m a r k e r i c k s o n p a i n t i n g s Ernest Julius Erickson's September 1918 Diary entries 361st Regiment - American Expeditionary Force - The Meuse - Argonne Offensive - Western Front - France
My great uncle Ernest Julius Erickson wrote in his diary starting in September 26th and continued on till October 8th, 1918.
He was a member of the 361st Regiment of the American Expeditionary Force.|
Ernest Julius Erickson found himself along with his regiment in the midst of the Battle of the Argonne Forest, in what would be referred to as The Meuse - Argonne Offensive located on the Western Front in France. It was fought from September 26th 1918, until the Armistice on the the 11th of November, 1918, a total of 47 days. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, and was one of a series of Allied attacks known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which brought an end to the war. The battle cost 28,000 German lives and 26,277 American lives, making it the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), which was commanded by General John J. Pershing.
Ernest Julius wrote these words in dangerous situations, yet having an unique sense of humor in these dire circumstances. I can only imagine what it was like to be stuck down in a cold muddy exposed trench, writing these thoughts as battles raged, sniper fire sounding and German artillery soaring overhead and ofttimes exploding far too close for comfort. He begins his writing one morning on the 26th of September of 1918.
Morning of September 26th 1918
We marched all night to a position from where we could follow up the heavy artillery barrage which was just put down on the enemy position for five hours. at 5:30 a.m. we started out crossing the enemy lines without any opposition, until noon when we were held up by machine gun fire by the enemy. cleared up the woods in a few minutes and took some prisoners, then marched and were held up again upon reaching the open space at a farm - where we lost a few men by artillery fire. we reached our objective but had some stiff fighting that we ran into.
Snipers and machine gun nests which caused us some delay. dug in for the night. took up the march again, but ran into some more machine gun fire and snipers which were placed in an orchard round a small village. here is where we had the worst opposition. first battalion was in the lead and showed that they were real fighting men.
Could not go back to previous position today as the enemy artillery had the place under fire. had to fall back to last night’s camp, but did not lose any personnel. took up the fight again later and gained ground with stiff fighting. a few small losses of men and gained our objective.
Took some more ground and arrived at the Huns strong point and had a hell of a time to get them out.
Went through the woods and have halted. men are pretty well worn out. Enemy are shelling this woods all the time.
We have not advanced anymore, Huns still shelling the place
October 1st, 1918
Had one of the stiffest shell fires since we started. lost a few men in the woods
No gain against the Hun. guns still working on this place, but doing little damage. our kitchen arrived day before yesterday. had hot coffee for the first time since we started and I say it was not hard to take.
October 3rd - 4pm
Still here and listening to the music of the Hun guns. Hell has turned loose for certain. me and my pal Kune have been in our hole face down waiting for the big one with our name and address on it, but evidently Fritze does not know our names yet. one shell struck a dug out only about eleven feet from ours, killing one and one badly wounded. took the wounded back to first aid and going through the woods I would not have given 2 cents for the four of us that carried the mangled back, for again hell opened up its doors for us. our road was lit up with bursting shrapnel, but got through without a scratch.
Got relieved, but we were halted in the woods when we were again shot to pieces, that's where I got my first taste of shrapnel. received a small bruise in the back which did not feel good, thought I was wounded bad, but came to find out it was not all that bad. it was that first blow to the back, what put me out.
We are now back of the Huns and it seems good to be back to where the big shell are not falling. also got a letter or two from home which makes things so much brighter.
Got cleaned up and feel so much better. how much nicer it is to be back of the big guns than it is to be in-between them. it always makes things more pleasant when you can hear the shells go over you and towards the enemy than when they come your way. for then you do not know when one of those big ones may take a fancy and want to get in the same hole as yourself. There sure is not room for the both of you and in all, as most cases you go out in pieces.
Moved our camp back a few hundred meters. we were all hoping that they would take us back to same billet, but not yet. had a letter from the best girl in the states yesterday which makes all the world smile so much brighter.
This is the date we were moved back. thinking that we was going to get a rest. but was again called to the line. marched all night in a freezing rain and the vicious mud sure sticks to a man’s feet.
Got to our destination this morning. all tired out. the Huns sure sent down a heavy barrage behind us, and later in morning amongst us. we did not lose many men. we are now in support of the Engineers which advanced a short distance. s
Unfortunately for my uncle, Ernest Julius was shot and killed by a sniper on October 10th, 1918 while in action in the Argonne Forest during the Meuse Argonne Offensive.
Ernest Julius along with another soldier of Company C, Pvt. Jesse A. Keene had been given orders to deliver a message to the commander of Company B of the 362nd Infantry.
They were well underway when they came under attack by snipers. Both men attempted to run for cover when Ernest Julius was shot. Pvt. Keene witnessed his partner getting hit and laying motionless for 5 minutes on the ground out in the open.
Pvt. Keene then withdrew and headed back to safety, giving his report of the incident to the Company commander. At some point later Ernest Julius's body was retrieved and over time brought back home to Dakota.
Pvt. Jesse A. Keene's Report on Pvt. Ernest Julius Erickson as title of link
Found on Ernest's body was his blood stained diary which he wrote in regularly and his last entry ended abruptly. He had began a new sentence, very likely written that morning and Ernest had just written the letter ”s,” when the writing ended there, forever silent.
I own three of Ernest's diaries and they have helped enlighten me on my uncle's life, opened up more who he was and what he may have become if he had made it back to Dakota.
Over the years I have thought of Ernest Julius and like my father, we both have been affected by this man's life. His stories were fascinating and in-between the lines even more compelling. For it is for eternity, one of those what ifs, what if he had kept writing. He was a true spirit living on in his words and the rest is for us to imagine. I will continue to find out as much as I can about him. Ernest Julius' life was cut short with all the promise of any young man.
My father, Ernest Anders Erickson was named after his uncle Ernest Julius and carried with him his memory from stories he was told by his father Frank, his grandmother Christine, uncles Andy, Helmer & Al Erickson and aunts Vera And Abbie (Lincoln) Erickson. In time my father inherited Ernest Julius’ archives, which included this diary. He became interested in his uncle he called,”The Man From Painted Woods."
It is time for his final words that he wrote on the battlefield in France in 1918 to be seen. It enables family and friends that are interested, to read and look through my two uncles and grandfather's archives and photographs.
Many thanks to my cousin Mark Henninger (grandson of Ernest Julius's brother Andy Anders Erickson) of Bismarck, North Dakota for the diary transcription. Excellent job Mark! You deciphered those words that Ernest Julius wrote so many years ago, seeming to me as scripted hieroglyphs.
And a special thanks to Elena Erickson for getting this project off the ground with the scans of Ernest Julius' diary entries.
Frank Gustaf Severin Erickson
Andy Anders Sebran Filimon Erickson
Ernest Julius Alfred Erickson
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