Lance Corporal James H. McMahon Papers,| Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Front Page 2009 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2009
Fifty manuscripts, 7 March 1918–20 March 1920, World War I letters penned by Lance Corporal James H. McMahon, Co. K, Forty-eighth Infantry, chiefly from Camps Sevier and Jackson in South Carolina, and addressed to his parents, Mr. & Mrs. James McMahon, and other members of the family in Vineyard, New York. | Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
McMahon’s earliest letter from Camp Sevier, just outside Greenville, S.C., is dated 18 September 1918. The following month, 6 October 1918, he wrote to his brother about the Spanish influenza pandemic, querying, "Has the ‘Flu’ hit Brocton? All the hospitals down here are full, but we have only had one case so far and we can’t leave the company street only to go to the canteen or out to drill." Seven days later he reported that he had inquired about an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Without a high school diploma, however, he confided to his mother, he would have to pass a competency exam and felt that he could not pass one. All the same, he thought it likely he would be discharged because the war would be over before the Forty-eighth Infantry was deployed. By 10 December 1918, the date of the last letter from Sevier, he was headed to Camp Jackson, near Columbia, S.C.
Less than two months afterward, on 3 February 1919, McMahon advised his mother how she could apply for his discharge. If he was unsuccessful in getting out, he realized, he would have to remain at Jackson for some time, and this was an option he did not like - "The weather is enough to kill any one but a doughboy, one day you freeze and the next you roast." Apparently any attempt to secure a discharge failed because letters from Camp Jackson continue for another year.
Among the communications from Jackson is that of 3 April 1919 announcing the triumphal return of the Thirtieth Division - "the[y] left here last May and were in action just 5 days, but they think that they won the war, and want to run this camp." The training ground was rife with rumors of possible deployment to the Mexican border by the time McMahon wrote on 3 June 1919, and he told of being examined by medical personnel to see whether he could survive malaria. A letter of interest, penned on 16 July 1919, reports that he had recently been on "aviation guard." "...there was just one plain down there and the guard was a chinch but we were about 5 miles from civilization," he wrote. "I don’t know where I’ll be today, the airplain just went over camp going home. I was up with him yesterday morning for about a half hour and it’s great, he was going to New York and I sure wish that I would have gone with him."
Other topics of discussion include the hot weather in Columbia, S.C., rumors about possible relocation, the December 1919 visit to Columbia of Gen. John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing (1860-1948), McMahon’s participation in "sham" battles for training purposes, his enrollment in electrical school at Camp Jackson beginning in August 1919, and a trip to Kansas in November 1919 as a guard for military prisoners being transported by train to Fort Leavenworth. Correspondence also documents the removal of his appendix at the Base Hospital at Camp Jackson in March 1920.
The Forty-eighth Infantry was originally constituted in 1917 in preparation for action during World War I. Organized at Syracuse, New York, it received additional recruits from Fort Slocum, north of New York City. By September 1917, the unit was posted to Camp Hill, Virginia, just west of Newport News. Its mission was to provide camp and guard duties at this second largest United States port of embarkation for France. In August 1918 the Forty-eighth was relieved of port guard duty and became a unit of the newly formed Thirty-ninth Infantry Brigade, an element of the Twentieth Division in formation at Camp Sevier. In the following months the whole division had intensive training for shipment to France; however, by the time the war ended in November 1918 only two of the division units had actually sailed. In 1919 the regiment transitioned from a wartime to peacetime environment at Camp Jackson.