State Historic Site

Trail End

Letters Home - Russell Glenn Cone

BORN IN OTTUMWA, Iowa, in 1896, Russell Glenn Cone was a student at the University of Illinois when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in May 1917. Quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant, Cone served with the Headquarters Company of the 149th Field Artillery. While with that unit he witnessed one of the biggest battles of the war, along the banks of the Marne River. He describes the battle in detail in a letter sent from "Somewhere in France" on 24 July 1918.


Cone's parents and most of his siblings lived in Sheridan throughout the war; his younger brother Maurice was in the army as well, serving as a radio operator with the 27th Field Artillery in Alabama.


Following the war, Cone returned to Sheridan and got married before heading back to Urbana, Illinois, and his successful pursuit of a degree in civil engineering. Prior to his death in 1961, he worked on a variety of bridge projects across the country, from New Jersey to California.


 (From In the World War)

Undated letter from "Somewhere in France;" printed in The Sheridan Enterprise, 9 July 1918

The work the shipyards in N. V. is doing is magnificent. When you see the amount of work there is on a big liner and the material in her, it hardly seems possible that the steel worker can get them out so fast. Truly, it takes both blood and steel to build and man them. Can you imagine the courage it takes to pilot a big boat with thousands of men aboard across the ocean when you know you might be sent to the bottom any minute? But now we have got the upper hand of the subs. The valiant British navy has bottled up their bases at Zeebruggee. Ostend and their destroyers are hot on the trail of any periscope that comes up. Then also, huge airships patrol the coasts and hydroplanes are making inroads on its “women drowners.” ...

We are amused at the hard campaigns of the armies training in the camp with two powerful three-inch field pieces. In some sectors we have a 75 every three yards, and we use them for sniping and machine gun work. You should feel the rush of air behind a 220 howitzer, and it does not phase a 50-foot virgin earth dugout. There you use a 12-inch with special delayed fuse and when they explode the hole it makes it look like an excavation for a 100-foot turntable.

I was a close listener in on a projector gas attack one night. A gas projector is about the size of a Linde oxygen tank and has a range of about 1,000 meters. They set a thousand of them up in the front line about 100 yards apart and some night when a gentle wind is blowing towards the enemy they are all set off at once. They work by compressed air so there is no noise. They explode when they light with a dull thud and scatter the liquid from which the gas evolves all over. Mustard gas is a favorite. It burns the eyes, mouth or any place on the body that is moist and is very active on the mucous membrane, so you see it is dangerous to monkey around a gas attack. The warning is an ordinary Klaxon, and at night we hear them honking way over into Germany. When I get home and hear a car drive up and honk, I will grab for my gas mask.


From "Somewhere in France," 24 July 1918; printed in The Sheridan Enterprise, 30 August 1918


The past two weeks have made the experiences of a year in France look a little bedimmed. You see, I was lucky enough - or unlucky enough - to be in the path and right in the fiercest of the last big German offensive that fell so flat and has resulted in such a victory for us. Believe me, it was some rough house. We were with one of the best French divisions, and where they stood the Boche did not gain an inch. They said that the preliminary bombardment was one of the most promiscuous and terrific they ever saw. I was in a dugout about 3,000 meters back of the first line, and it was close enough. Of course, you’ve read how they do it, bombarding all the rear positions heavily and drenching everything with gas and then massing on our infantry.

Well, the attack started at 12:01 a.m., July 15th, 1918, with the most gorgeous display of hell that could ever be put on, but we knew about it just an hour ahead, and the way we hit them was something terrible. Two of their divisions were so badly hit that they could not attack, and the good old 149th made marmalade out of the prize divisions of the Prussian Guard. At 3 a.m. they came over, and several mass attacks with tanks failed to dislodge us. I never saw so many dead, mangled and torn Germans and men in all my life, but our losses were so small as to be negligible compared to the violence of the attack. There was a patrol of 50 German planes over our lines dropping bombs and machine gunning. Our planes accounted for ten of them in one morning, and one of our infantry shot one down with an automatic rifle, and another got one with a grenade. Then in the afternoon they made five more attacks with tanks, but they never got through our barrage.

Of course, I can’t describe the battle on paper because it is too long, and I haven’t time, but the picture of it is burned into my memory, and I’ll tell you later. I think that Victory will be ours within a year. The prisoners we captured were so glad to get out of this war, they were half starved. I talked with one from the First Regiment Prussian Guard, and he said he had had only a little piece of bread before they sent him into battle. Some of the prisoners were only 15 and cried when they were led in. Their feet were in bad condition because of bad shoes and their uniforms all worn. They had only a suit of heavy knit underwear under their clothes. Poor devils, they had been told there were only a few Americans here, and when we told them two million, their eyes opened in amazement. I picked up lots of junk, but discarded it in a move, except a German gas mask, which I sent to Harold, though I longed for a baggage car to send more trophies home. Where we are now, the Germans are retreating so fast there is not time to stop for souvenirs. But say, it’s sure one big adventure, and the last weeks have sure made moments in my young life.