State Historic Site

Trail End

Letters Home - Thomas Thornton Cotton

 (From "In the World War")

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few months can make! When Sheridan resident Thomas Thornton Cotton arrived in France in February 1918, he told his mother, "From all I can hear, I will never get any closer than ten miles from the front line trenches. Wish I was where I could get up a little closer. We boys are safe at least for two or three months, and we will not be in much danger then."

He soon got his wish, for Private First Class Cotton was a member of the 148th Field Artillery, the group of Wyoming soldiers who saw action at some of the biggest battles of the war. ​Shortly after fighting at Champagne-Marne in July 1918, the 148th turned around and immediately fought at Aisne-Marne. Both were horribly brutal battles; the death toll was in the tens of thousands, with the number of wounded in the hundreds of thousands. 

In this letter, published in The Sheridan Daily Enterprise on 30 August 1918, Cotton "tells of the hardships of the war and the great suffering that our brave boys are undergoing to defeat the Hun." 

Dear Mother - As I have nothing to do this afternoon, I'm devoting my time to writing letters, for God only knows when I will get the chance again, as I expect to move from here tonight as we have driven the enemy so far that our guns cannot reach any more. I can sit and look from the shell-torn window and see a line of soldiers that if I could see the length of it, I know it is miles long.

My dear, we came over here to win the war, and it's not going to take us years to do it. I have seen some awful sad sights during my short time off the front, and my heart aches for the poor people who have lost their sons and sweethearts here. One boy I found had his little testament in his hand, showing he had passed his last few minutes with his God, and another with the picture of his sweetheart in one hand and a letter from his mother in the other. They sure must have died like men. 

I and the chaplain and a couple other boys laid them away as best we could until they can be taken up and sent to their homes. I tell you, it was hard to bury them as we did, and it brought many sad thoughts, but we had to do our work and do it quick. 

You would not know the boys here. They look on these things now as things in everyday life, but if one could only tell what was going on inside the world would hardly believe it. 

One of our boys went out from camp and he had not gone a hundred yards when he found his brother dead in a shell hole. It struck him pretty hard, coming over here, looking for a trace of him every day, to find him thus. And again a fellow can pass house after house and villages which are literally pounded to the earth. I tell you, it is something to cause us to fight our very best.

When the Germans started their big offensive on July 14 [at Champagne-Marne], they had to cross a river of fair size, and in a short time it was a river of running blood. That is the night we fought so desperately and the Americans changed [it] into an Allied drive. Our infantrymen are the real fighters of this war. The artillery is supposed to be a higher branch of the service, but I will scoop up dirt with my hat to an infantryman any old day.