Extracted (with editing for brevity) from the History of the 353rd ‘All Kansas’ Infantry Regiment 89th Division, National Army September 1917 – June 1919, by Capt. Charles F. Dienst and associates, published by the 353rd Infantry Society in 1921.

 

‘Then came the news which the men had anticipated. The calm, steady voice of Maj. Blackinton threw a pall on all listeners as he said, “Your orders are to be in Stenay tonight.”

It was hard to realize the possibility of accomplishing the mission under the conditions. The Germans occupied the city and the high ground beyond. They were prepared to hold their positions with machine guns and artillery. Moreover, there was the river and the canal to be crossed and only one boat available. It had a carrying capacity of thirty men. On the east side of the Meuse the 90th Division was advancing from the south. They were to have taken Stenay on the 10th and to announce occupation with a rocket signal. Close observation revealed no signal, and their location was unknown. The First Battalion must drive across the river for Stenay.

While sitting alongside the road an officer drove up and announced the news of the armistice, and gave orders to continue on to Stenay. The chief concern of the men now was to find a good place to rest.

During these hours, the officers of the First Battalion continued their efforts to find a way across the Meuse River. Lieut. Driscoll and Lieut. Connors had not reported back with their patrols at 3 a. m. so Lieut. Chalmer with Pvt. Cadue was sent out. The light from a burning barrel of oil at the water’s edge enabled him to locate Lieut. Connors’ patrol. No crossing could be found. When they returned Maj. Blackinton set out with Capt. Dahmke to confirm the information of the patrols.

Lieut. Hulen in command of A Company had posted sentries under cover to make observations. At nine o’clock Lieut. Chalmer reported back that a crossing could be effected.

The high embanked road leading over to Stenay had been blown out in no less than eight places, and the bridges over the river, canal, and mill-race were destroyed. Some engineers had been trying to estimate the possibilities of a crossing, but were driven away by enemy shrapnel. On the basis of this information, Company A was ordered to cross the river. Lieutenant Connors was to lead with the patrol, Lieut. Chalmer was to follow with his platoon in fifteen minutes and prepare crossings. It was now 9:30 a. m.

A heavy fog hung close to the surface. Nothing was visible but the broad expanse of the water which disappeared in the haze a few yards out from the shore. Every man wished he could look beyond. Surely the enemy was waiting to open fire at the first appearance of advancing troops. But this fog that had been so disagreeable served effectively as a screen for our activities.

Nearer approach to the road showed mysterious rows of sticks driven in the ground parallel to the water’s edge and at right angles to the road. These sticks stood some seven or eight feet high. Wisps of vegetation were tied about two feet from the top. Their use was apparent. Machine gunners knew the range to these sticks. They knew the intervals between the poles and could control their field of fire from right to left without being called upon to estimate it. Quietly and patiently the men worked their way forward. The gaps which had been blown in the embanked road were from fifteen to thirty feet across. Water rushed through the openings below. It was necessary to make a steep descent on one side, pass over the debris in the bottom, and then make the steep ascent on the other side to continue toward Stenay. After crossing five of these gaps, the bridge which spanned the Meuse loomed into view. One long girder lay suspended from its base on one side across the gap. Just beyond was the bank of the canal, covered with wire entanglements. The bridge across the canal was out, but fifty yards above lay the ruins of the lock-gates which afforded a passage. The mill-race was still to be crossed. Its bridge was completely down. Heavy timbers were soon adjusted into a foot-log. Only one man could cross at a time, but in the event of shelling this formation was highly desirable.

The thought of machine gun fire was oppressive. On the battlefield there was a chance of flanking the enemy but here the men were at the mercy of the enemy. We could do nothing but move ahead. Safely across, the patrols reported that they were ready to leave. Lieut. Hulen, with the slightest trace of a smile on his worn face said, “It is reported that there will be no firing after eleven o’clock, but don’t throw away your equipment!”

Stenay is in the top center of this map

At ten o’clock Lieut. Connors reported the occupation of Stenay. He immediately set about getting the French civilians out of their cellars and rounding up the few Germans who remained behind. The town was still being bombarded in the southern section, but the patrols met no resistance in their operation.

At 10:30 a patrol from the 90th Division entered the town from the south. Lieut. Connors notified its leader, a Lieut. named Quinn, that the town of Stenay was in possession of the First Battalion, 353rd Infantry, 89th Division. Before 11 a. m., armistice hour, all of Company A had made their way across and a line of outposts was established on the heights above the town. There were no casualties, but the mental strain and physical exertion had been terrific. The men of the First Battalion had earned the right to the good billets of Stenay for their regiment.’

However, the war wasn’t exactly over for the men of the 353rd, as they wouldn’t be back in the U.S. until May 23rd, 1919.

 

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official living in Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.