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Kentucky Guard Railroad Related Incidents & Fatalities

The Kentucky National Guard had a dangerous relationship with railroads dating back as far as September 12, 1910. In 1917 and 1918 at least 20 died in railroad related incidents during an 18 month period.

Table of Contents:

Kentucky Guard Members Injured In 1910 Train Wreck

1910 ind train wreck photo
Photo of the 1910 wreck published in The Courier Journal 13 Sep 1910 Page 5

Some 900 members of the Kentucky National Guard were aboard a special train bound for Fort Benjamin Harrison on September 12, 1910. Five more trains of Kentucky Guard troops were following not far behind. At approximately 7 a.m. the train was on a siding near the edge of the rail yards at Brightwood Indiana, now a suburb of Indianapolis, some 10 miles from their destination when a passenger train traveling at some 50 miles per hour slammed into the troop train head on. The troop train had been standing on the siding about five minutes.

A freight train crossed from north to south on the switch ten minutes before the accident and neglected to close the switch which caused the wreck.

Railroad personnel on both trains were killed or seriously injured as were sever riders on the passenger train. The Kentucky Guard fared better because their two baggage cars of equipment were directly behind the engine and absorbed much of the impact.

There were still many minor injuries and some serious due to flying glass, seating and collisions with other passengers. MAJ C. W. Hibbit, LT V. E. Simpson and LT D. S Wilson surgeons of the medical staff of the 1st Inf jumped from the train and began caring for the injured. The uninjured troops that had been on the train began searching the wreckage and removing the injured and provided aid until help arrived.

There was later some news coverage about allegations of whether or not the Kentucky soldiers were sent to camp with an appropriate number of medical staff members and supplies on the train. The soldiers reached camp at approximately noon onboard another train with many limping and several bandaged with cloth torn from shirts of the soldiers. Medical officers from the regular Army at Fort Harrison criticized the KYNG for its lack of medical equipment in the wreck noting that soldiers’ shirts were used for bandages. They noted that the KYNG staffing and supplies were not up to the Dick Act standards.

Kentucky’s Adjutant General noted that there were doctors in civilian life in the enlisted ranks on each train and that the medical staff had been given all the medical supplies available in the state arsenal and given permission to purchase locally other supplies as might be needed. The regiment medical officers countered that there had not been time before departure to purchase additional supplies.

At least two soldiers were carried by liter to waiting ambulances and transported to the Field Hospital from the train when they arrived due to the seriousness of their injuries: MAJ Harry E. Mechling, of Louisville, 2LT Arthur Van Winkle, of Lexington, attached to the Second Kentucky. Mechling and Van Winkle were later on transferred from field hospital to base hospital.

Van Winkle was traveling to camp with the officers of the First Regiment and Major Melching were both riding in the Pullman on the rear of the troop train. When the crash came, the two officers who were seated facing each other and collided together. Newspaper accounts at the time reported that MAJ Mechling's jaw was broken and LT Van Wink1910 train wreck LT Ahler SGT Brown Co H 2nd BN 1st KYle is suffering much pain in the head and may have a broken arm.

Newspaper reports of bad behavior by the troops at camp including thievery and foul language. Private Black Co L 3rd KY and SGT O’Brien a PVT Jackson of Co C 3rd KY were arrested for stealing postcards from vendors on post.

At Right: Photo of LT Ahler and SGT Brown published in The Courier Journal 13 Sep 1910 Page 5

There was discussion of withholding pay and reimbursement of expenses by the federal government for the camp due to not meeting the federal Dick Act standards. According to newspaper accounts many of the troops discussed disbanding the units as they left Ft. Harrison. This may have been one of the first annual tranings for the KYNG under the Dick Act.

When they returned from camp on September 22 news accounts reported that 75 had been injured in the wreck but only 20 seriously. Some 125 law suits were filed against the railroad companies citing injuries and seeking monetary damages by the soldiers through one law firm in Indianapolis. There were likely others. No newspaper accounts have been found to date on the eventual success of those efforts.

Among the KYNG injured were at least 15 members of the KYNG according to newspaper accounts: PVT Walter Abbott Co I, 1st KY; LT R. W. Ahler 1st KY; PVT John Barr 1st KY; SGT James K. Brightman Co B, 1st KY; SGT Fred Brown Co H, 1st KY; Cook John Dale Co D, 1st KY; PVT Arthur Goately Co G, 1st KY; SGT Emmet Gray 1st KY; SGT John D. Hoag Co H, 1st KY; MAJ Harry E. Mechling; PVT O’Neil Co H, 1st KY; PVT Frank Reden Co F, 1st KY; Lee Riley Co H, 1st KY; 2LT Arthur Van Winkle 2nd KY and PVT Paul Weller Co I, 1st KY. So far as is known from newspaper accounts all recovered and were returned to duty except Mechling who was sent home to recuperate and Van Winkle who returned to his unit but was not ready to resume normal duties.

Among the railroad passengers injured were. Frost Indianapolis, George Rogers, Union City IN, C. B. Hobley, Indianapolis; F. C. Wagner Terre Haute, George Kuhn Vincennes IN, Carl Koehn, Indianapolis; R. A. Holcomb, Indianapolis and E. P. Chalfant, Indianapolis.

Among the Railroad personnel killed were: Samuel Densmore, engineer Indianapolis and C. E. Iche Anderson Ind fireman. Railroad personnel injured were George Curtis Union City IN carpenter; Charles Adams, Bellefontaine OH fireman; Edward Griswald, Wabash, IN engineman

    SEE
    The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana) 13 Sep 1910, Tue Page 1
    The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana) 13 Sep 1910, Tue Page 5
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 13 Sep 1910, Tue Page 1
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 13 Sep 1910, Tue Page 5
    The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana) 14 Sep 1910, Wed Page 4
    Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Kentucky) 14 Sep 1910, Wed Page 5
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 15 Sep 1910, Thu Page 4
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 15 Sep 1910, Thu Page 5
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 16 Sep 1910, Fri Page 3
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 19 Sep 1910, Mon Page 1
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 22 Sep 1910, Thu Page 4
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 23 Sep 1910, Fri Page 2
    The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 24 Sep 1910, Sat Page 7
    Kentucky Irish American (Louisville, Kentucky) 24 Sep 1910, Sat Page 2
    Crittenden County, Kentucky, September 15. 1910 NUMBER 13

 1917 and 1918 Railroad Incidents

What would come to be called the First World War began in Europe in 1914 but America wanted to remain neutral. American businesses sold arms and ammunition as a neutral power. Unfortunately that too was seen as taking a side in the war against Germany and it was not long before German agents began carrying out sabotage to cut off this supply of ammunition and armaments for their enemies.

Research has not revealed any mysterious explosions in Kentucky during the time period but there were plans and a payment made to destroy a southern Kentucky plant in October 1915. The evidence was revealed as the investigation of the saboteurs in New York and New Jersey. End Note i One of the saboteurs had scouted the plant in September 1915 but was arrested in a police sting trying to purchase 100 pounds of dynamite. End Note ii

Other parts of the nation reeled under significant catastrophes of mysterious origins. The Black Tom explosion on July 30, 1916, in Jersey City, New Jersey, was an act of sabotage by German agents to destroy American-made munitions that were to be supplied to the Allies in World War I. This incident, which happened prior to American entry into World War I, is also notable for causing damage to the Statue of Liberty. End Note iii

“ In January 1917, a mysterious fire at a shell-packing plant in Kingsland, New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan, rocked the city and sent thousands fleeing from un-fused shells flung high in the air by the blasts. Three months later, another unexplained fire destroyed the Hercules Powder Company plant in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, killing over a hundred workers, most of them women and children. It has been estimated End Note iv that, between early 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies.” End Note v

On March 31, 1917, Adjutant General J. Tandy Ellis issued Special Order No. 36 detailing units to sentry duty to protect important infrastructure across the state, such as railroad tunnels, bridges and water supplies. The orders were believed to be issued in response to a federal call to protect the nation's infrastructure as America entered the war.  It would prove to be a dangerous undertaking for the Kentucky Guard.

Renewed and unrestricted U-boat warfare on American ships along with the public release of an intercepted German government telegram promising Mexico its lost territory in Texas and the Southwest if it would declare war on  America were the final straws. End Note vi

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked a special joint session of the United States Congress for a declaration of war against the German Empire. Congress responded with the declaration on April 6.

On April 17, 1917 the Kentucky Guard begin mobilization. Kentucky Guard units were assigned to the 38th "Cyclone" Division, newly organized at Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The Kentucky Guard continued protecting key points of infrastructure across the state at least as late as August 1917. Beginning with the death of Thomas Higdon on April, 7 1917 in Ohio County and ending with the death of Carl Mercer on August 26th 1917 in Jefferson County – eight Kentucky Guard members died in carrying out this mission.

Possible Saboteur Shot BY KYNG on SAD 4 Apr 1917

On Wednesday, April 4, 1917, just a few days after being ordered to state active duty, Private Charles M. Lucas, serving with Company D, 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment, was standing sentry duty at a railroad bridge in Bullitt County. Even at the age of nineteen years old, Lucas was a seasoned soldier, having served with the Kentucky National Guard on federal active duty on the Mexican border during the punitive expedition in 1916 and early 1917.

At 4:10 P.M. an unknown person neared Lucas’s sentry post on the railroad bridge. Lucas order the man to halt. The man ignored the request and kept approaching the railroad bridge. Lucas fired his rifle and struck the man in the abdomen halting his advance.
An unknown doctor, possibly KYNG, was summoned to attend to the injured man. The wounded man was transported by train accompanied by a doctor to the City Hospital in Louisville. The unknown man died of his injuries at 12:40 a.m. on April 5, 1917 never having regained consciousness. The man's identity was a mystery and was believed to be a foreigner in the newspaper accounts. An examination of his clothes and personal effects did not reveal any identification papers. His “work-mans' clothes” did contain laundry marks bearing the names of J. Briner and C. Schaffer. A slip of paper with the name Jack Currier written on it was found in his pockets.

Newspaper reports about the incident suggested the Breckinridge County jailer might identify the man as having served a five month jail sentence under the name of C. Schafer for attempting to detain a woman at Hardinsburg. Before he was tried on that charge he was identified as a Pole by Dr Stanislaus Brzozowski of Louisville who was able to converse with him when many other languages had been unsuccessful by others.

A coroner's jury was held on April 6, 1917 and exonerated Lucas. The jury found “… the deceased, believed to be C. Shrader alias Jack Curier, residence unknown, came to his death from a gunshot wound at the hands of Private Charles M. Lucas, Company D, First Regiment of Infantry, Kentucky National Guard, in the service of the United States while said Private Lucas was in the proper performance of his duty, acting under orders of his superior officers and under circumstances which rendered the homicide justifiable.”

The newspaper accounts of the time suggest the unknown man was a spy or saboteur in the employ of the German secret service. There seems little evidence to support this other than the man's lack of significant communication in any language and the number of alias names associated with him.

According to the newspaper accounts the man was identified with the all of these aliases: C. Shrader, Jack Curier, Jack Currier, J. Briner, and C. Schaffer. All apparently variations based on laundry marks found in his clothing or the name on the piece of paper in his pockets.
It is possible that he was innocent and simply foreign national who did not speak the language and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, if that was the case one would think that Dr. Brzozowski would have learned the man's full name and more details about him when he was interviewed before his trial in Hardinsburg.

No further traces of the unknown man have been found after he is sent to a Louisville undertaker, L. D. Bax, and no subsequent investigation into the man's actions or identity are known to have occurred. No information as to the final disposition of his remains have been found.

What we can say is that this incident is the first and only known time a Kentucky National Guard soldier killed someone on state active duty in the performance of his duties.

Lucas continued to serve with the Kentucky Guard. He was promoted to Corporal, 1 May 1917 and went on federal active duty with his unit, Headquarters Company, 138th Field Artillery, on 2 May 1917. His unit was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for training. They left Camp Shelby on 18 September 1918 and set sail from New York on 6 October 1918. They arrived in Liverpool England on 18 October 1918 and in Cherbourg, France on 22 October 1918. He died on  October 26, 1918, in a train crash with ten of his fellow soldiers while enroute from Cherbourg, France, to a training camp at Meucon, France.

SEE:
The Courier Journal Louisville, Kentucky 5 April 1917 page 1
The Kentucky Advocate, Danville, Kentucky 5 April 1917 page 1
The Dispatch, Moline, Illinois 6 April 1917 page 3
The Courier Journal Louisville, Kentucky 6 April 1917 page 7
The Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee 7 April 1917 page 2
The Courier Journal Louisville, Kentucky 7 April 1917 page 10

This was not the only incident apparently. According to The Big Sandy News on April 27, 1917 - “The guards at Kenova bridge shot at a prowler eight times Saturday night but missed him owing to the darkness.”

Unfortunately concern about saboteurs and spies was not unfounded. The President had just asked Congress to declare war on Germany and in his speech charged that the German Government has engaged in a sabotage campaign. There many deadly and suspicious fires and explosions on board ships, in docks and at munitions plants beginning in January 1915 and continuing but declining after congress passed the declaration of war on April 6, 1917. Foreign nationals had been arrested in connection with some of the incidents.

At the same time, newspapers reported another incident some 11 miles south of Elizabethtown. According to the reports: ”A supposed tramp of German descent was seen to hide a, .package near the, L. & N. bridge across Nolin River, and on investigation it was found to be five sticks' of dynamite. Local officers tried to apprehend him, but so far he has eluded them. It is not known what his intentions were.”

SEE
The Hartford Herald, Hartford, KY, April 11, 1917, Page 6,
Licking Valley Courier, West Liberty, KY, April 12, 1917, page 1

One newspaper account said he was shot at after he place the package. The Dispatch, Moline, Illinois 6 April 1917 page 3 Para 4
The location is believed to be the railroad bridge some 11 miles south of Elizabethtown 37.570731, -85.903577

Another incident that may be related to a sabotage attempt comes from a newspaper account in the Crittenden Record-Press. Marion, Ky., April 26, 1917, Page 1

    Plot to blow up bridge
    Boys at Blackford discover wires attached to dynamite caps under Railroad Bridge

    Two boys, fishing on the bank of Tradewater river at Blackford (Webster County ) Monday morning made a discovery which looked very suspicious, to say the least of it.

    The boys noticed a strand of wire protruding from the water near the northern pier of the railroad bridge and began pulling it out. When they drew it all out of the water a dynamite cap was found attached to the end of the wire. Proceeding with their investigation the boys discovered more wires and pulled out sixteen more all with dynamite caps attached to the end.

    They reported the matter to the people in the town and soon a large crowd gathered around in an effort to solve the mystery, but when this was written no further evidence had been obtained.

    Mr. W. W. Lee, the Illinois Central Railroad agent At Blackford who reported the matter to the Enterprise, stated that the caps had every appearance of having been attached to sticks of dynamite., but how they all came detached is not accounted for. He stated that a complete investigation of the matter would be made by his company. Up to this time the Blackford Bridge has not been guarded.

    The ends of the wires found were embedded in the bank of the river under water, in close proximity to the pier of the bridge. The pieces of wire ranged from 15 to 20 feet in length.

    It is believed that unless they have been washed away dynamite sticks will be found on the bottom of the river. Where the wire was found in the water is only about waist deep, but no search has as yet been made for the dynamite.

    Two suspicious looking characters, one evidently a German, were in Blackford Friday. This man was sharpening razors.

It is worth noting that there was also significant labor unrest in the coal fields very nearby and the wire and blasting caps on the railroad bridge may have been connected to that rather than German efforts at sabotage.

It also must be said that there were other reasons for dynamite as well. Apparently a toll house was dynamited on the Sherburne Bridge over the licking river on what is now Route 11 between Mount Sterling and Flemingsburg connecting Fleming and Bath Counties in late March 1917. Apparently unknown persons made a further threat to destroy the bridge if the tolls were not removed. It took some months but Fleming and Bath County bought the bridge from the private corporation operating it and removed the tolls effective 1 August 1917. SEE The Public Ledger June 23, 1917 Page 2. No record has so far been found of anyone being charged in connection with the dynamiting or the threats to destroy the bridge.

Prewar Railroad Related Fatalities

Higdon, Thomas

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Corporal Thomas Higdon, 22, of Kirk, Breckinridge County, was killed when he was struck by an Illinois Central train on 7 April 1917 near the Green River and Rockport in Ohio County. According to newspaper accounts he did not hear the fast approaching passenger train due to high winds at the time of the incident. Newspaper accounts say he was giving semaphore signals at the time of the accident. The first newspaper reports stated he was walking down the track.

Higdon’s father filed a $20,000 lawsuit for negligence against the railroad and W. B. Curley the engineer of the train. The Ohio County Circuit Court jury eventually awarded them estate $800 in December 1917. The railroad filed an appeal for a new trial but no record has been found indicating the final resolution of the case.

wiley ray bWiley, Ray B.

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Private Ray B. Wiley, was born 24 November 1893, in Henry County, Kentucky, son of J. G. and Lena Wiley. He enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard on 10 May 1915, at Eminence, Henry County, Kentucky. At the time of enlistment he stated his occupation was rail roading. He was inducted into federal service for Mexican Border duty, 1916-1917, serving with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment.

On 16 April 1917, while on duty at High Bridge in Jessamine County, Private Wiley was struck and killed by a train sometime before 2 a.m. when his body was discovered by the soldier to relieve him at his sentry post. According to newspaper accounts, the Coroner’s jury found he died by being struck in the head by a freight train and that he had not been drinking and no trace of liquor was found on his person.

Watts AshfordWatts, Ashford

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Private Ashford Watts, age 22, of Leatherwood, Perry County, died on May 13, 1917 when he was struck by a train while on state active duty guarding a railroad tunnel. Watts was born 9 March 1898, in Breathitt County, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard at Jackson, on 9 April 1917, with Company F, 2nd Kentucky Infantry.

According to newspaper accounts Watts had built a fire near the track in the mouth of the tunnel he was guarding. He had turned his back on the tunnel and when the train came through at high speed. He was struck and crushed by the train and his body was mutilated and torn and wound up some ten feet from the tracks. Research has not yet established where the incident happened.

Hearell, Winstell

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Private Winstell Hearell, 19, of Wheatcroft, Webster County, was struck and killed by the Seminole Limited train on May 19, 1917, while serving with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Kentucky Infantry Regiment on federal active duty. Hearell was struck and killed while guarding a railroad trestle some two and half miles from Wickliffe. He was in the National Guard. He listed his civilian occupation as miner with the West Kentucky Coal Company.

Harris, William S.

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Private William "Willie" Sears Harris of Woodbine, Whitley County, died of injuries at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington on May 26, 1917 after being struck by a train on 23 May near Falmouth while on active duty. Harris served with Company A, 2nd Kentucky Infantry based in London.  Harris had extensive injuries with severe damage to both legs. Newspaper accounts speak of his legs being crushed. Harris enlisted in Company A of the 2nd Kentucky on 17 Jun 1916.

Orr, Edward F.

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Private Edward F. Orr, 26, of Butler, Pendleton County, died on 1 June 1917 when he was presumed struck by a Southern Railway train while on guard duty near Hemp Ridge Station in the vicinity of Waddy in Shelby County. His body was found near the railroad tracks with a crushed skull. Orr enlisted in Company I, of the 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment on 18 August 1916.

wiliams albert b KYNG cropedWilliams, Albert B.

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Private Albert Benoia Williams, 18, of Shelbyville, Shelby County, died of wounds he received when he struck by a passing train while on active duty at Elihu near Somerset, Pulaski County, on 25 July 1917 while serving with Company K, 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment of the Kentucky National Guard.

Williams was standing guard at a railroad bridge. The corporal of the guard who found Williams stretched out on the floor of the bridge unconscious with a fractured skull. It was believed he stepped from one set of tracks to let a train pass on the double tracks and stepped in front of another train traveling in the opposite direction on the other set of tracks. He perished from his injuries approximately an hour and a half later. He enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard on 4 June 1917.  His brother, Charles Filmore Williams was also serving in Company K.

According to newspaper accounts his father, Lee Williams, later sued the Southern Railway Company for $20,000 damages for gross negligence. No information has been found as to the outcome of the lawsuit.

mercer pvt carl aMercer, Carl A.

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Private Carl A. Mercer, 25, of Louisville, Jefferson County, joined Company G, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment Kentucky Infantry. Mercer was struck and killed by a train on 26 August 1917, at Louisville, Kentucky. An undated newspaper clipping reports that Mercer's “mangled body” was found on the L & N switch near Seventh and Oak streets in Louisville.

 

 

 

 

 

Frasier, John

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Private John Frasier, 29, of Ashland, Boyd County, was shot and killed in the early morning hours of April 24, 1917 while doing guard duty with the Kentucky National Guard on federal active duty at "Poor Tunnel" near Elkhorn City in Pike County. Frasier was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Kentucky Infantry Regiment. Frasier enlisted in the KYNG on 9 April 1917.

Frasier was shot and killed by fellow guardsman Private Byron Hogg. Hogg had was standing guard duty with Frasier at the time of the incident and had previously served with his unit on the Mexican border in the Punitive Expedition. Hogg was sentenced to 12 years in the penitentiary. Research to date has not revealed any motive for the incident.

He is included here because of the railroad related fatality.

Stinnett, Emmet

Emmet Stinnett, 45, of Meade County was killed on 12 July 1917 at Upton, in Hardin County when he was struck by a Louisville & Nashville train. Stinnett was on foot crossing the tracks ahead of the arrival of the train to board the train and return to his duty station in Louisville. He had, according to newspaper accounts, been visiting relatives in Hart County. Stinnett enlisted in Company F of the 3rd Kentucky Infantry Regiment on 30 April 1910 at the age of 35. He listed his civilian occupation at that time as blacksmith. By the time he reenlisted in 1913 he listed his occupation as farmer.

Stinnett is not listed on the Kentucky National Guard Memorial at this time. He is presumed to have been on federal active duty but in leave status. His death is not believed to have been in the line of duty. He is included here because of the railroad related fatality.

Other Incidents

There were at least some soldiers injured while performing this security duty. Private Harry Libee of Co. Ky on duty at the Big Sandy bridge at Catlettsburg was accidentally shot in the foot by a revolver in the hand s of Corporal Ray Williams. According to the newspaper account the 38 caliber round went through Libee’s left foot. Fred Grant, a member of Company, K accidentally shot himself through the left foot while doing guard duty at Kimball Tunnel, near Welch, The wound was reported as not serious. SEE The Big Sandy News on April 27, 1917 Page 8 and July 27, 1917 Page 5. John Hinton of Wheatcroft serving with Company F of the 3rd Kentucky Regiment was on guard duty during the night time hours of 8 May 1917 at the south end of a bridge and while attempting to get out of the way of an oncoming train fell and his left hand just below the wrist was was completely severed. SEE Courier-Journal 10 May 1917 Page 3.

Train Tragedy in France

HHB 138th FA 1918-
HHB 138th FA 1918

Unfortunately the Kentucky soldier's bad luck with railroads didn't end when they deployed overseas to France. On October 26, 1918 near Gael, France the Kentucky Guard was involved in the collision of two troop trains and it killed an additional eleven soldiers from across the Commonwealth just days after their arrival in France.

According to correspondence by Captain J. C. Hobson, Jr. of the 138th - At 8:50 P. M., October 26, 1918, while enroute from Cherbourg, France, to a training camp at Meucon, France, a train carrying the 113th Ammunition Train collided with the train carrying the 138th Field Artillery, which had just stopped at the station of Gael, France. The 138th train reportedly had had mechanical difficulties in the trip up to that point.   Headquarters Company of the 138th occupied the last six cars of the train — three compartment and three box.  All six cars were completely demolished.  Other accounts report that 14 train cars were “telescoped” in the event. There are many conflicting accounts of the incident published in newspapers at various times with variation in the numbers of injured and dead and even the location of the wreck. The location had also been reported as St. Main / Mein and Mellistroit.

The incident occurred less than a week after the units arrived in France. They left Camp Shelby on 18 September 1918 and set sail from New York on 6 October 1918. They arrived in Liverpool England on 18 October 1918 and in Cherbourg, France on 22 October 1918.

The men who were killed in the wreck were buried October 28th, in the U. S. Government cemetery No. 18 at Camp Coetquidan, France. Many were returned home in the years following the war.

According to the Lexington Leader, 9 August 1919, p. 1, the citation, by command of General Connor, in general order No. 42, July 8, 1919 gives the following account of the rescue of Aubrey and the meritorious service of Major Short: “After a rear end collision of two troop trains occurred between the 113th Ammunition Train and the 138th Field Artillery and after the rescuing parties had worked for an hour, under the difficulties of darkness and rain, a soldier found pinned underneath an upturned truck wheel, upon which rested the greater part of three telescoped cars.  In order to free the imprisoned soldier, it was necessary to raise the wreckage to a very dangerous angle.  Major Short, Capt. Freehan, Capt. Cavanaugh (Kavanaugh) and Private Sheehan, without regard to the personal danger involved, crawled thru the wreckage and in a lying and sitting position, worked against odds for three hours and succeeded in rescuing the soldier alive.”

According to the Lexington Leader, 15 December 1918, p. 7 - In a letter home to his family in December 1918, Sergeant Jess C. Stewart, Company E, 113th Ammunition Train, described the great wreck and stated, that that they worked eighteen hours clearing away wreckage and caring for the dead and wounded.

Newspaper accounts say Short crawled under the wreckage in the darkness and rain to where Aubrey was pinned and he amputated one of Aubrey’s legs with a pen knife to remove him from the wreckage. It was some time before any help or trained medical personnel arrived on the scene. Reportedly wires on both sides of the station were downed in the wreck and a messenger was sent on foot to the next nearest communication point five miles away.  Troops and ambulances arrived at the scene at 1 a.m. the following morning presumably with medical personnel from Camp Coetquidan some 20 miles away and all the injured and dead were removed from the scene by 3 a.m. presumably back to Camp Coetquidan. Short received a citation for his efforts in the wreck.

The Anderson News, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky printed the following:

    Norman Tucker Dies In France
    Camp Mills, N. Y.
    Mrs. Margaret Edington,
    R. F. D. No. 1, Alton Sta., Ky.

    Dear Madam:--

     You have undoubtedly been informed of the death of your grandson, James Norman Tucker, by an accident in France, but I wish to take this opportunity of giving you further particulars.  Regulations of A. E. F. prohibited this being done from France.  The facts are as follows:

    At 8:50 P. M., October 26, 1918, while enroute from Cherbourg, France, to our training camp at Meucon, France, a train carrying the 113th Ammunition Train collided with the 138th Field Artillery, which had just stopped at the station of Gael, France.  Headquarters Company occupied the last six cars of the train - three compartment and three box.  All six cars were completely demolished.  Fourteen men of the company, including your grandson, died instantly, forty-two received various wounds, most of which were broken arms and legs.

    The men who were killed, including your grandson, were buried October 28th, in the U. S. Government cemetery No. 18 at Camp Coetquidan, France, with full military honors.  The ceremony was simple.  It was attended by three Generals - two American and one French, with their staffs, as well as several hundred soldiers of the A. E. F.

    Your grandson’s effects were turned over to the Effects Department, A. E. F., according to Army regulations, to be forwarded to his family, and will no doubt be received in due time.

    Assuring you of the sympathy of the officers and men of Headquarters Company, I remain,

    J. C. HOBSON, Jr.

    Captain 138th Field Artillery.

From Tucker's Kentucky Council of Defense War Record, written by Mary D. Bond, Anderson County Historian.

    The bullet evidently was not molded that was to claim Pvt. Tucker on the front lines in battle, but accident trailed him from the first encampment at Zachary Taylor, where his thumb was shot off, after this injury was healed he went to Camp Shelby, Miss. Thence to a port camp and overseas while enroute from Cherbourg Fr. To Meucon Fr. An ammunition train collided with the train on which the 138th Field Artillery was entrained at the station of Gael Fr. Headquarters Co., occupied the last six cars all of them being demolished, fourteen men, including Pvt. J. N. Tucker, were instantly killed and forty-two received injuries, Maj. Chas. N. Kavanaugh (Anderson County native) was one of the first surgeons to arrive at the scene of accident, Maj. Kavanaugh was a member of the 138th F. A. and his heroic services at the time merited for him a citation for bravery, Pvt. Tucker was killed Oct. 26th, 1918, on Oct 28th the fourteen End Note vii accident victims were given a burial with full military honors in the U. S. Government cemetery No. 18 at Coetquidan, France. 

1918 Railroad Wreck Fatalities

Aubrey, William E. “Billy”

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Private William Edward “Billy” Aubrey, 21 of Owensboro, Daviess County, died in hospital at Camp Coetquidan, France on October 27 of injuries sustained in a train wreck. He was serving with the 113th Ammunition Train. He joined the Kentucky National Guard’s Company I, of the 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment on 28 June 1916. He entered federal active duty with his unit on April 25, 1917. On 15 October 1917, his company was re-designated as Headquarters Detachment, Horsed Section, 113th Ammunition Train, part of the 38th Infantry Division. His unit was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for training. On 10 March 1918, he was promoted to Cook. At the time of his death he was assigned to the Headquarters detachment, Horsed Section of the 113 Ammunition Train serving as a cook. Aubrey listed his civilian occupation as a motion picture operator when he enlisted.

Craig, Buford G

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Sergeant Major Buford G. Craig, 23, of Lexington, Fayette County died in a train wreck on 26 October 1918. He was serving with the 113th Ammunition Train. He joined the Kentucky National Guard’s Company I, First Infantry Regiment on 21 April 1913, he had a short break in service re-joined the Lexington Company 24 June 1916 as a Corporal. He was mobilized at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, for federal service on the Mexican Border in June 1916 He was promoted to Sergeant in August 1916. He reentered federal active duty with his unit on April 25, 1917. On 15 October 1917, his company was re-designated as Headquarters Detachment, Horsed Section, 113th Ammunition Train, 38th Infantry. He was again promoted to Sergeant and on 1 May 1918 was promoted to Sergeant Major.

Henry, Norbert V.

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Private Norbert Victor Henry, 20, of Louisville, Jefferson County, died in a train wreck on 26 October. He was serving with Battery E 138th Field Artillery at the time of his death. Henry joined the Kentucky Guard’s Company H of the 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment in April 1917 Henry was a graduate of St. Patrick's parochial school.  According to newspaper accounts Henry was killed almost instantly in the accident and was also a member of Headquarters Company at some point.

Lucas, Charles

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Corporal Charles Lucas, 20, of Louisville, Jefferson County, died in a train wreck at Gael, France on 26 October 1918. Lucas joined Company D, 1st Kentucky Infantry, on 24 June 1916 and served with his unit on federal active duty on the Mexican border during the punitive expedition. He also served in Company A, 1st Kentucky Infantry (redesignated Battery A, 138th Field Artillery) as well as Headquarters Company, 138th Field Artillery, beginning 2 March 1918, until death 26 October 1918. He was promoted to Corporal, 1 May 1917. Henry was called to federal active duty with his unit on 2 May 1917.

Miley, Hugh L.

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Sergeant Hugh L. Miley, 26, of Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, died on 26 October 1918 in a railroad collision in France while serving with Headquarters Company, 138th Field Artillery. Miley enlisted in Company D of the 1st Kentucky Infantry in February of 1911 but left the unit in January 1912. He listed his occupation as clerk with the J. M. Robinson and Norton & Co. He returned to the unit in April 1912 listing his profession as scholar. He was discharged from the service in April 1915. He returned to the unit again in July 1915 rising to the rank of Sergeant. He was called to federal active duty with his unit and served on the Mexican border during the Punitive Expedition. In September 1917 he transferred to the Headquarters Company of the 1st Kentucky which later became Headquarters Company of the 138th Field Artillery Regiment, 38th Division where he started again as a private and rose to the rank of Sergeant in January 1918. Miley was born in Marion County. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois, France.

Moss, Watkins A.

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Sergeant Watkins A. Moss, 29, a native of Saxe, Charlotte County, Virginia was living in Louisville when he joined the Kentucky National Guard. Moss died in a train wreck at Gael, France on 26 October 1918 while serving as a Supply Sergeant with Headquarters Company of the 138th FA 38th Division. Moss originally joined Headquarters of Company D of the 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment. His unit was redesignated Headquarters Company of the 138th Field Artillery at Camp Shelby.

neagle walter c portrait findagraveNeagle, Walter C.

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Sergeant Walter Cleveland Neagle, 25, a native of Edmonson County, listed his home of record as Smiths Grove, Warren County. He was living in Lexington attending the University of Kentucky when he joined the Kentucky National Guard. Neagle joined Company I, 3rd Battalion, First Regiment, Lexington (Fayette County) on 7 April 1914. He served as First Sergeant with his unit on the Mexican Border on federal active duty during the Punitive Expedition. Neagle was promoted to Sergeant, 26 October 1917 and Regimental Supply Sergeant on 1 March 1918. He was reverted to a Private on 18 May 1918 and was again promoted to Regimental Supply Sergeant on 15 June 1918.  In his military records his name was also found spelled Nagle.

Neagle died in a train wreck at Gael, France on 26 October 1918. Company I was redesignated Headquarters Horse Battalion, 113th Ammunition Train, 38th Division on 15 October 1917. At the time of his death he was assigned to Headquarters, of the 113 Ammunition Train.

Ogle, Roy V.

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Corporal Roy V. Ogle, 22, a native of Bullitt County was living in Valley Station in Louisville when he joined the Kentucky National Guard’s Company G, 1st Kentucky Infantry on 26 June 1916. Accounts after the war also listed his home as West Point in Hardin County. He later served with Battery F of the 138th Field Artillery when on federal active duty. He was promoted to Corporal on 10 July 1917. Ogle listed his civilian occupation on his enlistment papers as a box maker. He was serving with Headquarters of the 138th when he perished in a train wreck in Gael France on 26 October 1918.

Rose, Ralph

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Private Ralph Rose, 23, of Owenton, Owen County, died in a rail road accident at Gael, France on 26 October 1918 while on federal active duty during World War I. Rose joined Company H of 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment on 6 June 1917. He also served in Company F which was redesignated as Battery E of the 138th Field Artillery. He was serving with Headquarters Company of the 138th at the time of his death.

Tucker, James N.

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Private James Norman Tucker, 21, of Alton Station, Anderson County died in a train wreck on 26 October 1918. He was serving on federal active duty with the 138th Field Artillery Regiment, 38th Division. He joined the Kentucky National Guard’s Company H of the First Kentucky Infantry Regiment on 16 June 1917. In September he transferred to Company E which transitioned to Battery D of the 138th Field Artillery. On 6 October 1918 he was transferred to Headquarters Company of the 138th.

Wells, Garland W.

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Private Garland W. Wells, 25, of Auxier, Floyd County died in a train wreck on 26 October 1918. He was serving with Headquarters Company, 138th Field Artillery. Wells joined Company C of the 1st Kentucky Infantry regiment on 4 July 1917. The unit was redesignated Battery C, 138th Field Artillery when they were on federal active duty. He transferred to Headquarters Company of the 138th Field Artillery on 10 June 1918.  He was promoted to Private First Class on 3 September 1917 and reduced to Private, 5 May 1918. There was no mention in his record of why he was reduced in rank.

 

End Notes:

End Note i The Enemy Within: The Inside Story of German Sabotage in America Hardcover – 1937 by Henry Landau https://archive.org/details/enemywithininsid00landrich Page 307 Appendix entries

ii The Secret War on the United States in 1915 by Heribert von Feilitzsch page 115

iii The Kaiser Sows Destruction: Protecting the Homeland the First Time Around https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol46no1/article02.html

iv While not specified in the article this is believed to be The Enemy Within: The Inside Story of German Sabotage in America Hardcover – 1937 by Henry Landau https://archive.org/details/enemywithininsid00landrich

v https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol46no1/article02.html

vi SEE The Kaiser Sows Destruction: Protecting the Homeland the First Time Around https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol46no1/article02.html AND The Enemy Within: The Inside Story of German Sabotage in America Hardcover – 1937 by Henry Landau https://archive.org/details/enemywithininsid00landrich

vii Mary D. Bond’s entry above notes fourteen victims in the train wreck. Research to date has only identified the eleven KYNG members.

Doings of the 113th Ammunition Train.

Civil life was bad enough
But army life is worse,
I can’t express myself in words,
And so will try in verse.
In civil life I sported some,
My clothes were neat and trim,
I smoked the best of cigarettes,
And drank the best of gin.

I had the finest little girl
You’d ever want to see,
With soft brown eyes and teeth like pearl,
She loved no one but me.
Her hair was dark as darkest night,
There was none fair as she.
Her eyes were bright and shown at night
Like moonlight on the sea.

But things have changed since ’17,
As each Buck Private knows,
When I bid goodbye to my village queen,
As the paths of thorns I chose.
“The National Guard is not so bad,”
The recruiter said to me,
“Just sign your name my noble lad,
“A soldier boy to be.”

They sent me down to a southern camp
To train for oversea—
A H---of a place for a camping ground,
And they called it Camp Shelby,
Now I can’t describe Camp Shelby,
It was much like a desert plain,
The days were hot and dusty,
With never a drop of rain.

They fitted me out as a soldier grand
And I took my place in line,
Attention, came the first command,
Squads right and double time,
Dismissed, at last the sergeant said,
Then a letter came from home,
“Your girl has wed,” the letter said,
“To your hated rival Jones.”

Now Jones was a city slicker,
With a slicker tongue than mine,
Yet, no one called him a slacker
When I took my place in line.
Next day came another letter—
She sent me back my ring,
Her words were harsh and bitter,
“Oh, death, where is thy sting.”

So now you have the history
Of me and my love affair.
Yet, there remains the mystery—
Did she ever really care?
So we stayed in Mississippi
Eleven months or more,
And at last there came an order
To leave for other shores.

They marched us to the station
Where they held us there, until
We received our traveling rations.
Then off for Clintonville.
To Clintonville, Wisconsin,
Where the grass is long and green,
A wonderful state to live in—
A country fit for a King.

Then we left in army motor trucks
For a trip across the Nation.
And soon arrived with the best o’ luck
In a Camp of Embarkation.
Then, again there came an order,
From the men at Washington,
For a trip across the ocean,
To battle with the Hun.

They fitted me out with a pair of hobsi
And a hat that weighed a ton,
My thoughts ran back to Gobbler’s Knob,
As only our thoughts can run.
So we sailed away on an Autumn day
On the good ship Lancashire.
There, we drilled away an hour each day
For submarines and fire.

The first three days on the ocean waves
Were the worst we had to endure.
Some had a faraway look on their face
That I have never seen before.
“There’s something wrong,” the steward said,
“What makes them look so glum?”
“Why do they go too soon to bed?”
“Why don’t they eat their slum?”

“Just wait till they get their sea legs”
The steward said to me,
“They’re not so sick,” he said with yawns,
“They’re only sick of sea.”
Then a submarine to the surface came,
To pay us it’s devotion,
And we thought for a bit,
We were surely hit,
It caused so much commotion.

Most of the boys had gone to bed
When the U-boast came along,
And Private Jones, the prophet, said
“I fear there’s something wrong.”
Then came the shock, a double crash,
Which sounded more like thunder,
And Private Jones raised up and said,
“I fear we’re going under.”

I thought so too, when all the crew
Seemed to think the same as us,
But Private Smith, the optimist,
Allowed it could be worse.
I waited there until my hair
Seemed to rise on end in fright,
For the stoutest heart will quake with fear
When submarined at night.

Then Captain Winfree appeared
On the line of dissolution,
And quickly put to route our fears,
Till we reached our destination.
“There’s nothing wrong,” the Captain said.
“And as for the explosion,
It was our gunners who sent a sub
To the bottom of the ocean.”

And so our minds were set at ease,
Concerning submarines,
And when we went to be we dreamed
Of home and other things.
After three days more upon the sea,
We landed safe in harbor,
And travelled on to Southampton
But not by way of water.

There, we found ourselves on board again,
Where the billows reeled and tossed,
For to take a chance to go to France
The channel must be crossed.
We sailed away at the break of day,
Or rather the break of night,
And all were glad because there were
No submarines in sight.

Then Jones, the pessimist began,
Before we were steeled down,
To talk of what a risk we ran,
And how we all would drown.
Yet, early in the morning
The billows ceased to roar,
And this was scarcely odd, because
We had anchored safe, on shore.

There we were loaded upon a train,
For a long and dangerous run,
Alas, it surely proved to be
A fatal ride for some.
Our cars were side door Pullmans
With a door on either side,
And in one of them was scarcely room
For twenty men to ride.

Well, the train rolled on when suddenly,
Without the slightest warning,
We collided with another train,
Which changed our joy to mourning.
Our cars were all piled up heaps,
The engine upside down,
An arm, an ear, of the engineer,
Was all we ever found.

So we worked away till Major Short,
Appeared upon the scene,
And of Maj. Short there’s nothing short,
Except, of course, his name.
He worked away till break of day,
And never paused to rest,
To help us clear the wreck away,
The Major did his best.

Though soldiers are a reckless lot,
We all believe in God,
And we breathed a prayer for our brothers there,
That were laid beneath the sod.
And so we hope meet again,
When our work on Earth is done.
For all ranks rank the same with God,
Who loves us every one.

Next day we left the scene of wreck,
And march was on again,
Till we finally arrived more dead than alive
In a town called Joselin.
Here, we stayed a week and quarter,
But this we did not mind,
While waiting here for order,
The armistice was signed.

So we lounged around and waited
Till orders came by mail,
To march us down to another town
For another trip by rail.
Then down to the town of Ploermel
Our steps they did direct,
To Ploermel, there to rest a spell,
We, survivors of the wreck.

Here we settled down in stables.
As hotels were scarce in town,
When morning came none were able
To smile, but only frown.
Then early that very morning,
When all were feeling blue,
There came another order, to leave at half past two.

We carried our packs to the station,
Though the weather was wet and damp—
The train was late and we did wait,
So they marched us back to camp.
And, so it finally came to pass,
In the final course of time,
That the longed-for train arrived at last,
Though not on schedule time.

The crew had all been drinking,
And the fireman and engineer
Had gone and gouged their stomachs
Upon cognac and beer.
So they loaded us on at noonday,
For we had to take a chance,
And this was the one and only way
To get to Marseille, France.

I had a quart of cognac,
That could not well be beat,
For corned beef, beans and hardtack
Were all we had to eat,
But we stuck it out and it came about
That at last we reached our post,
Marseille, where the weather is great
On the Mediterranean coast.

And here we have been a month or more,
And here we’re going to stay,
To wait for further orders,
And return to U. S. A.
Now when of the Army I am free
I will enlist again perhaps,
But I will never forget the Army,
Till I hear the final Taps.

—Wilber C. Simmons,
C, D, 113th Ammunition Train, A. E. F.ii
 

 

 

The Kentucky National Guard Memorial Fund, Inc., is a recognized 501(c)(3). EIN 26-3705273
 

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