This is a thin thread here connecting this story to Washtenaw County but I was able to find it. Writing about Army Engineers with a connection to this area is interesting enough to me that I wanted to at least justify posting it on a blog about engineering, infrastructure and construction in Washtenaw.
What will eventually end France starts with my thread, University of Michigan graduate Thomas W.P. Livingstone. This his him below from the 1913 Michiganensian Yearbook (on the left or right – not really sure which) – as found on HathiTrust.
Here is an update of Mr. Livingstone’s whereabouts four years later from the December, 1917 Volume 24 of the Michigan Alumnus:
Lieutenant Livingstone was serving as the Regimental Adjutant for the 16th Engineer Regiment (Railway) with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France.
And this was the connection I was looking for to be able to say something about the 16th Engineers!
The 16th Engineer Regiment (Railway) was formed in Detroit, Michigan, following America’s entry to the “Great War” and was comprised of seven companies and a medical detachment totaling approximately 1,200 men. In April 1917, The local Detroit District Commander of the United States Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to form a reserve Engineer Regiment to be immediately sent to France to “operate, maintain and construct” railways and trackage in preparation for the imminent arrival of millions of American servicemembers in the AEF. The technical expertise needed to accomplish this mission was not available in sufficient numbers in the Regular Army so the War Department immediately turned to recruiting from industry and the construction trades.
On May 7 the first recruiting notices to form the 16th were put out in local papers in Southeast Michigan and by May 27, the Army had received all the recruits it needed to form the unit. Among the papers that reported on these recruiting efforts, the German Language “Detroiter Abend-Post” even picked up on it – from their 8 May 1917 headline (found at loc.gov):
“12,000 volunteer railway-troops for France” – article goes on to describe how railway regiments are being formed across the country (with one in Detroit)
An incredibly wordy recruitment poster is also included in the 16th’s official history book which was presumably posted around the city.
Wow – that is a lot to read! It actually doesn’t say much about wanting people with expertise in railways, I thought that was the whole point of this regiment.
Following activation, the new recruits camped out at the Michigan State Fair Grounds where they were inducted, trained and drilled. The official history seems to describe things as pretty on-the-fly and improvised. Everything from barracks, to messing, to training was hastily thrown together. Weapons didn’t arrive until June 26 and all that could be scrounged up were obsolete Krag-Jorgensons from the Spanish-American War. Below are recruits getting measured for uniforms outside one of the buildings on the fairgrounds.
Even the Regimental leadership had little military training. On Page 19 of the Regiment’s history it is stated that:
“Few of the Officers had had training other than a few weeks at Fort Sheridan….Most of the officers were engineers, contractors, or business executives, but they required additional and immediate military training. Major Pool therefore opened an Officers Training School in order that the officers might remain a jump or two ahead of the enlisted men”.
On July 29 (less that two months after being constituted) the Regiment embarked on passenger cars from sidings at the Fairgrounds and started their long journey to France, arriving in Le Havre approximately a month later as one of the first units of AEF to set foot in the country.
The regiment was immediately put to work to prepare the logistical and support footprint of the AEF, constructing hospitals, bed-down facilities, camps, trackage, spurs, cut-offs and everything else needed to support the arrival of millions of Americans. Within a few weeks, the Regiment was tasked to complete Camp Williams which began on September 26, 1917.
Camp Williams was located near Is-Sur-Tille, France about 20 kilometers north Dijon in the Cote-d’Or department. Shown at the location of the pin below, Camp Williams was built to be the advanced logistical base for the American portion of the Western Front and was so situated to maximize the use of low-traffic rail lines from the American port at St. Nazaire (just west of Nantes) to a location close enough to the front lines allowing for easy distribution to all points along it. In France all roads lead to Paris so it took planning (and new construction) to come up a path that avoided these congested mainlines.
Is-sur-Tille at the Pin Point. Courtesy of Google Maps
Situated in a broad valley, the Camp/Depot that the 16th built was massive. It was called “the “neck of the bottle” through which, with few exception, supplies from the ports and base and intermediate depots had to pass.” (from Historical report of the chief engineer, including all operations of the Engineer Department, American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1919).
By the end of the war the base had 390 buildings giving 2.1 million square feet of floor space, 48 warehouses with 1.3 million square feet, accommodations for 18,000 men, 109 miles of railroad track, and much more. It was an enormous construction operation that the 16th undertook!
By the end of April, 1918 (when the 16th were sent to the British Front), the Regiment had completed the following Tasks:
- 46,300 cubic yards (cyd) rock excavation
- 145,900 cyd earth excavation
- 215,000 cyd embankment
- 271,579 linear feet (lf) track (lined and ballasted)
- 211 switches
- misc. supporting work
- 19 x Standard Warehouses 50 x 500 ft
- 2 Ordnance Warehouses 240 x 500 ft
- 2 Root Cellars 25 x 50 ft
- 1 Powder House 30 x 40 ft
- 1 Ordnance Machine Shop 49 x 131 ft
- 1 Engineers’ Shop 50 x 127 ft
- 1 Ordnance Repair Shop 50 x 150
- 2 Small Dynamo Houses
- 1 Balloon Shed 43 x 196 ft
- 41 Abincourt Huts for Officers
- Roads and Walks
Permanent Camp for Depot Troops
- 1 Quartermasters’ Warehouse, 50 x 196 ft
- 4 Stables, 28 x 108 ft
- 2 Officers’ Mess Halls 6 x 30 meters
- 1 Officers’ Mess Building
- 10 Officers’ Barracks 6 x 30 meters
- 4 Hospital Barracks 6 x 30 meters
- 1 Headquarters Building 6 x 30 meters
- 119 Barracks for Enlisted Personnel 6 x 30 meters
- 1 Officers’ Bath House 16 x 25 ft
- 2 Mens’ Bath Houses 16 x 99 ft
- 1 YMCA Building 50 x 169 ft
- 12 Abincourt Huts, misc. purposes
- 1 Machine Shop, 50 x 56 ft
- Roads and Walks
Permanent Camp for Casuals
Temporary Camp for Construction Troops
- 52 Adrian Barracks
- 17 Abincourt Huts
- 1 50,000-gal tank
- 1 75,000-gal
- Pumping Station on River Tille
- Distributions System for Camp
- Distribution System for Hydrants for Depot
Below is the best map that I could find of the Camp as it appeared. You can see that it’s largely a railway classification yard with a camp built around it. Which would make sense considering that rail was the prime mover of good and supplies from the Port and the way in which goods and personnel would continue to as close to the front as possible.
The Eastern Depot is shown below as part of a larger map that was cut off while scanning.
The Library of Congress actually has some images of these warehouses.
Camp Williams, Courtesy of the Library of Congress (taken September 1918)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Original Caption: “American Red Cross officers directing Russian helpers in American Red Cross warehouse at Is-sur-Tille”. Also note that the posts for the warehouse are just unfinished tree trunks!
Even though this all happened 100 years ago and the buildings are long gone, it’s still possible to see traces of the camp. Below is a Satellite image of the area where Camp Williams once stood.
Courtesy of Google Maps
The town has grown a bit, but many of the major area roads still appear to be in the same location as shown on the original map of the Camp. It looks like you can still see where the railroad sidings used to be in the green farm field. Zooming in on that we can clearly see that the lighter impressions in the field matches the location of the sidings in the first map. Very Cool! Traces of what these engineers from Detroit and southeast Michigan are still visible.
Courtesy of Google Maps, former location of the west depot sidings still visible in the green field. It may not be possible to see but the road that bisects the images is the “Route du Camp Americain”
So Hurrah to the 16th Engineer Regiment! Toiling away a hundred years ago today in preparation for the American and Allied victories of 1918 that would end the disaster that was World War One.
And hats off to the Town of Is-sur-Tille for keeping the memory of Camp Williams alive!