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Reminiscences of Conrad S. Babcock

The Old U.S. Army and the New, 1898-1918

Robert H. Ferrell, ed.

Publication Year: 2012


The son of an army officer, Conrad S. Babcock graduated from West Point in 1898, just in time for the opening of the Spanish-American War. Because of his father’s position, he managed to secure a place in the force that Major General Wesley Merritt led to Manila to secure the city. The Philippine Insurrection, as Americans described it, began shortly after he arrived. What Babcock observed in subsequent months and years, and details in his memoir, was the remarkable transition the U.S. Army was undergoing. From after the Civil War until just before the Spanish War, the army amounted to 28,000 men. It increased to 125,000, tiny compared with those of the great European nations of France and Germany, but the great change in the army came after its arrival in France in the summer of 1918, when the German army compelled the U.S. to change its nineteenth-century tactics.


            Babcock’s original manuscript has been shortened by Robert H. Ferrell into eight chapters which illustrate the tremendous shift in warfare in the years surrounding the turn of the century. The first part of the book describes small actions against Filipinos and such assignments as taking a cavalry troop into the fire-destroyed city of San Francisco in 1906 or duty in the vicinity of Yuma in Arizona when border troubles were heating up with brigands and regular troops. The remaining chapters, beginning in 1918, set out the battles of Soissons (July 18–22) and Saint-Mihiel (September 12–16) and especially the immense battle of the Meuse-Argonne (September 26–November 11), the largest (1.2 million troops involved) and deadliest (26,000 men killed) battle in all of American history.


            By the end of his career, Babcock was an adroit battle commander and an astute observer of military operations. Unlike most other officers around him, he showed an ability and willingness to adapt infantry tactics in the face of recently developed technology and weaponry such as the machine gun. When he retired in 1937 and began to write his memoirs, another world war had begun, giving additional context to his observations about the army and combat over the preceding forty years.


            Until now, Babcock’s account has only been available in the archives of the Hoover Institution, but with the help of Ferrell's crisp, expert editing, this record of army culture in the first decades of the twentieth century can now reach a new generation of scholars.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-xii

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pp. 1-6

My acquaintance with the memoirs of Conrad S. Babcock came slowly, curiously, and for a while without a great deal of understanding. I had come on the diary of Major General William M. Wright, the commanding general of the Eighty-ninth Division in World War I, discovered that...

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One: Manila and Iloilo

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pp. 7-22

Following the twentieth degree parallel of north latitude into the setting sun, the Rio de Janeiro passed the northern end of the island of Luzon and then, turning to the left or port as sailors once called it, steamed down the western side of the island. What a magnificent sight it was and still...

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Two: Insurrection

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pp. 23-41

Ever since the occupancy of Manila in August by the expeditionary force there had been friction between the Americans and the Filipinos over the question as to what were the outer limits of the American lines. Deliberate encroachments upon the lines were said to have been made...

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Three: Assignments

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pp. 42-55

The first two chapters of Babcock’s memoir are clear in their themes, the initial chapter covering the arrival at Manila and Iloilo, the second the Insurrection. The third is reminiscence of Troop F of the 1st Cavalry —the third its tradition of notable actions and commanders...

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Four: More of the Same

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pp. 56-71

In November, 1907, the regiment less three troops left by rail for San Francisco and the Philippine Islands. At Fort Sam Houston one troop (H) and at Fort Clark two troops (D and I) remained to care for all the horses left behind for the 3rd Cavalry which was coming from the Philippines. Caring for some five hundred animals at Fort Clark, in addition to the ...

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Five: Soissons I

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pp. 72-86

On the morning of July 15, 1918, I left Paris and, in the afternoon, rejoined the 18th Infantry, which had moved to the Forêt de Compiègne. There I learned that the division was scheduled for an early attack against the enemy’s entrenched position west of Soissons and south of the Aisne000

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Six: Soissons II

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pp. 87-106

At 3:50 a.m., July 19, I was roused from a heavy sleep on the dirt floor of our immense cavern and handed a long typewritten order from the brigade to attack at 4:00 a.m.; along with a mass of useless information to us was the important item that for forty-five minutes or until 4:45 a.m...

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Seven: Tactics

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pp. 107-125

On August 5, Colonel G. C. Barnhardt (W.P. 1892), a classmate of General Summerall’s, came to my headquarters and relieved me from the command of my fine regiment. It was a bitter blow.
In the division telegram asking that I be relieved, it was recommended that I be transferred to another division. Fortunately for me, a good...

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Eight: The New Army

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pp. 126-142

On October 12, 1918, the Eighty-ninth Division was transferred from the III to the V corps and ordered to march across country to the vicinity of Eclisfontaine and Epinonville about ten miles to the northwest (due west of Montfaucon). Leaving the Recicourt area on the morning of...

Suggested Further Reading about World War I

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pp. 143-148


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pp. 149-152

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272829
E-ISBN-10: 0826272827
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219817
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219810

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 5
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1