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    17,000 New York National Guardsman learned their trade on the Texas/Mexico Border in 1916

    New Yorkers adopt the latest 1916 technology on the Mexico border

    Courtesy Photo | Two members of the New York National Guard's 23 Infantry Regiment Provost Guard pose...... read more read more



    Story by Eric Durr 

    New York National Guard

    Before they went “over there” to France in World War I in 1917, more than 17,000 members of the New York National Guard went to the Mexico-Texas border in June 1916.

    The Mexican border mobilization a hundred years ago this June was the first time the National Guard federalized as part of the Army. In the Civil War and Spanish-American War, Guard Soldiers resigned from their Guard unit and enlisted as a volunteers. This time, whole units joined the Army.

    Starting in June 1916 the New York National Guard mobilized and dispatched troops to the Brownsville, Texas area to prevent Mexican incursions across the border. Some troops remained on the border until February 1917, returning home in time to mobilize for war against Germany two months later.

    Their months on the border, according to Major General John O’Ryan, the commander of what was then called the 6th Division, taught the officers and men of the New York National Guard how to soldier and paved the way for their success in Belgium—fighting with the British Army-- in 1918.

    The New Yorkers wound up in Texas because Mexico had been in crisis since 1910 when the government collapsed. By 1915 the United States had picked sides and Mexican revolutionary commander Pancho Villa was not on the side backed by President Woodrow Wilson.

    Villa’s forces, seeking revenge against American backing of their enemies, attacked Columbia, New Mexico on March 9, 1916, killing 8 Soldiers of the 13th Cavalry and 10 civilians. Villa’s forces lost 60 in the attack.

    A U.S. Army division pushed into Mexico to punish Villa, which resulted in skirmishes with Mexican Army troops, while cross border raids continued. On June 16, 1916 Wilson announced he was calling up the entire 105,000 man National Guard of the United States to guard the border.

    New York Governor Charles Whiteman mobilized the New York National Guard on June 18. Within a week the New York National Guard began mobilizing at Camp Whiteman, which was located next to the current Green Haven Correctional Facility in Duchess County. The men marched there from the train station in Poughkeepsie and also marched to what is now Camp Smith for training on the rifle range.

    In 1916 the New York National Guard was the country’s most sophisticated Guard organization. It had an air force in the form of the 1st Aero Company based in Mineola. New York National Guard officers were experimenting with the use of motorcycles and armored cars on the battlefield in the 1st New York Armored Motor Battery. The commander of the New York Division, Major General O’Ryan, was the first National Guard officer to graduate from the Army War College.

    New York was tasked to provide a division of nine infantry regiments, two field artillery regiments, a cavalry regiment, two engineer battalions, a signal battalion, and medical units and a cavalry machine gun company. The division’s strength when deployed in Texas was 17,733, including a 30 man company to bake bread.

    As the largest and best trained Guard organization, the New York Division, renamed the 6th Division, was sent to Brownsville, Texas where the commander on the border, Major General Frederick Funston, thought the threat of incursions was greatest.

    “The New Yorkers all by themselves could put a sizeable dent in the Mexican Army,” according to Charles H. Harris and Louis R. Sadler, authors of the book “The Great Call-Up: The Guard, the Border, and the Mexican Revolution.”

    The 7th Regiment was the first New York unit to reach the border, arriving in Texas on July 2, 1916. Other units soon followed.

    As the regiments arrived on the border the men went into camps in the towns of McAllen, Parr, and Mission. At McAllen, where the division headquarters and a brigade were stationed, the camp held 10,000 Soldiers and 3,500 horses and mules.

    On July 11 the first New Yorkers, 65 cavalrymen in a provisional troop, began patroling the border. On July 24, O’Ryan alerted the division. The Soldiers at all three camps managed to rally in the company streets and were ready to move out within two hours.

    Over the next few months, the New York Guardsmen settled into a routine that would be familiar to Soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan almost 100 years later.

    O’Ryan issued Order 7 which banned drinking by the officers and men under his command and also prohibited consorting with prostitutes. He later credited this order with preventing incidents between his Soldiers and local residents. Although there were sometimes incidents among the Guardsmen.

    On August 11, men from the 69th Infantry got in a fight with Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry. There was bad blood between the two units, according to "The Great Call- Up" and” the 69th loved to fight. If they couldn’t fight Mexicans they took on whoever was handy.”

    They took turns patrolling at the border, took care of housekeeping chores in camp, went to dances with local girls, and read a paper written for them called The Rio Grand Rattler.

    In the pages of the Rio Grand Rattler the soldiers could read about the horse show sponsored by the 1st Cavalry Regiment in October, the Thanksgiving dance of “Oriental Splendor” held by the 74th Infantry, or the fact that Major Cornelius Vanderbilt had been promoted to colonel and was talking command of the 222nd Engineers. This news was sandwiched in between ads for Grape-nuts Cereal and a bath with unlimited hot water, soap and a towel for 25 cents at the McAllen Hotel.

    Among the leaders of the New York Division was William "Wild Bill" Donovan, who commanded a cavalry unit from Buffalo, N.Y. During World War I, Donovan gained fame and a Medal of Honor as a battalion commander in the 69th Infantry. During World War II, Donovan organized the Office of Strategic Services, the United States undercover effort and the predecessor of the Central Intelligenec Agency.

    O ‘Ryan was proud of the fact that the disease rate in the division was low, but on Aug. 28 a sergeant who was an architect in civilian life died of typhoid fever. A day later another soldier accidently shot and killed himself.

    And sometimes fun turned deadly. On August 26 the entire 12th Regiment went swimming in an irrigation canal. When the men climbed out, one set of clothes was left. Sgt. Arthur Lockwood had gotten stuck in the mud at the bottom of the canal and drowned.

    To get his regiments into fighting trim O ‘Ryan dispatched them on long “hikes” across the desert and sent the men to the rifle and pistol ranges.

    Beginning in October, troops began going home to New York. By November the division was down to 9,000 men and the last units left in February 1917 as war with Germany began to look likely.

    Less than two months later the United States declared war on the German Reich and the Soldiers of the New York Division, now renumbered as the 27th Division, were back in uniform and getting ready to head for the World War in France and Belgium, having learned the lessons of soldier fieldcraft, leadership and logistics.



    Date Taken: 06.02.2016
    Date Posted: 06.02.2016 11:28
    Story ID: 199750
    Location: NY, US

    Web Views: 1,059
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