(From "In the World War")
State Historic Site
ACCORDING TO FATHER-in-law Fred Brenner, former Sheridan resident Edwin Leslie "Nick" Nicholas "has been soldiering practically ever since he got into the khaki ranks in the Spanish-American War in 1898." Previously stationed as a Sergeant Major with the 18th Infantry at Sheridan's Fort Mackenzie, Nicholas served with the 151st Infantry during World War One. Following a brief time on the Mexican Border, the Kentucky native went overseas to France in the fall of 1918.
At the ripe old age of forty, Nicholas - now a Captain - was considerably older than most of the soldier around him. He was also much more articulate. His letters, published in The Sheridan Daily Enterprise, are full of the kind of details most soldiers left out of their letters home.
After the war, Nicholas moved to Indiana where he served as Assistant Adjutant General for the Indiana National Guard. He died in 1939 and is buried in the Sheridan Municipal Cemetery.
As it has been so long since you have heard from me, I can imagine that you have been scanning the lists of casualties expecting to see my name somewhere in it. A little bit too early for that, for it seems that we are destined for some training before we can look for a move to the front.
Our little stay at [Camp] Mills proved very enjoyable for everyone, for we were practically in the heart of civilization, and after our long stay in Mississippi it was like a trip to heaven .... Our regiment is now largely composed of men from the southern states who have not seen very much of this glorious country of ours, and New York was a revelation to most of them. There were many who thought that after they had crossed from New Jersey City to Long Island they had reached France. As the men were given quite a bit of liberty, it was possible for them to see quite a bit of the sights, and I imagine some of them will have some wonderful tales to tell when the get back on the farm. But those tales will seem insignificant, compared to what they have seen since leaving the United States, for we have seen a wee bit of England and as much of France.
Our trip across the Atlantic consumed just two weeks and was rather uneventful, except for sight of a few icebergs and a couple of whales. However, it was exciting enough for some of those who were in constant dread of “subs,” as we had to wear life-preservers throughout almost the entire voyage, and the last three or four nights we were not permitted to remove any of our clothing excepting shoes, for we were in the real danger zone then. After the first day we had boat drill every day, so as to be prepared for any eventuality, and everyone, I believe, heaved a sign of relief when we docked.
Then when we crossed the English Channel there was another night of suspense, also more sickness than there was on the trip across, for the boat we were on tossed around like a feather. However, it is my good fortune to report that I did not miss a meal anywhere, and I feel that I am a pretty good sailor, especially as this was my ninth sea voyage and that I have not made any contribution to the fishes.
We had a railroad trip of about eight hours in England, and got to see some of the country, which is pretty and reminds one of a vast park, for the grounds are so well kept. We were all struck with the quaint, railroad equipment, which seems like toys compared with our own. However, one cannot help being impressed with the remarkable cleanliness of their railroad yards and trackage, not a bit of refuse being in evidence anywhere. There are three classes of coaches - first, second and third. The officers rode in the first-class compartments, but we thought them far from first-class. One thing that can be said in favor of their railroad service is that their trains keep to schedule time. Not so much can be said in favor of the French railroad service, and I imagine that the men will always remember their experience on French trains as they made a 24-hours journey in box-cars, with 40 men to the car, which is just a trifle more than half as large as our ordinary freight car. But there was no complaint from the men, for they realize that in playing the war game, many discomforts must be encountered.
We saw a number of Hun prisoners working along the line, and they seemed a contented lot, and you can’t blame them for feeling that way, for I expect that they are getting more humane treatment as prisoners than they did as soldiers in their own army.
From what I have seen of this country, it is certainly beautiful, and the people received us with open arms. While we were not near the war zone, one can readily see the effects of war even here, for it seems as if everyone is in mourning. Foodstuffs are very high, and the people can purchase only a certain amount. Officers and men are in billets, which means that we are living with the people. I was in a billet just one night. The lieutenant-colonel and I were quartered with a family, each having a room of his own. But not being able to speak the language, we were not quite at ease. The next day a number of officers elected to move into a partly furnished chateau, where we can have our own mess and feel more at home. It is a most beautiful place and belonged to a banker who absconded and is now said to be in prison. The place is for sale for 50,000 francs, which would be a bit less that $6,000, and if the place were located in the States, it would be worth not less than $25,000.
Grapes seem to be the principal thing raised in this vicinity. Consequently, there is lots of wine which can be had for from a franc (about 20 cents) a bottle up. Champagne is to be had for 12 francs a quart. One thing that seems to astonish the natives is our love for water for drinking or bathing. With them, wine takes the place of water for drinking purposes, and as for bathing, a French captain told us that about the only time the people bathe is when they get sick. We might be able to adapt ourselves to their custom of drinking wine instead of water, but you can imagine what chance there is for an American to pass up bathing. A bath tub is a curiosity, but we will manage somehow to keep and stay clean.
It does look as if we have things coming our way, but we must not let up on the fight until we have the Hun on his knees and begging for mercy.
I shall now close, for it is getting late and the sandman is hanging around, so I will say “Bon Nuit.”