World War I Combat Artists – Harvey Dunn

Guest blogger Jan Hodges became interested in World War I combat art as a result of her involvement as a volunteer in a holdings maintenance project for documents of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) at the National Archives at College Park. This article is part four of the series about World War I Art and Artists.

Harvey Dunn sketched the war from his heart. He spent time in the trenches and went “over the top” with the men.  He knew personally and intimately what battle meant to the infantryman, the runner, the machine gunner.  Like the other official World War I artists, Dunn was not attached to any particular division of the American expeditionary Forces.

dunn, harvey thomas head shot
Capt. Harvey Dunn, One of the Official American Artists with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. Nov.1918.
Local Identifier: 111 SC 86624

Captain Dunn poured his experience into dramatic drawings, the sort of artwork the War Department was looking for; brave men in battle, winning the war for the allies. He sketched doughboys overcoming barbed wire to confront the enemy, captured the moment when a grenade thrown into a German dugout exploded, caught the irony of setting up a machine gun in a cemetery, and the sublime moment of German soldiers surrendering to Americans.

After the last volley of the war, the men of the 36th Division were ordered to write about their experiences of the war. The soldiers were not men who kept diaries. Many of them could barely read or write, but they duly recorded their experiences of fighting during the Meuse Argonne offensive while it was fresh in their minds. The raw memories of the soldiers accompany the artwork of Captain Dunn to create a vivid record of the war.

31668 The Machine Gunner
The Machine Gunner. Capt. Harvey Dunn. Drawings by Official American Artists. Local Identifier: 111 SC 31668

Harvey Dunn was proud of American soldiers and his machine gunner has the proportions of a classic hero with an iron jaw of American determination.

H.C. Obets, Private, Company A, 132nd Machine Gun Battalion

“It was on the morning of October the eighth that we were ordered to line up in platoons to go up and relieve part of the second division. We started out of the point of the woods down across a valley. There was a barrage to go through. We passed that and got into rifle pits on the other side of the valley in a few rows of pine trees. There were some infantry boys in there too.  The shells and Machine Gun bullets were strafing all around.  Then the lieutenant ordered us to the first line trenches which was about 30 yards to the front.  We all went over and crowded into the trenches which was almost full of doughboys.  Some wounded and of course a few dead.  We were then ordered to get out and scatter in squad columns to the rear. … We stayed in this position for about thirty minutes.  Men were getting killed and wounded all around us and our Red Cross man was helping to dress their wounds”.

31113 The Hand Grenade
The Hand Grenade”. A hand grenade is thrown through the doorway of a dugout into the midst of German soldiers.  This is one in many incidents in the cleaning out of the Germans in captured territory. Drawing by Capt. Harvey Dunn, E.R.C. S.C. Photo Laboratory, Vincennes, Seine, France.  Selected for publication in the New York Tribune, March 1919. Local Identifier 111 SC 31113

A.R. Fleischmann, Captain, 311th Infantry, 77th Division, commanding Co. D

“At zero hour (5:30AM) Sept 26th, I advanced my line according to instructions…In advancing, resistance was met in machine guns, pill boxes and snipers and retreating infantry.  About 45 seconds after the attack was started a terrific barrage was laid down in front of our original outpost positions covering the ground about 200 yards to the front.  Individual rifle pits were dug all along the edge of the woods.

Two dugouts were located and a pill box was located practically between but a little in advance of the dugouts.  In getting to our objective we cleaned out one of these with bombs.  [At] the other dugout, eight [Germans] appeared at the door and were captured.  We then threw several bombs in the entrances and have no way of knowing whether there were more in it or not.”

31667 Street Fighting
Street Fighting – in one of the villages along the Marne. By Capt. Harvey Dunn. Local Identifier 111 SC 31667.

Edward Trumble, Private, Company L, 141st Infantry

“I heard a peculiar shrill whistling noise a few yards ahead of us which was followed immediately by a terrific explosion. That was my first time to witness the effect of the Huns long range guns. Luckily for me I was in the lead of the detail so was not run over by the excited crowd which immediately started for the rear. It may be well for me to say here that this was our first tour on the front, consequently no one knew what was happening when those shells began falling. I and a few others who were not so badly excited continued our search for water until we found it.  By then the shells were falling pretty thick although no one was hurt. After dark we started out for the front lines. No one but those who were there can imagine the excitement and eagerness of everyone to go forward that night. Everyone was glad to get a chance at the Huns”.

31676 The Harvest Moon_2
“The Harvest Moon”. A grim harvest was reaped in the wheat fields along the Marne by the American troops. Dead Germans of the famous Prussian Guard who fell before the 38th Infantry are seen in the foreground.  Drawing by Capt. Harvey Dunn, E.R.C. SC. Photos Laboratory, Vincennes, Seine, France. Local Identifier 111 SC 31676.

Unknown Soldier, Company L, 141st Infantry

“After a few hours hiking I was soon on the battlefield.  The first sight I saw was a German skull.  A stick was stuck in the ground and his head was hung over the top of it. A Camel cigarette was in his mouth and his old steel helmet was lying by the side of the stick.”

31677 Walking Cases
“Walking Cases”. Wounded men stopped for a rest on their way back from the firing line. Drawing by Capt. Harvey Dunn, E.R.C. SC. Photos Laboratory, Vincennes, Seine, France. Local Identifier 111 SC 31677.

John M. Wade, Cook, Company L, 141st Infantry

“Well on the morning of the 8th of October, while going across the railroad track one of my friends was seriously injured by one of the artillery shell[s] and he ask[ed] for help so I was on the stretcher carrier detail so I assisted him as soon as possible and on my way back to the aid [station] I was in shell fire but kept on going with my friend for he seemed to be in misery and I did my best, and also kept carrying the wounded.

I saw lots of men with their arms and legs torn off.  Also I saw a man driving an ambulance and all at once he was shelled and his left leg was almost torn off and the shell went in over the gasoline tank and exploded and burnt the car up and also burned up one man in the rear of the ambulance”.

31699 Among the Wreckage
Among the wreckage.  Troops going forward at night. Drawing by Capt. Harvey Dunn, E.R.C. SC. Photos Laboratory, Vincennes, Seine, France. Local Identifier 111 SC 31699.

Unknown Soldier

“It was at this place (Somme Py) that I saw my first destruction of the war. If it had not been for a few walls that were left standing no person would ever have known that there was a town.  At that place, of the few walls that were left standing not one failed to have a shell hole thru it”.

William Loughy, Cook, Company B, 132nd Machine Gun Battalion

“Every village we went through was sacked, burned, and forever ruined. This is the garden spot of France and when one sees it he wonders why God in his goodness and greatness could let a cultured and civilized people live that could commit such wanton depredation and destruction on another country. Why?”

37809 Machine Gun Emplacement
Machine Gun Emplacement. Drawing by Capt. Harvey Dunn, E.R.C. SC. Photos Laboratory, Vincennes, Seine, France. Local Identifier 111 SC 37809

Edward Trumble, Private, Company L, 141st Infantry

“We were in the front lines four days this time, forty-eight hours of which I together with a few others spent our time in an outpost between our lines and those of the enemy. A very trying position as we were unable to get food or water and were forced to lie almost motionless both night and day as we were only a few yards from the enemy’s lines.  We could hear them talking very distinctly”.

William Loughy, Cook, Company B, 132nd Machine Gun Battalion

“…and what the French and English were four years trying to take, we done it in exactly 8 good American hours”

37811 In the Front Line at Early Morning
In the front line at early morning. Drawing by Capt. Harvey Dunn. Local Identifier 111 SC 37812

Walter Reines, Corporal, Company L, 141st Infantry

“There was some excitement in digging in and wearing our gas masks – one night we wore our gas masks about five hours. Some of the boys took it quite serious, but some [of] them found lots of sport in it”.

C. B. Morris, Sgt., Company HQ, 142nd Infantry

“… all night long we dug our emplacements and holes to lay in. All night and most all day big shells and little ones from [artillery] batteries on our right flank contented themselves with kicking dirt in on us every little bit but stayed outside of our little prairie dog home for which we were truly thankful”.

37857 Prisoners and Wounded
“Prisoners and Wounded”. Drawing by Capt. Harvey Dunn. Local Identifier 111 SC 37857.

C. B. Morris, Sgt., Company HQ, 142nd Infantry

“The Boche could understand “Hands up” tho many of them could not speak English…The Prussian guards were weaklings in the face of Sammies”. [Sammies was a short-lived nickname for the American infantrymen]

 William Loughy, Cook, Company B,   132nd Machine Gun Battalion

“I met a constant stream of German prisoners and wounded American soldiers all going to the rear. One M.P. whom I was walking with had three German officers as prisoners, one captain and two lieutenants.  We had not gone far until a “rolling kitchen” as the soldiers call an Austrian 88, came along and all we could find of those German officers was one boot full of leg and one head. “C’est le guerre”, as the MP said. “Well, I’m damn glad.  It will save me a walk”; then [the MP] went on back to the front.

I gathered up all the canteens I could find and filled them with coffee for our company and went with what men I could find up to the front line.  On our way up I saw a sight that made me realize the stern grimness of warfare, the awfulness of it. A shell hit one of our ambulances and killed the three drivers (it happened to be empty) tore it all to pieces and his entrails were strung across (the driver) and trucks were continually coming and going over their bodies.

Oh how I did want to get at the Bosch when I heard about the boys of ours and saw them laying out so cold (dead far from home and loved ones) but their deaths are not in vain. It is for one of the greatest causes in God’s history: justice, democracy, and freedom”.

37906 Doughboy Fighting
Doughboy fighting through barbed wire entanglements. Drawing by Capt. Harvey Dunn. Local Identifier 111 SC 37906.

 Neil S. Madeley,  Company C

“In the early morning the lieutenant came up and gave orders to get our gun fix[ed] for going over the top at 5:15.  At the proper time we began the advance 15 degrees west of north. Unfortunately we got ahead of the infantry and advanced to a point of a pine thicket, a place badly exposed to the enemy and a place where they had previously aimed their guns on account of the prominence. Before we could get the gun set the Bosch had discovered us. They lost no time in letting us know it. All at once their machine guns laid a barrage; their heavy artillery belched its volley, and their snipers took aim. In a short time, one sergeant lay dead, the result of a sniper’s shot. Just a little later our gallant lieutenant and our runner were killed by a shell. At the same time wounded comrades could be heard gasping for help.

During the clash our infantry rushed up and made a daring effort to cross the opening.  Once they were repulsed but after a few familiar commands, the daring Americans pushed on despite the fact that fate was imminent. “On, Over the top” was the cry and the Sammies occupied the ground where dead Germans lay beside the guns that had just felled our heroes”.

The personal war experiences were excerpted from the original records, consisting of 23 boxes, of the 36th Division, Record Group 120.  Some of the records are difficult to read and even with multiple sets of eyes, it’s impossible to assure that all the excerpts are absolutely accurate. Any mistakes in transcribing the text are solely mine.

The next combat artist to be featured in this series is George Harding.


National Archives. Still Pictures. Record Group 111-SC Army Signal Corps, WWI Combat Artists, by name.

National Archives, Textual Records, Record Group 120 Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War 1), Combat Divisions. 36th Division. Personal War Experiences

Captain Fleischman’s narrative: National Archives, Textual Records, Record Group 120, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I, Combat Divisions, 77th Division, Historical 278-33.6

Eisenhower, John S. D. Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2001

Krass, Peter. Portrait of War: The U. S. Army’s Combat Artists and the Doughboys Experience in World War I. John Wiley and Sons.  New York. 2006.

One thought on “World War I Combat Artists – Harvey Dunn

  1. What an interesting post! The personal war recollections accompanied with Dunn’s drawings help to remind us that while WWI is approximately 100 years removed from history it was a real and often traumatizing experience for all those involved. It is the reason why I love researching and working with primary materials. It truly makes the past come alive.

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