'How I long for rest'
My Dear Wife,
I know you will be as glad to get this as I am to be able to send it, for Dearest, I have certainly been through HELL in all its phases. I last wrote to your from the front line where we were are a quiet sector of Avrecourt. We left there and spent the day and night out in the fields. I think I wrote you from there, but it seems at least ten years since that day, and I know I am ten years older. ...
Dear Heart, I am well and my skin is whole, but why; God only knows. We advanced on a dark night through about two miles of trenches and waited there in silence for about three hours when it seem all hell broke loose at once, for over two thousand great cannons opened up over our heads and kept up a steady roar for two hours, and while they still roared the enemy's guns roared back at us, the sky was lit up by bright flares and the flashes of the guns, the roar of which was deafening, and the concussion nearly knocked one down. Then dear, we -- especially I -- with trembling in our bones were ordered "over the top" into No-Man's-Land. And the man that gave it that name certainly hit it right for no one would want it and there is no other name in the world that could describe it -- full of shell holes from six to thirty feet deep, covered with brush, weeds, and the sharpest barbed wire you ever saw.
I had the men from the Second battalion, and they were scared, too. But after we got up and started from that terrible waste, it was not so bad. We went about two miles before we were under machine gun fire, but a number of our dear boys got hit by shells. It was just beginning to break daylight, and the sunrise was so beautiful, and all on earth was so terrible -- no words can describe that drive, Dear, for no one could believe it unless they had seen and been through it! On we marched, spread out over a large front, E and H in first, F and S, behind, I was behind H and E, had my men spread and we ran from one mangled screaming body to another, doing what little we could to relieve suffering, and prevent death. There was no means of transportation, so the men had to lay for hours and later for days without being moved. I have seen a good deal in my time, but such horror, such pain, such useless mangling of human beings whom I had known, and some of my best friends -- Dear, it nearly was too much for me. On we went through the roar of cannon, the pip! pip! of these terriblest of weapons, the machine guns, and the pop! of rifles -- the shells of the enemy broke over and around us continuously. I had patients whom I was dressing killed while putting on dressing, and men all around me fell like flies over a hot flame, all crumpled up -- My God! Dear, you can't imagine it -- and I am so glad.
We went over their first, second and third trenches in a rush; we started towards a big woods where they were waiting for us -- the advance troops went in it and through it, but the next wave was caught by heave machine gun fire, and the woods were full of "snipers" -- that is men hidden away so they could not be seen or easily found and they pick off human beings as they pass by. These men had lain hidden during the barrage and while the first wave went through. I was nearly dead with fatigue by the time we got to the woods, but work piled up so fast that there was not a minute's rest. Major Pepper was killed, Lieutenant Baker, Lieutenant Patterson -- Oh, Dear One, how my heart ached for those dear men, so brave for Dear, they were brave and the old veterans who were with said it the bravest and best fight they had ever seen.
I had a terrible time trying to attend to everybody and have them carried back to where the ambulances could get them. They began to pile so on my hands and also on the ambulance men's hands unit by night there were over a hundred.
On the last day of the fight when the major was wounded in the arms, Dick and Augustine were with me, left them with different groups of our mangled boys for evacuation quickly -- we had to send them way back miles with no litter-carrier -- had to get soldiers and make our first-aid men do the work. All the night the battle raged in those woods between us and the unseen enemy who used the deadly machine gun so effectually. We never stopped but kept straight on over a big valley towards Montfaucon, which was a big town on quite a high hill. My dear, you ought to have seen your husband hustling around, crawling on hands and knees, hiding in holes, bandaging and bandaging till I thought I could not go another step, -- when some poor soul would cry for help and away I would go.
At last we got in the ruins of a town, it was completely destroyed. Hardly a wall standing. It was still full of snipers. I began collecting the wounded boys in, and got a big crowd. We spent the night there under heavy fire, but were well protected by an embankment. Had lots of trouble getting patients out, many died from exposure, and because they could not get to a hospital. Douglas was working back all the time doing the work the ambulance company ought to have done, so I left him up in the woods, and Dick and Augustine in the town, and with McClure and Michel started on after the troops. Up to that time I had not seen Major Jackson, but saw him about noon on active supervision -- complimented me very much.
From then on, dear, till the night before last, the worst part came. We advanced through a big valley full of artillery and machine guns up into a big woods, and on across another valley, never stopping. The enemy used his 1-3-6-9-inch guns with terrible effect on our boys, but you never saw such spirit in your life. They advance straight on, leaving the field after field covered with dead and wounded. I was so tired, -- oh, my soul, how tired, but no rest in sight. I made a trip back about six miles, found the sanitary train, and the train got ambulance men with litters to come and help us evacuate. Had them establish three collecting stations, helped carry the men back when I ran out of dressings till Mae could go back for more.
The high explosive shells are the most terrible weapon of them all. They come suddenly with a loud whisking noise and break into thousands of pieces with a terrible report. You are never safe, no use running or hiding. So I just kept on, was hit more than once by pieces, knocked down by the explosion, covered with dirt, but dear, by your prayers, I am safe. But, oh! dear! I am so tired. We started out night before last and marched nearly all day yesterday, and are out in the woods, still no cover but the stars, no food for five days, no sleep for seven days, dirty, blood-stained, unshaven, foot-sore, aching all over -- my! how I long for rest.
Expect to move further back tomorrow -- may go way back to have the division rebuilt. Guess I have seen about the worst battle of the war, and the Lord knows I never want to see another. He must have use for me, or I would never have lived through rain of steel!
Have no more paper. Send this to mother. Will write more as I remember it. All my love to my wife and baby.
Your loving husband,