The Glory of the Coming / What Mine Eyes Have Seen of Americans in Action in This Year of Grace and Allied Endeavor

The Glory of the Coming / What Mine Eyes Have Seen of Americans in Action in This Year of Grace and Allied Endeavor

Irvin S. Cobb
Irvin S. Cobb

Author: Cobb, Irvin S. (Irvin Shrewsbury), 1876-1944
World War
1914-1918 — United States
1914-1918 — Personal narratives
1914-1918 — Participation
African American
The Glory of the Coming
What Mine Eyes Have Seen of Americans in Action in This Year of Grace and Allied Endeavor


What Mine Eyes Have Seen Of Americans In Action In This Year Of Grace And Allied Endeavor

By Irvin S. Cobb

George H. Doran Company


“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword, His Truth is marching on.”

—Battle Hymn of the Republic

This book is made up of articles written abroad in the spring and summer of 1918 and cabled or mailed back for publication at home. For convenience in arrangement, a few of these papers have been broken up into sectional subdivisions with new chapter headings inserted; otherwise the matter is here presented practically in its original form.
It has been given to the writer to behold widely dissimilar aspects of the Great War. As a neutral observer, hailing from a neutral country, I was a witness, in Belgium, in northern France, in Germany and in England, to some of its first stages. That was back in 1914 when I was for awhile with the British, then for a period with the Belgian forces afield, then for a much longer period with the German armies and finally with the British again. I was of like mind then with all my professional brethren serving publications in non-belligerent countries, excepting one or two or three of a more discerning vision than the rest. Behind the perfection of the German fighting machine I did not see the hideous malignant brutality which was there.
In the first half of this present year, as a partisan on the side of my country and its federated associates, I visited England and for a space of months travelled about over France, with two incursions into that small corner of Flanders which at this time remained in the hands of the Allies.
I have seen the Glory of the Coming. I have watched the American Expeditionary Force grow from a small thing into a mighty thing—the mightiest thing, I veritably believe, that since conscious time began, has been undertaken by a free people entering upon a war on foreign shores with nothing personally to gain except a principle, with nothing to maintain except honour, with nothing to keep except their national self-respect. In this war our only spoils out of the victory will be the establishment of the rights of other peoples to rule themselves, our only territorial enlargements will be the graves where our fallen dead sleep on alien soil, our only tangible reward for all that we are giving in blood and treasure and effort and self-denial, will be the knowledge that in a world crisis, when the liberties of the world were imperilled, we, as a world-power and as perhaps the most conspicuous example in the world, of a democracy, did our duty by ourselves, by our republican neighbours overseas and by our children and their children and their children’s children.
No longer ago than last March, it was a small thing we had done, as viewed in the light of our then visible performances in France and an even smaller thing as viewed in the light of what our public men, many of them, and our newspapers, some of them, had promised on our behalf nearly a year earlier when we came into the war. At the beginning there was an army to be created; there was a navy to be built up; there was a continent to be crossed and an ocean to be traversed if we meant to link up all the States of our Union with all our plans; there was a military establishment to be started from the grass roots; there were ninety millions of us to be set from the ways of peace into the ways of war. But because some of our politicians professed to believe that by virtue of our resources, our energy and our so-called business efficiency we could do the impossible in an impossibly brief time, and more especially because, among the masses of Continental Europe there was a tendency to look upon us as a race of miracle-workers living in a magic-land and accomplishing unutterable wonders at will, and finally because these same masses accepted the words of our self-appointed, self-anointed prophets as they might accept Gospel-writ, a profound disappointment over the seeming failure of America to produce her legions on European soil, followed hard upon the exaltation which had prevailed among our Allies immediately after we broke with the common enemy of mankind. In France I know this to have been true; in other countries I have reason to believe it was true. As month after month passed until nearly a twelvemonth had gone by and still the armed millions from America did not materialise, I think it only natural and inevitable that, behind their hands and under their breaths, the Poilus called our soldiers “Boy Scouts” and spoke of our effort as “The Second Children’s Crusade.” For thanks be to a few men among us who worked with their mouths rather than with their hands, the French populace had been led to expect so very much of us in so short a space of time and yet there now was presented before their eyes, so very little as the tangible proofs of our voiced determination to offer all that we had and all that we were, in the fight for decency and for humanity.
Do you remember when, on or about the beginning of the last week of March, General Pershing offered to the Allied command the available mobile strength of the army under him, for service to aid the British, the French, the Belgians and the Portuguese in stemming the great German offensive which had been launched on the twenty-first day of that month? Pershing made the offer in all good faith and in all good faith it was accepted. But at that moment all he could spare out of the trenches and send across France from the East to the West to go into the line in threatened Picardy was one division of considerably less than forty thousand men; a puny handful as they measure fighting forces these times; and that division was stayed in part on French rations, equipped in part with borrowed French ordnance and provided in large part with French munitions. Without French aid it probably could not have gone forward at all; without French aid it could not have maintained itself after it had taken over the Normandy sectors to which Foch assigned it. It was not the fault of our military leaders abroad, perhaps it was not the fault of our people at home that, fifty weeks after entering the war, we were able to render only so small a share of immediate help in this most critical juncture of the entire war. But it was the fault of those who had boasted, those who had bragged, those who had preached at home what they did not practice, that the French people were beginning to think—and to whisper—that the United States had failed to live up to its pledges. These people had no way of knowing what we were accomplishing over here; they must judge by what they might see for themselves over there.
The great awakening came, though, before the first of June. Over-night, it almost seemed, our army began to function as an army. The sea became alive with our transports, the land became alive with our troops. Instead of two hundred and some odd thousands of men on French soil, we had half a million, then a million, then a million and a half. No longer were our forces without tanks of American manufacture, without machine-guns of American manufacture, without a proper and adequate equipment of heavy guns of American manufacture. There was even hope that our aeroplane production, up until then the most ghastly and pitiable failure of all, might by autumn, begin to measure up, in some degree at least, to the sanguine press-notices of the year before—1917. We who in France could see the growth of this thing came to feel that perhaps all of our dollar-a-year commercial giants were not being grossly overpaid and we came proudly to realise that our country now was responding with all its strength to the responsibilities it had assumed. The Yanks were no longer on the way; they were here—here in number sufficient to enable us to lend a strong and ever-strengthening hand in the turning-back of the enemy and in bringing closer the certainty of a complete triumph over him. It was the Glory of the Coming. Moreover it should not be forgotten in the reckoning-up of causes and results that the lodging of the allied command in the hands of one captain—the most powerful single factor in inspiring victory—was brought about largely through American insistence upon the election of a single leader and a unified leadership for all the forces of the confederated nations in the field of the western theatre of the war.
I sometimes think the most splendid thing I have seen in this war was not some individual act of heroism, or devotion, or resolution—glorious though it may have been. I sometimes think the most splendid thing I have seen was the making-over of nations, literally before my eyes, in the fiery furnace of this war. I have seen little Belgium wearing the marks of her transcendent sacrifice and her unutterable suffering, as the Redeemer of Man wore the nail-marks of His Crucifixion; I have seen Britain transformed from the fat, contented, slothful, old grandmother of the nations, sitting by the chimney-piece and feeding herself torpid on her plenty, into the militant Britain of yore that has put so many millions of her sons into khaki and so many of the ladies of Germany into mourning; I have seen France become an incomparably glorious model, before all the world for all time, of the heights to which a free people may rise in defence of national pledges, national integrity and national existence; and I have seen my own country taking her proper place, in the most desperate emergency that ever confronted civilisation, as a people united, determined, valiant and steadfast—the spirit of the New World binding herself with steel grapples to the best that is in the Old World and inevitably taking the first steps in the long-delayed campaign of understanding and conciliation and renewed affection with our kinspeople and our brethren of the British Isles who speak the same mother-tongue which we speak and with whom we are joint inheritors of Runnymede and Agincourt.
As I write these lines, victory appears to be very near. Seemingly, it is coming one year sooner than we, who were in France and Belgium in the first months of 1918, thought it would come. And speaking for my fellow-American correspondents as well as for myself, I make so bold as to say that all of us are devoutly hopeful that our leaders will make it a complete, not a conditional victory. For surely those who are without mercy themselves cannot appreciate and do not deserve mercy from others. To our way of thinking, the vanquished must be made to drink the cup of defeat to its bitterest lees, not because of any vengeful desire on our part to inflict unnecessary punishment and humiliation upon him, but because he who had no other argument than force, can be cured of his madness only by force. We who have seen what he has wrought by the work of his hands among his helpless victims in other lands believe this with all our hearts.
I. S. C.
New York, November, 1918.



BECAUSE she was camouflaged with streaky marks and mottlings into the likeness of a painted Jezebel of the seas, because she rode high out of the water, and wallowed as she rode, because during all those days of our crossing she hugged up close to our ship, splashing through the foam of our wake as though craving the comfort of our company, we called her things no self-respecting ship should have to bear. But when that night, we stood on the afterdeck of our ship, we running away as fast as our kicking screw would take us, and saw her going down, taking American soldier boys to death with her in alien waters, we drank toasts standing up to the poor old Tuscania.
I was one of those who were in at the death of the Tuscania. Her sinking was the climax of the most memorable voyage I ever expect to take. Five days have elapsed since she was torpedoed, and even though these words are being cabled across from London to the home side of the ocean, at least three weeks more must elapse before they can see printer’s ink. So to some this will seem an old story; but the memory of what happened that night off the Irish coast is going to abide with me while I live. It was one of those big moments in a man’s life that stick in a man’s brain as long as he has a brain to think with.
Transatlantic journeys these days aren’t what they used to be before America went into the war. Ours began to be different even before our ship pulled out from port. It is forbidden me now to tell her name, and anyhow her name doesn’t in the least matter, but she was a big ship with a famous skipper, and in peacetimes her sailing would have made some small stir. There would have been crowds of relations and friends at the pier bidding farewell to departing travellers; and steamer baskets and steamer boxes would have been coming aboard in streams. Beforehand there would have been a pleasant and mildly exciting bustle, and as we drew away from the dock and headed out into midstream and down the river for our long hike overseas, the pierhead would have been alive with waving handkerchiefs, and all our decks would have been fringed with voyagers shouting back farewells to those they had left behind them. Instead we slipped away almost as if we had done something wrong. There was no waving of hands and handkerchiefs, no good-byes on the gang-planks, no rush to get back on land when the shore bell sounded. To reach the dock we passed through trochas of barbed-wire entanglements, past sentries standing with fixed bayonets at entryways. When we got inside the pier our people bade us farewell at a guarded gate. None but travellers whose passports read straight were allowed beyond that point. So alone and unescorted each one of us went soberly up the side of the ship, and then sundry hours later our journey began, as the ship, like a big grey ghost, slid away from land, as quietly as might be, into the congenial grey fog which instantly swallowed her up and left her in a little grey world of sea mist that was all her own. After this fashion, then, we started.
As for the first legs of the trip they were much like the first legs of almost any sea trip except that we travelled in a convoy with sundry other ships, with warcraft to guard us on our way. Our ship was quite full of soldiers—officers in the first cabin, and the steerage packed with khakied troopers—ninety per cent of whom had never smelled bilge water before they embarked upon their great adventure overseas. There were fewer civilians than one formerly might have found on a ship bound for Europe. In these times only those civilians who have urgent business in foreign climes venture to go abroad.
I sat at the purser’s table. His table was fairly typical of the ship’s personnel. With me there sat, of course, the purser, likewise two Canadian officers, two members of a British Commission returning from America, and an Irish brewer. There were not very many women on our passenger list. Of these women half a dozen or so were professional nurses, and two were pretty Canadian girls bound for England to be married on arrival there to young Canadian officers. There were only three children on board, and they were travelling with their parents in the second class.
Except for a touch of seriousness about the daily lifeboat drill, and except that regimental discipline went forward, with the troops drilling on the open deck spaces when the weather and the sea permitted, there was at first nothing about this voyage to distinguish it from any other midwinter voyage. Strangers got acquainted one with another and swapped views on politics, religion, symptoms and Germans; flirtations started and ripened furiously; concerts were organized and took place, proving to be what concerts at sea usually are. Twice a day the regimental band played, and once a day, up on the bridge, the second officer took the sun, squinting into his sextant with the deep absorption with which in happier times a certain type of tourist was wont to stare through an enlarging device at a certain type of Parisian photograph. At night, though, we were in a darkened ship, a gliding black shape upon black waters, with heavy shades over all the portholes and thick draperies over all the doors, and only dim lights burning in the passageways and cross halls, so that every odd corner on deck or within was as dark as a coal pocket. It took some time to get used to being in the state in which Moses was when the light went out; but then, we had time to get used to it, believe me! Ocean travel is slower these days, for obvious reasons. Personally, I retired from the ship’s society during three days of the first week of the trip. I missed only two meals, missing them, I may add, shortly after having eaten them; but at the same time I felt safer in my berth than up on deck—not happier, particularly, but safer. The man who first said that you can’t eat your cake and have it too had such cases as mine in mind, I am sure of that. I can’t and I don’t—at least not when I am taking an ocean voyage. I have been seasick on many waters, and I have never learned to care for the sensation yet.
When I emerged from semiretirement it was to learn that we had reached the so-called danger zone. The escort of warcraft for our transport had been augmented. Under orders the military men wore their life jackets, and during all their waking hours they went about with cork flaps hugging them about their necks fore and aft, so that they rather suggested Chinese malefactors with their heads incased in punishment casques. By request the civilian passengers were expected to carry their life preservers with them wherever they went; but some of them forgot the injunction. I know I did frequently. Also, a good many of them turned in at night with most of their outer clothing on their bodies; but I followed the old Southern custom and took most of mine off before going to bed.
Our captain no longer came to the saloon for his meals. He lived upon the bridge—ate there and, I think, slept there too—what sleeping he did. Standing there all muffled in his oilskins he looked even more of a squatty and unheroic figure than he had in his naval blue presiding at the head of the table; but by repute we knew him for a man who had gone through one torpedoing with great credit to himself and through numbers of narrow escapes, and we valued him accordingly and put our faith in him. It was faith well placed, as shall presently transpire.
I should not say that there was much fear aboard; at least if there was it did not manifest itself in the manner or the voice or the behaviour of a single passenger seen by me; but there was a sort of nagging, persistent sense of uneasiness betraying itself in various small ways. For one thing, all of us made more jokes about submarines, mines and other perils of the deep than was natural. There was something a little forced, artificial, about this gaiety—the laughs came from the lips, but not from points

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