A Very Muddy Place outlines a possible itinerary for B. F. Potts’s journey. But what if I’ve got it all wrong?
The enlistment record shows B. F. Potts in the Sommedieue sector from October 14 to November 6. It does not show the Meuse-Argonne.
An administrative oversight? Suppose, for whatever reason, the lieutenant scribe didn’t have the proper documents for Potts’s participation in the Argonne battle. The soldier on his way home, already putting the war behind him, may not care enough to insist. Even if he did, without the document his argument would lack conviction.
Or is it possible that Private Potts left the States on August 24 and didn’t join the 35th Division until mid-October? The following anecdote from Haterius suggests it is.
Amid the Armistice celebrations, a truck pulled up to the front, writes Haterius:
“Over the tailboard… there gazed a boy who had been drafted in the heart of America some six months before, and who with stop-offs for tedious training on the way, had slowly journeyed from his home to the Ardennes. It had taken him six months…” (184-185)
Furthermore, Haterius mentions the reception of “a large number of replacements” after the Argonne battle, on October 11 at a camp between the villages Benoîte Vaux and Récourt-le-Creux. “These men hailed from Camp Gordon. They were natives of the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi” (172).
That Haterius or any other chronicler doesn’t mention receiving replacements after coming out of the Vosges (“Rendezvous with the 35th Division”) is not surprising. The hundred men replaced among the three-and-a-half-thousand strong division would be hardly notable.
In any case, an alternative scenario is that B. F. Potts, after landing at a French port in early September, as described in “Rendezvous,” spent a month in a depot division (as did Clyde Brake—see “Nightmare at Sea”), before joining his unit on October 11.
Considering Grandpa Ben’s war stories, three concern the period in question:
- Entrained soldiers, stopped for the night on the tracks, might have burgled the bakery (“Rendezvous”) during the ride to the supposed depot division, or from it, to the rendezvous with the 35th.
- The nighttime bombardment of an empty building (“A Potts Family Day of Thanks”) could have happened during the march into the Sommedieue sector. However, none of our journalists mention any bombing on the way, including Haterius who goes into some detail about the movement. Of the night of October 11, he writes: “we commenced hearing the distant detonations of guns and saw occasional flashes off to the east and north…” (172). This seems an opportunity to include a nearby bombing if such had occurred.
- Lastly, “Encounter at Creek’s Edge” hints at Grandpa Ben’s presence in the Argonne battle. The scenario seems unlikely in the Sommedieue trenches, where the battle lines are firm. Neither soldier would wander across No Man’s Land, not alone, and not in daylight.
The reader may draw his or her own conclusions.