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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Wildcat Division

by R. Jackson Marshall III, 2006

A shoulder patch insignia of the 81st National Army Division., a.k.a., the Wildcat Division, 1918. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.The Wildcat Division, a World War I unit officially known as the Eighty-first National Army Division, was organized in August 1917 with drafted soldiers, mostly from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. Approximately one-third of the soldiers were North Carolinians from almost every part of the state. Two regiments-the 321st Infantry and the 316th Field Artillery-and the 321st Ambulance Company were made up almost exclusively of North Carolinians. The division was called the "Wildcat" Division in recognition of the irascible wildcats that inhabited southern states and after Wildcat Creek, which ran near Camp Jackson, S.C., where the unit was mobilized. The men adopted a wildcat silhouette as a shoulder patch, the first insignia worn by troops in the American Expeditionary Force.

In 1918 the Wildcat Division sailed for Europe where, after additional combat instruction, it was sent on 19 September to the St. Dié sector of France's Vosges Mountain region. There, as part of the French Seventh Army, the division held what was considered a quiet front, although it fought off German trench raids and endured artillery bombardments. On 19 October the Eighty-first was relieved and ordered to the rear to await transfer to the American 1st Army, which was fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. While serving in the St. Dié sector, the division suffered 116 casualties.

In early November 1918 the Eighty-first moved to the front lines near Verdun, where its infantry regiments attacked German lines on the morning of 9 November. From the outset the division encountered heavy machine gun and artillery fire; heavy fog and smoke hindered visibility but also likely saved "Tuffy," the mascot of the 81st Division in World War II. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.American lives in the attack. By late afternoon, the 322nd Infantry Regiment had captured the ruined village of Moranville. On the south side of the forest, the 324th Infantry Regiment slowly pushed the enemy back but then abandoned much of the ground by withdrawing to a safer position. The day's fighting produced mixed results, with success north of Bois de Manheulles and frustration south of the forest.

When on the night of 10 November Wildcat Division commanders received no official confirmation of rumors that an armistice might be signed the next day, the 321st and 323rd Infantry Regiments planned a dawn attack on the main German trench line. At daybreak the 321st went "over the top" for the first time and attacked enemy trench positions north of Bois de Manheulles, slowly advancing through heavy fog and shell and machine gun fire. At 10:30 a.m. the 323rd began to fight its way through the barbed wire entanglements along the German main trench line into and south of Bois de Manheulles; some Americans entered German trenches and many were either killed or pinned down under enemy fire. At 11:00 a.m. the firing abruptly stopped when the armistice of 11 Nov. 1918 ended hostilities.

Following the armistice, the Wildcat Division marched 175 miles to a rest area and in early June returned to the United States. During the short time the Eighty-first was in combat, it suffered 248 killed and 856 wounded.

 

References:

Felix E. Brockman, Here, There, and Back (1925).

C. Walton Johnson, Wildcats: History of the 321st Infantry, 81st Division (1919).

Additional Resources:

North Carolina State Archives. "The Old North State and 'Kaiser Bill': North Carolinians in World War I" N.C. Office of Archives and History. 2005. http://www.history.ncdcr.gov/SHRAB/ar/exhibits/wwi/OldNorthState/index.htm (accessed October 24, 2012).

"81st Infantry Division." United States Army Center of Military History. http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/cbtchron/cc/081id.htm (accessed October 24, 2012).

Johnson, Clarence Walton. History of the 321st infantry with a brief historical sketch of the 81st division, being a vivid and authentic account of the life and experiences of American soldiers in France, while they trained, worked, and fought to help win the world war ; "Wildcats". Columbia, S.C.: R.L. Bryan Co. 1919. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/u?/p15012coll10,511

House, R. B. "Wins Distinguished Service Cross Lieut. W. O. Smith, Of "Wildcat" Division, Decorated For Gallant Service." The Orphans’ Friend and Masonic Journal. October 22, 1920. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/u?/p15012coll10,764

House, R. B. "Chief Of The "Wildcats" General C. Batley, Pennsylvanian, Commanded The 81st In France." The Orphans’ Friend and Masonic Journal. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/u?/p15012coll10,766

Wildcat Veteran's Association. "Wildcat national reunion: eighty-first division, November 8, 9, 10, 11, 1936, Knoxville, Tennessee." S.l: The Association]. 1936.

Image Credits:

"Military Insignia, Accession #: H.19XX.193.27." 1918. North Carolina Museum of History.

"Photograph, Accession #: H.1947.44.2.2." 1941-1945. North Carolina Museum of History.

Comments

Comment: 

Hi, My Granddad, Jackson M. Rogers (North Carolina), served in WWI with Company D, 323rd Infantry Regiment, 81st Division as a Heavy Machine gunner. I am trying to get as much info as I can about his service with the Regiment. i have also come across a mystery: when he left France for the U.S. after WWI, his records state he was with the 271st Military Police Company of the 81st Division, along with a bunch of other guys he sailed home with. More info would certainly help. Thanks!

Comment: 

Hi, Scott, 

Thank you for taking the time to ask your question and leave your comment! Are you a NC resident? If so, you can get a GHL library card. https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/services/library-card This will allow you to access many of our databases remotely, including Fold3 which is a database of military service records. If not, please contact our reference desk with your question at slnc.reference@ncdcr.gov

Best, 

Kelly Eubank

N.C. Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

My grandfather, Homer Grady Orr, of Leesburg, AL, was also a Wildcat.
I have his draft and deployment papers, his Wildcat patch, compass, and some German items (bayonet and pewter matchbook holder) which have the Kaiser Helmet logo.
Thanks for adding one more piece of the puzzle!

Comment: 

Both of my grandfathers, from Lapine Alabama, were in the 81st Wildcat DIV.
George R Evans 322nd INF Awarded the DSC and French and Italian equivalents
Shadrach Meshach Mitchell 324 INF MG promoted to Corporal
Both for their heroic efforts in the St Mihiel and Meuse Argonne . I went Over There for the 100 year observation of the Armistice. I was in the 5 communes en Woerve from 11/8 thru the 11th , and met the great local French people who still honor the sacrifice Americans made to liberate their homeland. I was the only American to show up and I was welcomed by the people of Grimaucourt and surrounding communes, and I participated in the 11/11 service in Moranville. I was honered to lay the flowers at the AUX ENFANTS DE MORANVILLE MORTS and I cannot express what this meant to me. " Wildcats Never Quit !" If you care to, please contact me at the email address above. Bubba Evans

Comment: 

Wow! Sounds like you had an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing!

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Please email me. I want to learn more about my grandfathers and the Wildcats !

Bubba Evans

Comment: 

My Grandfather was in the 323rd Infantry, 81 Wildcat division in France when armistice was called. He was a Sargent and I have his maps, some badges, books pictures and several papers.

Comment: 

My Grandfather was a Private in Company C 323 Infantry too. Discharged June 21 1919. While in France, he wrote home to Alabama. Our family has a couple of letters and a Wildcat newspaper, saved by him during that time.
I would love to find a photo of the 323rd during his time, actually anything on his company would be great.

Comment: 

Who was your grandfather? I'm looking for information on Srgt. Thomas Ribble Tucker

Comment: 

My Grandfather was in Company M of the 323rd in France in WWI. I would really like to talk with you.

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