It must have been a strange situation on the Morning of the 11th of November. Fighting had continued all along the front with men dying in a war that was already over. Shortly before 11:00 am the artillery fired their last rounds, a last few chatters before the machineguns died down steam hissing out of the cooling jackets. Then a few final rifle shots... then an eerie experience as bugles sounded all along the front...
William M. Cain was an African American soldier from Alabama. He war was short, the regiment had just gone into action on the 10th of November 1918, but long enough for him to get wounded. He was one of the men who had the dubious honor of being wounded between the signing of the ceasefire and the firing of the last shots.
The 92nd "Buffalo" division was formed in November 1917 with African American Selective Servicemen (Draftees). One of the regiments in the division, the 366th Infantry Regiment, was made up of men from Alabama and had the distinction of being the first all-black fighting unit to be commanded by black officers. Up until this point in time black units had been commanded by white officers.
The situation in France: Late 1918
By mid October 1918 the newly arrived American Expeditionary Force was covering a front of about 145km. During the Meuse Argonne offensive the 33rd Infantry Division had crossed onto the east bank of the Meuse river giving the Americans a whole new zone to continue their offensive efforts in.
While on the West Bank of the Meuse General Liggett's 1st Army was getting ready to continue its actions in the Meuse-Argonne sector, on the East Bank General Bullers newly formed 2nd Army was not ready to mount any offensive action. The 2nd Army had been formed to hold the St Mihiel/Woevre Plain area, freeing up the 1st Army to conduct offensive operations.
Pershing gave orders for a continued offensive by the 1st Army while the 2nd Army was to confine itself to patrols and prepare itself to move forwards if the Germans facing them were to pull back. The 2nd Army was to prepare itself to join a general offensive after the first week of November.
During the 1st week of November the American 1st Army fought their way towards Sedan while Buller whipped his 2nd Army into shape. Having been limited to local attacks his officers were eager to do battle and on the 10th of November the 2nd Army finally went over to the offensive.
A map showing the Woevre Plain and the operations of the 2nd Army in the closing days of the war. The advance of the Buffalo Division can be seen in the South East corner at Pont a Mousson. (Copyright Westpoint Atlas)
At 2:05am on the morning of the 11th of November 1918 German peace delegates where given the authorization to sign the proposed peace treaty, an act that was finished just after 5:00am in the morning. Marshall Foch gave orders that the ceasefire would begin at 11:00am on the morning of the 11th of November 1918.
In the five and a half hours between the signing of the ceasefire and the last shot to be fired men still fought and bled in a war that was already over.
One of the last casualties of the war was William M. Cain, an African American soldier of the 92nd "Buffalo" Division, a soldier of the 366th Infantry Regiment who had come from Alabama to do his part in the great war for civilization.
Right: The Purple Heart awarded to William M Cain
The 92nd Division was part of the VI Corps, 2nd Army. The orders received by the Corps on the 1st of November had been, in the case of a German withdrawal to follow and attack them as they retreated. The 92nd division received the orders on the 4th of November. In the case of a German withdrawal the troops occupying the outpost zone and zone of resistance were to at once assemble and move forward. Two Battalions of Infantry were to lead the advance while two companies were to keep contact with the French troops to their right.
On the 6th of November the 2nd Army issued orders for a reconnaissance in force. The IV Corps was to attempt to take a small section of the Hindenburg line and if possible exploit the breakthrough. The VI Corps was to support them by advancing the outposts occupied by the 92nd Division to the East of the Moselle River. The 183rd Infantry Brigade of the 92nd Division was to seize the Bois de Cheminot, Bois de la Voivrotte and Bois Frehaut on the East Bank of the Moselle about 15km to the South of Metz. Once these objectives had been gained they were to be held and defensive positions organized. On the West Bank of the Moselle the 367th Infantry Regiment would advance with the neighboring 7th Infantry Division.
On the 9th of November the planning was over and the 11th of November was designated as "D-Day" for the operation. Almost as soon as the plans had been finished the Germans disrupted them by withdrawing from their positions leaving a void on the battlefield that the Americans were eager to fill.
The attack of the 2nd Army was launched at 7:00am on the morning of the 10th of November. The French XVII Corps on the left flank was heading for Conflans, in the middle the IV Corps was aiming for Vionville and on the right the VI Corps straddled the Moselle and advanced towards Corny, approximately 8km north of Vittonville. Instead of an attack of limited objectives the 2nd Army was to launch a general offensive. Orders were given to attack in full force, pushing the enemy energetically and aiming for decisive results..
A Google map of the area. The 366th attacked from the Forest Voivrotte towards Bouxieres. The 365th Infantry had occupied the Forest Frehaut with an outpost on the river. The gap between Frehaut and the River outpost was protected by machine uns on Mousson Hill, off the South West corner of the map.
Above: Bouxieres in 1915
The 183rd Infantry Brigade received its orders at 7:50am, two Battalions were to advance to the east of the Moselle heading for the line stretching from the Bois de Cheminot, Bois de la Voivrotte to the Bois Frehaut. Once here the troops would reorganize then head towards their second objective, the line from Longeville-les-Cheminot, Bouxieres-sous-Froidmont to Champey. To the right the French 165th Division would advance. To the west of the river the 367th Infantry was to advance, two companies in the front line, liaising with the 7th Infantry Division on the left flank.
On the right flank of the 183rd Infantry Brigade a platoon of the Company H, 366th Infantry advanced and occupied the Bois de Cheminot. 2 Platoons of Company F moved into the Bois de la Voivrotte and about 8am. After an hour they were forced to pull back to the southern edge of the wood but at midday they advanced to the Northern edge of the forest again, staying there until about 4:30pm when they were once again forced to pull back.
The 365th Infantry in the meantime was pushing its 2nd Battalion to the northern boundry of the Bois Frehaut managing to establish a detached post on the Moselle River. Machine guns on Mousson Hill and on the west bank of the river controlled the gap between the outpost and the Bois Frehaut.
Men of the 366th during Gas mask drill. A number of them would suffer the effecsts of Poison Gas on the 10th-11th of November 1918
A continuation of the advance was ordered for 5:00pm and the 366th Infantry ordered its 2nd Battalion to advance on Bouxieres from the South East, at the same time seeking to provide protection for the right flank of the Battalion. The 1st Battalion of the 365th Infantry Regiment was ordered to pass through the positions of the 2nd Battalion 365th (in the Bois Frehaut) to continue the attack from there. At 4:10pm the attack was canceled and the 183rd Brigade was ordered to consolidate its positions.
The 367th Infantry on the west bank had been tasked with guarding the right flank of the 7th Division during its attack on the ridge to the west of Preny. Heavy enemy fire had caused the divison to break of its attack and withdraw during the morning and the 367th Infantry as a result had not moved forward. It remained in positions in the valley of Ruisseau Moulon.
That afternoon orders came down from the 2d Army headquarters ordering the attack to continue. The VI Corps ordered the 92nd Division to take the heights to the east of Champey-sur-Moselle and continue its advance on both sides of the Moselle. On the night of the 10th orders were issued for the following day, operations were to begin at 5am. The 183rd Infantry brigade was to attack on a front between Champey and Bouxieres-sous-Froidmont and exploit the German withdrawal by sending patrols to the North. On the West bank the 367th Infantry was to adapt its advance to the 7th Infantry Division.
The last day of the war
At 3:00am on the 11th of November the 2nd Battalion of the 366th Infantry advanced to the treeline on the northern edge of the Bois de la Voivrotte. Two companies advanced across the open ground towards Bouxieres while the remainder of the battalion protected their right flank. The two companies reached the southern edge of the village of Bouxieres but were then forced to pull back as enemy machine gunners began to work their way around the flank. By 9:30am they were back in the Bois de Voivrotte. They made a last attempt to advance but were forced to retire back to the forest again. They were in position there when 11:00am arrived and hostilities ceased. To their left the 365th had stayed in the treeline on the northern edge of the forest of Frehaut. To the West of the Moselle the 367th Infantry had maintained its positions when the right wing of the 7th Division had not attacked.
The 92nd "Buffalo" Division was relieved in the 14th of November by the French 39th Division and moved South to assemble for the voyage back home.
In the fighting on the 9th-11th of November the division had suffered 498 casualties, of them 186 were soldiers of the 366th Infantry who had been wounded in action. 10 men of the 366th died of thier wounds and 16 were killed in action.
The losses were relatively light, but especially tragic in light of the fact that the war was for all intents und purposes finished.
Left: "Buffalo Soldiers" on parade
Information for this article is taken from the "92nd Division: Summary of Operations in the World War" published by the US Govt. Printing Office.