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SBButler letters, September 1917

September 2, 1917
September 9, 1917

September 16, 1917
September 25, 1917

Letters to Eva

Sylvester has now gotten to Camp Devens in Ayer, Mass, a little WNW of Boston.

Fort Devens (originally Camp Devens) was created in 1917, during World War I. It was named for Charles Devens, who rose to the rank of Major General during the Civil War. He served on the Massachusetts Superior Court and Supreme Court, and was appointed to the post of attorney general by President Hayes in 1877. The camp opened in September of 1917 so Lt. Butler was there from the very beginning. The first division organized was the 76th, which was under the command of Major General Harry Hodges, who also served as the first commander of Devens. The division underwent rigorous training and in July of 1918 left for France.

The 76th was replaced by the 12th Division under the command of Major General Henry McCain. The 12th's training was interrupted in September of 1918 when the first soldiers fell ill during the Spanish Influenza Epidemic which killed millions worldwide.

Ayer, Mass.
Sept. 2, 1917

Dear Mother,

You came near seeing me today, and if the train I started on from Ayer hadn't been late, so that I missed my train at Worcester, I would have been home between 1:30 and 5:30. We had the privilege of taking 24 hours leave, and as assignments were flying around so thick and fast to all sorts of places, I didn't know what might be in store for me, and I thought I'd better [see about] that stuff of mine that came up from Pleasantville & [get] all my stuff fixed up permanantly before I got too far away to do it. But missing connections at Worcester dished the whole thing; I went out to Raymond's, lest by any chance they might be still there; of course they weren't and I came back to Worcester, ate a good dinner, and trolleyed back to Ayer. I found my assignment on the bulletin board when I got back, and I am to be with the division supply train. The regiments have been split up, that is, a large number of 4th Co. men have other assignments than in the 304th regiment, and there will be many men from other companies in the 304th. So far the present just address me Camp Devens, Ayer, Mass., until I can get something a little more complete. There are 8 officers with the divisional supply train, a major, a 1st lieut., and six 2nd lieuts. The 2nd lieuts. were all appointed from our company, just a block of us taken in order from the list, right next to the last man on the list assigned permanently to the 304th regiment. I knew last night that I was not to be with the 304th, and felt pretty much disappointed, as I hoped to start right in with it & with these men I knew, and grow up with the regiment as a regular line officer, but this assignment I did get is I think the next best thing, and I feel fairly well pleased with it. I'm glad they're going to be other men of the 4th Co. along with me. We'll occupy a little shack all by ourselves; Moody and I went down and found it tonight. Of course there's a lot I don't know about my job, but it is essentially this: we are the supply officers for a division, and in action we superintend the bringing up of supplies from division headquarters to the firing line. We'll have under us men and mules and horses and motor trucks.

We had little to do Wednesday and Thursday; but Friday and Saturday we spent entirely in map sketching around the land leased by the gov't (something over 60 square miles). The idea was to give us more practice in this work, (and I was glad for that reason to have it, although I suppose now I won't need it any more), and also to get us acquainted with the country. We worked by squads of 6, and covered a great deal of ground; about a dozen miles Friday, and, without exaggeration, 20 on Saturday. Tomorrow we'll probably do more, and about Tuesday I rather expect we'll move to our permanent quarters. Lights are going out very soon, and I'll have to wait and tell you more about the camp later.

I forgot to speak of the razor strop when I wrote to Lucinthia. Thank you for sending it. That fountain pen is an old one. The embroidered book-case cover is one Amy Leavitt made for me last fall; it is very attractive, I think. I bought a wrist watch guard this week; it cost considerably under the alloted amount. Those express bills & other little items I forgot to take care of before I left you, I'll finish up all in a heap when I come down home some Sunday this month, as I think I shall; if I find I'm not going to be able to, I'll send it. Will that be O.K.? I'm glad you had such a good time in Worcester. I'm ever so much obliged to Lucinthia & Father for the work they put in on my things.

I must close this disjointed epistle, or I'll be writing in the dark.
With much love

I'm not even re-reading it.
I sent a little package of laundry home last night.

Ayer, Mass.
Sept. 9, 1917

Dear Mother,

You probably received the postcard I sent you in the middle of the week with my address. That showed the prevailing type of building used here for the enlisted men, and it would seem to be the natural thing to start with in giving an attempted pen-picture of the cantonment. These barracks, as you perhaps can tell, have two stories; and incidentally,they are much wider and much better ventilated than our coops at Plattsburg; I believe they are meant to house 250 men each (the size of a co. in the new organization), but I don't see how they can possibly do so, if they are just going to use the single cots they are furnishing the men at present. One half of the first floor is the messroom, kitchen, & pantry, and again, how they're going to get 250 men seated there is more than I can see.

So much for a single building - Each regiment occupies a group of these buildings situated fairly close together; with the headquarters building, the regimental dispensary, and officers' quarters at one endof the group. The arrangement of a regimental section of buildings such as the above is about like this:

          [_____]  [_____]  [_____]   (have your mind 
         /                             fill in the top
Men's --- [_____]  [_____]  [_____]     line of the 
Barracks \                                buildings)
          [_____]  [_____]  [_____]

          [_____]  [_____]  [_____]

          [_____]  [_____]  [_____]
    \-----[_____]  [___] -----------Hdqrs. for reg't

          [___] [___] [___] [___] ---Officers' barracks

The officers' barracks are long one story affairs, covered with tarpaper fastened on by lathes, and the prevailing size has about 15 rooms, a mess room, and a kitchen. Some of the officers have single rooms and others have to double up. The arrangement as per diagram above holds good for the four active regiments of infantry, three regiments of artillery, and two regiments of infantry in the depot brigade. Then there are groups for the engineer units, the headquarters train and military police, the sanitary train, the ammunition train, the supply train, and the quartermasters - perhaps others that don't come to me just now; these groups are arranged a bit differently, according to the varying sizes of their organizations. There are usually no more than two regimental sections of barracks in close proximity; this is, I presume, expressly designed to prevent the spread of fire, if once started; I notice on the big blueprints of the camp many of these spaces between groups are reffered to as "fire- stops." All these groups of buildings, as you can well imagine, cover a tremendous area; the cantonment gives the appearance of a big mushroom city. The buildings of course don't cover but a relatively small proportion of the 60-odd square miles of land the government has leased; the rest of the land will be used for manoeuvres, rifle ranges, and I have heard there is to be a big 6000 yard artillery range. This will give some idea, perhaps, of the cantonment as a whole, and now you'll probably like to know something about our little corner. The Division Supply Train (the finest outfit in the camp, of course - 34 strong at present) occupies a little section rather off by itself in the southwest corner. Our buildings are arranged in this fashion:

[________] \
.________ } Men's Barracks
[________] /
[____] Hdqtrs building
[___] -Officers' Barracks

Our officers' barracks are smaller than those in a regular infantry regimental section, due to the smaller personnel occupying them. We have eight sleeping rooms, a little office, a mess room, and a kitchen. There being eight officers in the train, a major, a 1st lieutenant, and six 2nd lieutenants, we each have a room to ourselves, about 8 x 12. Isn't that luxury for you? But I haven't painted the whole story - a nice iron spring bed (the men are getting them too in our outfit anyway) , a table and a chair. With the work this job has thrown me into, I feel rather as though I'd gone back into business life again.

A major regularly is in chief command of a division supply train, but ours hasn't come yet, and the 1st lieutenant is in charge. His name is June, a man who has been in the regular army for almost twenty years, and as pleasant a man as one could ever hope to meet or work with. The train is divided into six motor truck companies of 76 men and 31 trucks each, under command of a 2nd lieutenant, who according to the tables of organization, is furnished with a Dodge roadster; but trucks and roadsters are both still hypothetical, like the dismounted hobby horse cavalry, and for the present the men will get the elements of infantry training - I am glad we are going to be able to have a hand at some of that. Each of the two men's barracks is expected ("expected" used advisedly) to house three companies; there are three large rooms in each, two upstairs, and one downstairs, for each seperate company.

The 2nd lieutenants in the train are Wade, Co.1, who was a reserve officer in our co. at Plattsburg, the humorist of the outfit; Moody of Hartford, Co.2, an insurance solicitor, a man about 31, a very pleasant man, but he impresses me as being a bit loose-tongued and superficial - I've got a man slated for a certain job, for instance, but I didn't want him to know it until I had a chance to observe him more; however, friend Moody asked the man yesterday (I overheard him) how he'd like the job in question, and of course the fellow expects it now; he's just a little bit too glib - has sold insurance too long, I guess; Butler, Co.3; Greene, a lawyer, a good solid sort of chap, Co.4; Achorn, Co.%, also a reserve officer in Co.4 at Plattsburg, whom I haven't known well therefore until now, but with whom I am quite pleasantly impressed - he seems very sensible and altogether likable; Spaulding, Co.6, a man who is in the antique furniture business for the biggest house of its kind in the country, I believe, a man of artistic nature, I think I am right in saying, a man who has traveled a great deal, who is very polished but not in the least effeminate, and whose ideas always seem fresh and interesting. I think we will all work together pretty well.

Thirty four mes out of a total of 450 odd came this week, all from either Brockton or Fitchburg, according to this seemingly peculiar scheme of assigning men from the same locality to the same outfit. Three of our companies have been started, mine being among them, as it is the 3rd. But while they are so few, they are all drilled together, of course. As far as we officers have been concerned this week, our duties have been largely registering the men, and getting the necessary supplies for the train, the latter of which is no small job, because supplies & trucks to haul them in are none too plentiful, and one must be very aggressive to see that his wants are looked after. I have a special job as mess officer for the train, and it's taking most of my time for the present, and will take a great deal of it until the mess sergeants and cooks are broken in. There is a lot of red tape to drawing the rations & running the mess but I am rather glad to have the experience. My fatal Plattsburg reputation for gormandizing got me this post.

Yesterday afternoon I went into Boston to do a little shopping and much needed haircut - I don't like the looks of Ayer's barbershop, and will have to contrive to make my out-of-town trips when I want to get into one I guess. Imagine a little town of 2500 with 50,000 men camped on it; the merchants are only just waking up to their opportunities. I don't know just when I'll be running down home; I think I'll try to make it two weeks from to-day, but I can't make sure of it at all. I don't think there is any likelihood of our being sent away from Ayer; I am quite sure we shall go across when the division goes. Our men will be trained in infantry drill and will carry rifles, so that they can defend the train if it is attacked from an unexpected & unprotected quarter. The chief danger to the supply train is from artillery fire, of course.

I think I'll try to get the N.Y.Times up here and send what I want to keep home from time to time, so you can discontinue it if you want to. But if you're anxious to have it every Sunday for the pictures, why just say so & we'll keep on with the old arrangement.

I have kept the laundry bag here to throw soiled clothes in; I think we can get along without it for mailing purposes, can't we?

The Whistling Mother Story is a gift from Miss Dagnall. It's rather a cute little story, I think; I left it on the bureau because I thought you might like to read it, but didn't say anything about it because I know I'd rather find something like that than have someone point it out to me - a peculiar attribute of reverse-geared mental mechanism.

We have had good food thus far, and I hope to have my mess, which starts tomorrow, a good one. We have been eating with some quartermaster officers for the last week; their food has been good and been plentiful, but their cooks keep the screen doors open and the flies are legion. In my kitchen the flies will be disinterested onlookers from beyond the screen or else the cooks will be. We are going to mess with the men for a while, chiefly to get the mess fund for added varieties & delicacies started, then I hope to start our own little mess in our shack. For the first six weeks each mess has three civilian cooks, and the men picked from the company to be cooks will assist them & learn all they can; there are also some mess sergeants from the regular army here as special instructors for prospective company cooks & mess sergeants in cutting meats, running a mess, & various phases of army cooking. I have four cooks and a man I have picked out as one of the mess sergeants starting in training to-morrow. Most of the cooks have had some previous experience in that line. They aren't so hard to pick; in fact, I took everyone who wanted to do it, after a good glance at the men's personal appearance, especially finger- nails, while I was talking to them. The mess sargeant is a harder man to pick; he's got to be able to handle men, to be good at figures, & to do clerical work; I hope the man I have picked out of three will justify my choice. Later I'll have to have another when we get men into our second building. Our chief civilian cook is a kind of garrulous, grumbly old Englishman, and I may have quite a trial in diplomacy with him, if the experience of others is repeated. I bought him a fine mesh coffee strainer last night for a special way he says he makes coffee; it tickled him to death, and may prove, I hope, part of the every little bit that helps.

I am sorry I haven't had a chance to write Ralph since I've been here, but I've been so busy that I haven't written any but my regular letters. Perhaps I'll get a chance an evening this week.

If you didn't happen to get my postcard my address will be Division Supply Train, Camp Devens, Ayer, Mass. Telephone 8284. Anybody, if they ever come up, had better telephone me from down town so that I can come out to the entrance & meet them, otherwise they might not be able to pass the guards.

With much love to you & all,

Ayer, Mass.
Sept. 16, 1917

Dear Mother,

Your letter was surely full of news. That must be a fine promotion for Winnie and I am certainly mighty pleased to hear of it. And good for Curley! I wonder how he ever worked it at home.

The mess officer task has occupied the lion's share of my attention this last week, and I think it is pretty well started now. The garrulous and at first fault-finding old Englishman hasn't been very much trouble; the first two days with him were very trying, for I had to oppose him in a number of his desires & proclivities, til I was at my wits' end, but most everything was settled then, and with a good man for mess sergeant on the job all the time & keeping things going right, affairs have run pretty smoothly. The old boy's chief fault at present seems to be an insatiable desire to season everything with onions; the first two or three days I think onions appeared in gravy or hash or in some way at least twice a day, until it got to be a great joke at the officers' table. Our mess started Monday, and for the present we are eating over in the men's barracks. I think everyone has been pretty well satisfied with it, and personally I've relished my food more this week than anytime since I've been here, and only paying half as much as before. The old Englishman is a mighty good cook - he can make bread pudding really taste good, which surely must be an art. Of course I get joked about the mess a good deal from my fellow lieuts.; they fish up something to kick about every meal and Wade gets off some of his funny stuff like "There's been no joy in Mudville since Butsie took the mess" and so on.

The nights have been very cold ever since we've been up here, and as yet there is no heat in the barracks. We do however have a kitchen stove already set up in our shack, and it comes in pretty handy cold evenings. The hardest thing in the day is getting up into the chill of the morning; in fact, it takes somewhat more resolution to throw off my nice warm blankets than it does to duck under the cold shower I usually find time to regale myself with right afterward.

Ralph Gabriel remained with the 304th; he was 5th on the list of 2nd lieutenants, and every one of them down to the 26th or 27th stayed with the regiment. The first ten were recommended for promotion to 1st lieutenancies, so I presume that he'll be wearing a white bar one of these fine days.

About the Current History - I haven't resubscribed to it. Lucinthia was going to subscribe in my stead and before I write them to discontinue my subscription will you ask her & tell me whether she has done so, and in my name? I thought she might have done that, seeing it came to Cromwell.

In the laundry this week was a new pair of blue pajamas also a BVD union suit. You will notice that I have used the breeches-lace in tying up the package, so please be sure and return it. It might be well to mark the sheet, as it's my personal property. The white shirts came all-right; if she can, I'd like to have Mrs. Knudson put a little more starch in the cuffs.

Please let me know your plans for next Sunday, as it probably will be a convenient day for me to take a run down home; but I can easily enough put it off to a later date. Father sent me a bunch of those pictures this week, and I am returning those of which I have duplicates. You asked me how long it took to write you last week, but I can't tell, for I was at it off and on thru the whole evening, with frequent interruptions from considerable general jollity afloat in Barracks 391 during the course of the evening. Tell Father that whenever he writes to be sure & address me Division Supply Train and not Supply Division; the latter address shunted my letter off down to the quartermaster Dept.

I must try to get a few other letters written tonight. I finally wrote Ralph yesterday.

With much love

Ayer, Mass.
Sept. 25, 1917

Dear Mother,

I finally got back to Barracks 391 about a quarter to one Sunday night. I had company from Worcester on, so that the long trolley ride was made considerably less tedious. The train I took at Meriden was not the 6:18, but one which comes about ten minutes earlier & only goes as far as Springfield. For that reason I got off at Hartford and waited for the other one to come along, rather than wait for it at Springfield. A lieutenant by the name of Harbison, from Hartford, got on the train, and because it was over a half hour late when we got to Worcester, he decided to get off at Worcester with me, and not to go via Boston as he had intended, for he couldn't have made connections with the delay. It took us over 3 hours from Worcester on. There was an Italian band on the car to Leominster, which gave us selections; we were kept constantly in the worry, because after every piece, it seemed, somebody would call for the Star Spangled Banner; but they didn't finally give it.

I have been drilling the men to-day for two o three hours, and am glad to get into some of that work.

I called Preston Monday morning and he was going to stop on his way down but I never saw him. Sam Sewall called me up a half hour or so ago, by proxy, & he says he's going to leave Keene Oct.5, so I am going to try & get up next Sunday awhile; nothing the nurse who talked to me said seemed very encouraging about his condition.

The camp had a fatality Sunday afternoon, when a Vermont man was drowned in a pond only a few steps from our section; circumstantial evidence pointed to suicide & I believe that was the finding of the court martial; I don't know what organization he belonged to. Some reporter from the Courant was up here Saturday to see Moody, so he wasn't responsible for that write-up after all.

The enclosed picture may be interesting. The four officers in the picture, reading left to right are Achorn, June, Butler, Moody. It was taken a week ago Sunday afternoon by some visitor to one of the men.

I must get at a little work this evening.
Lots of Love,

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