World War One (1914-18) saw the European powers pitted against each other. The world was turned upside down and battle lines were drawn across the European continent with the assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. The United States joined late into the war (1917) and when America entered WW1, on April 6, there were only four all- Africian American Army regiment which included the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. In 1917 the US War Department created the 92d and 93d Divisions, primarily as black combat units.
The Harlem Hellfighters were an all African-American infantry unit in WWI who spent more time in combat than any other American unit. Even in spite of their courage, sacrifice and unwavering dedication to the United States, they returned home to face immense amounts racism and segregation from their fellow Americans.The French government at the time decorated the entire unit with the Croix de Guerre( its highest award for bravery) as well as 170 additional individual medals for valour.
The 369th’s battlefield combat efficacy was almost overshadowed by its contribution to music.Their bravery during WW1 changed the American public’s opinion on African American soldiers and helped pave the way for future African American soldiers.
The 369th Regiment was formed from the National Guard’s 15th Regiment in New York on June 2nd 1913. The 15th Regiment was formed after Charles S. Whitman was elected Governor of New York. When the U.S. entered into World War I, many African Americans believed that entering the armed forces would help eliminate racial discrimination that was being experienced throughout the United States. Many felt it was “a God-sent blessing” so they could prove they deserved respect from their white compatriots through service in the armed forces. Becuase of the efforts of the Central Committee of Negro College Men and President Wilson, a training camp to train black officers for the proposed black regiments was established.
The 369th Infantry Regiment was constituted June 2nd 1913 in the New York Army National Guard as the 15th New York Infantry Regiment. The 369th Infantry was organized on June 15th of 1915 in New York City, and then the infantry was called into Federal service on July 25th of 1917 at Camp Whitman in New York. While at Camp Whitman, the 369th Infantry Regiment learned basic military practices. The basic practices included: military courtesy, how to address officers, and how to salute. Along with these basics they also learned how to stay low and out of sight during attacks, stand guard and how to march in formation. After their “training” at Camp Whitman, the 369th was called into active duty to serve in New York. While in New York, the 369th was split into three battalions. They were ordered guarded rail lines, construction sites and other camp sites throughout New York.
On October 8th in 1917 the 369th traveled to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where they received actual combat training. Camp Wadsworth was set up in a way to be similar to the French battlefields and mock the trenches they would be serving in. While at Camp Wadsworth the men of the 369th experienced significant racism from the local communities and from the other units. There was one particular incident in which two soldiers from the 15th Regiment, Lieutenant James Reese Europe and Noble Sissle, were refused service by the owner of a local shop when they attempted to buy a newspaper. Several soldiers from the white 27th Division (which was also part of the New York National Guard) came to aid their fellow soldiers. Lieutenant Europe had commanded them to leave before violence erupted in fear of upsetting the local population. There were many other shops in the area that also refused to sell goods to the members of the 15th Regiment, so members of the 27th Division told the shop owners that if they did not serve black soldiers of the 369th that they can close their stores and leave town. The white soldiers of the 27th stated “They’re our buddies. And we won’t buy from men who treat them unfairly”.
The 15th Infantry Regiment NYARNG was assigned on December 1st of 1917 to the 185th Infantry Brigade. It was commanded by Col. William Hayward, a member of the Union League Club of New York. The Union League Club of New York sponsored the 369th in the tradition of the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry, which the club had also sponsored in the U.S. Civil War. The 15th Infantry Regiment was shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation on December 27th of 1917, and joined its brigade during its arrival in Allied France. The unit was ordered to do labor service duties instead of combat training. The 185th Infantry Brigade was then assigned on January 5th of 1918 to the 93rd Division. The 15th Infantry Regiment, NYARNG (New York Army National Guard) was reorganized and re-designated on March 1st of 1918 as the 369th Infantry Regiment, but unfortunately the unit had to continue labor service duties while it awaited a decision as to its future.
The U.S. Army finally decided on April 8th of 1918 to assign the 369th to the French Army to use for the duration of American participation in the war because many white fellow American soldiers refused to follow orders to begin combat duty with blacks. The men of the 369th were issued French weapons, helmets, belts, and pouches, but they continued to wear their U.S. uniforms. While in the United States, the 369th Regiment was exposed to intense racial discrimination and segregation, and its members looked down upon. French Colonel J.L.A. Linard of the American Expeditionary Force headquarters was persuaded to write the notorious pamphlet Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops,in which it “warned” French civilian authorities of the alleged inferior nature and supposed racist tendencies of the African American population.
Luckily for them in France, the men of the 369th were treated as if they were no different than any other French military unit. Mostly, the French did not show any hatred towards them and did not racially segregate the 369th. The French accepted the all black 369th Regiment with open arms and welcomed them to France. Due to manpower shortages caused by years of Trench Warfare, the French were far less concerned with the concept of race compared to the Americans.
The 369th Infantry Regiment was relieved May 8th of 1918 from their labor assignment to the 185th Infantry Brigade, and then went into the trenches as part of the French 16th Division. The 369th served continuously until July 3rd before returning to combat in the Second Battle of the Marne (15 July – 6 August 1918).The Second Battle of the Marne was the last German offensive on the western front during WW1. After that the 369th was reassigned to Gen. Lebouc’s 161st Division and participated in the Allied counterattack against the German offensive. On one tour of duty, the 369th were out for over six months, which became recognized as the longest deployment of any unit in World War I. On August 19th of 1918, the regiment went off the frontline for well deserved rest and training of replacements.
While overseas in France, the Harlem Hellfighters saw enemy propaganda directly intended for them. In the propaganda the Germans claimed to have done nothing wrong to blacks, and they should be fighting against the U.S., who had oppressed them for years. Lucky It had the opposite of the intended effect and it only ignatited patriotism within the men.
On September 25th 1918 the Fourth French Army went on the offensive in conjunction with the American drive in the Meuse-Argonne. The 369th engaged in a good amount of heavy fighting, though they sustained severe losses. The 369th captured the important village of S?chault. At one point during the offensive the 369th advanced faster than French troops on their right and left flanks which created a risk being cut off. By the time the regiment pulled back for reorganization with the French units, it had advanced 8.7 mi through severe German resistance.
In mid-October the regiment was moved to a quiet sector in the Vosges Mountains, where it was stationed there on November 11th 1918, which became the day of the Armistice. Six days later, the 369th made its last advance and on November 26th, reaching the banks of the river Rhine and becoming the first Allied unit to do so during the war. The regiment was relieved on December 12th 1918 from the combat assignment to the French 161st Division. It returned to Embarkation and was finally demobilized on February 28th 1919 at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, and then returned to be part of the New York Army National Guard.
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World War One. (2019, Dec 12). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/world-war-one-191418-saw-the-european-powers-pitted-against-each-example-essay