ON JANUARY 19, 1917, Dr. Alfred Zimmermann, then Imperial German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, sent a note to the German Ambassador in Washington, and directed him to transmit it to the German Minister in Mexico. In this note Doctor Zimmermann stated that Germany intended on February 1st to begin unrestricted submarine warfare, and that if the United States could not be kept neutral, Germany would propose to Mexico an alliance that the two countries would thereupon make war together, and peace together, and that in addition to financial support, Mexico was to reconquer its lost territory in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. It was further proposed that the President of Mexico, upon his own initiative, was to suggest to Japan when war with the United States had become a certainty, that Japan should adhere to the plan, and that the President of Mexico should offer to mediate between Japan and Germany. The note ended with the statement that the employment of ruthless submarine warfare promised to compel England to make peace within a few months.
President Wilson was informed by the German Ambassador on January 31st, before the contents of this note had become known to the Government of the United States, that on the morrow, the 1st of February, Germany would begin unrestricted submarine warfare, and that neutral vessels might be destroyed, if found in the neighbourhood of the British Isles, as it was impossible for the commanders of submarines to distinguish between enemy and neutral vessels! President Wilson directed Secretary of State Lansing to hand the German Ambassador his passports, and, appearing before Congress on the 3rd of February, outlined what he thought the United States should do under these changed conditions. Unrestricted submarine warfare went into effect, and American lives were lost and American property destroyed. Thereafter the Zimmermann note came to light, and was given to the press on the 1st of March, 1917. A month later President Wilson appeared before a joint session of the two Houses of Congress on April 2, 1917, and asked for a declaration of war. Congress complied with this request in the following Resolution, signed by the President on April 6, 1917:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.
It is useless to discuss whether we should have gone in immediately after the Lusitania outrage of May 7, 1915; it is futile to conjecture what would have happened to Russia, the Allies, and the world if we had gone in earlier; it is enough that we do go in and that we were not too late.
Immediately upon the declaration of war, Mr. Bacon cabled to some of his friends in England and in France. In reply he received from them letters showing that they appreciated to the full the importance of the American declaration and its inevitable consequences. To M. Hanotaux he cabled:
April 10th, 1917
21 rue Cassette, Paris.
Profondément ému des événements de ces derniers jours je m'incline pieusement devant l'entrée de ma patrie dans cette guerre sacrée. Salut à la France, salut aux âmes nobles, purs et sans peur, des français qui m'ont été l'inspiration la plus élevée, la plus profonde de ma vie et qui m'ont consacré depuis les jours merveilleux de la Marne à la cause de France. Enfin et encore une fois Alliés à la vie, à la mort. Gardez pour moi je vous prie quelques pensées. Que je puisse revenir en France prochainement avec le drapeau américain c'est mon rêve le plus précieux.(218)
In a cablegram of April 7th, to the Right Honourable Herbert Asquith, then a Member of Parliament, and formerly Prime Minister, Mr. Bacon said:
My heart is very full and I cannot express the depths of my feeling of national pride and satisfaction in this solemn hour that my country has placed itself squarely on the side of the right. Accept my greetings and kindest personal regards and thanks for your noble sentitnents. With kind regards to Mrs. Asquith.
At the same time he sent a more personal telegram to the Right Honourable David Lloyd George, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, having succeeded Mr. Asquith, and the most prominent man of that country in public life:
Permit me, Sir, to express my deep and humble appreciation of the noble sentiments of your speech of yesterday. You may remember how keenly I have felt and understand the pride and satisfaction of this solemn hour and what it means to me that Americans may now again hold their heads high before the world. Accept my hearty thanks and kindest personal regards.
To a cablegram of a similar tenor to Lord Bryce, Mr. Bacon received a reply under date of April 19th---the anniversary of Lexington and Concord:
Thank you very much for your cablegram. It did us good. We knew how you would be feeling, but we liked to be told. It is like a new light in the sky to know that the American people are now standing side by side in a battle for all that is best in the world, Honour, justice, Humanity. We shall win.
Your people are taking off their coats for the work. Best send over some troops here, even if only a few thousand at first. Let the Germans see them, and realize what it is that has brought honest, peace-loving men across the ocean as they never thought they would have cause to do. This would surely tell on the German mind, inexplicable thing as it is. They must see they can't win. They must feel there is something wrong with their Government when it has brought the wrathful indignation of all the civilized world upon them.
You will probably be over soon, here or in France. . . . Mean. while, tell our common friends when you see them how we rejoice in this partnership in trying to serve and save the future of mankind. our best regards to Mrs. Bacon.
And one of Mr. Bacon's warmest friends, with whom he had been associated in France, at British Headquarters, in the early days of American neutrality, wrote to him from British General Headquarters, under date of April 28, 1917:
MY DEAR MR. BACON:
It was a great pleasure to get your letter by the hand of Doctor Strong, whose name has long been known to me in connection with tropical medicine. . . .
I have often thought of you since America came into the war and I have felt sure that this event must have given you the very greatest pleasure, after all your hard work for the Allies. It is wonderful how the entry of America has fortified the general opinion over here. I think that the trend of opinion was becoming a little pessimistic, especially amongst the French who have had such terrible losses and on whom the ictus of the war has been so horribly severe. And events in Russia were beginning to diminish optimism a good deal. But now the feeling has changed and we "look West" towards a new source of fortitude and a fresh pool of energy and resources. I wonder whether you will soon be over here again. . . . At this moment, I am back in the town where we all lived together in Thresher's mess in 1915. It is like old times being back here, but it emphasizes too much the stationary nature of this war to be back in a place sacred to the memory of 1914!
The action of the President met with Mr. Bacon's unbounded and outspoken approval. He hoped it was not too late. In moments of discouragement he feared that it was; in more than one letter from the other side, he says that just as Queen Mary said "Calais" would be found engraved on her heart, so "too late" would be found engraved on his. For more than two years and a half he had urged preparedness and preached the gospel of sacrifice. He had gone to the Plattsburg Training Camp as an example to his countrymen. He must practise the gospel he preached, and nobody could offer his services earlier and oftener than he. Because of his experience in hospital work and his familiarity with the medical field service of the French and British armies, he telegraphed his friend, Major General Gorgas, Surgeon-General of the Army, in the hope that he might be commissioned in the Medical Reserve Corps and sent to France. General Gorgas gladly availed himself of the offer and recommended Mr. Bacon for a Major's commission in the Reserve Corps, the highest grade to which initial appointments could be made from civil life. The recommendation was not approved. Mr. Bacon then bethought himself of the Quartermaster Corps, in which he believed he might be useful, because of his large business experience. He was exceedingly anxious to go with General Pershing and his Staff, soon to start for France. All indirect approaches failed. He went to Washington and determined to beard the lions in their dens. General Pershing, whom Mr. Bacon knew personally and who showed himself to be a true and loyal friend in the war. said he would be glad to have Mr. Bacon on his Staff if General Bliss, Chief of Staff, would ask his opinion; General Bliss, as fine and loyal a man and friend as ever donned a uniform, told Mr. Bacon that he would be glad to recommend his appointment if General Pershing should suggest it. Not much progress was made in this way, and time was pressing. Mr. Bacon therefore went directly to Mr. Newton D. Baker, then Secretary of War, to offer his services in person and to request a detail to General Pershing's Staff, which he had reason to believe would be agreeable to that officer. Mr. Frederic D. Keppel, then a personal assistant to Mr. Baker, and later on Assistant Secretary of War, stepped into the Secretary's office and came out with the word that the Secretary would lay the matter before the Chief of Staff and let him know the decision at noon. Mr. Bacon returned at that hour, to be informed that the Secretary had not yet got in touch with the Chief of Staff; but Mr. Keppel, who acted as intermediary---the two principals in this matter not being allowed to see one another---stated that a final decision would be given at 12.30.
Mr. Bacon presented himself at that hour in the Secretary's antechamber. Mr. Keppel got the Secretary's ear, the door opened, Secretary Baker appeared for a moment with papers in hand, said the magic word "yes," and Mr. Bacon was a Major and a member of the advance guard of the American Expeditionary Forces. He received his commission in the afternoon and his orders in the evening. Thereafter, he found a notary public, took the oath of office, and left Washington on the midnight train, Saturday, for New York. A day later, on the morning of Monday, May 28, 1917, he passed the Statue of Liberty on, the Baltic en route for France, with General Pershing and his Staff. The days of final service and sacrifice had begun.
His first letter to Mrs. Bacon was from the Baltic, on his way to the other side of the Atlantic from which all further letters were dispatched:
On board R. M. S. Baltic
May 28, 1917, Monday
Just on board at 4:3o and although it's against the rules I hope you will get this . . . . I think I must be doing right and that you will be reconciled . . . . I know how lonely you will be and how sore at heart but you must look forward to coming over before long. Send to Billy Phillips for your passport and give the real reason that you must go on business of the American Ambulance and come soon . . . (219)
P. S. . . . Not a word about our sailing!
The former Ambassador was returning to France in an official capacity---a Major of the United States Army on General Pershing's Staff. It was a wrench to the family, it was a loss to Harvard, of which Mr. Bacon was a Fellow. But family and college understood. "You have appreciated conditions," Mrs. Bacon wrote in her letter of June 14th, "so keenly for the last three years that now that your wish is fulfilled, I can well imagine what gratification this is to you." And in a note to Mrs. Bacon, of June 2nd, President Lowell of Harvard wrote and truly said:
I should think Bob would be delighted to serve as Major on General Pershing's Staff. He can be immensely useful to the force in France for he understands the French people, and as Ambassador was greatly admired by them, and he must feel that he is really serving the country in a military capacity.
There is, of course, no need of his resigning from the Corporation, and everyone would regret very much if he did so.
He may be gone a year or two, or perhaps less. Let us hope less.
Major Bacon's next letter was written three days before landing,
On board R.M.S. Baltic
June 5th, 1917.
I am afraid that long before this you have been worrying a little, and we shall not be in for another three days---not less than 10 days in all, and perhaps more. It has been a perfect voyage and this is a great old boat, steady as a rock, but is not fast. But the days have passed quickly, there have been so many things to do---meeting and getting to know 20 or 30 men, lectures every day at three o'clock on military subjects and, what do you think! teaching French twice a day for an hour or two each time---ten o'clock and four o'clock.
The interpreters, among whom are Winty Chanler and Willie Eustis, each have a class of three or four, and I have six---Colonel Harbord, Chief of Staff, Col. Palmer, Major Nolan, Col. Brewster, Captain Collins, and Lieut. Bonar, who by the way has asked to join another class as we are too far advanced! I talk French to them, and we study phrases and vocabulary, and chiefly pronunciation as they all know a little. What do you think of that!
It has all been very amusing and interesting and I am crazy about all these officers, and they are most kind and cordial to me, and expect me to be really of use to them in all sorts of ways. The General has been most cordial and encourages me to think that I may be of service on his Staff. I can hardly wait to get ashore although my heart aches to think that you may be worrying and grieving . . . especially if it is true that New York has been closed on account of three sailing vessels having been sunk, as reported by wireless, but we shall be in London safe and sound in three days.
This is the culmination of these last two years and ten months, and it is wonderful to think that after all I shall take part in this great struggle for the good of mankind-for the good of our own souls, in a way that you must approve. I hardly dare to think of arriving in England and France with the flag, and I know that I shall break down and cry like a child if any one says a kind word to me. I can't make this an interesting letter. . . . as I cannot tell you what we have done and are doing, and so it will be in France I am afraid,---"Somewhere in France"---A.E.F. which stands for American Expeditionary Force.---My address will be Major Robert Bacon, G.H.Q.---A.E.F.---France, or Morgan, Harjes, who will forward to me, as I expect to be very little in Paris, after I have helped the Ambulance at Neuilly all I can, and for the sake of the future of the American Ambulance at Neuilly and the hospital at Juilly and the Field Service and all the rest of it, I am mighty glad to be of this party,---I know I can be of more use in this way than any other. Major, or rather Colonel, Ireland is one of the very best, and I am crazy about him. . . .
I shall try my best to make you pleased and proud of me.
Admiration is often mutual. It certainly was in this case, if General Ireland's letter, written on October 15, 1918, after months of association, is to be trusted,
15 October, 1918.
MY DEAR COLONEL BACON:
It is out of the question for me to leave Europe without writing you a good-bye letter.
You have meant so much to me ever since we sailed for France in May of 1917, and you have been so helpful in so many ways to the Medical Department that I just want to give you my expressions of appreciation before leaving.
They have, for some reason or other, appointed me Surgeon-General of the Army. I am going back to take charge of the office and get the run of things over there and then come back here for further duty. In the meantime, I hope you will keep me in mind, for I should like to feel that I really have a place awaiting me among good friends.
I know of no American who has suffered in sympathy during this war so much as you have, and I know of no American who has done more good than you have.
The Lord bless you and your work.
Always sincerely yours,
M. W. IRELAND,
Major Bacon's first letter from the Continent was written at a time when three family birthdays were celebrated:
73 rue de Varennes
Paris, July 2d, 1917.
My heart is full of longing for you to-day . . . and I am sending off a birthday cable to you all---a sad birthday time, I know too well.(220) Courage! . . . and try to think of me as believing this to be the greatest, most solemn duty that I have ever performed, seemingly small and unimportant, but to me a sacred thing to take some part, as I could not have done at home, in this great wonderful saving and making of nations, for, if we had not come in we should have gone down, down in humiliation and shame, and our National Soul would have been lost. So I believe with all my heart, and, believing, I am impelled to make the sacrifice, and, what is far more important, to ask you to make the sacrifice of letting me go as I have gone . . . Here I had to stop and to-day is Saturday, the 7th, and I have had such a busy, exciting, and troublesome week that I have not had a moment. American Ambulance and Field Service, especially the former, have kept me awake many nights, but to-day, thank Heaven, I am beginning to see daylight, although there is still a hard row to hoe. I must not talk about it until it is settled, but some day I will pour my heart out and tell you what it has all meant to me. The Fourth was wonderful, the functions at the Invalides, and Picpus [where Lafayette is buried] described to you by the papers, and the march through the streets were beyond exaggeration. The tears have been very near the surface for me as you will readily understand. knowing what an old fool I am. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply I feel it all. My official family are the finest lot of fellows in the world, and I am proud to be along. I wish I could tell you all about it, and them, and what I do, and where I live (which I dare say you know), the most ideal place in all Paris. Tell O. M. that no words can express our gratitude and appreciation.(221)
These were busy days for the Commanding General and his Staff; they were especially so for Major Bacon, as it was for him "a homecoming," and he was the one member of the Expeditionary Forces to whom French was as a native tongue. It was, indeed, a great day for the Allies; American and British troops, which had never been seen together since old Colonial days, marched the streets of London in company, and France, war-worn but grim and determined, saw with bated breath and grateful eyes the advance guard of that American Army whose coming meant victory. Never was man more happily inspired in thought and expression than General Pershing, when he said on the memorable Fourth of July, 1917, one hundred and forty years after Lafayette's landing in America, "Lafayette, nous voici."(222)
A touching incident will perhaps make the meaning of it all to France clearer than any amount of description. The Poilus are said to believe that in some mysterious way their armies were led by Jeanne d'Arc. A French officer, recovering from his wounds in a hospital, was mentioning certain instances of this belief which had come to his knowledge. His nurse, an American woman, ventured to ask him if he accepted these stories, and if he himself believed in the voices of the Maid. While hesitating as to the reply which he should make, American bugles rang out in the distance, and, smiling, he turned to his questioner and said, "Voici les voix qui ont sauvées la France."'
The things of which Major Bacon wanted most to speak, he hardly dared mention, but he could write of the Hospital, which hung round his neck like a millstone. Mrs. Bacon was involved as well as he and it figures largely in his letters until it was settled to the satisfaction of all. It was, however, only one of the many things which he did, and it was only one of the many worries, albeit a very personal one. It was also an official duty, as a board of officers had been appointed to settle the status of the Hospital, of which Colonel Ireland was president and Mr. Bacon a member.(223) Major Bacon's letter of July 17th is full of the Hospital:
Never have I had a more difficult and trying job than the settlement of the American Ambulance question. For 30 days it has occupied almost all my time, jour et nuit, for it has bothered me so that I have not slept and many a night the dawn at 3 or 4 o'clock has found me wakeful and restless and full of exaggerated fears. Never have I cared more to settle a thing correctly, wisely, and with harmony, and every day you have appeared to me, and your intense interest, your loyal devotion of the past 35 months has loomed larger and larger, and I have suffered from the fear of a possible blow to you if things did not come out right. I repeat that never have I cared more for anything and now after these 30 days of uncertainty and fear, abject fear, everything has been settled satisfactorily, and on Sunday next the transfer will be made, and the work will be continued for France under the management, direction, control, and maintenance of the Army and the Red Cross. It is impossible for me to describe the different phases and steps which have led up to the settlement.
It would take me hours of personal explanation, which cannot be made in the written word. All I can say is, thank God it is over, and creditably and honorably over.
The proud record of the A[merican] A[mbulance], the monument of sympathy, the symbol of your devotion and of the generous givers at home, and of the workers here, can never be diminished. Nothing can ever detract from the achievement of unselfish, untiring, spontaneous personal self-sacrifice of yourself and the other workers for the cause under the old volunteer regime of the past 35 months, and now the absolutely necessary change has come, and the work will go on for France au secours aux blessés français, and the flag will come down on Sunday, and the new flag will go up---all honor to them both.
I cannot begin to tell you under the eye of the Censor what it all means to me; how my heart has been torn, how it has represented for me all the hope, all the anguish of these 35 months of humiliation. Well, it is nearly over now, and I can give more thought and attention to the great big things that are confronting us all, and of which I must not speak.
Did I tell you that Gicquel and I are keeping house? Me actually keeping house! The garden is perfectly lovely, but my friend Colonel Alvord says that he is so afraid of the Censor that he has described it 16 times to his wife, having nothing else to say. That is about my case, and there is so much that I want to say to you from my heart. The other work of which you speak has lost nearly all interest for me, and must settle itself, as it will now that it has been firmly taken in hand by higher powers.
Grayson Murphy is fine, and Jim Perkins and Alex, and they are all busy as busy on the biggest and finest job in the world.
Tell Davy that I congratulate him for his wisdom and courage in taking hold of it. The marvellous success of his campaign is one of the wonders and the possibilities for good and for real service beyond all dreams. Tell Mrs. Davy too how pleased I am for her, and how splendid I think it is---and now your own dear self and little family. I am delighted to hear better news of little Hope. Tell Sister to write me, and forgive my not telling her that awful hectic day that I sailed away. Tell me all you possibly can of the boys, even if you cable it, and of your life in Woods Hole and Westbury. I am thrilled about what you tell me of Davy and the Red Cross.(224) You are too wonderful---Cable me often and spare no expense. . . .
In a letter Of July 3rd to Major Bacon, Mrs. Bacon had said:
I hear on all sides how jubilant you are to be abroad, and to take part in the preparations for the awful days ahead. I only wish I was as active as you. . . .
and in acknowledging two letters which had just been received on July 7th, she added,
I knew you were happy abroad, even before I was told of ---'s letter, in which he said he had never seen any one more jubilant, for had I not read all this on your face before you left? I can appreciate what your thoughts have been for the past three years, and how ashamed you have been that we have not taken part in this struggle sooner, so I know what satisfaction it gives you to see us deep now in war, and doing our duty. . . .
[Paris] July 24th, '17.
I am just back from a three days' trip in the country, several hundred miles on duty, and it was a delightful change and respite from Paris, and the unhappy Ambulance situation, about which I found your cable on my return.(225) The most difficult problem I ever had anything to do with, and the most complicated by the personal equation. But now the change has been made and I have every confidence that the work will go on for France just as before, and you can send just as many endowed beds as come to you, the Red Cross standing behind to provide the necessary maintenance and the Army paying salaries and rations of professional personnel---doctors, nurses, and enlisted men, the civilian employees being paid by the Red Cross. The work continues under French military regulations and control as before, our reserve officers and nurses being loaned to France for Secours aux blessés français, till the end of the war, the old volunteer basis, with its proud record of achievement and sympathy remaining undiminished, untarnished through the years, symbol of your never-failing devotion and wonderful energy and courage . . . . (226)
It is six o'clock in the morning, and I have been thinking all night of your letters, and your life, and the boys. The impression that you have that I am jubilant is far from the truth. Do you not understand how the dread of the future hangs over me, too! Do you suppose for a moment that I do not feel it just as keenly, that it is not for me the most solemn and dreadful thing to contemplate! You cannot think that I have a light heart, and do not realize the awful possibilities. Of course I am glad that the Nation is to be saved by the very blood and tears that it must shed. The Nation's soul was nearly lost, and could we have held up our heads if we had stayed out from fear, and to profit by the agony of the rest of the world, and if that is so, can we the people, the citizens of the Nation, not do our part even with our lives if necessary? Noblesse oblige, as it has ever been, and the flower of the land must pay its great sacrifice. What use now to complain of our fatuous unwillingness to prepare, of our blood guiltiness? How can we escape, any of us! . . . Of course I am proud in my old age to be asked to play even a very small part, to make my own personal sacrifice, but I am constantly shaken with the deepest emotion which I cannot conceal. Never a day passes without a great sob in my heart, and a longing to be something more to you in this time of trial. I have made my bed, I am afraid . . . and I must try to show a brave face to the world, but my heart is full of remorse that I have not been, cannot be more of a comfort and support to you, dear brave soul, in this crisis. . .
Before the next letter a cable had come from Mrs. Bacon, clearing up the misunderstanding, and Major Bacon himself had received a detail which expressed appreciation of him and his work. His letter of August 5th is therefore not only cheerful, but ends with a touch of pleasantry.
It is so hard to write . . . when you have to stop every minute to wonder whether you ought to say the things you want to say. I am dying to tell you everything that I do and with whom I am working, but I must mention no names of officers and as mine is a life of very personal relations there is nothing left to say. I was so pleased to get your last cable that you and Davy were complètement d'accord, and that you and your committee are going right ahead. I had to cable you again to be careful to make a full statement to your contributors so that there can be no misunderstanding. There are no wounded coming to Paris now, so work at Neuilly is very light, but everything is straightening out I think and Major Peed and Jim Hutchinson are working well together.
I hope that there will be plenty of letters written to the donors of your beds. . . . It has been a difficult, and for me a sad and uncomfortable and trying time, but I feel sure that it is all for the best and was inevitable.
The work will go on as before, and the administration and service better than ever. This you can assure everybody with perfect truth and safety. . . .
I am doing my best to keep up everyone's courage. Murphy and Perkins are fine, and are doing great work. You may all be proud of the new Red Cross. It will do wonders for the French, and will be appreciated more and more.
I have a new job, and am very pleased and proud to be asked to do something definite. I have a desk in the office of the best and most important of the higher officers, and the work of organization and instruction is going ahead very fast. The whole problem is so colossal in its proportion, that it is fascinating, and, of course, of vital importance.
So far I have not had a moment to myself since we arrived, and have not accepted a single invitation, although I have had a good many. We dine almost always at home and Gicquel and I run the mess as I told you. Mrs. Sharp, who is very nice and really able, is to be the head of all the affiliated Red Cross Women's Committees. . . .
Isn't it fine about Bob's being chosen first? Tell him I was terribly proud of him, and am telling all my intimate soldier friends, and G. too and Ett and the girls and the babes. . . . Tell Sister I loved her letter, as I always do. (227) I wish she would write often if she can find the time. Grand-dada is not much of a "boom-boom" boy, but he knows it is his duty to try to play a small part in this awful crisis.
Aug. 13th, '17.
How I want to pour out my heart to you and tell you all my hopes and fears, and all the details of my life here and all about the Army, and the officers, and to discuss the war and France and England and Russia and above all America, and unless I can do all that I cannot tell you what is in my mind and heart. I cannot tell you how pleased and relieved I was to get your cable and to feel that you understood and were reconciled to Ambulance change. Everything is settling down and now all we need is wounded. I told you all this in my last letter but it has been so on my mind that you won't mind my saying it again. . . .
It is all so big and wonderful, and I long so to be of use and play a part. It is pathetic, and if you could listen to my longing to do something really worth while, you would pity me---but it is too late! I am very humble and would be satisfied with Oh! so little, and I shall wait as patiently as I can.
I am much excited to hear the news of the boys to-day---they must have finished their exams and I am in an awful nip to hear the result. I can't think that they will turn Ett down, as he fears. He would make a better officer than 9/10ths of them. I can't bear to think of them as officers and yet if they hadn't gone would you and I have been satisfied? . . . This war is changing everything for everybody,. as I have felt from the first that it would. It is reaching down to the very depths of our lives, nationally and individually, and we in America do not yet know it, and are still living in a fool's paradise, and a few of our 100 millions must pay the price and by our sacrifice pay that the nation shall live. It is unjust, but it always will be so, as it always has been. As for me again, what should I have done! What would you have had me do! What could I have done, had I accepted the fact that I am an old man unfit for any real service it appears! All the men of my age at home have jobs, business, politics, Red Cross of some kind. I had no work of any kind and I simply had to jump at any chance, and I must say that they have alll been kind and considerate and indulgent. All the French people have tried to treat me as an Ambassador, you know them, but I will not have it, and am trying my best to be just a number with no identity except my shoulder straps. They wonder and think it queer and imagine some hidden motive and meaning, knowing full well that I am not good enough for a soldier. . . .
On August 21st, Major Bacon writes from "A little typical hotel somewhere in France." The typical hotel was the Hotel de France; the place was Chaumont.(228) General, then Major, McCoy tells how Chaumont was chosen:
Later on in July, the Commander-in-Chief appointed him [Major Bacon], Colonel De Chambrun, and myself on a board to make a survey of Lorraine, and report upon the best place for the American General Headquarters. It was a very congenial board, and we not only were able to work very effectively, but with the most sympathetic assistance of the French High Command, and of Maréchal Pétain and General de Castelnau. General de Castelnau commanded the group of armies into which the American Forces were to be inserted, so that his acquaintance with the General came very apropos. We visited the General and he showed us every courtesy and gave us his potent assistance. Based upon our report, General Pershing decided upon Chaumont, and on September first, General Headquarters was removed from Paris to that place.(229)
August 21st, 1917.
"A little typical hotel somewhere in France."
I have very few spare moments. . . . New French people of every class---many conversations with soldiers, landladies, officials, functionaries, and all in my best French which by the way is sometimes good, but generally very unsatisfactory---you know the kind!
An aeroplane is humming over my head as I look out my back window into the court of the hotel, where there are automobiles and some chestnut trees.
I thought of you a great deal to-day . . . in a nice old garden with espaliers covered with fruit, and flowers-phlox and all those things that I know so much about and reminded me of you, and a nice little old lady, the only resident, who told me a pathetic story of why everything was not kept up, why many of her palms and orangiers and lauriers and all the other things just like yours were dying or dead, because there was not coal enough last year to heat the serres, and a terrace that looks out over a wonderful valley, and I felt the foolish choke in my voice as I talked to her, and tried to sympathize. Well, I've taken her house for a certain officer . . . . (230)
I have been here twice before, and this time for six days, and I am in command of the small but growing contingent. I wish I could describe the old church and the nice old crooked streets. . . . Your telegram about the boys and Bob's being a Major fairly delighted me. I am very proud of him, and of the others, too. Nobody knows, but you and I, what a satisfaction it is to have old Dobbo(231) come out so well, and little G. and our baby boy, and I read with dread, and a mixture of deep emotion and faith and hope that 2,000 officers are already ordered to France. . . .
Sept. 10th, 1917.
The church bells are ringing me awake and to work, and I have only a few minutes before I must shave and get my coffee, and hurry away for another busy, busy day---another just like the past twenty-five days, in this nice old town "out there" in France---just a few minutes to begin a little letter to you . . . only to tell you that I love you and am thinking of you and home every day in spite of the fact that from six o'clock until the small hours I am engrossed in a job which I must not describe, but which comprises pretty much all the human activities that you can think of, and even in my old age I am a little proud at having been complimented and congratulated by a certain officer for having done it well, inconspicuous and humble though it has been.
My big window looks out of the top story of what they call the chateau---two great big windows in a sort of corner tower where from a bed, the posts of which are fifteen feet high, I look out at the stars due west and think every night that over there you are . . . working your heart out for everybody but yourself---weary in body and mind but with a courage finer, bigger than any one of us and than any one else in the world.
If your boys and girls and your grandchildren ever really come to know and appreciate all this it will be for them a priceless inheritance. Bless your dear heart!
If you get this letter it will be probably in about a month---about the 10th of October---and I want you to remember that I am thinking of you on that day, for I may not be able to send a cable. Gicquel, my only comfort, has come in to wake me and start me off for another day, so I must postpone my little talk with you. My friends of this household are starting off to ride, but alas I have no horse, and for me there is not even that little exhilaration and relaxation.
Nearly a week has gone by since I began this scrawl . . . and to-day is Thursday, I believe, the 13th. I know it is the 13th because it is the General's birthday, which I did not know till twenty minutes before dinner and just had time to tell Gicquel to pick some flowers in the neglected old garden and to rush off to the hotel to get a bottle of champagne to drink his health, the first time we have had wine of any kind on the table, so you see we are not high livers. Well, to-day has been a red letter day in a way for me . . . for I have been given a real job with all I can possibly swing to, for every minute of the day, and which taxes every ounce of energy and capacity that I can muster to make good, and I find that I care just as much to do it well, and not to make mistakes as ever I have cared in my life, and you know . . . that with all my faults, I have always tried hard to do the thing that I had to do, and that I have cared a great deal, often too much. But perhaps it is better to be absorbed, as you say, for I have been very homesick of late and have longed to be with you, and share my hopes and fears and all the time I find myself asking what you would think, for I care more for that than anything or everything else in the world.
Don't forget me on the 10th "and I will pledge with mine. . . "
The winter ahead seems long and drear, and everything seems unreal. The news of poor Russia is very sad to-day, coming as it does the very day of the arrival of your clippings with Root's brave words of faith and hope,(232) which I have been sharing even up to the last days, and even now with new revolution rending her asunder, I have a sort of belief that the new spirit of the Russian people will conquer in time to save them from the awful fate of Prussian domination.
It is not possible that this monstrous thing will be permitted to succeed! We must all pay a tremendous price no doubt, and some of us must sacrifice all that we hold most dear, but the world will emerge a better, finer world, and will shake off the shackles of hate and lust and senseless passion, which the unspeakable boche has tried to fasten upon it. It cannot be possible either that these fiends will not be made to suffer for the pain and agony and humiliating degradation which they have willfully brought upon mankind. I confess that I cannot speak or think of them with anything but loathing.
I must stop now to-night to change my murderous thoughts. A mail came to-day, but nothing from you . . . and I know it is unreasonable but I was as peevish as anything---I look forward so to your dear letters.
I had a nice one from Sister from Bar Harbor with good news of herself and the babes (they must be pretty cunning), and a letter from Nelly(233) at Barnstable. Tell her I was delighted that she had been there and wish she would go there all the time. The old place ought to be provided for the next few generations as I have often said to you, for if anything happens to me, who will care enough to keep it going just for sentiment. . . .
I must go to bed now or I shall lose my beauty sleep.
I feast upon every detail you can find time to send me of your life, and of the boys' soldier life and prospects. Tell Bob I received his cable, but did not know how to answer. He will know best what to do, and God bless him. . . .
Six days later, September 16th, he began a letter,
I seem to have a few minutes before dinner . . . for the first time since I came here 34 days ago. Usually I get home, if you call it "home," just in time to eat without time for washing my hands. It has been a lovely, still September day, such as you may be having at home, and everyone except me has had less to do and almost everyone has been to ride or walk. I really miss the horses to-day, but I have sent to Paris to buy one if it is a possible thing, which I doubt, and I don't know who will take care of it, if I get one. I haven't much faith in orderlies.
I want so much to tell you in detail of my new job. My duties and responsibilities are almost more than I can count. I mustn't even tell you what it is, but do you remember my telling you about an English officer, a friend of mine with whom I messed when I was attached to the British Army, not Colonel Cummins who was a medico but a Colonel Thresher? Well, I have been given his command here in this nameless place although my proposition is far more complicated than his. Bob will remember I think what it is called. I want very much to go to Paris for a day, but I cannot leave at present for an hour. I need more clothes for the winter, having had two coats taken, my mistake, not by mistake, and it takes at least a month now to get things from England. I am very homesick for you . . . but I try hard to think it is all for the best, and that it was really my duty, although my conscience often wonders, as it is apt to do, and my heart aches when I think of you tugging away alone. All my friends here have left wives and families at home, but somehow I feel sometimes that the case of real soldiers is different. Not one of them works harder than I, however, or tries harder to do his duty, or cares more about doing it well.
General Pershing, in Special Orders No. 95, detailed Major Robert Bacon as Post Commandant of Chaumont, and put under his command all troops at the Headquarters; detailing assistants to the Commandant, and a company of Marines of the Marine Corps for provost and other guard details as the Commandant should require.
What were the duties of the Commandant and his assistants, which Major Bacon struggled so bravely, but so inadequately, because of the Censor, to inform his devoted wife? He was not the only officer puzzled, as is evident from an illuminating letter of Colonel Thresher, to whom Major Bacon refers to a fellow-officer,
DEAR COL. WAGSTAFF,
Your letter was forwarded to me here where I am on a few days' leave. I return to France on 25th. I'm afraid there is no "textbook" on the duties of a Camp Commandant, which are like Sam Weller's knowledge of London, "extensive and peculiar."
Roughly speaking, he is in the position of Commanding Officer of all troops except officers, at G. H. Q.---clerks, servants, grooms, chauffeurs, fatigue men, etc. My command now numbers 1400, exclusive of units attached such as, Signals, Wireless, Infantry guard, A.A. batteries. He is responsible for the discipline, pay, and all interior economy of these troops. He also arranges billets, messes, and office accommodation for all G. H. Q. The A. P. M. is a policeman pure and simple: he arrests offenders who are brought before the Camp Comdt. for disposal. On my return to G. H. Q. I will ask the P. M. to send you the A. P. M.'s handbook. I shall be delighted to answer any other questions.
My greetings to Bacon.
J. H. THRESHER.(234)
Camp Comdt. is also Censor at G. H. Q.
The gigantic task of preparing Chaumont to receive twenty thousand American troops devolved upon Major Bacon. Chaumont was a town set on a hill and without adequate facilities for such an unprecedented influx of men. It was composed of some fifteen thousand inhabitants. The little city did not appear to receive the proposition with enthusiasm, and the threatened lack of coöperation on their part might have seriously hampered the work. His unfailing tact stood Major Bacon in good stead, and almost from the first he had the Mayor and the town working with him in perfect accord. In person he made his contacts with the people, going from house to house to arrange for quarters. He took over the hotel, and rented in his own name two houses---one to use for an officers' club, the other to entertain visitors. These, however, were minor details in the tremendous task of arranging to care for the troops. For a military engineer it would have been no mean feat; it was a veritable triumph for a man recently from civilian life to accomplish it within two weeks, without instructions other than to have the camp ready, and with no assistants other than men commandeered from a neighbouring camp. It was his good fortune to be known to the officers of the Boston Cadets, who were stationed near by, and he was thus able to get engineers and men to do the actual work. Barracks were constructed, systems of sewerage and drainage were installed, water supply and shower baths put in, a recreation hut prepared, workshops, garages, and the like, essential for the running of an army camp, were built. Furniture had, to be procured, supplies distributed, and men and officers arriving unheralded in carloads taken care of.
The Mayor of Chaumont still speaks with admiration of the way in which Major Bacon accomplished what seemed to him impossible. He was astonished at the way in which a former Ambassador to France not only directed the work, but set to work himself, literally with pick and shovel. But of the achievements and of the obstacles Mr. Bacon could say nothing in his letters.
Major Bacon was interrupted and did not get a chance with his pen until two days later, September 18th:
It is now Tuesday night, and I must say a word . . . before I go to my restless bed. You have been in my mind all the time, and I have felt very, very far away and I have longed to be at home with you and to pour my heart out to you and have you understand I am deep, deep in this local soldier's life, and nothing but saying to myself all the time that I must go on with it, and play the game and lie on the bed which I have made, keeps my courage from oozing out altogether, and to-day your letter came, long overdue, and when you said that life seemed now all so changed and different and unhappy, it found an instant echo in my heart. . . . It will be 34 years now in a few weeks, and if after this dreadful nightmare, this awful trial and period of suffering and sacrifice you and I shall be spared for 10 more years together let us consecrate them now to all the dreams and hopes, to the ideals and faith of our youth, the simple, beautiful, homely things, which you and I have inherited, and we will try to pass on to our grandchildren, bless their hearts. The little blue-eyed curly haired girl must be pretty cunning. You say she is plump and round. Do you remember our own baby girl? The most beautiful thing that I ever saw! or am I dreaming? It could not have been more than 27 years ago!
I am tempted to send you a copy of Special Order No.---, and of a letter of the A. G. defining my duties, and responsibilities, which are, to say the least arduous, although, as I said before, humble and inconspicuous.
I was honored on Saturday by being invited to the first formal luncheon given to the C. in C. A French General with characteristic amiability said pleasant things about me, thanked the C. in C. for having given me my present job, which brought me into personal contact with him and told the guests of my appointment, whereupon another distinguished French General, whom I admire and respect tremendously, and who you will remember Hanotaux and I called upon at Chateau Thierry said "le pauvre, le pauvre,"(235) realizing that it would be indeed a thankless job.
I am discouraged about my French, as I am always at a loss for construction and correct expression, although of course I am much better than I used to be when you knew me. I do wish you were here. . . . You who have so long known and loved France, and of all others have done more and made greater sacrifices. Some day you and I will be together again in France, poor, tired, bleeding, suffering France. Oh, the pity of it all! Will France ever be the same again? There is no laughter, no happy face, no cheery smile to conceal the anguish, but plenty of brave, grim determination, and the sort of pride and resignation which one might have seen in Charleston, South Carolina.
Have I said this before to you? Perhaps, for I am constantly reminded of Miss Pringle by the gentle women of this place, whose dignity and fortitude and simplicity touch me to the quick, and bring tears running down my cheeks, as they offer me their rooms and their hospitality for our officers, and tell me gratefully and gracefully of their appreciation and thanks to us all, and to Amérique, who has come to help them and save them. Can you not feel the pathos, the constant emotion of it? Old fool that I am, the tears are running down my cheeks at this minute. And this is the atmosphere in which I am living. No amount of worry and engrossing attention to detail from morning till night seems to lessen the emotion of my every day. I hope I can hold out!---I am standing it finely so far, and with no letup or exercise and very little sleep. Everyone else has a bad cold and is run down, and sneezing and coughing and I am in daily fear of catching the infection. You know how susceptible I am to that kind of streptococcus, and to-day for the first time I confess I am a little tired.
I wish I could hear more of the boys. Do send me all the details you can glean. I know how hard it is to screw much out of them.
I was quite touched when the nice old French General of whom I spoke asked me if I had good news of my boys. I had told him two months ago that they were in the Army.
The letter of September 19th begins with a confession:
Wednesday, Sept. 19th, '17.
I boasted too much last night . . . for to-day I have taken the infection as I feared from some of the many who have been coughing and sneezing in my face, and now I am in for it, for at least two or three weeks, and I am afraid my poor old ears will suffer in the end, as anything the matter with my membranes always affects my ears. . . .
To-day I picked some flowers in the gardens, asters mostly, of many colors, and took them in the General's name (he is still away) to Fox Conner,(236) who was operated on this morning for intestinal adhesions, and stoppage, just in time, by Peek of the Roosevelt unit, which is here by the way, assisted by, whom do you suppose but Bob's old friend Finney of Baltimore, who was called in from his unit, which is about 40 miles away. So you see we have good surgical friends at hand, and medical, too, for Russell and James are both here, too, with other medicos, and sixty perfectly good New York nurses, all of whom are helping take care of French wounded, who are coming in every few days. Fox Conner is a fine fellow and soldier, one of the best, and I am delighted that he is coming through all right.
I am dying to hear where it is that the girls V. and P. are going to live in the South, and all your news from Yaphank. I see by the enclosed clipping of Northcliffe's fine article that Yaphank is already beginning to blossom like the rose and I suppose the mosquitoes will be gone before long. . . . Tell me all about it, and about your other things, and about the campaign for Mayor. Can Mitchel possibly get it? And what does Root say about the present phase of Russian Revolution. For my part I still have faith. And is there no chance of T. R.'s coming, after all? I suppose Leonard Wood can never come until Gen. Pershing is made a Lieut-General, which ought to be at once. . . .
"Still in the same place" is the heading of his letter of September 24th:
The only thing I look forward to with any pleasure . . . is talking to you, and if I could only put down all the nice things and the sad things that I think, you would be glad to hear them, I know, and to feel them with me, and to sympathize, but hélas, I have not the pen of a ready writer as you know only too well and to your sorrow . . . Having felt the awful truth and portent of this war more deeply perhaps than any one else that I know, for three long years---I mean Americans, of course, I am conscious of a different sort of feeling now from that of most of my friends. I cannot express it, or explain it well, so I will not try---but here I am. . . .
Friday, the 28th (Sept.).
I had to stop the other day, and every day since I have wanted to talk to you, and for some reason there has been no letter from you, although big mails have come from America. I wonder if it is not better now to direct letters straight to me A. E. F., France, rather than send them to Morgan, Harjes?--
It is almost too cold to-night in my big room in the top of the house, and the fire, which I started in spite of the high price of wood, has gone out, but I must have a little word with you . . . before I get ready for another day. I am a little disappointed because Félix is leaving me for home. I do not blame him for having a touch of "cold feet " and an uncontrollable desire to go home. I feel the same way myself, but good old Félix cannot stand the gaff, while I have made my bed and must lie on it. I like to think that the idea of noblesse oblige has something to do with it. The way of the next six months seems hard and long, and then what! . . .
I love to think that you often long to have me back, and to rededicate our lives together to the remaining years of kindly and loving consideration. I shall think of you in ten days as saying "Darby dear, on our wedding day," and I shall drink your dear health.
I am still pegging away, working as hard as I know how, and no one ever tried harder. The pace is beginning to tell a little, but I believe that I have got the best of my cold. The weather has been simply perfect, the most wonderful September days and nights, and I have been tempted even to ride for half an hour after breakfast every day for four days! What do you think of that, and I really think it has done me good, and has loosened a little my hold on the handlebars, as Root might say.
I have ridden a different Army nag every day, but it has been the first little indulgence that I have known since the war. The war has changed everything for me. I am dimly conscious now that the old incentive and ambition of life---the good and legitimate ones I mean---the building always for the family, for the future, have all taken on a new meaning, and I find myself suddenly at the end of my life---at the end, at least, of the constructive, useful period---cut off and adrift in this mæIstrom of world convulsion with you . . . left stranded and suffering alone on the shore of doubt and uncertainty. Oh for 10 years more of life and love and companionship with you to gladden your heart, and to look back with you through the years, and to smile with you, dearest, even through the tears which we may find together, blessed tears, if they but hold us tight together. Still more blessed smiles of faith and sympathetic understanding if they re-awaken the sunshine of our lives in the fading years. I long for them all. . . . You ask me what of myself and if I am thin and worn? I think I am probably, and I am afraid you would think me very old. I will try to have a photograph taken for you by the official photographer of the Signal Corps, who makes ghastly caricatures but pretty true to life. I wish I could find time to write to the children. My heart is full of them and I have much to say, but every short moment that I can find, I must write to you, although I end by saying nothing, so afraid am I to hint even at things that caution and fashion forbid. I may not speak of a thing that I do, and know it must be very unsatisfactory to you and to the boys and girls. Do give them my deepest love.
In his letter of Sunday night, September 30th, he opens with a statement that he has never been so long without a letter from home, and the threat that,
If it doesn't come to-morrow I shall cable again, for I must have news of you. I think of you now at Yaphank for to-morrow is the 1st of October, and the boys must all be in their respective camps, unless by some unexpected chance of war they may have already started for this side. I do not know what to expect, although you said they were going to be instructors somewhere. There are a lot of young fellows gathering in France, after all sorts of positions and commissions, and I can't quite make up my mind just what I think is best for our boys. On the whole I think they are better off working out their own line with the new Army at home, and with their little families within reach than to be exiled over here even with the opportunity of studying and learning, within sound of the guns, as the two Roosevelt boys are doing.
The long months of training ahead must be hard to face, but I can't help feeling, as I know you do, that the longer their separation from home is put off, the better. You and I can say this to ourselves strongly as I feel that our Army must get in and do its part, as soon as possible now that the nation is at war. You surely wonder what I am doing. I cannot tell you, but no bonne à tout faire ever had more things to do, or worked any harder than I have for the last six weeks with every prospect of its being harder and harder, unless my job is given to some better man because I cannot make good. It is a Godsend to have every minute taken up, but, as I told you, I have ridden a little these last mornings---an Army horse after breakfast, rather than before, as some of my friends do, although in this way I do not get to my desk before nine o'clock---pretty late and lazy, you will say---but the sunshine has been so fine that it has been worth it, and I am sure that Murphy will be sorry he didn't come, and now Félix is going to leave, and William and Gicquel, and Marie the cook are my only standbys. I don't know what I should do if either one should leave me as Félix has done---but I can't blame him.
You ought to know Marie, the cook, a real treasure, who works in this big house, helping the femme de ménage in every possible way, and seeming to have my interests really at heart, and doing her best for all the rest---seven in all now, as one Major has gone away. But tell me of the boys and Sister and the little fellows. You must all be thinking of nothing but the Army, which I am sure is very much in evidence. I wish I could look in on you. What is the feeling about our part in the war? I see to-day that Mr. House(237) is going to study peace! Would to God that he or any one else might bring about a just and lasting one! That is not possible until the world has imposed its terms by force upon the dastardly power of the Huns. Aren't the English splendid, and the wonderful French, and the poor, distracted Russians!
Tell Root again that I share his note of Faith, if I read him right, in the new spirit of Russia. The throes of childbirth of a great new nation, and she may still be sick unto death, and succumb as most men think, but I do not believe it, and I am more confident than ever that after this dreadful winter, which is ahead of us, the force that America is going to throw into the balance is going positively to turn the scale and assist the winning of the war. If that be so, I am resigned to pay the awful price, even if it breaks my heart and yours, darling. No! after writing it, I deny it. I am not resigned. I resent it. I hate it. I cry out against it and against those who have brought us to the brink and saved our souls. . .
I read three papers every day and try to keep in touch with what is going on at home, the Herald, Daily Mail, and Chicago Tribune, and I must say that the great change that has come over the nation is marvellous and satisfactory. How many, many times have I spoken of the dreadful price we must pay---of the slaughter and suffering and sacrifice which is going to. be caused by our fatuous unwillingness to see the truth and prepare, and now the fact that some of us saw it clearly and understood it, and cried out in the wilderness is forgotten, and who will care. . . .
I never write to any one but you---not even the children, and this I regret more than I can tell you, and you must tell them for me how many, many thoughts and deepest love and keenest interest I feel all through these dreadful days and weeks and months for them, and in everything that affects them. How I should like to be with them and live their lives and share their hopes and fears! I know much of their innermost hearts and of their ambitions, and of their sometime doubts. Tell them this . . . and that this old fellow's heart is still young for them, and will give everything in the world to help and serve them, and that he craves their love and understanding. Could they write me, do you think, the things of themselves that I long to hear!
Chapter Seventeen, continued
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