REAL FACTS ABOUT ALLEGED MUTINY
REAL FACTS ABOUT ALLEGED MUTINY
Mail Bags And Morale--Imaginative Scoop Reporters And Alarmists--Few Men Lost Heads Or Hearts--Colonel Stewart Cables To Allay Needless Fears--But War Department Had Lost Confidence Of People--Too Bad Mutiny Allegations Got Started--Maliciously Utilized--Officially Investigated And Denied--Secretary Baker's Letter Here Included--Facts Which Afforded Flimsy Foundation Here Related--Alleged Mutinous Company Next Day Gallantly Fighting--Harsh Term Mutiny Not Applied By Unbiased Judges.
Four weeks to nine or twelve weeks elapsed between mailing and receiving. It is known that both ignorance and indifference were contributing causes. We know there is in existence a file of courteous correspondence between American and British G. H. Q. over some bags of American mail that was left lying for a time at Murmansk when it might just as well have been forwarded to Archangel for there were no Americans at that time on the Murmansk.
Many slips between the arrival of mail at Archangel and its distribution to the troops. How indignant a line officer at the front was one day to hear a visitor from the American G. H. Q. say that he had forgotten to bring the mail bags down on his train. Sometimes delivery by airplane resulted in dropping the sacks in the deep woods to be object of curiosity only to foxes and wolves and white-breasted crows, but of no comfort to the lonesome, disappointed soldiers.
Ships foundered off the coast of Norway with tons of mail. Sleds in the winter were captured by the Bolos on the lines of communication. These troubles in getting mail into Russia led the soldiers to think that there might be equal difficulty in their letters reaching home. And it certainly looked that way when cablegrams began insistently inquiring for many and many a soldier whose letters had either not been written, or destroyed by the censor, or lost in transit.
And that leads to the discussion of what were to the soldier rather terrifying rules of censorship. Intended to contribute to his safety and to the comfort and peace of mind of his home folks the way in which the rules were administered worked on the minds of the soldiers. Let it be said right here that the American soldier heartily complied in most cases with the rules. He did not try to break the rules about giving information that might be of value to the enemy. And when during the winter there began to come into North Russia clippings from American and British newspapers which bore more or less very accurate and descriptive accounts of the locations and operations, even down to the strategy, of the various scattered units, they wondered why they were not permitted after the Armistice especially, to write such things home.
And if as happened far too frequently, a man's batch of ancient letters that came after weeks of waiting, contained a brace of scented but whining epistles from the girl he had left behind him and perhaps a third one from a man friend who told how that same girl was running about with a slacker who had a fifteen-dollar a day job, the man had to be a jewel and a philosopher not to become bitter. And a bitter man deteriorates as a soldier.
To the credit of our veterans who were in North Russia let it be said that comparatively very few of them wrote sob-stuff home. They knew it was hard enough for the folks anyway, and it did themselves no good either. The imaginative "Scoops" among the cub reporters and the violently inflamed imaginations and utterances of partisan politicians seeking to puff their political sails with stories of hardships of our men in North Russia, all these and many other very well-meaning people were doing much to aggravate the fears and sufferings of the people at home. Many a doughboy at the front sighed wearily and shook his head doubtfully over the mess of sob-stuff that came uncensored from the States. He sent costly cablegrams to his loved ones at home to assure them that he was safe and not "sleeping in water forty degrees below zero" and so forth.
Not only did the screeching press articles and the roars of certain congressmen keep the homefolks in perpetual agony over the soldiers in Russia, but the reports of the same that filtered in through the mails to our front line campfires and Archangel comfortable billets caused trouble and heart-burnings among the men. It seems incredible how much of it the men fell for. But seeing it in their own home paper, many of the men actually believed tales that when told in camp were laughed off as plain scandalous rumor.
War is not fought in a comfortable parlor or club-room, but some of the tales which slipped through the censor from spineless cry-babies in our ranks of high and low rank, and were published in the States and then in clippings found their way back to North Russia, lamented the fact of the hardship of war in such insidious manner as to furnish the most formidable foe to morale with which the troops had to cope while in Russia. The Americans only laughed at Bolshevik propaganda which they clearly saw through. To the statement that the Reds would bring a million rifles against Archangel they only replied, "Let 'em come, the thicker grass the heavier the swath."
But when a man's own home paper printed the same story of the million men advancing on Archangel with bloody bayonets fixed, and told of the horrible hardships the soldier endured--and many of them were indeed severe hardships although most of the news stories were over-drawn and untruthful, and coupled with these stories were shrieks at the war department to get the boys out of Russia, together with stories of earnest and intended-to-help petitions of the best people of the land, asking and pleading the war department to get the boys out of Russia, then the doughboy's spirit was depressed.
[Illustration: Several soldiers standing outside burning building.] U. S. OFFICIAL PHOTO Pioneer Platoon Has Fire at 455
[Illustration: Two soldiers sawing logs.] U S. OFFICIAL PHOTO (158856) 310th Engineers Near Bolsheozerki
[Illustration: Two soldiers carrying a large bucket.] U.S. OFFICIAL Hospital "K. P.'s"
[Illustration: Two women in heavy coats standing outside.] U.S. OFFICIAL PHOTO Red Cross Nurses
[Illustration: Soldier and two civilians standing by a scale that holds a slab of meat.] U.S. OFFICIAL Bartering
[Illustration: Three people and a small bear.] U.S. OFFICIAL PHOTO Mascots
[Illustration: Officers and soldiers; a large artillery piece is mounted on a rail car in the background.] U S. OFFICIAL PHOTO Col. Dupont (French) at Verst 455, Bestows Many Croix de Guerre Medals.
[Illustration: About thirty soldiers around an artillery piece.] U S. OFFICIAL PHOTO Polish Artillery and Mascot
[Illustration: An artillery piece behind a log rampart, with tents in the background.] U. S. OFFICIAL PHOTO (158870) Russian Artillery, Verst 18
Suffer he did occasionally. Many of his comrades had a lot of suffering from cold. But aside from the execrable boot that Sir Shakleton had dreamed into existence, he himself possessed more warm clothing than he liked to carry around with him. But not a few soldiers forgot to look around and take sober stock of their actual situation and fell prey to this sob-stuff. Fortunately for the great majority of them, and this goes for every company, the great rank and file of officers and men never lost their heads and their stout hearts.
And now we may as well deal with the actual facts in regard to the alleged mutiny of American troops in North Russia. There was no mutiny.
In February Colonel Stewart had cabled to the War Department that "The alarmist reports of condition of troops in North Russia as published in press end of December are not warranted by facts. Troops have been well taken care of in every way and my officers resent these highly exaggerated reports, feeling that slur is cast upon the regiment and its wonderful record. Request that this be given to the press and especially to Detroit and Chicago papers to allay any unnecessary anxiety."
He was approximately correct in his statements. His intent was a perfectly worthy one. But it was not believed by the wildly excited people back home. Perhaps if the war department had been entirely frank with the people in cases, say, like the publication of casualty reports and reports of engagements, then its well-meant censorship and its attempts to allay fear might have done some good.
As it was the day, March 31st, 1919, came when a not unwilling British cable was scandalled and a fearsome press and people was startled with the story of an alleged mutiny of a company of American troops in North Russia. The "I-told-you-so's" and the "wish-they-would's" of the States were gratified. The British War Office was, too, and made the most of the story to propagandize its tired veterans and its late-drafted youths who had been denied part in war by the sudden Armistice. Those were urged to volunteer for service in North Russia, where it was alleged their English comrades had been left unsupported by the mutinous Yanks. Yes, there was a pretty mess made of the story by our own War Department, too, who first was credulous of this really incredulous affair, tried to explain it in its usually stupid and ignorant way of explaining affairs in North Russia, only made a bad matter worse, and then finally as they should have done at first, gave the American Forces in North Russia a Commanding General, whose report as quoted from the Army and Navy Journal of April 1920, will say:
"The incident was greatly exaggerated, but while greatly regretting that any insubordination took place, he praised the general conduct of the 339th Infantry. Colonel Richardson states that the troops were serving under very trying conditions, and that much more serious disaffections appeared among troops of the Allies on duty in North Russia. He further says the disaffection in the company of the 339th Infantry, U. S. A., was handled by the regimental commander with discretion and good judgment."
Colonel Stewart, himself, stated to the press when he led his troops home the following July:
"I did not have to take any disciplinary action against either an officer or soldier of the regiment in connection with the matter, so you may judge that the reports that have appeared have been very, very greatly exaggerated. Every soldier connected with the incident performed his duty as a soldier. And as far as I am concerned, I think the matter should be closed."
In a letter to a member of Congress from Michigan, Secretary Baker refers to the alleged mutiny as follows:
"A cablegram, dated March 31, 1919, received from the American Military Attache at Archangel, read in part as follows:
"'Yesterday morning, March 30th, a company of infantry, having received orders to the railroad front, was ordered out of the barracks for the purpose of packing sleds for the trip across the river to the railroad station. The non-commissioned officer that was in charge of the packing soon reported to the officers that the men refused to obey. At this some of the officers took charge, and all except one man began reluctantly to pack after a considerable delay. The soldier who continued to refuse was placed in confinement. Colonel Stewart, having been sent for, arrived and had the men assembled to talk with them. Upon the condition that the prisoner above mentioned was released, the men agreed to go. This was done, and the company then proceeded to the railway station and entrained there for the front. That they would not go to the front line positions was openly stated by the men, however, and they would only go to Obozerskaya. They also stated that general mutiny would soon come if there was not some definite movement forthcoming from Washington with regard to the removal of American troops from Russia at the earliest possible date.'
"The War Department on April 10, 1919, authorized the publication of this cablegram, and on April 12, 1919, authorized the statement that the report from Murmansk was to the effect that the organization which was referred to was Company "I" of the 339th Infantry, and that the dispatch stated:
"'It is worthy to note that the questions that were put to the officers by the men were identical with those that the Bolshevik propaganda leaflets advised them to put to them.'
"If reports differing from the above appeared in the newspapers, they were secured from sources other than the War Department and published without its authority.
"On March 16, 1920, Brigadier General Wilds P. Richardson, U. S. Army, was ordered by the Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces, to proceed to North Russia and to assume command of the American Forces in that locality. General Richardson arrived at Murmansk on April 8, 1920, where it was reported to him that a company of American troops at Archangel had mutinied and that his presence there was urgently needed. He arrived at Archangel on April 17, 1920, and found that conditions had been somewhat exaggerated, especially in respect to the alleged mutiny of the company of the 339th Infantry. General Richardson directed an investigation of this matter by the Acting Inspector General, American Forces in North Russia. This officer states the facts to be as follows:
"'Company "I", 339th Infantry, was in rest area at Smallney Barracks, in the outskirts of Archangel, Russia, when orders were received to go to the railroad point and relieve another company. The following morning the first sergeant ordered the company to turn out and load sleds. He reported to the captain that the men did not respond as directed. The captain then went to the barracks and demanded of the men standing around the stove: "Who refuses to turn out and load sleds?" No reply from the men. The captain then asked the trumpeter, who was standing nearby, if he refused to turn out and load the sleds, and the trumpeter replied he was ready if the balance were, but that he was not going out and load packs of others on the sleds by himself, or words to that effect. The captain then went to the phone and reported the trouble as "mutiny" to Col. Stewart, the Commanding Officer, American Forces in North Russia. Col. Stewart directed him to have the men assemble in Y. M. C. A. hut and he would be out at once and talk to them. The colonel arrived and read the Article of War as to mutiny and talked to the men a few minutes. He then said he was ready to answer any questions the men cared to ask. Some one wanted to know 'What are we here for and what are the intentions of the U. S. Government?' The colonel answered this as well as he could. He then asked if there was anyone of the company who would not obey the order to load the sleds; if so, step up to the front. No one moved. The colonel then directed the men to load the sleds without delay, which was done.
"'The testimony showed that the captain commanding Company "I", 339th Infantry, did not order his company formed nor did he ever give a direct order for the sleds to be loaded. He did not report this trouble to the commanding officer (a field officer) of Smallney Barracks, but hastened to phone his troubles to the Commanding Officer, American Forces in North Russia.'
"The inspector further states that the company was at the front when the investigation was being made (May, 1919) and that the service of all concerned, at that time, was considered satisfactory by the battalion commander.
"The conclusions of the inspector were that from such evidence as could be obtained the alleged mutiny was nothing like as serious as had been reported, but that it was of such a nature that it could have been handled by a company officer of force.
"The inspector recommended to the Commanding General, American Forces, North Russia, that the matter be dropped and considered closed. The Commanding General, American Forces, North Russia, concurred in this recommendation.
"General Richardson, in his report of operations on the American Forces in North Russia, referring to this matter states:
"'MORALE. Archangel and North Russia reflected in high degree during the past winter the disturbed state of the civilized world after four years of devastating war. The military situation was difficult and at times menacing.
"'Our troops in this surrounding, facing entirely new experiences and uncertain as to the future, bore themselves as a whole with courageous and creditable spirit. It was inevitable that there should be unrest, with some criticism and complaint, which represented the normal per cent chargeable to the human equation under such conditions. This culminated, shortly before my arrival, in a temporary disaffection of one of the companies. This appears not to have extended beyond the privates in ranks, and was handled by the regimental commander with discretion and good judgment.
"'This incident was given wide circulation in the States, and I am satisfied from my investigation that an exaggerated impression was created as to its seriousness. It is regrettable that it should have happened at all, to mar in any degree the record of heroic and valiant service performed by this regiment under very trying conditions.' "The above are the facts in regard to this matter, and it is hoped that this information may meet your requirements. "Very sincerely yours, "NEWTON D. BAKER, "Secretary of War."
However, as a matter of history the facts must be told in this volume. "I" Company of the 339th Infantry, commanded by Captain Horatio G. Winslow, was on the 30th of March stationed at Smolny Barracks, Archangel, Russia. It had been resting for a few days there after a long period of service on the front. The spirit of the men had been high for the most part, although as usual in any large group of soldiers at rest there was some of what Frazier Hunt, the noted war correspondent, calls "good, healthy grousing." The men had the night before given a fine minstrel entertainment in the Central Y. M. C. A.
Group psychology and atmospheric conditions have to be taken into consideration at this point. By atmospheric conditions we mean the half-truths and rumors and expressions of feeling that were in the air. A sergeant of the company questioned carefully by the writer states positively that the expressions of ugliness were confined to comparatively few members of the company. The feeling seemed to spread through the company that morning that some of the men were going to speak their minds.
Here another fact must be introduced. A few nights before this there had been a fire in camp that spread to their barracks and burned the company out, resulting in the splitting of the company into two separated parts, and in giving the little first sergeant and commanding officer inconvenience in conveying orders and directions to the men. And it was rumored in the morning in one barracks that the men of the other barracks were starting something. The platoon officer in command there had gone to the front to make arrangements for the billeting and transportation of troops, who were to start that day for the front some several miles south of Obozerskaya. Now the psychology began to work. Why hurry the loading, let's see what the men of that platoon now will do.
The captain notices the delay in proceedings. He has heard a little something of what is in the air. It is nothing serious, yet he is nervous about it. His first sergeant, a nervous and a nervy little man too, for Detroit has seen the Croix de Guerre he won, showed anxiety over the dilatoriness of the men in loading the sleighs. And the men were only just human in wanting to see what the captain was going to do about that other platoon that was rumored to be starting something. Of course in the psychology of the thing it was not in their minds that they would be called upon to express themselves. The others were going to do that.
But when the captain went directly to the men and asked them what they were thinking and feeling they found themselves talking to him. Here and there a man spoke bitterly about the Russian regiments in Archangel not doing anything but drill in Archangel. Of course he had only half-truth. That is the way misunderstandings and bad feelings feed. At that moment a company of the Archangel Regiment was at a desperate front, Bolsheozerki, standing shoulder to shoulder with "M" Company out of "I" Company's own battalion. But these American soldiers at that moment with their feelings growing warmer with expression of them, thought only of the drilling Russian soldiers in Archangel and of the S. B. A. L. soldiers who had mutinied earlier in the winter and been subdued by American soldiers in Archangel. And so if the truth be told, those soldiers spoke boldly enough to their captain to alarm him. He thought that he really had a serious condition before him.
From remarks by the men he judged that for the sake of the men and the chief commanding officer, Colonel Stewart, it would be well to have a meeting in the Y. M. C. A. where they could be properly informed, where they could see ALL that was going on and not be deluded by the rumors that other groups of the company were doing something else, and where the common sense of the great, great majority of the men would show them the foolishness of the whole thing. And he invited the colonel to appear.
Meanwhile the senior first lieutenant of the company, Lieut. Albert E. May, one of the levelest-headed officers in the regiment, had put the first and only man who showed signs of insubordination to an officer under arrest. It developed afterward that the lieutenant was a little severe with the man as he really had not understood the command, he being a man who spoke little English and in the excitement was puzzled by the order and showed the "hesitation" of which so much was made in the wild accounts that were published. This arrest was afterward corrected when three sergeants of the platoon assured the officer that the man had not really intended insubordination.
It is regrettable that the War Department was so nervous about this affair that it would be fooled into making the explanation of this "hesitation" on the ground of the man's Slavic genesis and the pamphlet propaganda of the Reds. The first three men who died in action were Slavs. The Slavs who went from Hamtramck and Detroit to Europe made themselves proud records as fighters. Hundreds of them who had not been naturalized were citizens before they took off the O. D. uniform in which they had fought. It was a cruel slur upon the manhood of the American soldier to make such explanations upon such slight evidences. It would seem as though the War Department could have borne the outcry of the people till the Commanding Officer of those troops could send detailed report. And as for the Red pamphlets, every soldier in North Russia was disgusted with General March's explanations and comments.
To return to the account, let it be said, Colonel Stewart, when he appeared at the Y. M. C. A. saw no murmurous, mutinous, wildly excited men, such as the mob psychology of a mutiny would necessarily call for. Instead, he saw men seated orderly and respectfully. And they listened to his remarks that cleared up the situation and to his proud declaration that American soldiers on duty never quit till the job is done or they are relieved. Questions were allowed and were answered squarely and plainly.
While the colonel had been coming from his headquarters the remainder of the loading had been done under direction of Lieut. May as referred to before, and at the conclusion of the colonel's address, Captain Winslow moved his men off across the frozen Dvina, proceeded as per schedule to Obozerskaya, put them on a troop train, and as related elsewhere took over the front line at a critical time, under heavy attack, and there the very next day after the little disaffection and apparent insubordination, which was magnified into a "mutiny," his company added a bright page to its already shining record as fighters. The editors have commented upon this at another place in the narrative. We wish here to state that we do not see how an unbiased person could apply so harsh a term as mutiny to this incident.
The allegation has been proved to be false. There was no mutiny. Any further repetition of the allegation will be a cruel slander upon the good name of the heroic men who were killed in action or died of wounds received in action in that desperate winter campaign in the snows of Russia. And further repetition of the allegation will be insult to the brave men who survived that campaign and now as citizens have a right to enjoy the commendations of their folks and friends and fellow citizens because of the remarkably good record they made in North Russia as soldiers and men.*****
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