“In time of war, send me all the Alabamians you can get, but in time of peace, for Lord’s sake, send them to somebody else,”- General Edward H. Plummer
When we think of Alabama’s military history, we most often think of The Creek Indian War and the Civil War, we think of names like Andrew Jackson and William C. Oates we think of Horseshoe Bend and Gettysburg. What doesn’t come to mind is World War I, yet the First World War produced one of the greatest battles in Alabama’s history.
At the heart of this story is the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment, a unit often regarded as the descendant of a Confederate unit with the same name and number. Interestingly, there had not been a 4th Alabama between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and its re-establishment by the Alabama legislature in 1911 as part of the militia. The newly activated 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment, led by Major William Preston Screws, a seasoned regular army officer, assembled at Vandiver Park in Montgomery, Alabama, in late June of 1916 and was sent to the border to hunt Pancho Villa.
The journey of the 4th Alabama did not stop at the Mexican border; it continued to expand and evolve. The regiment underwent basic infantry training at Vandiver Park from July 4, 1916, to October 22, 1916. Later, Major Screws led about 1,300 officers and men to Nogales, Arizona, for advanced infantry training, which lasted until March.
As World War I engulfed the globe, Alabama rallied to support the Allied forces. Among the many battalions that stood tall during the Great War, the 167th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Alabamians,” stood out for its unwavering determination and indomitable spirit. Under the leadership of Colonel C. A. Scruggs, this regiment proved its mettle during the Battle of Croix Rouge Farm.
The Battle of Croix Rouge Farm fought on the blood-soaked soil of France, witnessed a fierce clash between the 167th Infantry Regiment and the formidable 4th Prussian Guards of Germany. It was a battle of attrition, where bravery and tenacity were the only currency. On that fateful day of July 26, 1918, the 167th Infantry Regiment faced intense enemy fire as they pushed forward with unwavering resolve.
The Alabamians encountered a daunting landscape: muddy trenches, shell-pocked fields, and camouflaged machine guns. Yet, they moved forward undeterred, answering the call of duty with a resolute “Hell with the bayonet.” The 1st Battalion, under Major John W. Carroll, and the 3rd Battalion, led by Major Dallas B. Smith, valiantly charged through thin woods towards their objective – the Croix Rouge Farmhouse.
The attack was relentless, and the casualties were heavy. Men fell to enemy fire as they fought valiantly, exhibiting remarkable leadership by example. Major Carroll’s 1st Battalion faced staggering losses, with 65% of its troops either killed or wounded in the initial assault. Captain Lacey Edmundson’s D Company saw 80% of its men killed or wounded during the fierce battle.
Amidst the carnage and chaos, Lieutenant Robert Espy, a true hero of the Croix Rouge Farm, led a successful second effort. With men from various companies coming together in a united front, they displayed unwavering courage and determination, pushing the Germans back and seizing the farmhouse.
However, the 3rd Battalion, under Major Dallas B. Smith, faced its share of trials. Despite being pushed back and reorganizing into two small companies, a ray of hope emerged as First Lieutenant Edward R. “Shorty” Wrenn and his detail brought a one-pounder mortar. Wrenn’s efforts turned the tide of the battle, saving the day and earning him the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.
As night fell on July 26, the battlefield was shrouded in darkness and drizzling rain. The Alabamians showed unwavering determination, attending to the wounded, while burial parties somberly laid the fallen soldiers to rest. It was a night of sorrow and heartache, yet the Alabama spirit endured.
The Battle of Croix Rouge Farm was a testament to the courage, resilience, and unbreakable spirit of the Alabamians. Their sacrifice and heroism stood out amidst the chaos of war, exemplifying the true meaning of valor. While the battle itself was overshadowed by the more significant conflict of World War I, it remains a crucial chapter in Alabama’s history – a chapter that deserves remembrance and recognition.
In the annals of Alabama’s military history, the Battle of Croix Rouge Farm finds its place alongside the gallant actions of William Oates and other celebrated military heroes. These brave Alabamians, with their bayonets held high, exemplified the spirit of their state, displaying unwavering determination and courage in the face of adversity. As we remember the courage of those who fought at Croix Rouge Farm, let us honor their sacrifice and ensure that their memory lives on, undiminished and forever etched in the fabric of Alabama’s rich military history.