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Alvin York

The Diary of Alvin York
By Alvin C. York
From the Alvin C. York Institute Website

The following is a rare glimpse into history from one who was there.
Meet Alvin York, whose exploits inspired the world.

"There is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few."
~ 1 Samuel 14:6 ~

"How long my ancestors have lived in Tennessee is farther than I can tell."

The Diary of Alvin York
"The beginning of this story will start from the time I got my first notice in 1917."

OCTOBER 8th 1918
(The day Alvin captures 132 German Prisoners.)
"Argonne Forest, France-- So on the morning of the 8th, just before daylight, we started for the hill of Chattel Chehery."

From the official report made by officers of the Eighty-Second Division to General Headquarters
"Practically unassisted, he captured 132 Germans (three of whom were officers), took about thirty-five machine guns, and killed no less than twenty-five of the enemy, later found by others on the scene of York's extraordinary exploit."

"During the shooting I was guarding the mass of Germans taken prisoners and devoted my attention to watching them."

"I was so close to these prisoners that the machine gunners could not shoot at me without hitting their own men."

"I saw Corporal York fire his pistol repeatedly in front of me. I saw Germans who had been hit fall down."

"When the heavy firing from the machine guns commenced, I was guarding some of the German prisoners."

"One exploit in this day's work will always be retold in the military tradition of our country. It is entitled to a place among the famous deeds in arms in legendary or modern warfare."

Lieutenant Colonel Buxton's Letter
"It will be a great satisfaction to Mrs. York and yourself to know of the respect which all of us feel for the manly Christian Character displayed by this splendid American."

Armistice Is Signed / Hero's Welcome
"Aix-Les-Bains.-- and the Armistice was signed. And they sure was a time in that city that day and night."

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Sgt. Alvin C. York's Diary

In His Own Words


How long my ancestors have lived in Tennessee is farther than I can tell. They were the first persons that settled this country. My great-great grandfather was the first white man to settle here. When Grandpap first came he lived in a rock house, a cave, near Wolf River in the Pall Mall Valley. We live under the mountain, down in the river-bottom sections, a little over 500 feet from the top of the mountain, a distance of five miles. The Pall Mall Valley is located in the northeast part of Middle Tennessee, three miles from the Kentucky line.

My great-great-grandfather, Coonrod Pile, took up this land and owned all of the valley and part of the mountain. He was the first white man there and took first choice. There is a bunch of Piles still around here.

Grandpap York was in the Mexican War and helped storm the heights of Chapultepec. When he came back from Mexico he was taken sick at the head of the creek and died there. They call it Rock Creek. My grandpap on my mother's side, William Brooks, was a Northerner. He came down with the cavalry from Detroit, Michigan, and after the war he got into it with some bushwhackers. There was no law and everybody toted a gun. And they said he shot down one of their leaders; but they never proved it. But they killed him just the same. They hooked him to a mule and dragged him through the streets of Jamestown, the county seat, and they shot him to pieces. So, you see, my ancestors were all pioneers and soldiers and God-fearing people, too, like most all mountain people. We lived in a one-room log cabin. I can't say for certain whether grandpap built the cabin or not. I think he did. It was built out of hewn logs, hewn with a broad ax. They cut down the trees, hewed the logs, and built the cabin right there. The logs were chinked with clay and sticks. The inside was pasted with newspapers and colored magazine covers.

My father was a blacksmith. He ran his shop in the same cave where my great-great-grandfather spent his first night when he came into the valley, the first white man to get by the Creeks and Cherokees. In that same cave is where I got my early days of blacksmith training. He was very fond of hunting and shooting. Father would do his hunting every day, and if he had any blacksmith work he had to catch up with he would do that of a night. He was a good shot. He loved shooting very much, and always won every match. His advice was always to be accurate in shooting. He would always advise me to take more time and study this more. I grew up with him, hunted with him and worked in the blacksmith shop with him.

My mother was a hardworking woman, a good mother, and very religious. She always tried to instruct us to do the right thing. There was eleven of us, eight boys and three girls. We were all tolerable sized. I was the third boy, and the largest of the bunch. We are all living today, all except my father. God took him a few years before the war.

In my young days we had practically no schools in the mountains at all. The roads were bad and we had no money. The schools that were there were run about two and a half or three months a year. I got about to the third grade. There were over 100 of us in a little room and our seats were split logs with no backs on them. After I left school I never did get to go to school anymore. I worked on the farm and in the blacksmith shop. And I hired out to my neighbors and worked on their farms for forty cents a day. When I got a little bit older, I went out and worked on the railroad awhile. I might say, too, that in my early days I got in bad company and I broke off from my mother's and father's advice and got to drinking and gambling and playing up right smart. I read about Frank and Jesse James. I thought if Frank and Jesse could be crack shots I could too. I used to gallop my horse around a tree with a revolver and muss up that tree right smart. And I got tolerably accurate, too. I used to drink a lot of Moonshine. I used to gamble my wages away week after week. I used to stay out late at nights. I had a powerful lot of fist fights. I never was whipped, except when my mother and father whipped me. I was wild and bad for five or six years.

Then I saw it was no use, that I was missing the better things, and I decided to change my life and be a better boy. I knew all the time I was going along this kind of life, deep down in my heart, that I was doing things that were not right. Mother was continually pleading with me to quit my way of doing and change my way of life and be a better boy. And one night, after being very drunk and fighting, I got in after midnight, and found my mother sitting up waiting for me, and I asked her, "Why don't you lie down?" And she said, "I can't lie down. I don't know what's going to become of you when you are out drinking, and so I wait until you come in." And then she asked me, "Alvin, when are you going to be a man like your father and your grandfathers?" I promised my mother that night I would never drink again; I would never smoke or chew again; I would never gamble again; I would never cuss or fight again. And I have never drunk any whiskey, I have never touched cards, I have never smoked or chewed, and I have never fought or rough-housed since that night. I was very fond of tobacco, too. I used to smoke and chew. And there was plenty of cheap whisky. You could always get it. And I was big and hard, over six feet and weighed upwards of 180 pounds. And when I quit, I quit all. I am very glad I did. I am a good deal like Paul, the things I once loved, I now hate.

And then I was saved. My conversion was under the preaching or during the revival of the Rev. M. H. Russell, from Indiana, an evangelist to the mountains. He was an evangelist who preached very close. All that was not right he fought.He had a wonderful meeting there. He had more conversions than any one man that has ever been through the valley. Well, the way he impressed me was by his true speaking of the Scriptures. I knew the Scriptures, and when he spoke from them he spoke truly, giving the punishment for the wicked and the place of happiness for those who are in Christ Jesus.

"But as many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name."
~ John 1:12 ~

I had already told my mother I would quit the things I had been doing, and at that time I had already quit gambling and drinking and fighting and was ready to begin another life. I joined the church and became an elder. I was teaching singing schools and led all the singing in the church before I went in the army. That is why they used to call me the Singing Elder. Pastor Pile was the pastor of the church I belonged to. Pile is a very pleasant and a very handsome man. He is not the pastor of the church at present. He is first elder, and superintendent of the Sunday School. He also has a store and a farm. He practically runs the store himself. His wife and sister-in-law oversee the farm.

I don't remember whether I was working on a farm or on a road when war first broke out. But when we came in I was driving steel and blasting on the road that is now called the York Highway. I was earning a dollar and sixty cents a day. Had anybody at the time said the road was going to be named for me, I would have told him that I didn't believe it ever would. After the war was going on, before America declared war, we were continually reading the papers. I thought it was a very, very tough war. We decided long before we received our call that America would be in it. Then I got notice to register at R. C. Pile's store at Pall Mall, the post office.

"The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower."
~ Psalm 18:2 ~

I kept a diary right through the war. I kept a little notebook in America and then when we went to France I bought one of those little black French notebooks. I carried this little diary in my pocket. I wrote in it in camp, on the ships, and in the fox holes and trenches at the front. No soldier in the American army was permitted to keep a diary. It was against the rules, and anyone caught carrying it with him was subject to court-martial, because the carrying of the diary, telling places you had been, what happened, and what outfit you belonged to, if you happened to be captured, would give such information to the Germans as we did not want them to have. The captain, when the company was lined up, would ask if any man had a diary. He was Captain Danforth of Augusta, Georgia. And one day he asked me if I was keeping a diary. I told him I was not admitting whether I did or didn't, and he told me it would betray a lot of valuable information to the Germans if I was captured. And I told him that I didn't come to the war to be captured, and I wasn't going to be captured, and that if the Germans ever got any information out of me they would have to get it out of my dead body. And so the captain kept going, and I kept the little diary, and I have it right now in a safe-deposit box in my bank in Jamestown, Tennessee.


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The Diary of Alvin York

A history of the places where I have been.
The beginning of this story will start from the time I got my first notice in 1917.
Alvin's Dog-tag

"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
~ Psalm 90:12 ~

JUNE 5, 1917
Pall Mall, Tennessee: Well,the first notice I received was to go and register. So I did, and then I began to think that I was going to be called to be examined.


OCTOBER 28, 1917
Jamestown, Tennessee: So I was called to report to the local board for examination. I went and when they looked at me they weighed me and I weighed 170 pounds. and was 72 inches tall. So they said I passed all right. Well, when they said that I almost knowed that I would have to go to the army. I was lean and hard at that time. I had no fat on me at all. Up to that time I had never been sick; only once, in 1906, when I got wet throughout from fencing, and had pneumonia.

NOVEMBER 10, 1917
Pall Mall, Tennessee: So I just went on with my work and I received a little blue card that told me to be ready for a call at any time.

NOVEMBER 14, 1917
Jamestown, Tennessee: So later I sure received a card that said report to your local board. So I went to Jamestown and reported to the local board, and I stayed all night that night at Dr. Alexander's. I knew now I was in it. I was bothered a plenty as to whether it was right or wrong. I knew that if it was right, everything would be all right. And I also knew that if it was wrong and we were only fighting for a bunch of foreigners, it would be all wrong. And I prayed and prayed. I prayed two whole days and a night out on the mountainside. And I received my assurance that it was all right, that I should go, and that I would come back without a scratch. I received this assurance direct from God. And I have always been led to believe that He always keeps his promise. I told my little old mother not to worry; that it was all right, and that I was coming back; and I told my brothers and sisters; and I told Pastor Pile, and I prayed with him; and I told everybody else I discussed it with. But it was very hard on my mother, just like it was on all mothers, and she didn't want to see me go.

NOVEMBER 15, 1917

Oneida, Tennessee: The morning of the 15th I started for the camp, which was Camp Gordon, I went to Oneida, Tennessee and stayed there at the hotel until about 2 A.M. next morning when I entrained for Atlanta, Georgia.

NOVEMBER 16, 1917

Atlanta, Georgia and Camp Gordon: I got to Atlanta and there I entrained for Camp Gordon on the night of the 16th.

NOVEMBER 17, 1917
Camp Gordon: I was placed in the 21st training battalion, and there I was called out the first morning of my army life to police up in the yard all the old cigarette butts, and I thought that was pretty hard, as I didn't smoke. But I did it just the same.

I had never traveled much before going to camp. I had never been out of the mountains before, and I'm telling you I missed them right smart down there in that flat, sandy country. And my little old mother and Pastor Pile wanted to get me out. Pastor Pile put in a plea to the government that it was against the religion of our church to fight; and that he wanted to get me out on these grounds. And he sent his papers up the War Department, and then filled them out and sent them to me at the camp and asked me to sign them. They told me all I had to do was to sign them. And I refused to sign them, as I couldn't see it the way Pastor Pile did. My mother, too, put in a plea to get me out as her sole support. My father was dead and I was keeping my mother and brothers and sisters. And the papers were fixed up and sent to Camp Gordon and I was asked to sign them. But I didn't sign them.I knew I had plenty of brothers back there that could look after my mother, that I was not the sole support, and I didn't feel I ought to do it. And so I never asked for exemption from service on any grounds at all. I never was a conscientious objector. I am not today. I didn't want to go and fight and kill. But I had to answer the call of my country, and I did. And I believed it was right. I have got no hatred toward the Germans and I never had.

Camp Gordon: So I stayed there and done squads right and squads left until the first of February and then I was sent to Company G, 328th Infantry, 82nd Division. The 82nd Division was known as the All-American Division. We wore the insignia A.A. on our shoulder. We were made up of boys from every state in the Union. My battalion was the second under the command of Major Buxton of Rhode Island. I was in Company G, under Captain Danforth of Augusta, Georgia.

Camp Gordon: So there they put me by some Greeks and Italians to sleep.I couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand me, and I was the homesickest boy you have ever seen. Ho ho.

MARCH, 1918
Camp Gordon: Well, they gave me a gun, and oh my, that old gun was just full of grease and I had to clean that old gun for inspection. So I had a hard time to get that old gun clean, and oh, those were trying hours for a boy like me, trying to live for God and do His blessed will. So when I got this gun, I began to drill with the gun, and we had to hike once a week. So I have seen many boys fall out of the hikes. We would have to take long hikes with all our stuff on our back and carry that old gun. Ho ho. And we would have to go out before daylight and have sham battles. So I began to want a pass to go home. That first Army rifle they issued me was all full of grease. Of course I didn't like that. The rifles we used in the mountains were always kept clean. They were muzzle-loading rifles, cap and ball. They make their own guns there in the mountains. They are the most accurate guns in the world, up to 100 or 150 yards. I would rather have had a clean army rifle than a muzzle loader for what we were going to use them for, on account of the repeating shots, but they are not any more accurate than the muzzle-loading rifles. The Greeks and Italians came out on the shooting range and the boys from the big cities. They hadn't been used to handling guns. And sometimes at 100 yards they would not only miss the targets, they would even miss the hills on which the targets were placed.

In our shooting matches at home we shot at a turkey's head. We tied the turkey behind a log, and every time it bobbed up its head we let fly with those old muzzle loaders of ours. We paid ten cents a shot and if we hit the turkey's head we got to keep the whole turkey. This way we learn to shoot from about sixty yards. Or we would tie the turkey out in the open at 150 yards, and if you hit it above the knee or below the gills you got it. I think we had just about the best shots that ever squinted down a barrel. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett used to shoot at these matches long ago. And Andrew Jackson used to recruit his Tennessee sharpshooters from among our mountain shooters. We used to call our most famous matches "beeves." We would make up a beef, that is, we would drive up a beef and then each pay, say a dollar until we had made up the value of the beast. The owner got this money. And we were each allowed so many shots. The best shot got the choice of the hind quarters, the second best the other hind quarter, the third the choice of the fore quarters, the fourth the other fore quarters, and the fifth the hide and tallow. Our matches were held in an opening in the forest, and the shooters would come in from all over the mountains, and there would be a great time. We would shoot at a mark crisscrossed on a tree. The distance was twenty-six yards off hand or forty yards prone with a rest. You had to hit that cross if you ever hoped to get all of that meat. Some of our mountaineers were such wonderful shots that they would win all five prizes and drive the beef home alive on the hoof. Shooting at squirrels is good, but busting a turkey at 150 yards--ho ho. So the army shooting was tolerably easy for me.

MARCH 21-31, 1918
Pall Mall, Tennessee: So I got a pass after while for ten days. I went home, and while I was home I had several services at Greers Chapel, and the Lord blessed us and we had a fine little meeting. Rev. R. C. Pile and others were helping, and there were a number of people saved during this little meeting. So the Lord was with us. Bless His Holy Name. I went home by train and then got a lift part of the way and hiked the last twelve miles over the mountains. And I had to carry my suitcase, Ho, ho.

MARCH 29, 1918
Pall Mall, Tennessee: So I had to start back to my company, and that was a heartbreaking time for me, as I knew I had to go to France. But I went back to my company trusting in God and asking Him to keep me although I had many trials and much hardship and temptation. But as I could look up and say:

O God, in hope that sends a shining ray
Far down the future broadening way,
In peace that only Thou can give,
With Thee, O Master, let me live.

Then it was that the Lord would bless me and I almost felt sure of coming back home for the Lord was with me.

APRIL 19, 1918

Camp Gordon: So we left Camp Gordon in the afternoon.

APRIL 21, 1918
Camp Upton, New York: We got to Camp Upton, N.Y. So we stayed there a few days and drilled.

APRIL 30, 1918
Boston, Massachusetts: And then we went to Boston. Captain Danforth came around and asked every man in the company if he objected to going across to fight, and if he did what his objections were. He came to me, and I told him I didn't object to fighting, but the only thing that bothered me was, were we in the right or wrong? He and I had a short conversation. Then he asked me again if I objected and I told him I did not. He quoted, "Blessed are the peacemakers," and I replied that if a man can make peace by fighting he is a peacemaker. We thought when we got over there, it would not be very long before peace was made, and it was not very long after we got there that there was peace.

MAY 1, 1918

Boston: About 4 o'clock we got on board the old Scandeven ship and started for France. We left Boston and sailed down around to New York harbor, and we stopped there until we got our convoy. That was the first time I had ever seen the open sea. Well, it was too much water for me. Mark Twain's father drew the plans for the first courthouse and the first jail in Jamestown, Tennessee, the county seat of my county, and he hunted with my great-grandfather. Mark Twain's novel, The Gilded Age, is written about my country. His Obed's Town is really Jamestown. And his famous Tennessee Land Grant is where I live.

Mark Twain, of course, was born inland in Missouri, and, like myself, he had never seen the ocean until he was taken out. And when he first saw the ocean they asked him what he thought of it, and he said it was a success. Well, when Mark said that, he wasn't on the ocean. He was on the shore. And when our old boat began to pitch and toss I just knew Mark was wrong. The Greeks and Italians and New York Jews stood the trip right smart. We had a very quiet time going across, no real storms. But it was too much water just the same.

We went through the submarine sector all right, and the greatest excitement we had was at that time. We had a guard on the deck and if he was to blow the danger signal. During the night we had orders to keep on all our clothing and wear our life preservers. The guard, and I think he was one of the Greeks or Italians, didn't understand the danger signal very well, and he blew the fog whistle and hollered "Everybody on deck." Some of the boys had disobeyed the orders and had no clothing on, and no life preservers; and the greatest excitement was to see some of those boys climbing up on deck without any clothing on and hollering for their mess kits. Ho ho.

MAY 16, 1918
Liverpool, England: We got off the boat in the evening.

MAY 17, 1918
Camp Knotteash, England: We stayed at a little camp called Knotteash on the 17th.

MAY 18th 1918
Southampton, England: We went to Southampton.

MAY 20, 1918
Southampton, England: We started from England to France.

MAY 21, 1918
LeHavre, France: So we got to France at Le Havre. There we turned in our guns and got British guns. Well, we went out from Le Havre to a little inland camp. I had taken a liking to my gun by this time. I had taken it apart and cleaned it enough to learn every piece and I could almost put it back together with my eyes shut. The Greeks and Italians were improving. They had stayed continuously on the rifle range for a month or two and got so they could shoot well. They were fairly good pals, too. But I missed the Tennesseans. I was the only mountaineer in the platoon. I didn't like the British guns so well. I don't think they were as accurate as our American rifles. Ho ho.

My buddies were some boys from the East. There was Corporal Murray Savage--he got killed in the Argonne-- and Harry Parsons from Brooklyn, New York. I think he was a vaudeville actor. And there were a lot of other Eastern boys who were in my platoon.

It sure was a mixed platoon, with the Greeks and Italians and New York Jews, and there were some Irish and one German. I sure did miss the mountain boys from Tennessee and Kentucky. But I got to like those other boys in my platoon. I was the largest in the platoon.

We got our first gas masks in Le Havre. I was still a private. The man in charge of my platoon was Lieutenant Stewart from Georgia. The company commander was Captain Danforth of Augusta, Georgia. Our platoon sergeants were Sergeant Early and Sergeant Harry Parsons.

Early was busted for being A.W.O.L. after we left Le Havre. After that he was acting corporal. He was a good soldier. Parsons was never busted. He was a good soldier, too. I was made a corporal just before we went into the St. Mihiel drive.

MAY 22nd 1918
Ev, France--Taken the train at Le Havre and come to a little place called Ev.

MAY 24th 1918
Floraville, France-- We eat our breakfast at Ev and then hiked to Floraville. And we stayed here a few days.

JUNE 4th 1918
Mons Babert, France-- Hiked here and stayed a few days.

JUNE(no date) 1918
Fresseneville, France-- Went on to Fresseneville.

JUNE (no date) 1918
Toul, France-- Entrained for Toul and we got to Toul and got off the train.

JUNE 26th 1918
Lucey, France-- Hiked to Lucey.

JUNE 26th 1918
Rambucourt, France-- We hiked a little ways and then took the train for a short ride and then we got off the train and hiked to Rambucourt, and we stayed at Rambucourt until after dark, and then we went up and took over the front line trenches for the first time.

JUNE 27th 1918
Montsec Sector, France-- And we relieved the 26th Div. boys at night in the Montsec Sector at Rambucourt and we stayed there until the 4th of July.

It was a quiet sector, where they put new troops to train them before sending them out into no man's land. The Greeks and Italians did fairly well. I was out in no man's land. I did a right smart piece of patrolling, handling an automatic squad.

We had a lot of big stuff from the artillery coming over, and now and then a gas shell. The only firing we had then was from the snipers. We were new troops and we were nervous and jumpy at first. And when those pesky bullets came humming and buzzing a round our ears, just like a lot of mad hornets or bumblebees when you rob their nests at home in Tennessee, we used to do a powerful lot of ducking.

But soon we realized it was no use. You never hear the one that gets you.

JULY 1st 1918
Montsec Sector, France-- A few words on Christian witness in war and why a Christian does worry. Yet there is no use worrying about anything except the worry of so many souls who have passed out into the Deep of an unknown world and have left no testimony as to the welfare of their souls. There is no use of worrying about shells, for you can't keep them from busting in your trench, nor you can't stop the rain or prevent a light from agoing up jest as you are half-way over the parapet.

So what is the use of worrying if you can't alter things? Just ask God to help you and accept them and make the best of them by the help of God. Yet some men do worry, and by doing so they effectually destroy their peace of mind without doing anyone any good. Yet it is often the religious man who worries. I have even heard those whose care was for the soldier's soul deplore the fact that he did not worry. I have heard it said that the soldier is so careless, he realizes his position so little.

Oh, yes; I felt before I left home-- in fact, I told them when I left-- I was coming back, and I felt I was going to get back safely, and I never did doubt it in the least, because I had my assurance that I would return home safely.

I carried a Testament with me. I have the Testament I carried with me during all my fighting at home now. I read it through five times during my stay in the army. I read it everywhere. I read it in dugouts, in fox holes, and on the front line. It was my rock to cling to. It and my diary. I didn't do any cursing, no, not even in the front line. I cut all of that out long ago, at the time I was saved.

The trouble with the boys when we were in the quiet sector was, they would want to go out on top of the trenches and start something. They wanted to get into it and get it over. Those Greeks and Italians and the New York Jews! Ho ho. They didn't want to lie around and do nothing, and they would get on top and get the Germans out. They were always asking, where was the war?

They were always ready to go over the top in time of battle, almost too anxious to go over the top. The trouble with my platoon, it was too ambitious. It seemed like it got too far in front and had no protection on the sides sometimes.

Well, we would stay in a quiet sector a few days and pull out, and then we were sent to another and then into another, until we got into the real fighting sectors.

JULY 4th 1918
Cormeville, France-- Then we Come out to Cormeville and stayed there until July 17th.

JULY 17th 1918
Rambucourt, France-- Went back in the lines again and stayed until July 25th.

AUGUST 2nd 1918
Mandres, France-- We went in again in the sector of Mandres and stayed until August 8.

AUGUST 16th 1918
Pont-A-Mousson, France-- Went to Pont-A-Mousson and stayed there in the front until August 24th.

AUGUST 24th 1918
Liverdun, France-- Come out to Liverdun and stayed there until Sept. 1st.

SEPTEMBER 1st 1918
Pont-A-Mousson, France-- Went back to Pont-A-Mousson.

SEPTEMBER 12th 1918
St. Mihiel, France-- And the big American drive started and we went over the top the night of the 12th. Then we took a little town by the name of Norroy and went on to the top of another hill beyond Norroy.

We were right in the thick of the St. Mihiel drive. My battalion was in it right. We went into the front line trenches and were in there about a day and a night, waiting for the artillery to get in action. Then the artillery started a barrage the night of the 12th, about 1 A.M. We went over at daybreak.

We lost several men right off. We were advancing on the village of Norroy, and the Germans mussed up many of our officers and men; but we kept going and captured the town of Norroy. There was plenty of machine gun and artillery fire.

We lost a lot of our men because they were so anxious to get to the enemy that they kept pushing forward. We continued through Norroy on to the top of the hill beyond until we got in advance of our own flank. And the Germans were enfilading our right flank and shooting at us from the rear.

Those Greeks and Italians and New York Jews were sure turning out to be good soldiers. They sure kept on going.

But ho ho, they burnt up a lot of ammunition. When we captured Norroy, we mopped up the houses and went through the town looking for prisoners. And a lot of our boys knocked the bungs out of some barrels of wine and drank some; and then they wanted to keep going right on to Berlin.

And there was one big house there, all locked up. It looked like headquarters, but when we surrounded and stormed it we found it was a storehouse and it was full of Belgian hares. Ho ho. And when we started back in the night one of the boys took a milk goat that was captured and was leading it back to Pong-a-Mouson, when one of the officers called to him and asked him what he was doing with that goat. He answered, "Sir, I'm just going back to put a little cream in my coffee."

While we were dug in on the hillside beyond Norroy we saw a little vineyard. We were very hungry and I'm telling you those grapes just naturally made our mouths water. So we began to slip back after the grapes. But the Germans had an observation balloon up in the air, and they saw us in the vineyard and directed the German artillery to tech [touch] us off.

Several of our boys were mussed up, and we had orders not to go back there any more. Well, that night I decided to go back and get me some of those grapes. I just stalked back, and was keeping very quiet so I wouldn't be seen, when a shell landed near, and I jumped and ran--and I ran right into my own captain! He liked grapes too. Ho ho. And we both fled together.

The Germans threw a lot of gas shells into Norroy and we had to wear our gas masks for several hours. Many of the boys were gassed or killed. Well, seeing the boys all shot up, gassed, blown to pieces, and killed lying about us, there is no tongue or human being who can ever tell the feeling of a man during this time. But I never doubted in the thickest of the battle but what God would bring me through safe.

I had the assurance before I left home. And never did doubt it. I had the assurance and I have always been taught that all of God's promises are true.

The St. Mihiel offensive opened of September 12th, and I think it was as complete a drive and as well arranged as ever could have been arranged by any general of any army. It was a great success.

The majority of the boys were 100 percent for General Pershing. Of course, there were a few that didn't think so much of him. but as a whole the army was back of him.

Our battalion in the drive at St.Mihiel kept pressing on so fast, and the battalions that relieved us, too, that we were all shot to pieces and had to be taken out after a few days for replacements.

We rested right back of Pont-A-Mousson in a little valley just over the hill. But I never heard of that goat any more. I don't know whether the boy got the cream for his coffee or not.

We came out of the front line on September 17th, after about a week of tough fighting.

SEPTEMBER 17th 1918
St. Mihiel, France-- We came out to some woods and camped there and got us something to eat.

OCTOBER 3rd 1918
Zona Woods, France-- We camped overnight on a high hill in the woods.

October 4th 1918
Argonne Forest, France-- We went on into the Argonne Forest where we stayed overnight.

The Battle of the Argonne started the night of the 28th of September. Well, we started on a hike, going on into the Argonne, and camped in the Zona Woods on October 3. The woods about here hadn't been shot up much. We hadn't yet reached the main battle grounds. But we moved up on the 4th, and I'm telling you the woods were shot all to pieces and the ground was all torn up with shells.

OCTOBER 5th 1918
Argonne Forest, France-- We went out on the main road and lined up and started for the front and the Germans was shelling the road and the airplanes was humming over our heads, and we were stumbling over dead horses and dead men, and the shells were bursting all around us.

And then it was I could see the power of God helped men if they would only trust Him.

Oh, it was there I could look up and say:

"O Jesus, the great rock of foundation
Whereon my feet were set with sovereign grace.
Through shells or death with all their agitation.
Thou wilt protect me if I will only trust in Thy grace.
Bless Thy Holy Name!"

OCTOBER 7th 1918
Argonne Forest, France-- We lay in some little holes by the roadside all day. That night we went and stayed a little while and come back to our little holes and the shells busting all around us. I saw men just blown up by the big German shells. So the order came for us to take hills 223 and 240 the 8th.

It was raining a little bit all day, drizzly and very damp. Lots of big shells bursting all around us. We were not up close enough for the machine guns to reach us, but airplanes were buzzing overhead most all the time, just like a lot of hornets. Lots of men were killed by the artillery fire. And lots more wounded.

We saw quite a lot of our machine gun battalion across the road from us blown up by the big shells. The woods were all mussed up and looked as if a terrible cyclone had swept through them.

But God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever think of doing an awful thing like that. It looked like "the abomination of desolation" must look like. And all through the long night those big guns flashed and growled just like the lightning and the thunder when it storms in the mountains at home.

And, oh my, we had to pass the wounded. And some of them were on stretchers going back to the dressing stations, and some of them were lying around, moaning and twitching. And the dead were all along the road. And it was wet and cold. And it all made me think of the Bible and the story of the Anti-Christ and Armageddon.

And I'm telling you the little log cabin in Wolf Valley in old Tennessee seemed a long long way off.

That night the orders came for us to take Hill 223. The zero hour was set for 6 o'clock, which was just before daylight. We were to go over the top, take the hill, and advance across the valley to the ridges on the other side, and take them and press on to the Decauville Railroad, which was our objective. It was a very important railroad for the Germans.

And the Lost Battalion was in there somewhere, needing help most awful bad!


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"When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."
~ Deuteronomy 20:1 ~

OCTOBER 8th 1918
Argonne Forest, France-- So on the morning of the 8th, just before daylight, we started for the hill of Chattel Chehery. So before we got there it got light, and the Germans sent over aheavy barrage and also gas, and we put on our gas masks and just pressed right on thought those shells and got to the top of Hill 223 to where we was to start over the top at 6:10 A. M.

And they was to give us a barrage. So the time came, and no barrage, and we had to start without one. So as we started over the top at 6:10 A.M., and the Germans was putting their machines guns to work all over the hill in front of us and on our left and right. So I was in support and I could see my pals getting picked off until it almost looked like there was none left.

This was our first offensive battle in the Argonne. My battalion was one of the attacking battalions. My platoon was the second. We were in support of the first. We advanced just a few yards behind them. We got through the shells and the gas all right, and occupied Hill 223, which was to be our jumping off place for the advance on the railroad. When the zero hour came, we went over the top and started our advance.

We had to charge across a valley several hundred yards wide and rush the machine gun emplacements on the ridge on the far side. And there were machine guns on the ridges on our flanks too.

It was kind of triangular shaped valley. So you see we were getting it from the front and both flanks. Well, the first and second waves got about halfway across the valley and then were held up by machine gun fire from the three sides. It was awful. Our loses were very heavy.

The advancement was stopped and we were ordered to dig in. I don't believe our whole battalion or even our whole division, could have taken those machine guns by a straightforward attack.

The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. It was hilly country with plenty of brush, and they had plenty of machine guns entrenched along those commanding ridges. And I'm telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. And, to make matters worse, something had happened to our artillery and we had no barrage.

So our attack just faded out. And there we were, lying down, about halfway across, and no barrage, and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard.

I just knew that we couldn't go on again until those machine guns were mopped up. So we decided to try and get them by a surprise attack in the rear.

We figured there must have been over thirty of them, and they were hidden on the ridges about 300 yards in front and on the left of us.

OCTOBER 8th 1918 (continued)
So there was 17 of us boys went around on the left flank to see if we couldn't put those guns out of action. So when we went around and fell in behind those guns, we first saw two Germans with Red Cross bands on their arms. So we asked them to stop, and they did not. So one of the boys shot at them and they run back to our right. So we all run after them--

Sergeant Harry Parsons gave the command to what was left of our squads-- my squad, Corporal Savage's squad, Corporal Early's, and Corporal Cutting's-- to go around through the brush and try and make the surprise attack.

According to orders, we advanced through our front line and on through the brush and up the hill on the left. We went very quietly and quickly. We had to. And we took care to keep well to our left.

Without any loss and in right smart time, we were across the valley and on the hill where the machine guns were emplaced. The brush and the hilly nature of the country hid us from the Germans.

We were nearly 300 yards in front of our own front line. When we figured we were on top of the hill and on their left flank, we had a little conference.

Some of the boys wanted to attack from the flank. But Early and I and some of the others thought it would be best to go right on over the hill and jump them from the rear. We decided on this rear attack.

We opened up in skirmishing order and flitting from brush to brush, quickly crossed over the hill and down into the gully behind. Then we suddenly swung around behind them. The first Germans we saw were two men with Red Cross bands on their arms. They jumped out of the brush in front of us and bolted like two scared rabbits.

We called to them to surrender, and one of our boys fired and missed. And they kept on going. We wanted to capture them before they gave the alarm. We were now well behind the German trench and in the rear of the machine guns that were holding up our big advance.

We were deep in the brush and we couldn't see the Germans and they couldn't see us. But we could hear their machine guns shooting something awful. Savage's squad was leading, and mine, Early's and Cutting's followed.

OCTOBER 8th 1918 (continued)
--And when we jumped across a little stream of water that was there, they was about 15 or 20 Germans jumped up and threw up their hands and said, "Kamerad!" So the one in charge of us boys told us not to shoot: they was going to give up anyway.

It was headquarters. There were orderlies, stretcher bearers and runners, and a major and two other officers, They were just having breakfast and there was a mess of beef-steaks, jellies, jams, and loaf bread around. They were unarmed, all except the major.

We jumped them right smart and covered them, and told them to throw up their hands and to keep them up. And they did. I guess they thought the whole American army was in their rear. And we didn't stop to tell them anything different. No shots were fired, and there was no talking between us except when we told them to "put them up."

OCTOBER 8th 1918 (continued)
So by this time some of the Germans from on the hill was shooting at us. Well I was giving them the best I had, and by this time the Germans had got their machine guns turned around and fired on us. So they killed 6 and wounded 3 of us. So that just left 8, and then we got into it right by this time. So we had a hard battle for a little while--

I don't know whether it was the German major, but one yelled something out in German that we couldn't understand. And then the machine guns on top swung around and opened fire on us. There were about thirty of them. They were commanding us from a hillside less than thirty yards away. They couldn't miss. And they didn't!

They killed all of Savage's squad; they got all of mine but two; they wounded Cutting and killed two of his squad; and Early's squad was well back in the brush on the extreme right and not yet under the direct fire of the machine guns, and so they escaped. All except Early. He went down with three bullets in his body. That left me in command. I was right out there in the open.

And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a 'racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush, I didn't even have time to kneel or lie down.

I don't know what the other boys were doing. They claim they didn't fire a shot. They said afterwards they were on the right, guarding the prisoners. And the prisoners were lying down and the machine guns had to shoot over them to get me. As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them.

I had no time nohow to do nothing but watch them-there German machine gunners and give them the best I had. Every time I seed a German I jes teched him off. At first I was shooting from a prone position; that is lying down; jes like we often shoot at the targets in the shooting matches in the mountains of Tennessee; and it was jes about the same distance. But the targets here were bigger. I jes couldn't miss a German's head or body at that distance. And I didn't. Besides, it weren't no time to miss nohow.

I knowed that in order to shoot me the Germans would have to get their heads up to see where I was lying. And I knowed that my only chance was to keep their heads down. And I done done it. I covered their positions and let fly every time I seed anything to shoot at. Every time a head come up I done knocked it down. Then they would sorter stop for a moment and then another head would come up and I would knock it down, too. I was giving them the best I had.

I was right out in the open and the machine guns [there were over thirty of them in continuous action] were spitting fire and cutting up all around me something awful. But they didn't seem to be able to hit me. All the time the Germans were shouting orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. Of course, all of this only took a few minutes. As soon as I was able I stood up and begun to shoot off-hand, which is my favorite position. I was still sharpshooting with that-there old army rifle. I used up several clips. The barrel was getting hot and my rifle ammunition was running low, or was where it was hard for me to get at it quickly. But I had to keep on shooting jes the same.

In the middle of the fight a German officer and five men done jumped out of a trench and charged me with fixed bayonets. They had about twenty-five yards to come and they were coming right smart. I only had about half a clip left in my rifle; but I had my pistol ready. I done flipped it out fast and teched them off, too.

I teched off the sixth man first; then the fifth; then the fourth; then the third; and so on. That's the way we shoot wild turkeys at home. You see we don't want the front ones to know that we're getting the back ones, and then they keep on coming until we get them all. Of course, I hadn't time to think of that. I guess I jes naturally did it. I knowed, too, that if the front ones wavered, or if I stopped them the rear ones would drop down and pump a volley into me and get me.

Then I returned to the rifle, and kept right on after those machine guns. I knowed now that if I done kept my head and didn't run out of ammunition I had them. So I done hollered to them to come down and give up. I didn't want to kill any more'n I had to. I would tech a couple of them off and holler again. But I guess they couldn't understand my language, or else they couldn't hear me in the awful racket that was going on all around. Over twenty Germans were killed by this time.

OCTOBER 8th 1918 (continued)
--and I got hold of the German major. After he seed me stop the six Germans who charged with fixed bayonets he got up off the ground and walked over to me and yelled "English?"

I said, "No, not English."

He said, "What?"

I said, "American."

He said, "Good -----!" Then he said, "If you won't shoot any more I will make them give up." I had killed over twenty before the German major said he would make them give up. I covered him with my automatic and told him if he didn't make them stop firing I would take off his head next. And he knew I meant it. He told me if I didn't kill him, and if I stopped shooting the others in the trench, he would make them surrender.

So he blew a little whistle and they came down and began to gather around and throw down their guns and belts. All but one of them came off the hill with their hands up, and just before that one got to me he threw a little hand grenade which burst in the air in front of me.

I had to tech him off. The rest surrendered without any more trouble. There were nearly 100 of them.

OCTOBER 8th 1918 (continued)
So we had about 80 or 90 Germans there disarmed, and had another line of Germans to go through to get out. So I called for my men, and one of them answered from behind a big oak tree, and the others were on my right in the brush.

So I said, "Let's get these Germans out of here."

One of my men said, "it is impossible."

So I said, "No; let's get them out."

So when my man said that, this German major said, "How many have you got?" and I said, "I have got a-plenty," and pointed my pistol at him all the time.

In this battle I was using a rifle and a .45 Colt automatic pistol.

So I lined the Germans up in a line of twos, and I got between the ones in front, and I had the German major before me. So I marched them straight into those other machine guns and I got them.

The German major could speak English as well as I could. Before the war he used to work in Chicago. And I told him to keep his hands up and to line up his men in column of twos, and to do it in double time. And he did it. And I lined up my men that were left on either side of the column, and I told one to guard the rear. I ordered the prisoners to pick up and carry our wounded. I wasn't a-goin' to leave any good American boys lying out there to die. So I made the Germans carry them. And they did.

And I takened the major and placed him at the head of the column and I got behind him and used him as a screen. I poked the automatic in his back and told him to hike. And he hiked.

The major suggested we go down a gully, but I knew that was the wrong way. And I told him we were not going down any gully. We were going straight through the German front line trenches back to the American lines.

It was their second line that I had captured. We sure did get a long way behind the German trenches! And so I marched them straight at that old German front line trench. And some more machine guns swung around and began to spit at us. I told the major to blow his whistle or I would take off his head and theirs too. So he blew his whistle and they all surrendered-- all except one. I made the major order him to surrender twice. But he wouldn't. And I had to tech him off. I hated to do it. I've been doing a tolerable lot of thinking about it since. He was probably a brave soldier boy. But I couldn't afford to take any chances and so I had to let him have it.

There was considerably over a hundred prisoners now. It was a problem to get them back safely to our own lines. There was so many of them there was danger of our own artillery mistaking us for a German counter-attack and opening up on us. I sure was relieved when we run into the relief squads that had been sent forward through the brush to help us.

On the way back we were constantly under heavy shell fire and I had to double-time them to get them through safely. There was nothing to be gained by having any more of them wounded or killed. They done surrendered to me and it was up to me to look after them. And so I done done it.

OCTOBER 8th 1918 (continued)
So when I got back to my major's p.c. I had 132 prisoners. We marched those German prisoners on back into the American lines to the battalion p.c. (post of command), and there we came to the Intelligence Department. Lieutenant Woods came out and counted 132 prisoners. And when he counted them he said, "York, have you captured the whole German army?" And I told him I had a tolerable few.

We were ordered to take them out to regimental headquarters at Chattel Chehery, and from there all the way back to division headquarters, and turn them over to the military police. On the way back we were constantly under heavy shell fire and I had to double time them to get them through safely.

There was nothing to be gained by having any more of them wounded or killed. They had surrendered to me, and it was up to me to look after them. And so I done done it.

I had orders to report to Brigadier General Lindsey, and he said to me, "Well, York, I hear you have captured the whole ------ German army." And I told him I only had 132.

After a short talk he sent us to some artillery kitchens, where we had a good warm meal. And it sure felt good. Then we rejoined our outfits and with them fought through to our objective, the Decauville Railroad.

And the Lost Battalion was able to come out that night. We cut the Germans off from their supplies when we cut that old railroad, and they withdrew and backed up.

OCTOBER 8th 1918 (continued)
So you can see here in this case of mine where God helped me out. I had been living for God and working in the church some time before I come to the army. So I am a witness to the fact that God did help me out of that hard battle; for the bushes were shot up all around me and I never got a scratch.

So you can see that God will be with you if you will only trust Him; and I say that He did save me. Now, He will save you if you will only trust Him.

The next morning Captain Danforth sent me back with some stretcher bearers to see if there were any of our American boys that we had missed. But they were all dead. And there were a lot of German dead. We counted twenty-eight, which is just the number of shots I fired. And there were thirty-five machine guns and a whole mess of equipment and small arms.

The salvage corps was busy packing it up. And I noticed the bushes all around where I stood in my fight with the machine guns were all cut down. The bullets went over my head and on either side. But they never touched me.

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From the official report made by officers of the Eighty-Second Division to General Headquarters:

The part which Corporal York individually played in this attack (the capture of the Decauville Railroad) is difficult to estimate. Practically unassisted, he captured 132 Germans (three of whom were officers), took about thirty-five machine guns, and killed no less than twenty-five of the enemy, later found by others on the scene of York's extraordinary exploit.

This story has been carefully checked in every possible detail from headquarters of this division and is entirely substantiated.

Although York's statement tends to underestimate the desperate odds which he overcame, it has been decided to forward to higher authority the account given in his own name.
The success of this assault had a far reaching effect in relieving the enemy pressure against American forces in the heart of the Argonne Forest.

Following are the affidavits of Privates Donahue, Sacina, Beardsley, and Wills, unwounded members of York's patrol. These affidavits are among the records Lieutenant Colonel G. Edward Buxton, junior official historian of the Eighty-second Division.

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During the shooting I was guarding the mass of Germans taken prisoners and devoted my attention to watching them. When we first came in on the Germans, I fired a shot at them before they surrendered. Afterwards I was busy guarding the prisoners and did not fire a shot. I could only see Privates Wills, Sacina, and Sok. They were also guarding prisoners as I was doing.

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I was guarding the prisoners with my rifle and bayonet on the right flank of the prisoners. I was so close to these prisoners that the machine gunners could not shoot at me without hitting their own men. This, I think saved me from being hit. During the firing, I remained on guard, watching these prisoners, and unable to turn around and fire myself for this reason. I could not see any of the other men in my detachment.

From this point I saw the German captain and had aimed my rifle at him when he blew his whistle for the Germans to stop firing. I saw Corporal York, who called out to us, and when we all joined him, I saw Americans besides myself. These were Corporal York, Privates Beardsley, Donahue, Wills, Sok, Johnson and Konotski.

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I was at first near Corporal York, but soon after thought it would be better to take to cover behind a large tree about fifteen paces in rear of Corporal York, Privates Dymowski and Warcing were on each side of me and both were killed by machine gun fire. I saw Corporal York fire his pistol repeatedly in front of me. I saw Germans who had been hit fall down.
I saw the German prisoners, who were still in a bunch together, waving their hands at the machine gunners on the hill as if motioning for them to go back. Finally the fire stopped and Corporal York told me to have the prisoners fall in column of twos and take my place in the rear.

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When the heavy firing from the machine guns commenced, I was guarding some of the German prisoners. During this time I saw only Privates Donahue, Sacina, Beardsley, and Muzzi. Private Swanson was right near me when he was shot. I closed up very close to the Germans with my bayonet on my rifle and prevented some of them who tried to leave the bunch and get into the bushes from leaving. I knew my only chance was to keep them together and also keep them between me and the Germans who were shooting. I heard Corporal York several times shouting to the machine gunners on the hill to come down and surrender, but from where I stood I could no t see Corporal York. I saw him, however, when the firing stopped and he told us to get alongside of the column. I formed those near me in column of twos.

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One exploit in this day's work will always be retold in the military tradition of our country. It is entitled to a place among the famous deeds in arms in legendary or modern warfare.

Early in the attack of this battalion, the progress of G Company on the left was seriously impeded by heavy machine gun fire from a hill directly southwest across the valley from Hill 223. Although this territory was south of the zone of action assigned the Eighty-second Division, it was necessary to reduce this fire or suffer disastrous consequences.

A force of four noncommissioned officers and thirteen privates was sent from the left support platoon of G Company to encircle the hill and silence the enemy guns. This detachment, under Acting Sergeant Early, encircled the hill from the southeast and by a skillful reconnaissance passed through the heavy woods on the east crest and descended to the wooded ravine on the west side of the hill.

The detachment, in working through the underbrush, came upon a German battalion estimated to contain about 250 men, a considerable number of whom were machine gunners. Orders taken later from the pocket of the German battalion commander proved that the mission of this battalion was to launch a counterattack against the left flank of our attack at 10 hours 30 minutes.

About seventy-five Germans were crowded around their battalion commander, apparently engaged in receiving final instruction. A force of machine gunners and infantrymen, however, were lying in fox holes fifty yards away on the western slope of the hill. Other machine gun detachments were located on the north and northeast slopes of this same wooded hill.

The handful of Americans, led by Corporal Early, appeared as a complete surprise to this German battalion. The large body of Germans surrounding the German battalion commander began surrendering to our men, whom the enemy supposed to be the leading eleme nt of a large American force which had enveloped their position.

German machine gunners on the hillside, however, quickly reversed their guns and poured a hail of bullets into the bottom of the ravine, killing six and wounding three of the American detachment. All of the noncommissioned officers were killed or seriously wounded except Corporal Alvin C. York of Pall Mall, Tennessee.

With Corporal York were seven privates, four of whom were mostly occupied in covering with their rifles the large group of German infantrymen who had thrown down their arms at the first surprise. A few shots were fired by the remaining three Americans, but the chief burden of initiative and achievement fell upon Corporal York.

Crouching close to the huddle of German prisoners, he engaged in a rapid-fire action with the machine gunners and infantrymen on the hillside. The return fire struck just behind him, due to the fact that careful shooting from the hillside was necessary by Germans to avoid injuring their own men a few feet in front of Corporal York.

The American fired all of the rifle ammunition clips on the front of his belt and then three complete clips from his automatic pistol. In days past he won many a turkey shoot in the Tennessee mountains, and it is believed that he wasted no ammunition on this day.

Once a lieutenant on a hillside led a counterattack of a dozen gunners and infantrymen against this extraordinary marksman, who shot the lieutenant through the stomach and killed others before the survivors took cover.

German morale gave way entirely and the battalion commander surrendered his command.

Corporal York placed himself between two officers at the head of the column and distributed the seven Americans on guard along the flanks and in rear of the hastily formed column of prisoners.

On his way back over the hill he picked up a considerable number of additional prisoners, from the north and northeast slopes of the hill. When he reported at the battalion p. c., Lieutenant Woods, the battalion adjutant, Second Battalion, 328th infantry, counted the prisoners and found they totaled three officers and 129 enlisted men. The prisoners proved to be part of the Forty-fifth Reserve Division.

The three wounded Americans were brought in with the column. The six dead Americans were buried later where they had fallen. During the forenoon Lieutenant Cox passed the scene of this fight with a portion of F Company. He estimates that approximately twenty dead Germans lay on the hillside.

After the Armistice, Corporal York received the personal thanks of Major General Duncan, the division commander the Fifth Corps, and General Pershing, the Commander in Chief. He also was given the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Croix de Guerre.


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Among Sergeant York's most treasured honors is the following letter, written by Lieutenant Colonel Buxton to the girl whom York married as soon as he returned:

Hq. 82d Div., A.P.O. 742,
American E. F., France
26 February, 1919

Miss Gracie Williams,
Pall Mall, Tenn.

My Dear Miss Williams:

It has come to my attention that you are one of the people at home who, by virtue of friendship, is interested in Sergeant Alvin C. York, Company G, 328th Infantry.

Entirely without any suggestion on the part of my friend, Sergeant York, I should like to tell you and his mother something of the very high esteem in which he is held by the officers and men of this division.

Until the 82nd Division entered the fight in the Argonne, it was my privilege to command the battalion of which Sgt. York's company was a part. During those many trying days Sgt. York grew daily in our esteem as very efficient noncommissioned officer and as an unusual influence for duty and good conduct among his comrades. Not only was this record maintained during the terrible battles in the Argonne, but on the 8th of October, 1918, Sgt. York performed acts of extreme heroism and presence of mind which won him the Distinguished Service Cross and the personal thanks of Major General Duncan, Major General Summerall, and General Pershing himself.

With a little detachment of men from G Company, he faced an entire German Battalion in an isolated ravine, far from any American assistance. Nine Americans were at once shot down, but Sgt. York fought on until the German major and 131 German officers and men surrendered as prisoners. There were only seven Americans left besides Sgt. York, who had himself personally borne the heaviest brunt of the fighting. This achievement on his part came at a very critical time and unquestionably saved the lives of large numbers of his comrades, who would have later been attacked by this captured battalion.

I will be a great satisfaction to Mrs. York and yourself to know of the respect which all of us feel for the manly Christian Character displayed by this splendid American.

OCTOBER 8th 1918 (continued)
After the Armistice was signed, I was ordered to go back to the scene of my fight with the machine guns. General Lindsey and some other generals went with me.

We went over the ground carefully. The officers spent a right smart amount of time examining the hill and the trenches where the machine guns were, and measuring and discussing everything.

And then General Lindsey asked me to describe the fight to him. And I did. And then he asked me to march him out just like I marched the German major out, over the same ground and back to the American lines.

Our general was very popular. He was a natural born fighter and he could swear just as awful as he could fight. He could swear most awful bad.

And when I marched him back to our old lines he said to me, "York, how did you do it?" And I answered him, "Sir, it is not man power. A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do." And the general bowed his head and put his hand on my shoulder and solemnly said, "York, you are right."

There can be no doubt in the world of the fact of the divine power being in that. No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of me; and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all. Over thirty machine guns were maintaining rapid fire at me, point-blank from a range of about twenty-five yards.

"A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee."
~ Psalm 91:7 ~

OCTOBER 9th 1918
Argonne Forest, France-- Well now, as we went on fighting our way through the thick forest of the Argonne woods, we could hear the cries of our boys who were getting shot, and oh my, we has to sleep by the dead and with the dead. But when we were seeing so many of our boys being shot, all we could say was just to say as we saw our fallen comrades--

"Good-by, pal; I don't know
where you're camping now--
Whether you've pitched your
tent 'neath azure skies
Or whether o're your head the
bleak storm winds blow.
I only know that when your final
call came for you
It almost broke my heart to see
you go."

But I trust pal, that you were ready to meet that last call. Yes, and now you be careful that the last final call don't find you not ready to meet your God in peace.

OCTOBER 10th 1918
Fleaville, The Argonne Forest.-- We got to Fleville.

OCTOBER 12th 1918
Sommerance, The Argonne Forest.--We had got to Sommerance, and during this time we had lost many of our men and were still losing them, as you know that you can't fight in war without losing men, and the Germans was shelling us awful with big shells, also gas, and the boys laying there that they couldn't bury. Oh my, I can't tell you how I felt, and when those big shells would come over and bust, then I heard my comrades crying and mourning. All we could do was to trust God to protect us and look up and say--

"Good-by, old pals, your body sleeps here 'neath the sod;
Your soul, I pray, has gone home to God."

So we stayed in the front at Sommerance until we got relieved by the Eightieth Division boys.

We stayed in actual fighting in the Argonne from the time we went in, which was the morning of October 8, to November 1. Over three weeks. Fighting in the front line all the time and through those terrible woods. And we were mussed up right smart-the woods and us.

There were not many of the Greeks and Italians left. But what were left were still fighting like a sackful of wildcats. I sure did like those boys now.

The nearest I came to getting killed in France was in an apple orchard in Sommerance in the Argonne. It was several days after the fight with the machine guns. We had a very heavy barrage from the Germans suddenly drop down on us and we were ordered to dig in and to lose no time about it. Some of us were digging in under an apple tree. The shells were bursting pretty close. But we didn't take much notice of them. Just kept right on digging.

It's funny: after you have been at the front a right smart while you can almost tell where the shells are going to burst and what size they are. And this morning they were close, but not close enough to scare us. And then they got closer. And we dug faster.

I have dug on farms and in gardens and in road work and on the railroad, but it takes big shells dropping close to make you really dig. And I'm telling you the dirt was flying. And then , bang!- one of the big shells struck the ground right in front of us and we all went up in the air. But we all came down again. Nobody was hurt. But it sure was close.

NOVEMBER 1st 1918
Argonne Forest-- So we came out of the lines to a German rest camp and there we got something to eat.

I was made a sergeant just as quick as I got back out of the lines. But, oh my! so many of my old buddies were missing and we scarcely seemed the same outfit.

NOVEMBER 2nd 1918
Argonne Forest-- And then we started out and hiked to a French camp.

NOVEMBER 7th 1918
Aix-Les-Bains--I took train for Aix- Les-Bains. I had a furlough for 10 days.

NOVEMBER 8th 1918
Aix-Les Bains--So I got to Aix-Les-Bains and went to the Hotel De Albion and I stayed at this hotel from the 8th to 16th and I went around and saw some fine scenery. I got on a motor boat and went over to Italy and there I saw some good scenery.

There was a bunch of us had been given a ten day leave to Aix-les- Bains. We went down there for a rest. We had been in the Argonne for several weeks. Without any relief and were tired and worn out.

We were staying in private places. There were no military places there. We just went around seeing the historical places, the old Roman baths, and up on the mountain.

Back To the Top

NOVEMBER 11th 1918
Aix-Les-Bains.-- and the Armistice was signed. And they sure was a time in that city that day and night. Yes. Say, did you think that the Armistice was signed on the eleventh month on the eleventh day and the eleventh hour of 1918? And another thing, did you ever know that the war just lasted 585 days from the time that the President declared war against Germany until the Armistice was signed? And did you ever know that in this little short time of 585 days that the Americans was over here in France holding a seventy-seven mile front in the Argonne Forest?

I don't know that I can just exactly tell my feelings at that time. It was awful noisy. All the French were drunk, whooping and hollering. The Americans were drinking with them, all of them. I never did anything much, just went to church and wrote home and read a little.

I did not go out that night. I was all tired. I was glad the Armistice was signed, glad it were all over. There had been enough fighting and killing. And my feelings were like most all of the American boys. It was all over, and we were ready to go ho me. I felt they had done the thing they should have done, signing the armistice.

NOVEMBER 17th 1918
Champlitte, France--Well, I'll go on. I stopped at Champlitte and the French had a dance there that night and they had to go by my bed to where they was dancing, and the girls would pull my feet until I couldn't sleep.

DECEMBER 25th 1918
Langres, France-- I went to see President Wilson and his wife at Langres, where they had a review. So there was a large crowd there. I enjoyed myself very well. But I didn't get any dinner. So I was not enjoying a Christmas dinner, you see. Ho ho. So I went back to my company that night and it was after dark. So Mrs. Wilson was dressed very nice and she had a smile on her face all the time.

She was wearing a smart seal skin coat with a big fox collar and a close fitting seal skin toque with a bright red rose trimming on one side and a little bunch of holly at her throat. So she looked very pleasing. And Mr. Wilson was wearing a large black silk hat with a light gray fur coat. He also had a smile on his face. So that cheered the boys to see Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and hear them talk. Ho ho.

That was on Christmas day, 1918. We went out to parade at a town named Langres and had a review for President and Mrs. Wilson. I don't know how I came to be selected. Divisional orders came for me and the corporal who had been decorated with the D.S.C. to be color bearers for the review to be given for President Wilson.

I didn't have any conversation at all with the President at that time. I think President Wilson is one of the greatest Presidents America has ever had. There is much that could be said about him as a great men.

There is his great leadership of the nation. There is the way he understood all about the war and what we were all fighting for. The Germans, too. But the greatest thing about him was his spiritual side. He believed in God.

JANUARY 2d 1919
Fouvent-Le-Bas-I went to school and stayed there until the 12th.

JANUARY 12th 1919
La Frette.-I come back to my company

JANUARY 16th 1919
Prauthoy.-I went to Prauthoy and remained there until the 18th

I didn't begin to go out and travel over France and talk to our soldier boys until January. I don't know why they picked me. I was called to divisional headquarters, and I stayed around there for a week or ten days.

Their idea was to have me talk to the boys. I was traveling around, in and out, from my division headquarters, something like six weeks.

I spoke in the Y huts and out in the open to the battalions and to the assembled troops on the ground. I got good representation everywhere.

Our division chaplain, Rev. C. Tyler of Milwaukee, often traveled with me. He was a nice man and a powerful preacher. I first talked to the boys in our Eighty-second Division and then I went to other outfits.

FEBRUARY 1st 1919
Prauthoy.-I rode a horse and carried the Eighty-second Division flag in a horse show.

FEBRUARY 3d 1919
Argonne Forest.-I went back to the Argonne Forest.

FEBRUARY 11th 1919
Prauthoy.-They had a Div. review and I got my D.S.C. that day.

During the fighting in the Argonne, right at Fleville and at Sommeance and St. Juvin, Headquarters sent a man up there and he asked me a lot of questions, and questioned my captain and the lieutenants. And that was the first I knew I was to get anything.

The first decoration I got was the D.S.C. That was on February 11. They lined up the whole division, and General Pershing pinned the D.S.C. on me. He decorated two or three more men at the same time. He decorated one of the stretcher bearers of my platoon.

General Pershing is a great man in my estimation. He is a clean-cut military man. He made a wonderful leader for the American Troops. I would just as soon or a little rather follow General Pershing's command in battle as any man I ever saw or heard of, because I think he is a wonderful commander.

FEBRUARY 16th 1919
Prauthoy-- I went to church. It was Sunday and a rainy day and we had a nice talk.

FEBRUARY 19th 1919
Prauthoy-- At 6:30 P.M. I had service at 325 Inf. Headquarters, and we had a large crowd and a very good time.

February 21st 1919
Luxeuil-- I had service at Luxeuil with the 326 Inf. at 3:45 P.M. And to have services at 7 P.M. But we started, and the car got out of shape and we couldn't get there. So I had to call up back to Prauthoy and get another car to come out and get me and take me back to Prauthoy. It was about daylight next morning. Ho ho.

FEBRUARY 22d 1919
La Frette-- I went to La Frette to my company to get some things I had there and to see my pals.

FEBRUARY 23d 1919
Prauthoy-- I went to church there in the Y.M.C.A. We had services there at 10:30 A.M. and also at 7 P.M. as it was Sunday.

February 24th 1919
Champlitte-- I went to Champlitte to have service at 7 P.M. There was dancing. So I had to wait until they got their dance over, and that was about 7:30 P.M. So we sing and we had prayer and I went ahead with my little service. So we had a very nice time.

FEBRUARY 25th 1919
Prauthoy-- I had services at Prauthoy. Had a large crowd and good order.

FEBRUARY 26th 1919
Prauthoy-- On the night of the 26th of February I started for Bordeaux.

FEBRUARY 27th 1919
En Route to Bordeaux-- I was on the train and it came on awful cold with a snowstorm about 3 P.M. We was in box cars and it was cold and tough. But that was better than sleeping in those old French barns where the cows sleep in the parlor and the chickens in the dining room. Ho ho.

FEBRUARY 28th 1919
Bordeaux-- On the night of the 28th we got to Bordeaux.

MARCH 1st 1919
Bordeaux-- We waited until daylight and then we got out, and I went up in town and got me a nice room and bed.

MARCH 2d 1919
Bordeaux-- It was Sunday and I went to church at Y.M.C.A. at 7 P.M.

MARCH 3d 1919
Bordeaux-- I never did anything until night and there was to be a Bible class at 6:30 P.M., and at 7 P.M. I give a lecture after we sang and had prayed. We had a large crowd and good order.

MARCH 4th 1919
BORDEAUX.--I went to 327 Inf. at 7 P.M. and gave a lecture. Before I gave the talk we sang and I prayed and then gave the talk, and then they wanted me to come back and give another talk on the 5th.

MARCH 5th 1919
BORDEAUX-- But I couldn't get any car out, so I didn't go. It was a fine day, so I just stayed around town and took things as easy as I could. But yet, when I wasn't at work I got homesick.

MARCH 6th 1919
BORDEAUX.--I went out to 327 Inf. and gave them a lecture at 4 P.M. and then come back to my billet.

MARCH 9th 1919
BORDEAUX--It was Sunday. I went to church at 10:30 A.M. and we had a very good service and a very good crowd to preach to, and the morning lesson was on Matthew (4) and we had a very good lesson. So we had a talk given to us by Chaplain Tyler. So I went to church again at 7 P.M. and we had a large crowd for service, and the evening lecture was from 1st Corinthians, 3d Chapter, and 9th verse. So we had a good service and we had a number of brief prayers by the boys, and then our Y.M.C.A. girls served hot chocolate to the boys after service.

So we have services at 10:30 A.M. and 7 P.M. every Sunday and our Bible class is on Monday at 6:30 P.M. So we are having some good services. And I pray that we will have good results. You know that in Hebrews, second chapter, that Paul says, "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation..."

MARCH 14th 1919
ST. SILVA.--I returned back to my company at St. Silva.

MARCH 15th.
ST. SILVA.--Went to a ball game.

MARCH 16th.
CASTRES. --It was Sunday. I went back to Castres to church. And I got back to St. Silva about 10 P.M.

MARCH 25th.
En Route to Paris-- I started to Paris. I went to Bordeaux and from there to Paris.

MARCH 26th
Paris-- I got to Paris.

MARCH 27th
Paris-- I was traveling around looking at the city.

MARCH 28th
Paris-- I rode on the Paris wheel and took a train ride down to St Louis 14 Plait at night.

MARCH 29th
Paris-- I went to the Opera House. I went to Gare du Nord in the morning and I went to Hall De Voige in the afternoon, and then I took the train at 7:26 at night.

This first trip to Paris was on a furlough for five days. Three or four of us went from the same place. I don't remember the other fellows' names.

Well, when I was in Paris I just went in and went to a place where all the boys went to on leave there. I spent my five days looking about seeing the most historic places.

I went to the tomb of Napoleon. I went to the soldier's grave where Perishing placed the wreath on it -the unknown soldier, it was. I went to Versailles where the kings' palaces are. I went to the Grand Opera. I disremember what opera it was.

I liked Paris all right. It was a right smart place. The Eiffel Tower was not running at the time. I went to see it but I didn't climb it. It was tolerably high.

I went to most all the historical places. I walked several miles through town. I remember I got up there and got lost, Ho Ho. I got all turned around in my directions. HO ho. So I got a mademoiselle to tell me what street to go to and where to stop. Some of the people knew me. I got good representation everywhere.

MARCH 30th
St. Silva.-I got back to my company.

APRIL 6th.
En. Route to Paris to Bordeaux and I left Bordeaux for Paris on the 8:30 train.

Paris--I arrived in Paris at 8:30 A.M. and 10:30 A.M. was our meeting. I was there on time at the Hotel De Babriel. So we had the meeting all day until 5:30 P.M.

This second time I went to Paris was to attend the first meeting that was called to organize the American Legion. I represented my division as a noncommissioned officer. Captain Williams of the machine gun company represented the commissioned officers of our division. And we all organized the American Legion that day in the Hotel. And there were officers and men representing all of the different American outfits in France. So I am a charter member of the American Legion.

I went out to Versailles the next day and they were signing a peace treaty, and I saw Clemenceau, Foch, and Pershing. I had a couple of talks with Marshal Foch, and I also had a talk with him when he pinned a little medal on me.

I think he is a very great man and a man of great intelligence. He is a fine leader for an army and I think Europe had no better leader in command than Marshall Foch.

He impressed me very much each time I met him, although he could not speak English. We had to speak through an interpreter. Like our own Woodrow Wilson, he is a very spiritual man. He is very religious and always goes to church and believes in prayer, which is a fine example.

It is significant that there two great leaders and General Pershing, too, are all religious men who believe in prayer. So the men that led us in the war were put in charge was the war ended. so you see here is proof that the spirit is mightier than the sword.

Paris--I saw the queen of Rumania. She is a very good looking lady. So I stayed in Paris until 8:26 on the night of the 9th.

Paris--I was at the grave of Lafayette. I also saw the wreath of flowers that John J. Pershing laid on his grave on the 4th day of July, 1918, when he said, "Lafayette, we are here." These words are long to be remembered.

And I also saw a wreath of flowers President Wilson put on the grave on the 20th day of November, 1918, and I also saw the little village where they are going to lay the bodies of 50,000 American Soldiers. The place should always be near and dear to all Americans. The place is Montfaucon.

APRIL 10th
St. Silva--I got to Bordeaux at 8:30 A.M. So I went from Castres to division headquarters. And I got to my company the night of the 10th.

APRIL 12th
St. Silva -- We had a review with full packs in the morning, and in the afternoon I didn't do anything. So I was the sergeant of the guard from 12th at 4 P. M. until 13th at 4 P. M.

APRIL 13th
St. Silva--Sunday. I went to church at 7:30 P. M. We sang and had a good service. The reading was the 16th chapter of St. John. Subject of text, "Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake, he shall save it."

APRIL 18th
St. Silva--We had a review and I got my medal of honor, and then I went to division headquarters and had my photo made.

APRIL 20th
St. Silva--Easter Sunday. Me and two more of my pals went to a French house and had us a fine Easter dinner fixed, and then we went to church.

APRIL 24th
St Silva--We didn't do anything but police up in the morning, and in the afternoon we had a review, and then Marshal Foch pinned the Palm Croix De Guerre on me.

APRIL 28th
St. Silva--We took a bath in the morning and in the afternoon we didn't do anything much.

APRIL 29th
Entrance Camp--We left St. Silva and went to the entrance camp and I went to the Salvation Army hut.

APRIL 30th
Permanent Camp--We went into the permanent camp, and went through the Goodir Mill in the afternoon.

MAY 9th
Permanent Camp--On the morning of the 9th all of my company left but 70 men. So I had to stay with them

We stayed there around Bordeaux for several weeks before our time to go across the waters. I wanted all the time to get back to the mountains where I belonged. I wanted to live the quiet life again and escape from the mad rush of the world. It was all over. We had done the job we set out to do, and now, like all of the other American soldiers, I wanted to get back home.

We got ready to sail from Bordeaux, and the ship that was to bring our division across couldn't bring all the men. There were sixty-six that couldn't get on the ship, together with some more noncommissioned officers, and we waited over and sailed the next day on the U.S.S. Ohio.

On board U.S.S. Ohio.--In the morning we went down to the docks and ate a little, and then we got on the Ohio, and at 2:26 P.M. we broke from the shores of France and by dark we was out of sight of land.

MAY 11th
At Sea.--Sunday. Sick. We had awful rough seas.

MAY 12th
At Sea.--Awful rough seas. Sick.

MAY 13th
At Sea.--Awful rough. Sick.

MAY 14th
At Sea.--Awful rough. Sick.

MAY 15th
At Sea.--Awful rough.
We had about three or four days of storms and most awful rough seas. I was right smart sick for several days. Had to stay down part of the time in my berth and part of the time on the top deck.

I sure would have liked to see some trees or those old mountains. That old devil sea. I didn't feel like talking or doing anything but lying down and being left tolerably alone. And then I knew, too, they were going to give me a big reception when I arrived in New York.

They had wired out to sea. And that had me more scared than those machine guns in the Argonne. I would have got out and walked if I could have.

MAY 16th
At Sea.--Nice.

MAY 17th
At Sea.--Nice.

MAY 18th
At Sea.--Was Sunday. We had services in the afternoon.

MAY 19th
At Sea.--Had a storm and the sea was rough.

MAY 20th
At Sea.--Was pretty.

May 21st
At Sea.--Was nice.

MAY 22nd
Hoboken, N.J.--At 2 P.M. I landed, and the Tennessee Society had a 5 day furlough for me to see New York City. So I stopped at Waldorf Hotel.

The Tennessee Society met me at the boat with a car. There was quite a number of newspaper men met me and photographed me. And so I was under fire again. Ho ho. and the questions they asked me!

By the time they had finished writing about me in their newspapers I had whipped the whole German army single handed. Ho ho. Those newspaper men! But they were very nice. They gave me a right smart reception on my arrival. They drove me through the streets in an open car, and the streets were crowded and we could only go slow.

It seemed as though most all of the people in the streets knew me and when they began to throw the paper and the ticker tape and the confetti out of the windows of those great big skyscrapers, I wondered what it was at first. It looked just like a blizzard. Ho ho. I didn't know it was for me until the Tennessee Society told me.

I don't know what all they did for me, but they did plenty. They took me to the Waldorf Astoria the night of my arrival and we had a little dinner there. I tried to get my mother over the long distance telephone, but we couldn't get through. I wanted to ride in the subway, and , sure enough, next day they had a special train for me. Ho ho.

It was very nice. But I sure wanted to get back to my people where I belonged, and the little old mother and the little mountain girl who were waiting. And I wanted to be in the mountains again and get out with hounds, and tree a coon or knock over a red fox. And in the midst of the crowds and the dinners and receptions I couldn't help thinking of these things. My thoughts just wouldn't stay hitched.

MAY 23nd
New York City.-- I was looking at New York City. On the night of the 23d I took the train for
Washington, D.C. Honorable Hull had come to get me.

MAY 25th.
Washington, D.C.--So I got to Washington this morning about 6 A.M.
So we drove a car all over Washington almost, looking at the city, and I had the honor to meet Secretary of War Baker and shake hands with him.

In Washington, D.C., I went in to meet the President, and he was out. I had a nice talk with Secretary of War Baker. I went to Congress. Both houses came together and met me.

From Washington I returned to New York and went out to Camp Merritt and got my transportation papers to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, where I got my discharge and my papers and transportation home.

I came on home to Pall Mall, Tennessee, on the 29th of May. My people from all over the mountains, thousands of them, were there to meet me. And my big red headed brothers were there. And we all had a right smart time. And then I lit out for the old log cabin and the little old mother. And then I went to see Gracie--

I didn't do any hunting for a few days. I'm telling you I went hunting Gracie first.

And then, when it was all over and I had taken off the old uniform of the all American Division and got back into the overalls. I got out with the hounds and the old muzzle loader; and I got to thinking and wondering what it was all about.

And I went back to the place on the place on the mountain where I prayed before the war, and received my assurance from God that I would go and come back. And I just stayed out there and thanked that same God who had taken me through the war.


"For Thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield."
~ Psalm 5:12 ~

For more on the Life of Alvin York, read
"Alvin York: In the Lion's Den."