AVMP in the Library at The Friends of Vauquois

I had a message from Alain Jeannesson, president of Les Amis de Vauquois et de sa région, to whom I sent a copy of A Very Muddy Place. Mr. Jeannesson informs me that the book takes its place in the association’s library and is to be accompanied by a summary in French.

Association of the Friends of Vauquois and its Region. “Mound of Vauquois.” http://butte-vauquois.fr/en/.
The website of the Association of the Friends of Vauquois and its Region has photos and information on visiting the site. The guided tour of the underground galleries, where the mine war took place, is enlightening, educational, and horrific.

—from the bibliography of A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

 


 

A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

Available on Amazon

 

An intimate account of a soldier’s experience in World War I, A VERY MUDDY PLACE takes us on a journey from a young man’s rural American hometown onto one of the great battlefields of France. We follow Private B. F. Potts with the 137th US Infantry Regiment through the first days of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. We discover a personal story—touching, emotional, unforgettable.

In 1918, twenty-three-year-old Bennie Potts was drafted into the US Army to fight in the World War. He served with the American Expeditionary Force in France. At home after the war, he married and raised a family, and the war for his children and grandchildren became the anecdotes he told them.

A century later, a great grandson brings together his ancestor’s war stories and the historical record to follow Private Benjamin Franklin Potts from Tennessee to the Great War in France and back home again.

 

A Very Muddy Place
WAR STORIES

Available on Amazon

 


Five Map Sheets from La carte de l’état-major

I love maps—especially pretty ones and especially old ones. These are both.

The 273 rectangular sheets that constitute La carte de l’état-major cover all of France at 1:40,000 scale. Elevation (in meters) is marked on hilltops and mountain peaks. Steepness is indicated by hatch marks, lines like rays from a peak. The closer together these lines, the steeper the slope. This elevation hatching and the Garamond typeface make the maps distinctive.

In use from the mid-nineteenth to well into the twentieth century, these maps were used by the French army during the war to generate larger scale maps of the western front.

—from A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

If you love maps too, you can follow Private Potts from the Haye Forest (see Chapter 8, “In Reserve at Saint-Mihiel”) to Auzéville (12, “A Potts Family Day of Thanks”) on map sheets Commercy SE and Bar-le-Duc NE, then to the Hesse Forest and Vauquois to Exermont (Part Two, “The Argonne Battle”) on Verdun SE and Verdun NE, and back to Sampigny (29, “Cruel Days”) on Commercy SO. On this last, General Pershing inspected the troops (30, “Godspeed”) just north of Commercy on the field between the villages Vignot and Boncourt.

VERDUN NE Verdun NE
Exermont (top left)
 
VERDUN SE Verdun SE
Vauquois (middle left)
 
BAR-LE-DUC NE Bar-le-Duc NE
Auzéville (top left-of-center)
 
Commercy SO
Commercy (bottom center)
Commercy SE
Forêt de Haie (bottom right)
  COMMERCY SO COMMERCY SE

Five map sheets from La carte de l’état-major arranged in geographic order

Explore elsewhere in the country on the French government’s Géoportail.

 


 

A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

Available on Amazon

 

An intimate account of a soldier’s experience in World War I, A VERY MUDDY PLACE takes us on a journey from a young man’s rural American hometown onto one of the great battlefields of France. We follow Private B. F. Potts with the 137th US Infantry Regiment through the first days of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. We discover a personal story—touching, emotional, unforgettable.

In 1918, twenty-three-year-old Bennie Potts was drafted into the US Army to fight in the World War. He served with the American Expeditionary Force in France. At home after the war, he married and raised a family, and the war for his children and grandchildren became the anecdotes he told them.

A century later, a great grandson brings together his ancestor’s war stories and the historical record to follow Private Benjamin Franklin Potts from Tennessee to the Great War in France and back home again.

 

A Very Muddy Place
WAR STORIES

Available on Amazon

 


Homecoming

There were parades in that glorious spring of 1919. In New York and Washington, D.C., in small towns and state capitals, ranks of soldiers, formed in companies and led by the army band, marched down Main Streets across the United States. In Topeka, the officers and men of the 137th Infantry “All-Kansas” Regiment stepped with heads high, through cheering crowds, flags waving.

But Private Potts was not among his comrades of Company M. After disembarking the Manchuria at Hoboken, April 23, the Thirty-Fifth Division entrained to Camp Upton, New York. In the last week of April, all replacement soldiers, of which B. F. Potts was one, were detached from the division.

Continue reading "Homecoming" »


Soldier Entitled to Travel Pay

While transcribing B. F. Potts’s discharge paper, I was curious about the dollar amount noted in pencil on the back: “89.05.” Potts got remaining pay and a $60 bonus, plus train fare for home. The army paid five cents a mile.

A private earned $30 per month. Prorated for the first twelve days of the month (discharged May 12), his pay was $12. Less that and the bonus leaves $17.05 in travel pay—or 341 miles.

But driving distance from Chattanooga (near Fort Oglethorpe) to Erin is only 200 miles. Either he didn’t get paid from the 1st of the month, or the rail distance to home was much farther.

I found a Louisville & Nashville Railroad map in the 1920 edition of Poor’s Manual of Railroads. The map also shows the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, which by then was a L&N dependency.

While you might not get a passenger train today, you could take the highway from Chattanooga through Stevenson, AL, and Nashville, TN, to McKenzie (on the NC&St.L) and from McKenzie to Erin (on the L&N). The trip would take almost seven hours to drive the 337 miles.

Which is close enough for curiosity’s sake.

Poor 1920 L-N map facing 82“Map of the Louisville & Nashville R. R. and Dependencies”
Henry V. Poor, Poor’s Manual of Railroads: Fifty-Third Annual Number, New York: Poor’s, 1920, facing 82.

 


 

A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

Available on Amazon

 


Easter Aboard the Manchuria

With orders for home, the 137th Regiment boarded trains at Sampigny on March 7. They arrived in the Le Mans area three days later. The companies were dispersed to surrounding towns and villages, Company M to Monfort-les-Gesnois. Far from the desolate battlefields, the men enjoyed a couple weeks of “the best accommodations since [their] arrival in France,” whether in billets or private homes (Haterius, 197).

Following this respite, they moved to what was known as “the Belgian Camp,” where they slept in tents and were subjected to medical examinations, inoculations, and “cootie baths” to make them presentable to their mothers.

Continue reading "Easter Aboard the Manchuria" »


ABMC Maps

To accompany their series of books summarizing the operations of each US Army division in World War I, the American Battle Monuments Commission produced maps showing each division’s position during the battles in which it participated.

High-resolution digital versions of the two ABMC maps referenced in A Very Muddy Place are given here. Click on a map to view or download the larger image.

On the maps, straight red lines mark division sector boundaries. The ragged red lines show the division’s limit of advance at midnight on the date indicated. Each map is divided into one-kilometer (0.62 miles) squares. Contour lines show elevation in five-meter (16.4 feet) intervals.

 

Grange-le-Comte Sector  September 21-25  1918  Meuse-Argonne Offensive  September 26-October 3  1918Grange-le-Comte Sector, September 21-25, 1918,
Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September 26-October 3, 1918
(ABMC, 1937)

 

30th Division  Somme Offensive  October 3-22  191830th Division, Somme Offensive, October 3-22, 1918
(ABMC, 1938)

 


 

A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

Available on Amazon

 


Praise for A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

 

“A VERY MUDDY PLACE is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read about the humble soldier’s point of view. It focuses on the experiences of the author’s great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Potts, who fought with the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War I. The book is a vivid and deft mingling of anecdotes, history, and dramatic fiction, enriched with historic photographs, documents, and detailed maps. This is a captivating and historically important work. I highly recommend it!”

—Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story

 

“Far too many histories of the First World War languish in private letters and forgotten family records. In A VERY MUDDY PLACE, Stephen Wendell constructs a narrative with his great grandfather’s stories to open a window on the horrors of that distant war. Using primary source material, he brings the Great War to life in the person of Benjamin Franklin Potts. This book is a delight, an insightful combination of historical narrative and fictional recreation, and we are better for it.”

—Steve Ruskin, PhD History, author of America’s First Great Eclipse

 

“Stephen Wendell crafts a poignant, stirring, and ultimately remarkable account of his ancestor’s service in the Great War. His attention to detail and depth of research is commendable. Interspersed with personal anecdotes and a keen sense of empathy, A VERY MUDDY PLACE is a unique, triumphant work of the highest merit and a tribute unlike anything I’ve ever read.”

—LTC Kevin Ikenberry, USA, Ret., author of The Protocol War series

 

A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

Available on Amazon

 


A Happy Day in France

It was a happy day in France. April 12, 1919, the 137th Infantry Regiment waved goodbye to the country B. F. Potts later described as “a very muddy place.”

A morning march, loaded with all their gear, took them to the docks [at Brest]. From there, they were conveyed by light boats to a transport ship anchored a mile out in the bay. France, as its final farewell, drizzled rain on them.

—from A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

Now, a century later, you can follow Private Benjamin Franklin Potts from Tennessee to the Great War in France and back home again.

 

A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

Available on Amazon

 


A Very Muddy Place Coming in April

I am pleased to announce A Very Muddy Place: War Stories will be released in April.

May through November last year I wrote the story of my great grandfather in World War I. Over the winter I edited the three dozen articles into a 153-page book and wrapped it up in a paperback cover. To the reader to judge its success.

 

A Very Muddy Place

 

In 1918, twenty-three-year-old Bennie Potts was drafted into the US Army to fight in the World War. He served with the American Expeditionary Force in France. At home after the war, he married and raised a family, and the war for his children and grandchildren became the anecdotes he told them.

A century later, a great grandson brings together his ancestor’s war stories and the historical record to follow Private Benjamin Franklin Potts from Tennessee to the Great War in France and back home again.

 

A Very Muddy Place
WAR STORIES
 
April 2019