When trouble broke out along the Mexican border in 1916, the Delaware men were, as always, among the first to answer the call. A series of raids and depredations on American soil by the Mexican "bandido" Pancho Villa drew an armed response led by General Pershing. The national mood was one of "about time" after two years of negotiations. An initial feeling that the National Guard was being used for political purposes in an election year changed to patriotic pride after the raids on Columbus New Mexico. A newly organized National Guard was called for federal service on July 19, 1916 and mustered at the State Rifle Range in New Castle. Since the State did not have a full regiment by Federal standards, the Delaware troops went to New Mexico in July as two separate battalions of infantry. Much to the regret of the regiment's senior officers, the regimental headquarters and band were not accepted for service.
Some of the men did not want to take the new Federal oath (implemented under the Dick Act of 1903). They feared to commit or do so because of their families or obligations. They had joined the National Guard not for war, but for peace, they said, and asked if they could be forced to take an oath that enlarged their obligations. The response of the regular army officers was explicit - they would be pulled from the muster line and put under arrest pending a court martial. Few needed more convincing.
The men were then rushed through a medical examination that was brief and desultory. The naked men were weighed and measured for height and chest. A surgeon listened to heart and lungs, cracked a knee, checked for rupture and disease. The next doctor looked at teeth, and checked vision. The entire process line lasted about five minutes. A contemporary account commented on the pale fat and skinny ridiculous appearance of the men dressed only in "nature's garb". Very few were found to be disqualified. Some of those were shipped anyway, and asked to sign a waiver of pension rights due to their previous disability!
On arrival in the Southwest, the men detrained and made camp unfolding their cots and preparing to sleep in the open under a wonderful Southern sky, "in God's outdoors with only the sky as our canopy and ten million stars as our light." The men laid out their camp the following day measuring the distance for their company streets in perfect lines. Bathhouses and latrines were constructed and water connections established. Trenches were dug for drainage. The Camp in Deming New Mexico was known as "Camp Brooks", later renamed during World War I to "Camp Cody". It was only a few miles north of Columbus where Pancho Villa had raided previously.
The basic staples of life in garrison were well provided for but one correspondent commented on the difficulty and red tape required to fill in the gaps. There was bread, but no butter, coffee without sugar, potatoes without salt. He quoted a little ditty:
Sou-pee, sou-pee, sou-pee Without a single bean Por-kee, por-kee, por-kee Without a strip of lean Cof-fee, cof-fee, cof-fee without a drop of cream!
The army was short of blankets. Those who know the desert know that even a July night can be cold. There were shortages of cots, tents, pistols and more.
Sanitation was a huge problem in the continual battle against flies and other vermin. Incinerators were constructed lined with brick and stone on every company street. Fires were maintained to dispose of refuse and dish water. They were examined by medical personnel daily. They were periodically dismantled and crude oil poured on the surrounding ground to destroy fly larvae. Every company was required to regularly police its site. Each man was inoculated for Typhoid on arrival at camp. In addition, there were regular foot inspections, removing shoes and socks for examination by company officers and surgeons. Clean socks and regular bathing were required. The payoff was a much reduced level of disease compared to the experience during the Spanish American War. The health of the men was probably better than it would have been at home. These were valuable lessons that would later be applied during the Great War.
The Young Men's Christian Association provided remedy to the shortcomings of camp life. It had magazines, a phonograph, tables and stationery for the boys with which to write home. It was a home away from home for the soldiers in their off-hours.
Music was a big factor in the lives of the boys. On the march, in the company streets at night, and on a rainy day within the tents there was always a song in the air. According to a correspondent, "There is nothing finer that soldiers can do. It uplifts the spirit of the camp and makes every one from the Colonel to the youngest rookie feel contented and 'secure. More than once I have heard the officers say, "When they are singing we know that everything is all right." Some of the companies sang songs which were elegant, others songs that were vulgar. The songs that companies sing serve as criteria of character by which you can not only judge the standard of the boys but even more the character of their officers" A favorite song of the camp was:
I want a girl just like the girl That married dear old dad; She was a pearl, and the only girl That daddy ever had; A good, old-fashioned girl With heart so true, One who loves nobody else but you; I want a girl just like the girl That married dear old dad.
The men had a new version of the 'Old Oaken Bucket" which they accommodated to their company officers:
The Old Company Tooth Brush The Old Company Tooth Brush The Old Company Tooth Brush
That hung in the Sink; First it was Borgmeier's, Then it was Cheney's, Then it was Frisbie's,
In his biennial report to Hon. Governor Charles R. Miller, dated December 31, 1916, Adjutant General I.P. Wickersham reports:
“…Two battalions of infantry, with the hospital detachment…are now in Federal service at Deming New Mexico, where they have been stationed since July 31 last.(1916)
In accordance with your verbal order of September 21, I proceeded to Deming, New Mexico, reaching there on October 1 and found the troops in excellent health, well supplied and equipped, camp site and sanitary conditions excellent. The troops were undergoing an intensive military training, which I am pleased to say was indicated by their appearance both physical and military.
The troops have been on the border for five months and have performed their duty honestly and faithfully and without complaint, and it is hoped that they may be returned to their home stations in the near future.
Under the call of the President of the United States, dated June 18, 1916, for two battalions of infantry at war strength, the National Guard was, under orders of Your Excellency, mobilized at the rifle range below New Castle and every effort was made to recruit the companies to the strength required, but without avail, and the War Department accepted the companies at the authorized peace strength of sixty-five men per company. All officers and men were required to pass a rigid physical examination under the direction of a medical officer of the Army, and the necessary property and equipment was transferred to the property officers of the organization. The final muster into United States service was completed on July 12, and the troops left Delaware for Deming, New Mexico on July 25, where they have been stationed ever since.
Major J. Warner Reed
The two battalions of the First Delaware Infantry regiment were at different times commanded by Major J. Warner Reed, Colonel H.L. Roberts, and Major F. W. Cobbe. The later two were regular Army officers assigned to the command for training purposes and the regiment was later on the border commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Martin, a Regular Army officer. Martin later became a Major General in World War I in command of a division, and after retirement was elected governor of Oregon. The border service consisted chiefly of guard duty and training.
In his biennial report to Hon. Governor John G. Townsend, dated December 31, 1918, Adjutant General I.P. Wickersham reports:
The two battalions of Infantry, with Supply and Sanitation Detachments, which were called into the Federal Service in June 1916 for duty on the Mexican Border arrived home on February 8, 1917 for muster out. The first battalion was ordered to Wilmington; the second, with Supply and Sanitary Detachments, to Fort DuPont. The work of mustering out these troops was completed on February 15th, after which they resumed their State status. The transfer of property was not accomplished until later. These troops were reviewed by the Governor upon their arrival at Wilmington and made a splendid showing. After the review, both officers and men were entertained at dinner at the Hotel DuPont by the General Assembly, and in recognition of their services, each officer and man was presented with a medal provided by an act of the General Assembly.
Captain U.M. Diller, Inspector-Instructor for the Organized Militia of Delaware reported on December 13, 1916:
“Marked progress was made by the officers and men at the schools and encampment, and at the time of departure of the two battalions for the Mexican border service at Deming, New Mexico. I considered the personnel of these organizations as excellent.”
The Delaware troops' service on the border, like that of the rest of the nation's National Guard, turned out to be more significant for its training value in preparation for World War I than for its actual accomplishments as an army in the field. Contemporary accounts of the deployment detailed the rigor of the training. Drilling was never relaxed. It was a daily occurance, usually morning and afternoon. Bayonet drill was also emphasized given the recent experience in European war. There was fire distribution, and firing discipline, as well as battle practice with problems and solutions, making use of the map and signals. These maneuvers were no make-believe endeavor, but under the tutelage of regular army officers with a mission to train these citizen soldiers in a disciplined way under live fire conditions. The men were equipped with new Springfield rifles, and many soldiers experienced the deadly lethality of the machine gun for the first time in maneuvers.
The men started the day with calisthenics immediately after roll call. There were endless daily hikes which hardened the men and inured them to hardship. The soldiers usually carried packs, rifles, bayonets, pistols and other equipment. The hikes would sometimes be up to 25 miles over two days, in Southwestern summer sunshine. Initially, the green civilians fell like flies, some requiring an ambulance, but over time they conditioned to the rigors of climate and terrain. They learned to hoard their water and conserve their strength. They lost flab and gained muscle, adding years to their lives. They developed into the best physical shape most of them had ever experienced. Their issue uniforms no longer fit their lean and hard frames. The Delaware soldiers had made a true transition from citizen to soldier during this demanding deployment.
Of the men who received their first military training in the ranks of the Delaware battalions, the most famous is Lt. Gen. John W. (Iron Mike) O'Daniel, USA (ret.), who was a private and later supply sergeant in Newark's Company E. Among the officers were two later adjutants general of Delaware, J. A. Ellison and William Berl, Jr., and a future commander of the Delaware regiment, John P. LeFevre.
Some of the officers who were to lead the 198th Coast Artillery in World War II had just started the climb up through the enlisted ranks including Brig. Gen. George J. Schulz and Lt. Cols. S. B. I. Duncan and Henry C. Ray. Delaware's State Director of Selective Service (1957), Brig. Gen. Harry B. Van Sciver, was a second lieutenant in Company C.
Another prominent Guardsman who was on the border was First Sgt. (Major, retired) Frederick L. Manion of Company F, one of the nation's outstanding marksman, who brought added laurels to the Delaware National Guard that year by placing second in the national championships with the high power rifle at Black Point Military Reservation, eight miles outside Jacksonville Florida.
One legacy of the soldiers who went to the border was their name. The men were frequently covered with a heavy layer of Southwestern dust and got the nickname of "adobes'. It is said, this was shortened to simply "dobies" which finally became the "doughboys" of the First World War.
By early 1917 the Mexican border situation was well under control, and the National Guardsmen returned to their homes. Older residents of Wilmington still recall the memorable "welcome home" banquet at the Hotel DuPont on Feb. 7, 1917, the largest ever held up to that time in Wilmington, and one seldom equaled since then.
One result of the Punitive Expedition to Mexico was the National Defense Act of 1916. The act was passed amidst the "preparedness controversy", a brief frenzy of great public concern over the state of preparation of the United States armed forces, and shortly after Pancho Villa's cross-border raid on Columbus, New Mexico. It authorized an army of 175,000 men, a National Guard of 450,000 men. It created the modern Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) which was implemented at the Delaware College.
The National Defense Act of 1916 dictated a much increased training standard for National Guardsmen, requiring 48 drill periods in place of the previous 24, and 15 days of annual camp instead of five days. It more than doubled the training commitment for soldiers in the Guard. It also provided pay for drills for the first time. Perhaps most important, it established the right of the President to “Federalize” the National Guard in times of emergency, with individual States’ militias reverting to their control upon the end of the declared emergency. The National Defense Act, 1916 guaranteed the State militias as the primary reserve force; gave the President the authority to mobilize the Guard during war or national emergency and made use of the term "National Guard" mandatory. In short, just prior to America's entry into World War I the act served to ramp up the readiness of the National Guard to an even higher standard.
The dean of Delaware journalists, William Frank wrote for the News Journal newspapers for almost 50 years covering military and National Guard topics. He related a story at a banquet in 1975 concerning the men of the Delaware Guard who served on the Mexican border, men he knew personally. "It seems a charge was made by a woman that she had been raped by a soldier and the best she could remember was he had a mustache. And she figured he came from over there -- where this Delaware unit was camped. Well, it so happened practically every soldier from Delaware had started moustaches...and when they heard the story of the charge -- about 3 in the morning, all the men rolled out and shaved their moustaches...all except one poor fellow. And there he was facing a very serious charge...all others were clean shaven. He protested but -- it looked pretty serious until-- until the guilty man was discovered and pinpointed in another regiment."
Regarding reporters on the border, it was said that they make their living by grinding out stories, the better the story, the better the living; and that is the reason that newspapermen are a danger to an army, for they can make up better stories than they can find!
In a letter from J. Danforth Bush, at Deming Mew Mexico to his wife dated August 13, 1916 he wrote:
"I have rented a house here, the most comfortable one left in to wn. It is unfurnished and has water, electric light, bath tub, water closet, and six rooms and two sleeping porches. It looks as though we will be here for three or four more months, perhaps six, but don't tell anyone this . It is unofficial. If you come, you must make up your mind to get and remain dirty, becsue of these awful sandstorms that come every day or two, drive the dust into every part of one's anatomy as well into cracks and crevasses of a house. You will only need one or two good dresses and all should be such as can be washed. You must be prepared the house is nothing but a shack. At least it will get you away from Wilmington and the approaching infantile paralysis epidemic. You cannot eat at a hotel because it costs $3 a day for each one and that will be $18 a day. Food is high and we can eat occasionally at the hotel. I'll have the house cleaned and fumigated."
Officers of the First Separate Battalion, Infantry, July 1916
Major J. Warner Reed, Commanding, First Lieutenant Andrew H. Carey, Battalion Adjutant First Lieutenant Robert W. Tomlinson, Medical Corps 2nd Lieutenant Lewis J. Ellison, Supply Detachment Capt. Ernest C. Parks, Company A, Wilmington 1st Lt Robert B. Kelton, Company A, Wilmington 2nd Lt Joshua D. Bush, Company A, Wilmington Capt, James A. Ellison, Company C, Wilmington 1st Lt David M. Salter, Company C, Wilmington 2nd Lt Harry B. Van Sciver, Company C, Wilmington Capt. Alfred S. Hirzel, Company D, Wilmington 1st Lt Charles R. Jeffries, Jr., Company D, Wilmington 2nd Lt Eli J. Wells, Company D, Wilmington Capt. Robert M. Carswell, Company F, Wilmington 1st Lt William Berl, Jr., Company F, Wilmington 2nd Lt Stuart R. Carswell, Company F, Wilmington
Officers of the Second Separate Battalion, Infantry, July 1916
Major William E. Lank, Commanding* 1st Lt Harry F. Schuler, Battalion Adjutant Medical Corps (Vacant) 2nd Lt W. F. Cann, Supply Detachment Capt James W. Cannon, Company B, Milford 1st Lt Joseph A. Davis, Company B, Milford 2nd Lt Page P.A. Chesser, Company B, Milford Capt Lynwood B. Jacobs, Company E, Newark 1st Lt James D. McKeon, Company E, Newark 2nd Lt John W. Ramsey, Company E, Newark Capt John P. LeFevre, Company G, Dover 1st Lt Herbert M. Jones, Company G, Dover 2nd Lt Ira deWess Townsend, Company G, Dover Capt. Jesse A. McKay, Company H, New Castle 1st Lt Harry B. Smith, Company H, New Castle
First Sergeant Irwin Duncan was appointed 2nd Lt of Infantry on January 22, 1917 Company H, New Castle (vice King resigned)
*Granted medical leave for disability at Fort Sam Houston December 27, 1916. Re-mustered into federal service May 28, 1917.
The Delaware State Archives maintains a complete roster of National Guardsmen who mobilized in the form of index cards used to register the men.
"With the National Guard on the Border", Capt. William Irving Goff, 1917, C. V. Mosby Co., St. Louis
Would you like to know more? We recommend the following book available at local Delaware bookstores and from Arcadia Publishing.
Delaware Army National Guard The Delaware National Guard traces its roots to 1655, when the Swedish Colonial government formed a militia to defend itself. That tradition carried through Dutch and then English control of the colony. The militia served in all five French and Indian Wars and then distinguished itself during the Revolutionary War as the First Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army, earning its "Blue Hen" nickname. The Delaware militia continued to serve in every major war, and currently it remains in the forefront. Images of America: Delaware Army National Guard presents images of this fabled organization that survived from the Spanish-American War to the present. The people, places, equipment, and facilities of the Delaware National Guard are illustrated in this compilation of historic photographs from the collection of the Delaware Military Heritage and Education Foundation.