Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Closing in on Memorial Day

As we close in on the Memorial Day weekend, I find myself once again diverted from my current projects to something different.

My great Uncle served in the Army during World War One. Until this week, I knew very little about his service other than shortly after the war, he died in France due to illness. He was a Postman in Charleston before volunteering for service during the war and miraculously was employed as a postman by the army during his service time. That was the extent of what I knew. Now however, I have been provided with additional information on this long lost family member that has led me along to take a closer look at the Western Front during the final year of the Great War.

Henry Emil Stoesen was 30 years old when he volunteered for service in the Great War. He was living in Charleston, South Carolina and employed by the Postal Service at the time he enlisted.

Henry by his tent.

He was sent to Camp Wadsworth and assigned to the 53rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment for his training. The 53rd Pioneer Infantry was formerly the 47th Infantry regiment of the New York National Guard that was nationalized as the 53rd Pioneer Infantry. Prior to their arrival in South Carolina, they had been deployed on the Mexican border to deal with Pancho Villa.

Collar disk of the 53rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment (D Company). From http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/wwi-co-d-53rd-pioneer-infantry-collar-disk.
When the 53rd arrived at Camp Wadsworth, they had a mere 31 officers and 927 enlisted personnel. Their ranks swelled to over 3,500 men while at Camp Wadsworth. There is a good map of the Camp here.

A search of Pioneer Infantry gave me a nice site defining them (http://www.militaryheritage.org/DARNGWWI.html). This site defined them this way: "The pioneer regiments included such specialists as mechanics, carpenters, farriers and masons. They were supposed to work under the direction of the Engineers to build roads, bridges, gun emplacements and camps "within the sound of the guns." They received standard infantry training so that they could defend themselves, but there are very few documented instances of any pioneer troops unslinging their rifles." In late July, the 53rd was sent to France and arrived in early August 1918. I found a book online "How America Went to War: The Road to France" that listed the troop convoys at this time. It is possible that he was in the convoy Group No 53 that left New York on July 31 and arrive in France on August 12. The troop ships were the Maui, the Siboney and the Orizaba. The last two were sister ships and the Siboney served in both World Wars. The convoy was attacked shortly before docking in France but none of the ships above took damage but did have to evade torpedoes.

The regiment was not assigned to a division at this time but served with the 1st Army Corps. They were rushed to the front to participate in the Allied offensive at St Mihiel and then again for the Meuse-Argonne offensive. It is uncertain if Henry ever saw the front or not.

Apparently, Henry survived all of the above only to contract spinal meningitis in LeMans, France. He passed away on January 21, 1919.

Henry's grace marker in LeMans.

Several years after the war, the family had his body returned to the family plot in Charleston.

Hopefully I will learn some more.


  1. Hello Chris:

    Thanks for this post. How said that your great uncle made it through the war but never lived to see home. Both my grandfathers were Great War vets but sadly long passed on before I was born. I wish I knew half as much about them, though you are showing me that it doesn't have to stay this way, some research is possible.

  2. What a fantastic post!! It must make you feel quite proud?