Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Twenty-Eight
Rue Paul Baudry, 10 bis, PARIS, 
Wednesday, September 17th, 1919.
Back in Paris again for the last time. Friday night I leave for Brest and I hope to sail Saturday an the "VON STEUBEN".

Yesterday was a very interesting day around St. Mihiel and Verdun. We visited Seicheprey, the scene of a very famous German raid against the 26th Division. We found it right in No Man’s Land. There was scarcely a stone left standing to mark the spot.

When the 26th Division occupied the Seicheprey sector, the Germans put on a large scale daylight raid on April 20th, 1918, using about a thousand special assault troops for the purpose. Placing a heavy box barrage around Xivray, Seicheprey, and the Bois de Remieres, the enemy attacked at dawn aided by a heavy fog. The front line positions were overrun and Seicheprey taken. The Germans stopped at the Sibille trench and the corner of the woods just to the west of Seicheprey. The box barrage had cut off the troops within it from outside help and also hindered their retirement.

Battalion Headquarters for the battalion occupying this sector was in Seicheprey. The Germans cleaned up most of the town, destroyed the dugouts, kitchen, and first-aid station. Captured the Battalion Headquarters and all its papers, and, on an appointed signal they withdrew to the cemetery which they held as an advance post in front of the Sibille trench. They then organized the cemetery for defense.

The Germans came over in three parties; from the north, northeast and northwest; all arriving at the town about the same time and all having overcome the resistance of the Americans in the trenches. The Germans held the Sibille trench all day while the Americans were making preparations for a counter attack. The day passed quietly, except for the artillery fire, but just a little before the counter attack was ordered, American patrols discovered that the Germans had abandoned the Sibille trench and returned to their own lines. Our casualties were 657, including 187 prisoners. The German losses were probably heavy as they left a number of dead on the field, though they were able to evacuate most of their wounded.

Shortly after this affair the Boche published a picture in the Gazette des Ardennes showing the prisoners they had captured. This paper was a propaganda sheet widely distributed on the front by balloons and aircraft. It was gotten out presumably for the benefit of, prisoner of was and civilians in occupied areas.

I think I have mentioned before how contented all the German prisoners seem to be. The guard over them is merely nominal. One French sentry will have eighteen or twenty prisoners scattered through the woods and all over town, or he will come riding down the road in one of these high native carts, sitting between two prisoners and with his gum slung on his back.

The climax was reached yesterday at Mont Sec. We stopped at the foot of the hill where a gang was working on the road to enquire about the trait to the top. The single sentry left his gang of twenty or so prisoners and came along to show us the way. It was quite a steep and slippery climb through thick woods. After we had been on top for some time, he excused himself to go back down to his prisoners, a half mile away on the other side of the woods. The Germans practically honey combed Mont Sec with dugouts and galleries, due to its importance as an observation post over the Woevre.

Though St. Mihiel is in the devastated district, we found a crowded hotel restaurant where, for six francs, we had the usual French dejeuner with three meat courses, salad, cheese, and wine or beer included. There were also linen napkins and table cloth, both of which were scrupulously clean.

The Saint-Mihiel salient was occupied by German troops in the early days of the war. In the spring of 1915, the French made their only serious attempt to force the enemy from this threatening position, St. Mihiel was the only point on the Meuse south of Verdun reached by the Germans. With it they captured Fort du Camp des Romains, one of the permanent defenses of the line of the Meuse, or Verdun-Toul defensive curtain. The Germans had greatly strengthened the position.

The French defenses in the neighborhood of Apremont have many concrete reinforcements and pill boxes with heavy bands of wire and form one of the best examples of a system of trench positions.

At Verdun, we found a depot d'essence with no one on the job, so we put one bidon, 50 litres, in our tank and exchanged our empty spare bidon for a full one. We were writing out a receipt to slip under the door of the attendant's quarters when he arrived. By quickly demanding to know where he had been, we put him so on the defensive explaining why he was not on the job that we forestalled his asking us what the devil we meant by appropriating his gas without leave. He raised no question, however, produced a gas book, which we signed, and he then tore out a few leaves from the back and gave them to us for future emergencies. As the gas book coupons are all numbered, it would be interesting to look into the French system of accounts.

As we were preparing to leave, he asked us where we got the gas. We told him out of the pile along the side of the outside shed. He said that was not gas, but benzol, but it might do as American cars seem to burn anything. We assured him we had tasted and smelled it and found it had just as bad an odor as the stuff we had used before, so we would take a chance. It worked alright.

We then proceeded to Bar-le-Duc and spent the night at a very poor hotel, though the best in town. Two of us were put into a room on the top floor with oil lamp, bare board floor, and no one at the other end of the bell cord when we tried to get water, towels, etc. Today we had an uneventful run into Paris, getting luncheon at Coulummieres, and reaching town about three in the afternoon.

We passed many small French cemeteries all through the devastated region. The graves are very elaborately decorated with artificial flowers, wreaths, and other set pieces. There were women in mourning everywhere and, at all the hotels along the route, were others making their sad pilgrimages. One wonders how they can afford it on the very small allowance the government provides.

From Verdun, we went out to Fts. Vaux and Douauxmont. I had previously seen several of the undamaged forts on the west of Verdun and had been very near to Douauxmont. After seeing the fort itself, it was hard to realize that all originally were of the same general type. These two forts were almost completely blown out of the ground and for miles around the earth was churned up by shell fire. At Vaux, alone, in one big attack the Germans lost 12,000 men.

The garrison of 679 men under Major Raynal continued the fight underground and fought off the Germans with grenades and bayonets for six days without food, water, or light. Early in the morning of July 7th, about a hundred of the defenders fought their way out and escaped; the survivors, about 500 in number surrendered.

Mounting on top of Ft. Vaux, we obtained an excellent view of the entire area. To the northwest are seen the battered ruins of Ft. Douauxmont; farther to the west is the Cote de Froideterre; to the Southwest is Ft. de Souville. In the quadrilateral formed by these three points and Ft. Vaux, the French say there is a dead man for every square meter of ground. The terrible nature of the fighting is amply attested by the nature of the surrounding ground, which is one vast sea of overlapping shell holes.

I spent the rest of the afternoon today going from 7 Rue de Tilsitt to 46 Ave. Montaigne to Elysee Palace Hotel to 7 Rue de Tilsitt, etc., till the offices all closed.  It takes at least three visits to get anything done and every one sends you somewhere else. I kept my car
this time and have it ordered for tomorrow, so at least I'll save a lot of time. 

A Ukase has Just arrived from the King Of Montenegro conferring upon me of the decoration of “Officier of the Order of Prince Danilo I”.

End Notes and Bibliography