by: Alexander Ramsey Thompson, United States Army, New York Coast Artillery Corps

To give an idea of the work at Caldwell and of the interest it held for those present we give an account of the work at the range by one of our officers, told in his own words.

“On July 7, 1919 I was ordered by Colonel Burleigh to proceed to Caldwell, New Jersey, and report to the commanding officer of the U. S. Navy Rifle Range as Property and Supply officer of the Ninth Coast Artillery Corps, New York Guard. A few days after arriving there, the commanding officer advised Colonel Burleigh that he was in need of additional officers to assist in the work of organizing the N. R. A. Matches, and requested the use of my services as information officer and as Acting Adjutant to Major Paul A. Capron, U. S. M. C, of his staff at such times as my regular duty did not demand my attention. Colonel Burleigh was glad to permit me to do this and I was soon detailed to this duty. I was appointed officer of the day shortly after this, and for the rest of the time that I was there so acted on every sixth day in rotation with five other officers of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

About the middle of July, there was a serious flood at the post, and for the time being I had no duties to perform in connection with my own unit, and therefore was able to give my entire time to assist Colonel Harllee and his officers in restoring conditions at the camp. It was a long, tedious piece of work, as the water was very slow in receding and we were only able to get things into fair shape by the time that the first of the matches were shot early in August. Nevertheless, the season was a successful one and I would be the last to find fault with conditions which could not have been in any way avoided.

From the time the matches began until after Labor Day our work was endless, as there were about 5,000 in the camp, of whom about 3,000 were civilians, and the difficulties and perplexities that were brought to our attention by the latter were numerous. The duties of the staff officers in that post were varied and continuous under the conditions described, as we were endeavoring to keep a lot of civilians, who had probably never been obliged to live under such unpleasant conditions, in an agreeable frame of mind, and endeavoring to get them to remain through the matches, and at the same time make them as nearly comfortable as possible. I have never seen such fine spirit displayed by any body of men as by those officers at Caldwell. Lieutenant-Colonel Harllee was tireless in his endeavors not only to hold the matches, but to hold them under as nearly normal conditions as possible. The flood and other unexpected contingencies which arose almost at the last minute were enough to stagger any commanding officer, but Colonel Harllee’s attitude of serenity when face to face with almost superhuman difficulties made every one of his officers anxious and willing to spare nothing to lend him every endeavor and assistance at all times. That the matches were held and that they were successful was due entirely to his able leadership and determination to permit no obstacle to stand in his way. Taken as a whole, it was the most interesting experience of my brief military career, and I could ask no greater pleasure than to again have an opportunity of serving under Colonel Harllee at some future time.

The post was situated on very low ground, virtually a low-lying swamp in the valley adjoining the Passaic River northwest of Caldwell, N. J., and at the height of the matches, contained forty to fifty frame barracks and other camp buildings, and possibly 1,000 tents. One difficulty was the question of mess, as separate messes had to be provided for numerous units. When I first went to the post, there were not so many officers but that one mess was sufficient for all. By August 1, however, so many more officers came that it was necessary to divide the mess, and Colonel Harllee opened a staff mess in what was termed the clubhouse, to which he invited a number of officers regularly, and nightly invited many others as guests, not to mention the rifle teams which came as units, until all had been invited at least once. These affairs were generally held in the evening, and were accompanied by music and entertainment, followed, as a rule, by speeches or interesting talks by some officer or other person. There was no lack of music, as through the Matches there were several bands present, and they aided very much in keeping up the spirits of the men who were doing pretty uncomfortable work and leading a very uncomfortable life. For days at a time, I saw assembly for both Marines and Sailors held in three feet of water, this to make clear the difficult conditions under which everything was done over there for a period of ten days. For the men, there were separate messes for the Marine Corps, the Navy and those of the enlisted force of the Army present, of whom there were a considerable number; also numerous messes for the civilian rifle clubs.

I have been asked to describe the routine of the arrival of a civilian rifle team. As a rule they came from great distances, many from far Western and Southern States, and they always seemed to time their arrival at Caldwell after the last transport truck had been parked and the chauffeur sent to bed, so that the officer of the day had his work cut out for him for many hours following midnight. Team Captains would call up from Caldwell at absurd hours of the morning and state they had arrived at the end of the trolley line with their men, and request prompt transportation to the camp. However, I think we invariably succeeded in satisfying them that the delay was no fault of ours. I know that no rifle team or body of men ever landed in the camp without at once receiving hot food and being almost immediately made comfortable in barracks so far as it was possible to be in any camp.

I want to pay a tribute to the work of the welfare organizations of that camp, the V. M. C .A., the K. of C. and the Salvation Army. The work they did was beyond all praise. During and after the flood there were entertainments nightly in one or the other of their buildings, and it went a long way to keeping men who worked hours and hours every day in deep water, or later on in sticky mud, in a good humor. The services rendered by the ladies of the Red Cross of Caldwell, headed by Mrs. Edwin E. Bond, were equally important and worthy of attention. They accomplished wonders in every way in maintaining the morale of the camp.

As regards the arrangements for mess for outsiders at the camp, I would say that civilian teams or individuals coming to the camp paid for their own mess, although mess rooms and the mess itself were furnished and prepared by the regular camp organization. During the summer, I was frequently called upon to inspect the camp messes, and in so doing invariably found them to be of good quality, well cooked and properly served. Anyone who found fault with the food that he received at Caldwell did so without reason. Great criticism has been made of the camp and the conditions in it, during and following the period of the high water, but I want to say in that connection that as Officer-of-the-Day on Colonel Harllee’s staff I was in a position to know at all times as to cases in the camp hospital. Almost all of the cases that were there during the summer were accidents, and I did not know of a single case of a man permanently stationed at that post who was at any time sick because of the conditions in that camp. We did have numerous cases of illness lasting for a few days at a time, but almost invariably they were outsiders, civilians who came from comfortable homes and indoor work, who went to Caldwell and immediately went out on the Rifle Range, lay down on the damp ground without protecting themselves by wearing a woolen belt, and naturally became prey to slight intestinal disorders. The Red Cross furnished the post with a detail headed by Major Slicklen. He brought several nurses who assisted greatly in the care of the sick and injured in the hospital. Naturally there were many accidents as there always are at annual matches. The only wonder to me was that more men were not drowned, so far as I know only one having lost his life in that way.

Front row left to right: Col. Smith, 13th C.A.C., N.Y.G.; Commo. Josephthal N.M.S., N.Y.; Maj.-Gen. Burnett, U.S.M.C.; Adj.-Gen Berry, N.Y.G.; Col. Burleigh, 9th C.A.C., N.Y.G.

There were about 250 targets, 100 on the 1,000 yard range, 100 on the mid-range, and 50 on the 200 yard range. Liberal opportunity was furnished to all outsiders to shoot at all times, except when matches were on. That this opportunity was not availed of generally was due to the conditions above described. Nevertheless, when it was possible to shoot, there were almost always some enthusiasts there at work. Ammunition and Springfield rifles were furnished free of all charge, and all a man had to spend was his carfare and the price of his mess, of which he had a choice of three, the officers’, and two classes of enlisted men’s mess, one where his mess kit was washed for him after its use, and the other at a lower rate where he washed it himself.

New York Day was one of the pick days of the season. Colonel George W. Burleigh, my commanding officer at that time, and a selected committee gave a luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria to Adjutant-General Berry and a large number of invited guests, mostly officers of the New York Guard. Following this luncheon, the party was driven in automobiles from the Waldorf-Astoria to the camp. On the way to the camp, the party stopped to see an exhibition at the aviation field about two m1les away from the camp. This aviation unit was to have been stationed in a field directly across the street from the camp, but as this was turned into a temporary lake by the flood, it was never possible to carry out the original plan. However, daily after the arrival of the aviators, exhibitions were given over and about the camp. After the exhibition ended, the party continued to the camp and was conducted on a tour of inspection by the Commanding Officer and his Staff, after which a photograph was taken on the steps of the clubhouse. At about 7 o’clock in the evening a front line barrage was simulated under conditions as near as possible to actual warfare by the detachment from the Army School of the Line from Fort Benning, Georgia, under the command of Major Cheedle. The party later returned to New York as they had come.

The camp closed on the last Saturday in August, and by Labor Day there was no one left except the permanent camp force.”

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s