Twenty-five Years of
Twenty-five years, measured on the scale of time, weighs less than an atom. Yet, how rapidly things change in a mere quarter of a century. Conceptions, methods, opinions are ever subject to the "altering" powers of progress. To many of us, there are no days like the "good old days" down on the border. To others, none like the "good old days" of '17 or '18. . . Or '21 Or '25... Or '30 . . Or the "good old days" that the present troop will be talking about years from now. To enlighten ALL Rochester cavalrymen about the past and present, a brief history of our organization has been deemed appropriate. A complete history would fill volumes. We endeavor to point out the highlights. The author is deeply indebted to officers, to troopers, to official records, to newspaper files, and to that fact-finding committee-of-one, "Rosy," for information vital to the completion of this history.
Troop "H" was mustered into the First Cavalry of the New York National Guard on April 16, I9I2. Mr. Ralph Hurst, who moved to Rochester from Syracuse, had been a member of the cavalry troop in the latter city. It was he, strongly supported by Benjamin Briggs, Henry Allen, Victor Hurst, and other interested citizens, who was instrumental in arousing public interest in the formation of a Rochester troop. The city and county officials, headed by Mayor Edgerton, immediately approved the idea, and this approval, together with the co-operation and contribution of time and money of influential business men, resulted in the first cavalry outfit for Rochester. Out of the 75 applications for membership in the troop, 54 were accepted. These men were sworn in by Colonel Bridgman at the organization dinner held at the Seneca Hotel, April 16, I9I2.
Things got off to a very promising start when Mayor Edgerton announced that the city would tender the use of the big hall at Exposition Park for troop drill purposes. In addition, the stable opposite the park was opened by the city for the accommodation of 20 troop horses. The following July, 1911, the troop, under Lieutenant Ralph Hurst, was ordered to Manlius, New York, for a one-week training period. The horses of Troop "D" of Syracuse were provided for the Rochester troopers. It was here that the men of Troop "H" received their first cavalry experience under the supervision of Captain, later Major General, Lincoln Andrews, who had been detailed as cavalry instructor from the Regular Army. While at camp, Henry R. Allen was designated Captain of Troop "H" and commissioned shortly thereafter. Another attraction of early cavalry days was "Irondequoit Manor," a farm on the shores of Lake Ontario, turned over to the troop by Mayor Edgerton. In appreciation of this very generous gift, Mayor Edgerton was made an honorary member of Troop "H." The farm, a beautiful, rolling piece of land, was perfect for camping, field work, and other troop activities. The farm later became the Rotary Club's Sunshine Camp for Children. During the years 1913 to 1916, troop activities expanded so remarkably that the quarters at Exposition Park became out-grown. Plans were thus made and approved for the building of a new and greater cavalry armory to be located on Culver Road, on part of the site of the old Eastern Widewaters.
OFF TO THE RIO GRANDE
Plans of the new armory were no more than under way when Troop "H" received the call to colors. June 19, 1916 was the day a day memorable in the lives of old Rochester troopers. Orders were received to move to Camp Beekman in preparation for the mobilization on the Mexican Border of the largest gathering of American Troops since the Spanish War, ostensibly to make a punitive expedition into Mexico against Francesco Villa. Villa, a disgruntled Mexican army officer and politician organized what started out to be a revolution and ended as a bloodthirsty bandit band, plundering and murdering in several American border cities. On June 24, the Rochester troop assembled at their quarters at Exposition Park, and parading thru streets lined with cheering citizens (despite a drenching rain), departed for Camp Beekman, from the N. Y. C. Station. Captain Charles Tobin was in cornmand. Benjamin Briggs was First Lieutenant, Carl F. Loebs, Second Lieutenant, and Captain F. W. Seymour, Medical Officer. From Camp Beckman, near New York City, the troop was transferred to a camp in Van Cortland Park, from which it entrained for the Mexican border.
On July 7, Troop "H" arrived at McAllen, Texas, joining the rest of the regiment. The first camp was little more than a marsh and aside from the discomfort thus engendered, it became a first-class problem to keep men an& horses in good health. The health record of the regiment during its io-month stay on the border is an eloquent testimonial to the unremitting and efficient efforts of the officers to do everything possible for the well-being of the troopers, an effort which was equaled only by the attention which the troopers devoted to their horses. In September, the troop moved to a new camp site, as nearly an ideal camp as favorable location and hard work could make it. Roads were finely graded. Troop streets were lined by pines and palms, transplanted and cared for. Picket lines and corrals were laid out proficiently. Commodious shower baths, baseball diamonds, and other conveniences and recreations were provided. Life on the border was one of intensive drilling and day4ong rides, and though the regiment participated in no actual fighting, military routine and discipline was strictly adhered to. A change came in personnel when Captain Tobin was promoted to Major, and First Lieutenant Briggs assumed command of the troop in his place, Lieutenants Allen and Loebs proving capable co-commanders. In the meantime, the depot unit of Troop "H," stationed back in Rochester to assume home duties, was doing a good job recruiting and training men to join the border service. Ten additional men thus filled the ranks of Troop "H."
BACK TO HOME SWEET HOME
Finally, the order to return was received, and on March 5, 1917, Troop "H" entrained for home, glad to bid goodbye to sluggish Texas heat, flies, rattlesnakes, and tent-ripping wind storms . . sorry to say goodbye to esteemed friends and acquaintanceships made among members of the other regimental troops. It was an eagerly-awaiting crowd that greeted the troopers on their home-coming. Tears, mixed with shouts of joy, as mothers, sweethearts, fathers, relatives, friends, and just onlookers proudly escorted the "boys" to their Armory at Exposition Park.
WAR CLOUDS GATHER
Little did this happy, hero-worshipping band of friends and citizenry realize that in a few short months many of these same soldiers would be leaving again, this time for a conflagration destined to rock the very foundation of civilization. And so, no sooner had these National Guardsmen been mustered out of Federal service on March 15, 1917, than they were mustered right back in for World War duty on July i6. Following a stern but inspiring talk by Captain Shantz and a farewell address by Mayor Edgerton, the cavalry was paraded to the New York Central Station where it met Troop "I" of Buffalo and Troop "M" of Avon. The train picked up other contingents at Utica and Albany, thence proceeded to "Owl's Head" Camp in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The ranks of the regiment had been hastily filled, for when war was declared, over 700 men of the First Cavalry's 1300 men, were made officers; proof that the Cavalrymen were made of "real stuff."
On October 9, the men left Owl's Head, entraining for Spartanburg, S. C., for intensive training and preparation for overseas duty. Here, most of the men were transferred to the 106th Machine Gun Battalion. Some, under Lieutenant Carl Loebs, were assigned to the 102nd Supply Train, and the remainder to the 102nd Ammunition Train. Finally, after long training under actual war conditions, the company entrained for Newport News, Virginia, where it was assigned to barracks in Camp Stuart. Few men of the 106th will forget the last night in Camp Stuart before departure for France. The last fond farewells were said to relatives and friends who had journeyed all the way down to Newport News. A strict censorship was placed on the telephone and telegraph. Next morning, with enormous packs, the men set out for the waterfront. It was "Goodbye, America" as the U.S.S. Antigone disappeared over the watery horizon, which satirically enough, took on a color of steel gray.
Little need we dwell on the heroism and bravery of those "fighting men" of the 106th Machine Gun Battalion and the rest of the contingents of the famous 27th Division. The battles of East Poperinghe Line, Vierstraat Ridge, Knoll-Guillemont Farm, Quennemont Farm, Hindenburg Line, LeSelle River, Jonc-de-mer Ridge; these and many others bear eloquent testimony to the bravery, daring, and idealism of the Rochester units. Back home the depot unit was busy recruiting and training men for replacements, rendering valuable service in hospital work during the "flu" scourge, and doing other good deeds under the Lieutenancy of William Barry. At the outset of the war, this depot unit was stationed at the Ashokan dam in the Catskills, part of the guard protecting it from plots by the German Intelligence Department. But the ruthless God of War, Mars, could not lay waste to human lives, forever, and so on that memorable eleventh day of November, 1918, peace dipped its wings over a scarred and weary land. Whether a man was a "Jerry" or not, really didn't matter now. Cooties. Mud. The good old rolling kitchen. The Y.M.C.A. dugout. Tiresome treks thru brush. Shell holes! Gas! Soon, these and many other things-both good and bad-would be but a composite memory of World War days.
THE 106th Machine Gun Battalion left Brest, France, on March 5, 1919, aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. It docked at her pier in Hoboken, March 18. The most riotous greeting was accorded the Rochester outfit. A tug had been hired by a large Rochester group of people. Running the full length of the tug, a banner spelled out the letters of the city. It was a touching scene as the soldiers yelled their love to mothers, wives, sweethearts, and sisters. And Just as touching was the tremendous ovation accorded the fighters when they arrived in Rochester. Every man, woman, and child seemed to be on hand. Bands blared. Flags and flares ornamented buildings. A huge parade was organized. All vehicular traffic in down town Rochester stopped. The overseas boys were back home! Thus ended the stirring chapter of the war period of the Cavalry troop.
POST WAR DAYS
No time was lost reorganizing the mounted outfit, application for federalization being made in July, 1919. Troop "H" was thus mustered hack into the First Cavalry of the New York National Guard in November. Kenneth C. Townson was commissioned Captain. In June, 1911, the upstate regimental units were redesignated, and so Troop "H" of the First Cavalry became Troop "F" of the bIst Cavalry. The troop continued under Captain Townson until May, 1911, at which time he was promoted to Major in command of the 2nd Squadron, Staiham S. Baker assuming Captaincy of the troop. On February 15, 1918, the regiment was again redesignated, the Rochester outfit becoming Troop "F" of the 121st Cavalry. Captain Baker was shortly succeeded by Captains Donald R. McChesney and Edward Harris II. in 1931, Captain Harris was attached to the regimental staff and Lieutenant Cyril G. Kress was commissioned Captain. Officer Kress is captain in command of the present day troop.
The postwar period of the Rochester Cavalry has been void of the intense excitement of the call to colors, the drama of family partings, of border sorties, the delirium of machine-gun combat, and triumphant home-comings. Nevertheless, local history of the past 18 years is filled with deeds and daring of the Cavalry troop. Peacetime efforts, have, in their own right, been just as deserving of praise.
The functional growth of the troop has been equaled only by the structural growth of the armory. The Culver Road Building, started in 1916 and finished in 1918, underwent "major operations" in 1910, 1911, and 1935, emerging as the imposing, well-equipped edifice you see today. Stable and forage facilities for over 150 horses, a huge indoor dirt drill hall complete with spectator's stands, recreation rooms, saddle rooms, supply rooms, locker rooms, showers, well-furnished officer's quarters, an excellent indoor shooting range, outdoor drill grounds and horse show arena these are but a few of the impressive features of this great Cavalry Armory which ranks among the finest in the nation.
The compulsory two week summer training periods during the postwar era were held at Camp Dix, New Jersey; Camp Shadigee on Lake Ontario; Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont; and since 1916, at Pine Camp, an expansive government reserve northeast of Watertown, New York. Here, Rochester's present day "F" troopers undergo intensive training for two weeks, maneuvering by squad, by platoon, by troop, by regiment; under every type of fighting condition, in every kind of weather, on every type of terrain. Take the Sahara desert, mix with the Argonne Woods of France, add a beautiful New England farm, and you have a pretty good picture of Pine Camp. From the day of arrival to the day of departure, the camp is a prototype of military efficiency. Facilities are excellent and no stone is left unturned to see that the "soldiers" have plenty of recreation as well as work. Free movies, a swanky "canteen," amateur entertainments, and Sunday pleasure rides comprise several of the fun-providing activities at camp, not to overlook the initiations and pranks that down thru the years, has made the Cavalry one of the best4iked branches of the service.
In the fall and winter, the troop drills inside. Monday is "F's" regular drill night. Thursday evenings are given over to "noncomm" school, equitation for recruits, jumping classes, mounted basketball, horse show training, and other interests of the organization.
The record of the present troop is worthy of the highest praise. Officers and men have proved themselves capable, diligent, earnest; not only in military matters but also those pertaining to horsemanship. Those who witnessed the exhibition of rough riding, monkey drill, tandem, jumping, figure drill and other riding acts in the recent Cavalry Carnival staged at the Armory, will bear out the truth of the above statement. It is worth calling attention to the fact, too, that the troop has consistently received regimental honors for attendance, records of which are published monthly in the New York National Guard Magazine. The use of the Cavalry unit as a guard for President Roosevelt on his 1936 visit to Rochester is another singular honor.
WE don't have to gaze into a crystal to foretell the future of the Rochester Cavalry. It is definitely "going places." In the very near future, the large Cavalry rifle and machine gun ranges, flanked by spacious buildings and parking grounds, will be completed at Rush. In the far future? We can't be quite so certain. The troop may be redesignated. It may receive the call to colors. Its roster might be doubled, possibly cut in half. But what ever happens, you can rest assured that Rochester, the state, and the federal government can point and say, "There is an organization!"