to establish a sandbagged observation post for assistant division commander Davis. “I was to meet him at a specified point west of Germeter at a specified time on the morning of the attack to lead him to his CP,” Peterson later wrote. Dutifully, Peterson went to the appointed spot. When Davis did not appear, Peterson “deemed it necessary to get on with problems coincident with the attack.” It was the right call, but Davis later chewed Peterson out for missing their rendezvous. It was an inauspicious start to the operation.
American guns shattered the morning stillness at 8:00 a.m. For the next hour, the massed artillery of the V and VII Corps fired four thousand preparatory rounds while the 28th Infantry Division loosed 7,313 of its own shells toward known and suspected enemy positions. Cota described it as a “fierce concentration of fire” that increased in volume, as the deafening artillery shifted to nearer targets at 8:45 a.m. From the woods west of Germeter the 112th’s heavy guns — from the 707th Tank Battalion’s Assault Gun Platoon, Company B, 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 112th’s Antitank Company, and Company B, 86th Chemical Mortar Battalion — added their steel voices. Lt. Gunther Schmidt, a member of the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division, endured the bombardment from a vantage point near Schmidt. “There was a lot of confusion in the street, horses reared; we heard screams from the men that were hit,” he wrote.
Col. Peterson and his artillery officers watched the bombardment from his headquarters attic. As of this day, his regiment contained 3,239 soldiers, thanks to the arrival of replacements; in the street and among the houses below, the men of his 2nd battalion waited nervously. This was the line of departure. At 8:45 a.m., tanks from the 707th Tank Battalion rolled up behind the soldiers and idled their engines. The eastward view from the attic and street was normally good: open fields, marked by shell craters and the occasional fence, stretched between Germeter and Vossenack. Distant ridges framed the scene, but the shelling obstructed the view. “Schmidt, in the valley ahead, was hardly visible for the smoke of its burning houses and the thick white dust that lingered over each air-blast and shell-burst,” wrote New York Times reporter Harold Denny. “What one could see at Schmidt was only broken walls and naked chimneys and in the foreground the hulks of two burned-out German tanks.” Looking left, toward Huertgen, Denny saw more “tall chimneys, about all that is left of towns and other hamlets.”
At 9:00 a.m., the attack began.....
Authors of nonfiction books will tell you that the research never really ends. The first and second editions of my book Stuart's Tarheels were published in 1996 and 2011 respectively, but just last week I came across new information that I wish I had at my disposal then.
The Diary of Charles Campbell, which can be found in the Charles Campbell Papers, in the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary's Swem Library (Mss.65C17), contains the following account of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry's arrival in Petersburg on Friday, October 18, 1861:
"This morning at 8 o’clock saw Col. Ransom’s regt. of cavalry march through town on their way to Richmond. Some officers in front: then the companies & last the wagons 25 in number. The uniform is gray: the horses not large: some of the men had no swords: part of them had carbines slung across their shoulders: at the rear of each company several negroes. A good many horses are led: at the rear of the regt. Were 38 negroes mounted on horseback: one had a sword at his side: last came the wagons driven by white men – mostly 4 horse teams some 2 horse: the wagons contained tents, camp equipage & baggage. The regt had small flags red & blue. It was a fine spectacle – a stream of cavalry flowing along. The whole line was about a mile & occupied 20 minutes in passing.”
This account does not entirely agree with research I unearthed for Stuart's Tarheels, but its description of a cavalry regiment on the march is fascinating.
Indeed, the research never ends. I wonder what else is out there?
My thanks to the staff of the Swem Library for their assistance.
Two days after the Battle of Fredericksburg, an officer stopped to talk with some of the men who had defended the famous stone wall and bloodily repulsed the Federal army. The officer was wearing an overcoat that concealed his rank, so some infantrymen invited him to join them. While sitting around a campfire, “a country lad, a farmer boy at home,” described what it had been like to stand against the Federal attack. “I have heard men say that they were spillin for a fight, but I never did spile for a fight. Stranger, I’ve been in every fight with my rigiment, but I never did likes fighting. But when we was killing them Yankees so party behind that are wall and they wasn’t hitting us, I was rale sorry to see ‘em run. And I tell you ... that was the only time I ever did likes fighting.”
In "The Haversack," in The Land We Love V (September 1868), No. V, 443, D.H. Hill shares an entertaining anecdote of an over-eager, and not so bright, Confederate soldier:
Today’s the day: my new book, The Lost Soldier, is now available wherever you buy books!
Follow Pete and Ruth Lynn (pictured here with their first daughter) on their World War II ordeal, from the home front to the Huertgen Forest. It’s a story you won’t forget.
Check the upcoming tab for events where you can hear more about The Lost Soldier.
Advance copies of The Lost Soldier have now arrived! My publisher, Stackpole Books, has done an excellent job with the design and publishing process. The book will be formally released in August. Look for it online or at a book store near you!
From the department of shameless plugs - for a limited time, you can save 25% on the second edition of Stuart's Tarheels. McFarland is running a website promotion through June 15. Use coupon code Military25 here.
From The Land We Love I (May-October 1866): In his very first Haversack column, General D.H. Hill related several comical incidents. The first came from the waning days of the war, when Joseph E. Johnston’s army, in camp near Smithfield, N.C., struggled to find enough to eat. “One day a nice dapper young man, elegantly mounted and handsomely dressed, with a bell-crowned hat, rode by the fun-loving regiment, and was immediately greeted with the old cry, ‘Get out of that hat; we know you are thar; see your toes working under it,’ etc. etc. Colonel R---- immediately dashed up, crying ‘Stop that hallooing; it is coarse and ill-mannered; no well-bred gentleman would be guilty of it!’ ‘I don’t know, Colonel,’ replied a Mississippi boy, with a merry twinkle in his eye. ‘How do you expect men to be well-bred on two corn-dodgers a day.’ The Colonel had no further remarks to make on that interesting occasion.”
Another incident Hill related occurred when “Stonewall” Jackson’s command passed Virginia's Massanutten Mountains. The area was “full of old peach and honey, and the men thought it would be a pity, almost a sin, to leave so much spoil to the enemy. Besides, they needed, or thought they needed, something to support their strength on the forced march. General Jackson happened to ride in rear of this division that day, and he found the men scattered for miles along the road in every possible attitude, from dancing the polka to sprawling on the ground; in every possible mood, from ‘grave to gay, lively to severe;’ some fighting over their battles again, others of a more sentimental turn, weeping about the wives and children far away. General Jubal had expended his his eloquence and his emphatic Saxon in vain. He had even spread the report that the mountain huts were full of small-pox, but this had only stimulated the curiosity of his prying followers. Conquered at last, he had gone to camp and was toasting his shins that frosty night by a bright fire, when an orderly rode up with a note. ‘Dispatch from General Jackson, General.’ He rose from his seat and fumbled for his spectacles. But let the correspondence tell its own tale:
‘Headquarters Left Wing.
General: General Jackson desires to know why he saw so many of your stragglers in rear of your division to-day? (Signed) A.S. Pendleton, A.A.G.
To Major-General Early.’
‘Headquarters Early’s Division
Captain: In answer to your note I would state that I think it probable that the reason why General Jackson saw so many of my stragglers on the march to-day is that he rode in rear of my division. Respectfully, J.A. Early, Major-General.
To Capt. A.S. Pendleton.’
The word saw was duly underscored with the General’s boldest dash. Contrary to general expectation, General Jackson only smiled and made no further inquiries …..”
Welcome to my blog! In this space, I will share thoughts, news, and notes about my latest book, The Lost Soldier, as well as other projects. I also have something special in mind for content.
I call this blog the Haversack. The name comes from my next project, a new biography of Daniel Harvey Hill, one of the Confederacy's most controversial soldiers. My research into Hill's life has inevitably drawn me to the monthly magazine he launched in 1866, The Land We Love. Described as "A Monthly Magazine Devoted to Literature, Military History, and Agriculture," the publication included a monthly column Hill named the Haversack.
Hill envisioned that the Haversack would be a compilation of army notes from his personal Civil War experiences as well as those of fellow Confederate soldiers. He chose the title, he wrote, "because, like the Confederate article of the same name, though it may be occasionally crammed with good things by a successful raid, we fear that too often it will contain only the thin cake and lean beef, or the homeopathic slice of bacon." His objective was a simple one. "We have often enjoyed the puns of our soldiers," he wrote, "and think that our readers will relish them too." (The Land We Love I:67 ff.)
Over 150 years later, I think you will relish those puns as well. So, with a tip of the cap to General Hill, I plan to occasionally include selected gems from Hill's Haversack in this blog. What better title to use than THE HAVERSACK?