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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: 

My grandfather served with the 322nd 81st division in North Carolina during world war I

Comment: 

So did mine, 2nd Battalion, Company H

Comment: 

I'm doing genealogy research and have learned my great grandfather, Bosea (Bosia) Isom Adams was in K Company, 324th Infantry, 81st Division. Part of the 3rd Platoon. I'm trying to locate any pictures or stories of his deployment. Seems he survived the assault of crossing No Mans Land during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, however sadly no stories were passed down.

Comment: 

Hello, 

You may be able to find things in a digital collection that was created with the State Library and the State Archives. The collection is not of service records, but contains pictures, published stories, letters, maps, etc. https://digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/custom/wwi

Also, the U.S. Army Center of Military History may be able to help as well: https://history.army.mil/  

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

 

Comment: 

Thank you so much! Found a few pictures of K Company and a Narrative history of K Company that listed him by platoon, rank and name at the end! I'm sure I'll find more a well. This helps soooo much!

Comment: 

I'm so glad you found some information! That is wonderful and so glad those resources were helpful! 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

My father was in the 81st Wildcat Division and Meuse Argonne Offensive. I have a photo
of his company in France. He was of large and strong stature and carried the casualties
from the battleground.
Frank J. Nola

Wildcat Division,

Comment: 

Seeking info on my grandfather Jesse Lee Wood who was in the Wildcat division artillery in France in WW l

Comment: 

My great uncle, Willis E. Towery was wounded on November 10, 1918 in Meuse-Argonne, just twelve hours before the armistice was signed. He died November 12, 1918. Two others were killed when the shell hit. I have newspaper clippings, but as I am not a N.C. resident, I’m not sure how to retrieve more I formation or photos.

Comment: 

My great uncle, Sgt Willie Underwood was killed in the same event. I have some archival news article of his death and later burial in High Point, NC

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