by Timothy P. Harrison
On April 6, 1917 a Joint Resolution declaring that a state of war exists between the Imperial German Government and the Government and the people of the United States was approved by President Woodrow Wilson. Against its will, the United States plunged into a war which had ravaged Europe since August, 1914. The nation was woefully unprepared, with only 200,000 men in the Army, one-third of which were National Guardsmen. By war's end, approximately 4,800,000 men would serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Of these, 125,500 would die from all causes and for every man killed in battle, six were wounded. Mississippi contributed her share of soldiers and sailors to the war effort: 56,698 Mississippians served in the army (542 from DeSoto), 558 in the U.S. Marines (15 from DeSoto), and 4,791 in the navy (15 from DeSoto). Ninety-one Mississippi women served as nurses, three from DeSoto. Of the men serving in the army from DeSoto County, Herman C. Craven was the only one to win the nation's second highest award for valor: the Distinguished Service Cross.
Herman C. Craven was born November 12, 1896 to Martin W. Craven and Ida Carrie Busby. He was the grandson of Brice M. Craven and Margaret Janney, who married in DeSoto County on March 15, 1851. War was declared on April 6, 1917 and Herman volunteered for service in the army on July 11, 1917. He enlisted in Company L, 2nd Tennessee Infantry in Memphis, which was a National Guard unit. This unit was joined with other units from Tennessee, North and South Carolina to form the what became known as the Thirtieth (Old Hickory) Division on March 26, 1918. At that time, Private Harold Craven, serial number 1320839, was a member of Company G, 2d Battalion of the 120th Infantry Regiment, 60th Infantry Brigade of the 30th Division, U.S. Army, which trained at Camp Sevier, South Carolina near Greenville.
Training for the new soldiers was at Camp Sevier was unlike reporting for modern basic training. Indeed, life was quite rough at first, as Camp Sevier had to be built from scratch. Its early days were described as follows in the 30th Division history:
Camp Sevier, similar to other National Guard camps, did not have the comforts and convenience with which the Regular Army contonments were provided. There were no barracks, steam heat, or other camp luxuries. The men lived in pyramidal tents, formed in rows along company and battery streets. For several weeks after the troops arrived at Camp Sevier the lumber for flooring the tents was scarce and the majority of the organizations placed their tents directly on the ground and used earth as flooring material. When the necessary lumber arrived at later dates the tents were floored and boxed up the sides a distance of approximately three feet. During the fall there were as many as eleven men in each tent, but when the danger from contagion later became pronounced this number was reduced to seven or eight, and these were required to sleep head-to-foot to still further lessen the danger.
The new soldiers slept on a cot with straw mattress. Four issue blankets constituted the bed clothing, and if pillows were used they were furnished by the man himself. Nevertheless, as time passed the camp took shape and the men were turned into soldiers ready to face the Germans. Private Craven remained at Camp Sevier from the time the 2nd Tennessee arrived in September, 1917, until the men of the Thirtieth Division were deemed fit and ready some seven months later.
On April 18, 1918 the 30th Division received orders to go overseas. Private Craven and the 2nd Battalion of the 120th Infantry sailed from Boston aboard the S.S. Bohemian on May 12, 1918, and landed at Liverpool, England on May 27, 1918. They next shipped across the English Channel to the French port of Calais, and were placed with the British for training. As a result, Private Craven and the others were issued British equipment, including the enfield rifle, keeping only their American uniforms. On July 9, 1918 the 30th Division moved to the forward area of the front for further training with the British II Corps in Belgium. Even though they were in no attacks at this time, life in the trenches was dangerous. The following excerpt is from a letter written by another 30th Division doughboy on August 15, 1918 and describes life in the trenches as Private Craven would have experienced it:
"I have been up on the front entertaining Fritz. Fritz is a bad guest. He got his wind up a bit and threw some of his shrapnel shells over on us. He also threw us a little gas one night. No one was seriously hurt by either his gas or shrapnel shells. Three or four of the boys in the company received slight wounds. I was as close to the side of the trench as I could get, and one bursted up over my head, and a piece of it fell against the side of the trench right in my face. I thought it was a shell which had not gone off, so I jumped around the corner of the fire bay. It did not go off so I started back. Hadn't much more than started back before another one bursted pretty close over my head, knocking my steel helmet off and knocking me down...."
From that time forward the Division saw much fighting. On August 17th the Division took over the Canal sector of the British line extending from the souther outskirts of Ypres (called "wipers" by the troops) to Voormezelle, and from August 31st to September 1st engaged in the battle in front of Mt. Kemmel. From September 25 - October 21, 1918, they took part in what is now known as the Somme Offensive. September 29 - 30, 1918 saw the 30th Division participate in the battle of Bellincourt, in which Private Craven and the others broke the infamous Hindenburg line.
It was during the Somme Offensive, while attacking the Germans, that Private Craven's heroism earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. At that time he was serving as a messenger under Major W.A. Graham in Second Battalion Headquarters. The official citation reads as follows:
"For extraordinary heroism in action near Premont, France, October 9, 1918. While serving as a runner, he volunteered to go to an exposed position on the flank to a body of troops, deliver a message to them if they were Americans, and report back if they were Germans. Using a captured German bicycle, he rode along a road subjected to heavy fire, found that the troops were American, and delivered an important message."
Private Herman Craven presumably remained in combat on the offensive with the 120th Infantry, participating in the batle of La Selle river. The 30th Division remained in the attack until October 20th, when it was withdrawn to a training area immediately after the battle. On that date, General Order No. 38 was published which summed up the accomplishments of the Division as follows:
"1. The 30th Division again retires for rest and reorganization after adding another chapter to its already glorious record.
2. With the exception of three days - October 12th, 13th, and 14th - when it was in reserve, the Division attacked every day from October 8th to October 19th, inclusive, defeating the enemy and making material gains each day. During this period, the lines were advanced by the Division from MONTBREHAIN to beyond MAZINGHIEN, a distance of more than thirteen miles, and the towns of BRANCOURT, PREMONT, BUSIGNY, VAUX-ANDIGNY, ESCAUFORT, ST. BENIN, ST. SOUPLET, RIVEAUVILLE, and MAZINGHIEN, as well as many villages and farms, were taken.
3. During this period, 45 officers and 1889 other ranks were taken prisoners and nearly forty cannon, a large number of machine guns, and an immense amount of stores of all kinds were captured by the Division.
4. The skill, courage, fortitude, and endurance displayed by the Division have won the admiration of all and the commendation of High Commanders.
5. Holding in affectionate memory the comrades who have fallen, justly proud of its glorious achievements already accomplished, the Division will devote itselft untiringly to reorganization and rehabilitation in the confidence that when again called upon it will, as in the past, be found equal to any task that may be assigned to it."
The order was signed by E.M. Lewis, Major General, commander of the 30th Division.
The Division saw no further combat and was still in the training area when the Armistice ending the war went into effect on November 11, 1918 at 11:00 a.m. On November 24th Private Craven and his fellow soldiers were ordered to the Le Mans, France area in preparation for their return to the United States. Private Herman Craven and the other members of the 2nd Battalion, 120th Infantry sailed from St. Nazaire, France aboard the S.S. Martha Washington on April 1, 1919. They landed at Charleston, S.C. on April 13, 1919 and paraded through the streets of Charlotte, N.C. on April 16, 1919. Finally, on April 21, 1919 Private Herman C. Craven, hero from DeSoto County, and the other members of the 120th Infantry Brigade, were demobilized at Camp Jackson, S.C., and were free to return home after a job well done. During their time overseas, the 30th Division had spent 69 days in the combat area, advanced 20 miles capturing 98 officers, 3,750 men, 72 pieces of artillery, 26 trench mortars, and 426 machine guns. The cost to the Division was 1,652 battle deaths, 9,429 wounded, and 6 officers and 71 men taken prisoner.
The heroism of those in the 30th Division was unsurpassed. Members of the Division won 12 Medals of Honor, America's highest decoration for bravery. This was more than any other single Division. Its members, including Private Herman C. Craven, were awarded 177 Distinguished Service Crosses. Well might Major General Lewis write: "The Division accomplished every task assigned to it. Not a single failure is recorded against it. Not a scandal occurred to mar the glory of its achievements."
Herman C. Craven, late of the U.S. Army, was officially discharged on April 23, 1919 and returned to DeSoto County, Mississippi a true hero. His deeds are mentioned in an article appearing in the Times-Promoter on July 15, 1920. He married Rosemary Leatherberry, and was the father of two children, Hermine and Gene. He eventually left DeSoto County, and died at the age of 81 on February 17, 1978 in Galveston, Texas.
Army War College, Historical Section. Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1937.
Horne, Charles F., Ed. The Great Events of the Great War, Vol. VII. National Alumni. 1920.
Ivy, Pam McPhail. Our Heritage. Hernando, MS: Genealogical Society of DeSoto County.
Murphy, Elmer A. and Thomas, Robert S. The Thirtieth Division on the World War. Lepanto, AR.: Old Hickory Publishing Co., 1936.
Smith, Harry E. Private Letter dated 15 August 1918. Cpl. Harry Smith, Co. K, 117th Infantry, 30th Division, was killed in action on October 6, 1918.
Stallings, Laurence. The Doughboys. New York: Popular Library edition., 1963.
Stringer, Harry R., Ed. Heroes All. Washington, D.C.: Fassett Publishing Co. 1919.
Works Progress Administration for Mississippi Historical Data DeSoto County, 1936-37
Works Progress Administration for Mississippi Historical Data DeSoto County, 1936-37, p. 150. Of these, 440 Mississippi soldiers and marines died overseas; nine Mississippi army officers and 280 enlisted men were killed in action or died of wounds; 1,048 Mississippi soldiers were wounded, but survived.
The Thirtieth Division in the Word War, p. 26.
DeSoto County Coordinator: Tim Harrison
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