Saturday, January 15, 2022

1916 Letter by Corporal A. H. Thompson, Company G, Maine National Guard, Serving in Laredo, Texas during Mexican Border Expedition

July 13, 1916 article in the Bangor Daily Commercial, Bangor, Maine, featuring a letter from Corporal A. H. Thompson, serving in Company G, Second Maine, Maine National Guard, while deployed to Laredo, Texas, during the Mexican Border, or Pancho Villa, Expedition.

The article features a photograph of 8 unidentified soldiers from Eastport, Maine.

A transcription appears at the end of this post.  The letter reflects the thinking of the day and may cause a wince here and there.
In the book by Captain Jonathan Bratten, Historian of the Maine National Guard, entitled To the Last Man: a National Guard Regiment in the Great War, 1917-1919, pages 9-15 discuss the Maine Guard's participation in the Mexican Border Expedition.

Read more about this deployment in a Bangor Daily News article of May 27, 2016. This article mentions that the entire University of Maine band signed up, and they would be the only college band in the U.S. Army - this is the band mentioned in Corporal Thompson's letter. 

The band leader was none other than Adelbert Wells Sprague (1881-1956), who arranged the music for the Maine Stein Song, which was composed in 1902 and may well have been played for the boys in Laredo.

Names mentioned, in order of appearance
  • Private Joe Pooler
  • Private O'Leary
  • Lt. Doane
  • Private Romero
  • Private Morrison
  • Private Weymouth
  • Sergeant McWilliam
  • Private Shaw
  • Private Pellum (Pelham perhaps)
  • Private Banks
  • Private Spencer
  • Private Howard
  • Private Belinian
  • Private Porer [?]
  • Carranza - Venustiano Carranza, a US-backed Mexican leader in opposition to Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa, "Pancho"
  • Corp. A. H. Thompson, author of the letter

If you have information on any of the men mentioned in the article, please leave a comment for the benefit of other researchers.

Transcription - note errors in typesetting, where some parts are out of sequence


Co. G. Finds Conditions Uneasy on Border — Mexicans Are Not Trusted — Edwin O’Leary Halts Greaser While on Guard at Night

Laredo, Texas, July 6

Our train, the third section, arrived at Laredo, at 10:30 p.m., July 4, without mishap.

At once a guard, with ball ammunition, was placed around the train, which remained until 4 a.m. when the train was abandoned.

Guard duty fell upon the Co. G. boys, first relief going on at 10:30. A different feeling prevailed when the boys were called out to guard for the first time against a real enemy, and the only humorous part during the lonesome night was when Private Joe Pooler challenged a dog, thinking it a Mexican crawling on hands and knees.

The second battalion was formed shortly after 4 a.m., and marched to the camping grounds.

The camp is located on a sandy plain near the banks of the Rio Grande. 

When we arrived at the camp we found that the first two sections had already pitched their tents and were nearly settled.

We at once started on our hard day’s work in the scorching sun, which was completed before 5 o’clock at night.

A description of Laredo was given in a northern paper and the climate was stated as being mild. We found the temperature to be over 100 degrees and exceptionally dry, in fact there has not been a rain storm since November last.

During the day a severe sand storm came upon us and caused much havoc in camp. Tent tops, papers, blankets, etc., were blown into the air about 50 feet and our eyes were filled with sand. The depth of the loose sand being about six inches, everything was covered, and after the storm had passed we were pitiful looking objects.

The boys stood up well under these conditions, but did not have a very good feeling toward the mild climate of Laredo.

Orders were received at 5 p.m. that Co. G was to perform guard-duty the first night at Camp after being on guard the night before about the troop train.

It is very unusual for one company to go on guard for two nights in succession and the circumstances were extremely severe as we had traveled for six days a distance of 3560 miles.

The boys were weary but responded, and put in the first night with some interesting experiences.

Guard Mount 6.30 with Officer of Day, Sergeant, Corporal and two squads for duty.

Relief was given every 2 hours to the guard on duty.

On third relief Private O'Leary, Post, No. 2, halted two Mexicans who were entering the camp.

The sergeant and corporal of the guard were called and the Mexicans, who could not speak English, were escorted to the guardhouse.

Officer of the Day, Lieut. Doane, summoned Private Romero, who has an excellent command of the Spanish language and these suspicious looking Mexicans were questioned.

Their explanation was not altogether satisfactory, but they were allowed to be dismissed with instructions that if they appeared about the camp again severe measures would be taken.

Post No. 2 is a very undesirable location to be in during the middle of the night and it is at such an occasion that one realizes the rifle is to be his best friend.

Posts No. 2 and No. 3 guarded by Private Morrison and Private Weymouth on the second relief were approached by Mexican civilians as they call themselves, but  did not attempt to advance further.

At 9 o’clock a provost guard consisting of Sergeant McWilliam, Privates Shaw, Pellum, Banks, Spencer, Howard, Belinian, Porer and myself was called to guard the city districts against trouble and to remove side arms from any member of the 2nd Maine regiment.

There was a band concert on the Plaza park where we disarmed a number of soldiers, and sent a few back to Camp.

No Soldier is allowed down town with arms, as a few bad words might result in a real mix-up, especially if a gun was in the near vicinity.

The unarmed soldiers, however, all protected by a provost guard from each regiment and by special sentence [because of the newspaper's error, the rest of the sentence - “-can Artillery out of commission in short notice”  is found in another part of the article; see at the end].

We made report a camp about 11 p.m., turning over all alarms that we secured to the officers of the day.

The nights are very warm but nothing compared with the heat of the day.

Five shower baths have been placed at the head of each Street and are constantly in use.

The plan of the camp is in accordance with Camp Keyes, Augusta, and those who have visited us at our former camp may use their imagination to that effect.

The Second Regiment band gave a concert after mess and helped to cheer us up after the hard day's work.

This band is very popular and as they are required to practice several hours each day they will soon compare favorably with the leading military band of the country.

The second day at camp proved to bet [be] even warmer than the first and the only possible comfort was obtained at the shower baths.

Those who participated in this pleasure, however, suffered from severe sunburn.

A regular routine has not been prepared yet but we are advised that we are to have continuous drilling from 7 to 10 o’clock in the morning and other than special details the day's hard work is considered over.

We do not have much time to call our own, however, as it is necessary to clean the camp thoroughly twice a [several paragraphs erroneously inserted here - see these at the end] day, care for the rifles and side arms once a day, sprinkle the ground about our squad tents, bathe twice a day and attend mess three times a day, guard mount, inspection of arms, calisthenics and numerous other details.

During the afternoon some of the best citizens of the city appeared at the camp with four auto loads of refreshments, and passed it around among the boys. Did we cheer?

After mess the camp was visited by regulars from the different regiments. These fellows had seen service for many years and their experiences were well worth hearing. They were formerly at Sandy Hook and just after the raid on Co. M. received their orders to report at the border. The trip was made in 63 hours and as soon as they arrived they retired Carranza’s troops to a position across the river.

They said that the only fear they have of advancing into Mexico from Laredo is that water will not be reached for 70 miles after leaving the Rio Grande, and this a small stream passing through a town called Columbia.

The Mexicans are efficient in the handling of machine guns, but have made a very poor showing with the use of rifles during previous border attacks.

Should war be declared the invading forces would be led by the Texas rangers, followed by the regulars and two regiments of militia, Maine, Missouri and Texas.

The regulars advise that the different regiments were watched when they encamped and that the Second Maine proved to be the best appearing regiment to encamp and compared favorably with the regular army.

They advise that the Texas militia are drilling constantly from reveille to taps. This could not possibly be done by the other militias as they are not accustomed to the extreme temperature and sand.
The most credit is given to the Texas Rangers, who are the finest type of fighters in the country. These rangers have a thorough knowledge of the Mexican territory and are relied upon to furnish all information regarding condition of country and position of the enemy’s troops should we invade.

The Rangers are employed as state detectives at the present time and have especial privileges.

Should a Mexican civilian cause any unnecessary trouble with a Ranger he receives a charge of cold steel, nothing more being heard from the incident.

The militias is receiving real instructions in regard to position to be taken in event of trouble and formation of each individual should a night attack be made.

These instructions are not to be repeated. I have found that there is no weight in many of the statements made by the press and that most all have been exaggerated to a great extent.

Official information proves that the conditions existing between the two countries are very much unsetled [sic], and that if extreme care is not taken there will be plenty of cause for trouble.

The Mexican situation will never be settled until after military law has been established throughout that country and the different bands are scattered.

The civilians here never go about with the free and easy spirit that the people of the middle and northern states do and the soldiers out of camp have to keep their eyes open.

The Co. G boys, however, have arranged for a ball game to be played late Sunday afternoon against the regulars, providing the recreation will be allowed.

We were allowed to go down town from 7 to 10 p.m. but hardly any took advantage of this privilege, sleep appealing much more.

A shot was fired on one of the posts last night but we are not able to find out the cause or result of it.

Two trains leave for the north each day, and this letter is just in time for the last.

Be sure that you do your share toward providing the boys with mail matter.

A letter reaches the camp four days after leaving Bangor.

Corp. A. H. Thompson

Out of sequence paragraphs

While we were marching down a Mexican avenue, we were requested to jump aboard an auto, that a soldier was in trouble. When we arrived on the scene a private from the 14th cavalry was lying on the ground unconscious having been struck by a Mexican civilian. We took the soldier in the auto to a doctor and made an arrest. This was the only trouble we encountered during the night.

The Mexican element is about 50 per cent of the entire population and for this reason, special attention is given to the boys without arms who must mingle with them while out of camp.

We had an opportunity to see the town, and to watch the lights of the Mexican artillery camps across the river.

This regiment of artillery is located on a high bluff across the Rio Grande and our Regular troops who are stationed on the river bank, advise that the Mexican field pieces are trained on our camps.

It is not exactly comfortable to know that shrapnel may be thrown on us at any time from these field pieces, four miles distant, but we have consolation in knowing that 1,300 cavalry troops at Fort McIntosh, a New York Regiment of Coast Artillery, and the Ninth Infantry would place this Mexican artillery out of commission in short notice.  [part of this sentence was inserted erroneously in another section]

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