THE SON OF one well-known Sheridan attorney (Ellsworth Eugene Lonabaugh) and the brother of another (Harvey Ellsworth Lonabaugh), Alger Wellman Lonabaugh graduated from Sheridan High School and went on to pursue a law degree of his own. Before he could complete his studies, America entered the war and everything changed. In June 1917, Alger signed up with the Wyoming National Guard. He soon transferred to the 4th Trench Mortar Battery where he quickly attained the rank of 1st Lieutenant..
After the war, Lonabaugh finished up his schooling (Stanford University, Class of 1919), became an attorney, got married, had several children, and lived in Sheridan for the rest of his life.
In a letter dated September 14 and printed in The Sheridan Daily Enterprise on October 12, Lonabaugh gives an unusually detailed account of a unnamed battle in which the 4th Trench Mortar Battery played a significant role. In a second letter, he tells of another artillery attack.
(From "In the World War")
State Historic Site
Sent from Verdun, France, September 1918
Dear Dad - Well, yours truly has survived another offensive, but several times I wasn't quite sure whether I was all there or not. I know you will be interested, so will write you how it happened. ...
We left the rest camp ten days ago and traveled by night through rain, mostly on open trucks, and camped in the timber during the day. From the morning of the 9th to the night of the 13th, I was on the go most of the time. I got little food, little sleep, and didn't wash during that time.
The afternoon of the 8th, the captain sent three lieutenants up to make a reconnaissance of our position. We went up as far as possible in a truck and then walked the rest of the way along a road which the Boche could see, but never a shot from them. We found an old French emplacement which was fine. We returned late at night and learned we had to go into position the next night.
Traveled all that night, arriving about 3 a.m. at a small town in rear of the position. Had few hours' sleep and woke up to learn that a French battery had taken part of our position and that another reconnaissance would have to be made. The captain and I went on ahead, leaving orders for the battery to move on up. The guns were all in place by 6 a.m., but we had no ammunition. In the meantime, the Boches were waking up a little, but had no idea of what was coming.
There was a small narrow gauge railroad that ran by our position. We had secured five small wagonettes which the men pushed. The rations and everything we got came by these wagonettes. We worked all day getting the positions fixed up. The rations came about 11 o'clock the night of the 10th with orders that I return with half of the battery to get a good sleep, as there were no blankets and not enough bunks for all in the shelters. In the meantime, the Boches were getting nervous as the devil. About every 15 minutes, he would throw over a dozen shells into the crossroads where everything was coming down.
When we got to the crossroads, he evidently heard us, as he threw about twenty shells in there. The first three were quite short, about a hundred yards or so, but I cannot say how close the rest of them were, except that none hit closer than ten yards from me. Up the road a short distance they killed a field battery lieutenant and his striker. I think I went flat in the mud of the road about five times.
... There certainly was confusion on that road - Frenchmen yelling, Americans swearing, and in the melee a French ammunition train got across the track, so we had to abandon our wagonettes til morning. Got back to camp at 5 p.m. and got a few hours' sleep.
... When I awoke, the captain and I figured the firing data. ... We discovered some of our ammunition and made arrangements to get it up that night. Just got asleep when the commander of the French battery in whose dugout I was, came in with the message that the zero hour was one o'clock. As we had expected it at five, we had a lot of work to do. Later we received message fixing the hour for artillery at 5:30. However, no one wanted to sleep.
About 1:05 she started and, believe me, she was sure some proposition. I had charge of our mortars, and we opened up at 5:30 promptly. We sure did drop them over. I went over afterwards and saw two direct hits on machine gun nests and one on a minie-werfer emplacement. We stopped firing at 8:25, and the doughboys went over the top at 8:30. ... There were just a few of them who walked over to the Boche trenches, but none of them seemed to fall. Ten minutes later the prisoners began to arrive.
The barrage sure was fierce. If you can imagine a machine gun firing point blank at a bank, that is just the way the big shells were dropping into the german positions.
The closest call I had was about nine o'clock. I was standing at the entrance to the kitchen when a Boche shell hit about a yard and a half from me in the mud. I went flat, of course, and got up shaking the mud off, looking to see who had been injured. All it did was to blow the chimney off the kitchen stove.
One Month Later, October 1918
Dear Dad - I have been in this drive since it started and am still going strong. ... I have really been seeing some of the hardships of war. I slept on top of the famous Hill 304 the first night with two blankets that I swiped from a pile of doughboys' packs. Had a whiz-bang light fifteen feet from me about a week ago, and all it did was to clout me on the shoulder with a brick. However, I had shell shock all that afternoon and jumped about a mile when a mule brayed "hee-haw."
Was in an attack with an infantry brigade about a week ago and had a hell of a time - men blown all to hell on three sides of me.
It looks as if the war would soon be over. I hope so, because I'm frank to admit I've had all I want.