African American WWI Soldiers In The Argonne Forest – E.J. Scott’s Account

This excerpt is from Emmett J. Scott’s book that was published in 1919:

Scott’s Official History Of The American Negro In The World War

E.J. Scott republished accounts by Ralph W. Tyler, the African American war correspondent sent to cover the black regiments.

The full text is available at the BYU website. I have edited the content to split into more paragraphs for readability.

The full chapter contains more than the content below. I’ve pulled the pieces that are about the Argonne Forest, France. We have some background on E.J. Scott here.

Excerpt – The Argonne Forest, France

No one in France was in a better position to report on the heroism of Negro soldiers. than Ralph W. Tyler, the Negro war correspondent.

Here is Mr. Tyler’s report of some of the first instances that came to his attention:

The Negro in the Argonne

 “Stories of the fight in the Argonne Forest,” said Mr. Tyler in a later report,” and the splendid endurance and valiant fighting of the colored soldiers continue to come in.

It is reported that a company of the old Ninth Ohio Battalion, under command of its colored captain from Dayton, Ohio, lay in an open field all night, awaiting orders to go into action, while all the time the Germans were dumping big shells and machine-gun fire into them.

But even in the face of such a murderous fire, the colored line stood as firm as if the huge shells and murderous machine-gun fire were but the discharge of toy blowguns.

Among their casualties were Anderson Lee and William Chenault, of Dayton, who were killed.

The firmness of the line these khaki-garbed black soldiers maintained in the face of a withering fire—a veritable hell—constitutes one more reason why the folks of the race back home should be proud of these, their colored soldiers over here, whose unyielding spirit and bravery is making history for the race.

“I have learned that Hill 304, which the French so valiantly held, and which suffered such a fierce bombardment from the Germans that there is not a single foot of it but what is plowed up by shells, and whose sides, even today, are literally covered with the corpses of French soldiers who still lie where they fell, was later as valiantly held by the colored soldiers from the United States, who fought with all the heroism and endurance the best traditions of the army have chronicled.

The colored soldiers, under their own captain from Dayton, Ohio, who so splendidly maintained their line in the Argonne Forest, and those who held that bloody and forever historical Hill 304, had the odds against them, but like Tennyson’s immortalized ‘Six Hundred,’ they fought bravely and well, firmly in the belief it was ‘not theirs to reason why, but theirs to do or die, ‘ and, like the patriots they were, they did DO and this war’s history will so record.”

Captain Jones and His Gallant Fighters

“In one engagement in the Argonne woods, where the fighting has been most sanguinary,” said Mr. Tyler, “and where the American troops showed their mettle, Captain J. Wormley Jones, of Washington, D. C., is reported to have stood like a stone wall, and rallied his men, when others were wavering in the face of a murderous fire and of great odds.

In this particular engagement, Captain Jones displayed such fine leadership, such fearlessness of danger, that his Division Commander, in a personal talk with the writer, praised in highest terms the valor and leadership shown by the Captain.

It is such instances as these, and there are many coming to light almost daily, that justify the hope entertained by the race that our colored officers would prove efficient, and that our colored soldiers would fight as well under colored officers as under any others.”

Later dispatch

And in a later dispatch Mr. Tyler continued:

“Realizing that there is nothing more encouraging to the race back in the States than to learn how bravely our colored soldiers over here are enduring and fighting. I made it a point to secure a fuller report of the bravery displayed by Captain J. Wormley Jones, of Washington, D. C., in one of the Argonne engagements.

“The place of honor, it appears, fell to Captain Jones’s regiment, and to the battalion to which he belongs.

Under cover of the night’s pitch-black darkness, the Captain led his men into the trenches overlooking No-Man’s-Land, that grim sepulcher that holds so many thousands of the Allies’ and the enemy dead.

“Notwithstanding that Captain Jones and his men had just completed a forced march of some twenty kilometers, the men were in excellent condition and splendid spirits, and eager to demonstrate their fitness to try conclusions with the Huns.

Captain Jones was supported by Lieutenants Frank Coleman, C. W. Marshall, D. J. Henderson, and Paul Jones, the last mentioned being a brother of the captain.

These men were all of ‘the sterner stuff,’ and fit for the trying ordeal which awaited them.

Space forbids dealing with the blackness of the night, or with the awful bombardment.

“Neither can I individualize respecting the magnificent valor of the men of the company led by Captain Jones in this engagement, which Secretary Baker himself praised.

When the awful bombardment died away, just as the gray streaks of early dawn pierced the night’s blackness, which was made grayer by a thick heavy fog, the Captain ordered a charge ‘over the top’ with fixed bayonets; through the treacherous fog and into no-man-knew-what or seemed to care.

The first wave, or detachment, went over with a cheer—a triumphant cheer—and the second wave followed their comrades with a dash.

It may, perhaps, be best to let these boys and officers tell with their own lips of the terrific, murderous shell, shrapnel, gas, and machine-gun fire which baptized them, only to make them the more hardened and intrepid warriors; of how they contended every inch; fought with marvelous valor, never for an instant faltering.

Trench after trench of the enemy was entered and conquered; dugout after dugout was successfully grenaded and made safe for the boys to follow; wires were cut and communicating trenches explored; machine-gun nests were raided and silenced, and still the boys fought their way on.

Of course, as a natural sequence to such a daring raid, there were casualties, but the black soldiers, heroes as they were, never flinched at death, and the wounded were too proud of their achievements even to murmur because of the pain they endured.

Captain Jones and his men took over a mile of land and trenches which for four years had been held by the Germans.

The newspapers have given due and proper credit to the Americans for this daring raid, but the world has not been informed that it was the colored soldiers of America, under Captain J. Wormley Jones, a former Washington, D. C.,. policeman, who made the charge that was as daring, and more successful, than the Tennyson-embalmed charge of ‘The Light Brigade.’ “