To MR. BACON, the immediate duty of the United States upon the outbreak of the war in August, 194. was to protest against the violation of treaties to which Germany was a party, and other treaties to which he thought we were also parties. He resented President Wilson's appeal to his countrymen, under date of August 19th , to "be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men's souls."(182)
"There can be no neutrality of the spirit where right and wrong are concerned," Mr. Bacon answered, who wanted the Government to speak out, and to play its part in the great struggle, although President Wilson did not yet realize that the country would be involved and forced into the war.
The case for and against neutrality has never been better put than by William Penn in "Some Fruits of Solitude" upon which Mr. Bacon nurtured his spirit.
"Neutrality," said that good and great man, "is something else than Indifferency; and yet of kin to it, too. A Judge ought to be Indifferent, and yet he cannot be said to be Neutral. . . .A wise Neuter joins with neither; but uses both, as his honest Interest leads him. A Neuter only has room to be a Peace-maker: For being of neither side, he has the Means of meditating a Reconciliation of both."(183) So much in favour of neutrality as President Wilson appears to have conceived it.
"And yet, where Right or Religion gives a Call, a Neuter must be a Coward or an Hypocrite. . . . Nor must we always be Neutral where our Neighbours are concerned: For tho' Meddling is a Fault, Helping is a Duty. We have a Call to do good, as often as we have the Power and Occasion." This was Mr. Bacon's conception---a conception which imposed a duty.
Mr. Bacon described the immediate duty of the United States as he saw it, in a statement to the press on November 4, 1914 on the eve of his departure for France to help the Allies:
Signs are not wanting that the people of this country are unwilling to submit much longer to the injunction laid upon them that our neutrality should impose upon us silence regarding aspects of the European war with which we have a vital concern. There are many men who consider that this nation is shirking its duty by maintaining a policy which may be interpreted as giving tacit assent to acts involving us morally and much more intimately than has yet been expressed. These men believe that we have a high responsibility in upholding the treaties which were signed at the Second Conference at The Hague in 1907 and ratified by the United States and the nations now at war.
One of the conventions of the Second Hague Conference was the Convention respecting the rights and duties of neutral Powers and persons in case of war on land.
Article 1 of that Convention reads: "The territory of neutral Powers is inviolate."
Article 2 of the same Convention prescribes that "Belligerents are forbidden to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral Power."
It is undeniable and undenied that Belgium, at the beginning of the present European war, was a neutral Power and that her neutrality was violated by Germany. So much is admitted by Germany's official spokesman, the Imperial Chancellor, in his speech in the Reichstag on August 4, who sought to justify the violation---which he spoke of as a wrong---on the ground of desperate necessity.
With the treaties between England, France, and Germany, respecting Belgium neutrality, we have no diplomatic connection, but in the Hague Convention referred to we have a real and intimate concern. That Convention was signed by the delegates from the United States and ratified by the United States Government, and it was signed and ratified by Germany, making it a treaty between Germany and the United States, in which the other ratifying Powers were joined.
In admittedly violating Articles I and II of that Convention, Germany broke a treaty she had solemnly made and entered into with the United States.
Are we to suffer a nation to break a treaty with us, on whatever pretext, without entering, at least, a formal protest? Will any one contend that our neutrality imposes silence upon us under such conditions? Are the Hague conventions to become "scraps of paper" without a single word of protest from this Government? If the treaties which we made at The Hague are to be so lightly regarded, then why not all our other treaties? As a matter of fact, it is our solemn duty to protest against a violation of pledges formally entered into between this Government and any other Government, and we assume a heavy moral responsibility when we remain silent. In this crisis, particularly, other nations look to us and never, perhaps, has our example had greater force.
To justify a policy of silence by the assertion that "we are fortunate in being safely removed from this danger that threatens European Powers" and to urge that as a reason for us to sit still with hands folded is as weak as it is unwise.(184)
As far as the records show, Mr. Bacon was the first American statesman to advocate publicly this protest. The war had already made him a leader. Later, he was joined by others, but it is believed that his was the first commanding voice to be raised openly demanding of our Government the recognition of Belgium's sovereign rights by protesting against the violation of those rights.(185)
After this, the less than five years of life that remained to him he spent in urging the United States to prepare for the war into which it would inevitably be drawn, in helping the allied cause in every way within his power, and in serving in the Army of the United States in France, when we at last found ourselves and entered that war.
Mr. Bacon was the most modest of men. He carried his modesty to the verge of self-suppression. Although he always minimized the importance of the part he played in the campaign for national preparedness, his role in the movement was very great. He brought to it the weight accorded the opinion of a successful business man, the prestige of a former Secretary of State, and an Ambassador to France. Devotion to America, American principles, the preservation of the nation and the national spirit caused him to shoulder a rifle at a training camp, teaching patriotism by example. And what to him was an infinitely more difficult thing to do, he mounted the platform that he might by word of mouth rouse his countrymen to the impending danger which he foresaw. "Where there is no vision," he was never tired of saying, "the people perish." And he made it the serious business of his life that the American people should not perish.
It is too much to claim that Mr. Bacon originated this movement. It would be invidious to insist that he led it. But it was he who more clearly and persistently than any other in the early days of the European war sounded the note of alarm. In modern fashion he played the role of one of his heroes, Paul Revere. In season, and out of season, through interviews with the Press, speeches from the platform, as member and officer of societies of national defense and as candidate for the nomination of United States Senator from the State of New York, he steadfastly and heroically carried the warning throughout the nation.
In an interview published in the New York Times, August 12, 1915, while attending the military training camp at Plattsburg, Mr. Bacon expressed very simply his own attitude. He said:
I have not talked for publication since last November, and I am here as a protest, if you wish to call it such , against the state of unpreparedness in this country. I hope that the idea embodied in this camp will make a striking impression on the country. I fear that the idea of unpreparedness has not struck home yet as it should, or else I think we would have had some needed legislation.
Lord Roberts time and again warned England of her unpreparedness and just before he died he said: "The day has come." I have been in Europe for about a year and have learned how Europe looks on the United States. I do not believe in waiting for trouble. We should take a stand. By this I do not mean to go to war or join with the Allies. We couldn't, but we should take some position since neutrality is impossible. We cannot accept the assurances of nations whose own people say they will not be bound by any treaties if emergencies of war arise.(186)
Two months later Mr. Bacon took advantage of the American loan to the Allies to make a statement which was published in the New York Times(187) and other papers on October 3, 1915: "This loan affords every American citizen . . . the opportunity to show in a practical way sympathy for England and France in the fight which they are making for truth and democracy. It enables every man and woman to enroll himself or herself on the side of the right." "This call," he continued, "should go 'through every Middlesex village and farm' in such a manner that the response will be the response of the nation. We cannot fully appreciate what such an answer will mean to our friends in their hour of trial, what it will mean to them morally, and the encouragement it will give to them as they continue the struggle for ideals which have been our own ever since we became a nation."
It is easy to see that Mr. Bacon's heart was enlisted in the call. There was nothing lukewarm or cold in his makeup. When he stood for the right, he stood for it body and soul; when he denounced wrong, he denounced it body and soul; and when he spoke of sacrifice and the service of others, his face flushed and his voice choked with emotion. A loan to the Allies was not merely a matter of dollars and cents; it was a message of sympathy as well. He recalled the early days in the history of our country, when the people of France heard our call, sent sympathy, and made the great sacrifice. He recalled Yorktown and all that Yorktown represented:
We shall soon celebrate the anniversary of Yorktown. It is well to reflect now upon all that we fought for and won there for the world, for our brothers of England no less than for our own country which had revolted from the despotisms of Kings. That was another world crisis, and we won only through the aid of Frenchmen---Rochambeau, Lafayette, de Grasse---and with French treasure. These men came to us in our struggle through no motive of ambition or adventure, but because they cherished the ideals of liberty. France loaned us money even when the loan threatened to strain her credit, sending us her millions without thought of repayment.
Mr. Bacon then expressed the idea with him ever present, that our future, like that of the Allied nations then in the throes of war, depended upon the outcome. "We still apparently fail," he said,---to grasp the fact that we must bear our share in the world's suffering and sacrifice. We do not, as a nation, realize that on the outcome of this war will depend whether we, too, must substitute new standards of conduct for those which we have inherited through the years; that we must give up everything we now stand for in the name of liberty."
Mr. Bacon shuddered at the sacrifices, suffered with the suffering, but never doubted that in the end "right would make might." Materialism could not be beaten by more materialism, it could only be overcome by the power of the spirit.
France, especially, had found its soul, and we must find ours. In one paragraph he states the problem, in another he shows the solution, and in a third he points the moral.
First the problem:
Men questioned at the beginning of this war what France and England and Russia could oppose to that scientific, mechanical, intellectual military organization which had been developed to a higher degree of efficiency than any other power of the kind the world had known. It was appreciated that this monstrous thing could not be met and defeated with its own weapons; that there must be something bigger and higher which could only come from the spirit of the nations. There was a question in the minds of men whether the national soul of France had endured.
Next the response:
The answer came promptly. This scientific, soulless war machine [is] already defeated in its aims and ambitions. In spite of the superficial appearance of degenerated standards and ideals, the soul of the French nation had been growing steadily stronger and greater through the decades and France was saved not so much by her arms or the numbers of her men as by the spirit of her people.
And finally he takes his stand against President Wilson's conception of neutrality, which he thought wrong:
I believe that long ago we should have planted ourselves squarely and unequivocally on the side of the right. We have been hedged about by many technicalities which have made our people hesitate to show their sympathy in a practical way for the nations which are fighting our battle.
By force of circumstances, by our isolation in the past, and by our later abnormal growth and prosperity we may appear to the world to have degenerated in our moral fibre, but the ideals of our country are always the same if only the truth can be brought home to the national consciousness.
Mr. Bacon made a distinction between "official" neutrality and "spiritual" or "personal" neutrality. He always proclaimed that he was not neutral in spirit or thought or sympathy, and he never considered opposition to the President's order of "official " neutrality as violated by the expression of his views on the spiritual and moral questions which he felt to be involved in the war. He did not regard a protest to Germany in regard to Belgium as inconsistent with official neutrality, but rather as upholding it.
It is impossible to measure the influence which this interview had on the American public. That it brought comfort to Englishmen at the front is evident from a passage in a letter under date of October 23, 1915, from an English officer with whom Mr. Bacon had served for a time in the British Medical Corps:(188)
It was a great pleasure to read your cutting from the N. Y. Times of the 3rd and to pass it round the mess. You can imagine "O'D." picking it up and reading the imposing headline "Bacon Champions Loan"---with his "Well, I'm---, so that's what my Liaison Officer is up to!"(189) and---"Jim" with his rather bilious view of America cheering up visibly on reading your remarks. Of course we all knew what "Bacon" was up to and how much we owe to you for what you're doing, and it was very jolly to picture you standing up and saying it all; it's so easy to visualize and hear, instead of merely reading a speech when one knows the man who made it.
There was the reference to de Grasse, Lafayette, and Rochambeau . . . which made the speech all the better to pass round the table. I think that was the passage I liked best; America that had the spirit of liberty too strong in her to accept despotism from her own flesh and blood has a big German population that ought to, and I believe will, show the same power of ignoring racial origins when it is a question of right against wrong.
A month later he returned to the charge, in an interview in the New York Sun of November 5th, on the eve of his departure for Europe, for in these trying years Mr. Bacon made many a hurried trip to Europe, helping the cause which we all know now was our cause from the first shot fired.
The various activities which have been formed for national service of all kings, especially preparedness, I believe to be of great use, and I am impressed with the importance at this time of coördinating all the efforts that are being made to awaken the national consciousness.
If this nation is to endure as one of the respected members of the society of nations and is to become one of the leaders of international opinion, there must be a national realization of our international obligations, of the honourable obligations of international conduct. Such a conviction can come only from a national soul free from the domination of selfish material interests. A large aggregation of people with varying and conflicting ideals, lacking cohesion, does not constitute a nation. It is essential that the people should have common impulses, common ideals.(190)
Hitherto Mr. Bacon spoke in general terms. His meaning was clear. He did not go into details. He had been time and again in Europe; he had been at the battle-front; he had driven an automobile at the Marne---"five glorious days bringing in wounded"---and he knew what the war was; he knew what it meant and he did not need to be told what it was all about. From the other side, and just before starting home, he gave, in London, an interview to the New York Times correspondent, which was cabled to the United States and published in the Times of December 19, 1915:
It may be taken for an accepted fact that the Allies will not give up this struggle without crushing insolent Prussianism. The whole spirit of the English and French nations is admirable. It is the spirit that means victory in the end no matter how far off it may be. . . . The Allies are now getting so much equipment, men, and munitions that not the remotest chance exists of their being compelled to give up the struggle until their aim is accomplished. But the whole world is concerned in this fight and not merely the Allies. The whole world is menaced by the domineering Prussianism that none ever dreamed existed. Germany has thrown off the mask that hid her baneful hypocrisy for so long and stands before the world as menace to very liberty itself.(191)
The New York Times correspondent had evidently asked "if America must come into war, if necessary, to crush this despotic militarism." To this Mr. Bacon replied that "the whole world must combine to isolate Prussianism, whether it is done by force of arms or other means." The correspondent had also apparently asked Mr. Bacon's opinion of President Wilson's policy. Mr. Bacon remembered that he was in a foreign country, and finely answered: "What I have to say about the Government's policy in this war I will say at home." And he did. Of the many addresses, the one he delivered on March 4, 1916, in St. Louis, at the Convention of the National Security League, may be taken as a sample:
No international policy which is not based on a respect for the law of nations can possibly endure. . . . Responsibility for the enforcement of these rules must rest, not with any one nation, but with each and all.
Mr. Bacon followed this statement with an analysis of conditions and consequences:
In the conduct of this world war there has been such repeated and open disregard of the principles which civilization had agreed should govern the relations of peoples that disappointed statesmen, particularly statesmen of Europe, have been heard to say that international law has ceased to exist. It is, perhaps, only natural that an apparent triumph of force in defiance of the rights of others should shake faith in the power of law to control the conduct of nations, but I firmly believe that, when this war is over, international law will make a greater advance than it has ever made before in its short history, and that not only will its recognition become general, but that nations will rely upon it as the only sure foundation upon which their permanent relations can rest. If this be not so, then the world will have passed into a state of chaos where no man dare look upon the future, for we have either to depend upon the rule of law to regulate our international conduct and secure our international rights, or submit to the rule of might which shall leave the weaker nations at the mercy of the needs and desires of the more powerful. There is no middle course. In the critical situation which civilization is now called upon to face there can be no compromise.
Under these conditions Mr. Bacon felt that the nations would be justified in taking collective military action if necessary. He did not, however, underrate the compelling power of public opinion. "Against an attempt to dominate the earth by force, there can be opposed but one greater power," he said, " the supreme power of collective international opinion, which shall ostracize the nation that would hold itself outside the law." America. had lost the opportunity to take a firm stand at the beginning of the war and "to express the collective opinion of the nations regarding the sanctity of international law and to place ourselves unequivocally on the side of the right." He expressed the consequence of our inaction: "Indifference to one's rights or a timidity in defending them invites a disregard on the part of others. Violation has followed violation in appalling succession. . . ." Mr. Bacon felt that the isolation of geographical situation no longer existed. "With the annexation of Hawaii, and with the addition of territory after the war with Spain, we found our boundaries suddenly extended, so that the insular character of our country was gone. The progress of science has destroyed for ever the security supposedly afforded by two oceans."
This change of conditions would justify a change of policy adopted with reference to facts and conditions no longer existing:
The policy of our fathers to refrain from entangling European alliances was unquestionably wise, but the world has lately grown very small, and the nations have been brought very near to each other and have become, to a great extent, interdependent. We have been forced by the inevitable progress of affairs into the society of nations, and we cannot escape our duties and our obligations.
Mr. Bacon comes now to the heart of the problem, appealing to the highest qualities of mind and soul of those whom he would reach and persuade:
But this country will never assume its rightful place in the society of nations until the national consciousness has been aroused. In order to be a leader in international opinion, it is necessary that we have a truly national opinion, which shall realize and respect the honourable obligations of international conduct. Such an opinion can spring only from a national soul freed from the domination of selfish, material interests. The ringing statement of Senator Lodge that American lives are worth more than American dollars is splendid. Let us go further now and assert that worth more even than American lives are American ideals and American honour.
He was not unmindful that many looked upon the presence of foreigners among us as a danger and a menace. "Has the influence of large numbers among us who have not been assimilated into the national life, grown so great that we no longer have an American spirit? . . . I, for one, believe in the National Soul; I believe that there is an American spirit, that there will be an American opinion, which will manifest itself in no weak, inactive, negative, neutral way, when once the public consciousness is aroused."
Mr. Bacon was not deceived; he saw facts as they were, and he felt, as a man of spirit, the spirit in others, and that it was already taking visible form and shape:
There is something new astir throughout the nation. It is the awakening of the public consciousness. . . .
The nation is responding. Public opinion, for which we have waited so long, is beginning to express itself in no uncertain terms. There is an awakening throughout the land. The call for Americans to save America is sounding from house to house and from city to city like that call which" on 'the 18th of April in '75" spread "through every Middlesex village and farm," and I believe the answer will be as strong and clear as it was then, and that our men and women will prepare themselves for "national service."
Longfellow's stirring lines of Paul Revere's Ride he constantly quoted in the distressing years of our neutrality, and he would doubtless have been pleased to be called an "alarmist" in the sense of Paul Revere.
It is one thing to preach preparedness; it is often quite a .different thing to practise it. Mr. Bacon did both and more. He urged it from the platform, he trained at Plattsburg, he served in France.
In 1915, when the former Secretary of State became Private Bacon
At the outbreak of the World War, and indeed before it, far-seeing Americans felt that we might be drawn into it, and they urged that steps be taken to prepare for that contingency. The navy was imposing, the officers, trained in the Naval Academy, were efficient and experienced. The case was different with the army. It was small and not much beyond the proportions of a police force. Its officers were indeed excellent, whether they had graduated from the Military Academy or had entered the service from civil life, they had mastered the requirements of their profession. But in numbers they were barely sufficient for a small army---for a great one such as might be needed in case of modern war on a large scale and participating in the World War, they could not be said to form a sufficient nucleus around which to build. It was no easy matter to train the enlisted men of the army; it was difficult and time-consuming to train officers.
Major-General Leonard Wood was an outspoken advocate of military preparedness and of training camps. "The students' military training camps," he has recently said,(192) "were small affairs during the first two years, 1913 and 1914, and attracted comparatively little attention. The movement was hardly under way before interest began to develop very rapidly in the universities, in some of the technical schools, and in the high schools. From these it spread to the thousands of alumni scattered throughout the country, eventually permeating the entire people."
We are so accustomed to think of the Plattsburg Camp of 1915 as the first of its kind, that we forget that camps had previously been held at Gettysburg, Monterey, Fort Ethan Allen, and a few other places, "where," again to quote General Wood, "the seeds of the nation-wide preparedness movement were first sown."
The Plattsburg Camp appealed to the imagination of the American people. It was the largest and most imposing; its recruits were drawn from the best of the nation, whose support would give respectability to any cause. The arrangements for the summer of 1915 extended throughout the previous winter, and, as was to be expected, "Robert Bacon was," as General Wood says, "one of the strong and dominant influences in bringing large numbers of the most desirable type of men into the camps for training. His standing and example were far-reaching influences in turning public attention to the camps. He enlisted as a private and went through the various grades and eventually, in the following summer, gained an officer's commission. His sons and hundreds of his friends followed him into the training camps."
It would be invidious for a layman to single out a few from the many, but General Wood is not a layman, and speaks with an authority possessed by none other when he says:
With Mr. Bacon were other men of his type-for example, George Wharton Pepper,(193) H. L. Stimson,(194) John Purroy Mitche1(195)---types of the best of our people.
Mr. Bacon's interest was not centred in any one camp. It extended to the movement, and all camps formed to train men for an emergency which he felt and indeed knew to be near at hand. "He was especially active," General Wood testifies, "in the winter of 1915-16, and took a very prominent part in the training camps of the latter year. He was one of the potent forces in bringing to the camp some thousands of business men and men from various walks of life, who had the necessary physical and mental qualifications."
His standing in the community, his work, the respect which the people in general held for him, all served to give great weight to his advice and example. His name will go down as the first of our more prominent citizens who endorsed the movement by personal participation in the camps, and who preached the doctrine of preparedness from the house-tops, who saw that our safety lay not in words but in deeds; that we must prepare, so that we might be not only willing but promptly useful in a world crisis.
"The soundness of his views," the General further says---and who would question it to-day?---"was thoroughly confirmed by the developments of the World War", and, "had his advice been heeded, the country would have been in a position to make its voice heard and its wishes respected as soon as they were expressed."
And General Wood has summed up the statements he has made elsewhere and at various times:
What I want especially to emphasize is his great work in the movement for preparedness in building up the Plattsburg Camps, out of which came a large proportion of the only officers who were available when war overtook us.(196)
General Wood has spoken of Mr. George Wharton Pepper as a man of Mr. Bacon's type. Mr. Pepper has thus spoken of Plattsburg and of Mr. Bacon in connection with it:
The first day of the Plattsburg Camp in August, 1915, was a day of excited bewilderment for the rookie. I was aware of the presence of multitudes of men, but it was only toward nightfall that I even began to individualize them. . . . At sunset there came a brief pause in the day's occupation and I had my chance to scrutinize my new comrades. There were several men in the Company whom I had previously known. Them, of course, I noted immediately. But the first stranger whom I separated from the crowd was a well-built man of middle age and good height, with clearly cut features, a bronzed skin, short, crisp curly hair, kindly eyes, and the easy bearing of a man who had touched life at many points. "This man," I said to myself, "has distinction." I do not now recall the incident of meeting him and exchanging greetings. But my first sight of him left with me a memory-picture which I shall always retain. There stands Robert Bacon, against the background of his tent, with the sunset glow upon him.
His previous intelligent and earnest efforts in support of General Wood's Campaign for National Preparedness were already well known to all of us who had had a part in that movement. He put the same spirit into our work in the Camp as had characterized his efforts to arouse the country. In the discharge of all military duties he displayed the qualities that mark the soldier . . . Bacon . . . helped to inspire his comrades with unity of purpose and zeal for the cause. He was awarded the chevrons of a sergeant and was made a platoon leader. Nowadays we can talk to generals without trembling. But in those days and in that camp a platoon leader seemed to the rookie like a Marshal of France.(197)
Upon his promotion, Mr. Bacon received a letter from his friend Ambassador Jusserand, which amused him not a little.
It was addressed, "Hon. Sergeant Robert Bacon, and began:
Sept. 1, 1915.
MY DEAR SERGEANT,
First my congratulations on your promotion; you beat most of my nephews at the front, who, with one exception, are only corporals. But you were ever meant to be the one who did things among the rank and file of the Tennis Cabinet of glorious memory.
Surely Mr. Pepper may be pardoned for speaking of a sergeant in the same breath with a marshal of France when an ambassador of France congratulated Mr. Bacon upon his sergeancy.
In a letter to Mrs. Bacon of September 2, 1915, Mr. Bacon gives a glimpse of camp life
Y. M. C. A. TENT
Camp of Instruction of Regular Troops
Plattsburg, N. Y.
Well . . . we are breaking camp early to-morrow morning and are starting on an 8 days hike through the country toward the Adirondacks.
I am still pegging along and am now the oldest man left, as the other old "has beens" have dropped out. Bob has made his lieutenancy and I am much pleased. I have been given command of a platoon which is the same work as Bob has although I am but a sergeant. Two platoons in each company are commanded by lieutenants and two by sergeants. I was killed in the engagement of yesterday . . .
I am looking forward to the "hike." I need not take my rifle being platoon leader but I think I will do so All [the] same . . . .
I expect to leave here not later than Monday the 6th . . . .
Mr. Bacon did like all the rest, and did it well. So well, indeed, that Captain McCoy, then on the Mexican border and destined soon to be with Mr. Bacon in France, sent him a line under date of September 20, 1915, "to give you the little praise that is so precious to a soldier. My young cousin, Frank Ross, was one of the lieutenant instructors and in writing me at length of the camps says, 'Mr. Bacon was the outstanding soldier of the lot.'"
The spirit in which he performed the duties that came to him from day to day is illustrated by an amusing incident which General Wood thus relates:
One day a at Plattsburg I saw a rather small regular soldier struggling along With a heavy locker. He saw Bacon coming his way, and called out, " Come over here, you look like a husky fellow, give me a hand." Bacon went over, shouldered the locker and carried it over to the man's camp.
A First Sergeant of Regulars, who happened to know who Bacon was, called the soldier over and asked him whether he knew who had been helping him. The soldier had no idea who he was. "Well," said the Sergeant, "he used to be Ambassador to France." This meant nothing to the soldier. The Sergeant, desiring to be very impressive, said, "He used to be Secretary of State when Mr. Roosevelt was President and was the head man of the Cabinet." The soldier, knowing nothing of these things, said: "Well, I don't know who he is; I just know that he is a damn good fellow."(198)
But Plattsburg was "merely an incident," as Mr. Pepper says, "in the life of this patriot, albeit an important incident. It was an opportunity to testify silently to his convictions. He grasped the opportunity and held it in a manly grip. There are many of us whose affectionate regard for him was born there on the shores of Lake Champlain. That regard outlives the period of Robert Bacon's enlistment for earthly service. We are proud to have such a friend among the Immortals."(199)
Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Johnston joins Mr. Bacon and Mr. Pepper in his reminiscences of Plattsburg, and, after recounting that he met Mr. Bacon for the first time there when he "modestly enrolled himself as a private and assumed his duties in the most unobtrusive manner," goes on to say that "by reason of his soldierly conduct and appearance, he was made Sergeant and then Colour Sergeant, of his battalion, which honour he shared with George Wharton Pepper of Philadelphia."
On the march the colours were kept in a tent occupied by Captain Dorey and myself, and one of my most vivid impressions of the Camp is of these Colour Sergeants coming for the colours at "first call." They laid their hats on the ground outside and apologized profusely for disturbing two very junior army officers.
The colours unfurled to the exact note of the bugle each morning, absolutely without fail. I do not believe the colours of the United States were ever carried by any finer specimens of American manhood.
Colonel Johnston met Mr. Bacon a little later in another camp:
My next contact with Colonel Bacon was at Fort Oglethorpe Training Camp in Georgia.
We had had a rather hard time organizing this camp and appealed to Robert Bacon for assistance. When it became known throughout the South that a former Ambassador and cabinet officer was coming to serve as a private in this camp, it had the most marvellous effect. He did come and entered upon his duty as a private in the same whole-hearted manner as at Plattsburg. He was an inspiration and a splendid example to all the men who attended this camp, and his influence on them is a permanent and lasting one.(200)
Mr. Bacon made the same impression on officers and men. This is finely expressed in an incident which is contained in a letter to Mrs. Bacon, written after Mr. Bacon's death by one of his own comrades at a training camp:
In the spring of 1916 it was my good fortune to be a tent-mate of Mr. Bacon at training camp at Chickamauga Park. The contact with him for that brief period, unintimate though it was, has served me as an inspiration at many needed times since. That I hold his memory in the highest esteem is but what thousands do, that that memory in the past had been of help to me, and that in the future that same gleam of nobility will beckon as brightly for me, is something I want you to know, and something I want to thank you for.
The last time I saw Mr. Bacon he was bearing the colors of the Training Regiment, the Flag was streaming before him and the sunset gleamed golden on the Flag and on his head. I will always think of him as leading---with the colors before him and the sunlight upon his head.(201)
That Mr. Bacon would serve in the war was evident to others as well as to himself. He could not advocate preparedness, urge others to go, and stay at home. His ambition was to serve in the line, but age and physical condition prevented its realization. As General Wood says, "When the Great War came, he immediately requested active duty. His eagerness for active service overseas was almost pathetic. He was willing to go in any capacity. He came to me repeatedly. [General Wood was then stationed in New York] to talk over the situation, and to discuss possible fields of activity and means of entry into the service. "(202) Doubtless other Americans and not a few foreigners could tell like tales.
Lord Lee of Fareham is one of these; but Mr. Bacon's application made to him as Colonel Lee, was in the days of American neutrality, in the form of a telegram from Paris under date of December 28, 1914:
If you would be willing to accept me as an orderly in some of your work should consider it great privilege to do anything to be of service---secretary running errands or driving a car---truly believe could be useful and would be more pleased and grateful than can express if you would give me this chance to enlist.
Mr. Bacon was associated with Colonel Roosevelt in the project of raising and equipping four divisions of picked men with regular officers in the higher commands, which Congress later authorized the President to accept in the Selective Service Act of May 21, 1917. President Wilson declined to avail himself of this authorization.
Fearing that this might be so, Colonel Roosevelt had already advised Mr. Bacon to go ahead on his own account, saying, in a letter of July 7, 1916:
On thinking it over it seems to me that you had better file your request to raise a regiment with the Secretary of War. If war came, I would certainly wish you in my division; but it would not be possible to say in advance in just what position I could use you; and moreover the Administration would be apt to try either not to employ me at the front or not to give me a free hand. . . .
The regiment was not raised.(203) Mr. Bacon had, however, taken steps to equip a regiment or division, if raised, and ordered a number of Lewis guns. He took them when they were ready, and they were put to good use in Plattsburg and other training camps. Part of the story is told in the following letter Of July 31, 1917, from Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Wolf, Commanding Plattsburg Barracks, written to "Major" Bacon, then in France:
I cannot express to you too strongly my appreciation of your action in loaning the 8 Lewis machine guns to us for instructional purposes. This war has developed into a war of machine guns and heavy artillery and it seems a strange turn of fate that in preparing these young men to be officers in the national army it will be impossible for us to give them the proper machine gun and heavy artillery instruction.
By great good luck, we were able to get the First New York Field Artillery here so we can use their material and through your kindness we were able to get these 8 Lewis guns for a short period of instruction. Of course we should like to have used them for the entire camp, but realize other camps have equal claim on them.
The rest of the story is quickly told; the guns were used and were rendered unserviceable until certain replacements of worn parts had been made. Money could not be procured from the Government for this purpose, they were therefore repaired at Mr. Bacon's expense. They were further used, and among others, by Mr. Bacon's son, Captain Elliot C. Bacon, at Camp Upton, of the 77th Division, before his command sailed for France.
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