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 American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) documents at the National Archives at College Park. This article is part six of the series about World War I Art and Artists.
Captain Wallace Morgan reported for duty in France at the end of March 191. A few days later, he along with fellow combat artists Peixotto and J. Andre Smith received permission to scout out buildings that could be a suitable studio for the artists to complete their work. The three men searched Paris and Fontainebleau (a few miles outside Paris) but eventually selected Neufchateau where they located a studio that would suit their needs. Having taken care of that need, they turned their attention to sketching.
Morgan and the other artists received permission to start visiting divisions in the American sector. In late April, Morgan witnessed life in the trenches and drew this sketch of soldiers scanning the sky after receiving an alert to expect enemy action. Denuded and broken trees feature prominently in the sketch, evidence of the destruction that been going on since 1914. To get this perspective, he may have entered the trench.
Captain Morgan visited a first aid station during the battle for St. Mihiel. Almost as soon as the American Army entered the war, they captured German prisoners and gave first aid to those who were in need.
The greatest American effort of the Great War was launched almost as soon as St. Mihiel was wrapped up in late September. On September 26 the mass of American strength was deployed in an all-out offensive to rid the region of the Germans. The combat artists followed the army divisions through the Meuse-Argonne area. Morgan sketched this during the early part of the offensive.
The Meuse Argonne offensive was brutal, bloody and laborious. Even when the Germans withdrew from a town, it was not always abandoned. Some towns, such as Cierges could only be considered an allied victory after every house and building was searched. Snipers were evicted by grenades or hand to hand combat. Morgan sketched this picture of American doughboys cautiously clearing the way through Cierges.
The next combat artist to be featured in this series will be Ernest Peixotto.
National Archives. Still Pictures. Record Group 111-SC Army Signal Corps, WWI Combat Artists, by name.
National Archives, Textual Records, Record Group120, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War 1), Entry 224, Correspondence Relating to the eight Official Artists of the AEF, 1917-19
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.