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A Texan in the Trenches: Mike Hogg’s World War I Letters

From: Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume 117, Number 1, July 2013
pp. 48-67 | 10.1353/swh.2013.0076

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Captain Mike Hogg. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

From 1914 to 1918, World War I mobilized more than 65,000,000 people, killed 8,528,831 (including 53,513 American soldiers) and wounded 21,159,154 (including 204,002 Americans).1 One of those wounded was Michael “Mike” Hogg, the son of Texas governor James Stephen Hogg (1875–1906).2 As Captain Mike Hogg, U.S. Army, 90th Division, 360th Regiment, 180th Infantry Brigade, lst Battalion, Company D, he saw action in some of the heaviest fighting of the war. A selection of his wartime letters is published here for the first time.3 From military training camps in Texas, from aboard a ship in U-boat-infested waters, from the battlefields of St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, from occupied territory in Germany after the armistice of 1918, Mike Hogg wrote letters home, mostly to his beloved sister, Ima, and a few to his older brother, Will. Captain Hogg’s letters are a vivid chronicle of a young man’s experience of the Great War.

When World War I broke out in August 1914 it immediately touched the Hogg family: Ima, who had sailed from Galveston June 11 on the Chemnitz, a German ship bound for Bremen, Germany, was at sea when the fateful event that set off the war occurred: Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Duchess Sophie, were killed by a Serbian assassin in Sarajevo on June 28 (a date that also happened to be the couple’s wedding anniversary). That very day Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The next day, on June 29, Ima Hogg sent a cable from the Chemnitz to her home in Houston: “When news came of the Austro-Serbian conflict and the Triple-Alliance complications, our imaginations even pictured us being captured by an English cruiser in the Channel!”4

Neither Ima nor her friends nor anyone else could believe that the great powers of Europe, bound by networks of civility and diplomacy, would suddenly declare war on each other. Besides, that, George V of England, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany were first cousins: they were the grandsons of Queen Victoria. No one imagined that a single assassination would topple the elaborate house of diplomatic cards that had kept Europe relatively stable since the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. But Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia offended Russia, a defender of Serbia. This complicated relationship quickly drew in the two major alliances whose members were pledged to support each other: Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy (the Triple Alliance, later joined by the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) against England, France, and Russia (the Triple Entente). (Italy entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente in 1915.) On July 30 Russia prepared for war against Austria-Hungary and Germany. On August 1 Germany declared war on Russia. That was the day that the Chemnitz docked in Bremerhaven. Passengers who had looked forward to a late-summer holiday in Germany were quickly rerouted. On August 3 Germany declared war on France, and on that day Ima Hogg and many others sailed on the St. Petersburgh, bound for England.5

As soon as she arrived in London, Ima sent another cablegram home: “The situation on the Continent already is frightful, even if nothing more happens, and I am sure more is to come of it. However, none of us are sorry we came. We were among the last of two ships to be allowed in the North Sea and to land in Germany.” The voyage from Germany to England was “a terrible trip, yet still without discourtesies . . . A great many things happened—lack of food, crushes of people, no place to sleep.”6 Arriving in London on August 4, the day that England declared war on Germany, Ima and many other American tourists were stranded. The earliest passage home that Ima could book was on the American Line’s St. Paul, which sailed on October 3.7

Back in Texas, as the war continued, Ima and her brothers—Will, Mike, and Tom...

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