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A Brief History of the 32nd Division

To view the roster of the 32nd Division, [Click Here]

The soldier comradeship of Wisconsin and Michigan had its birth during the Civil War era, when the Detroit and Milwaukee Light Guard, one of the finest military organizations in what was then called the West, was formed in 1859. The Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan Wolverines, uniformed almost exactly alike, in the dark blue, swallow-tailed coats trimmed with buff, and the wide white belts, paraded alternately in Milwaukee and Detroit. Soldiers exchanged souvenirs and sentiments at every meeting, and the bond of friendship and military purpose was formed. Each pledged and petitioned that when the time should be ripe, Badgers and Wolverines would go into action together to preserve the Union. Two years later, in May 1861, the first captains of those companies appeared on President Lincoln's list of volunteers. The first regiments marched away to the Potomoc with the very first draft call, and had their baptism of fire in July, and much heavy fighting followed in 1862, including Antietam and Gettysburg.

Fifty-five years later, the United States declared War on Germany, April 6th, 1917. As tensions in Europe increased, the powers that be deemed it was fitting to again unite the efforts of Badger and Wolverine, and the 32nd Division was born under War Department orders of July 18, 1917, from National Guard troops in Wisconsin and Michigan. Wisconsin furnished approximately 15,000 and Michigan 8,000 troops of all arms. Later, 4,000 additional National Army troops from Wisconsin and Michigan were transferred to the Division shortly before it left for France. Thus, the grandsons of many a Wisconsin and Michigan Civil War soldier would fight shoulder to shoulder in the World War. The National Guard organizations that became part of the 32nd Division follow:

1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiments
31st, 32nd, and 33rd Michigan Infantry Regiments
1st Wisconsin and 1st Michigan Field Artillery
1st Wisconsin and 1st Michigan Cavalry
1st Battalion Wisconsin Engineers and 1st Battalion Michigan Engineers
Wisconsin Ambulance Companies Nos. 1 and 2
Michigan Ambulance Company No. 2
Michigan Field Hospital No. 1

In early August, 1917, the movement of troops to the Division's training camp at Fort MacArthur, Texas, commenced. Sixteen weeks of rigid training followed, and the Troops were drilled, rain or shine. Rigid discipline was required in everything the Division did, and even laundry and shower baths were said to be completed "by the numbers". After the Division had been in training two months it became apparent to everyone that the 32nd was to be a thoroughly disciplined organization and would likely be among the first to see action in France. Both officers and enlisted men had cause, later, to be thankful for the careful attention given their training during this formative period. During the latter part of November and early December 1917, the Division was judged ready for overseas service by War Department artillery and infantry inspectors. Their reports to Washington indicated that the 32nd was more advanced in its training at that time than any other division then in the United States. Its equipment was very nearly complete, and the spirit that had developed no doubt also influenced the inspectors. The 32nd Division's 27,000 men were ordered to the port of embarkation at Hoboken, New Jersey January 2nd, 1918, and by early March, all troops of the 32nd had left Waco. The German offensive of March 21st, 1918, the troops being the first to set foot on German soil in the World War along with French troops from the Alsace region. The first units of the 32nd hit the front lines on May 18, 1918.

Highlights in the History of the Thirty-Second Division in the World War

Six months under fire--from May to November 1918, with but 10 days of that period in a rest area.
Fought on five fronts in three major offensives--the Aisne Marne, Oise-Aisne and Meuse-Argonne.
Losses--14,000 casulaties from all causes.
Met and vanquished 23 German Divisions from which 2, 153 prisoners were taken.
Gained 38 kilometers (23.75 miles) in four attacks and repulsed every enemy counter attack.
In action east of the Meuse when the Armistice was signed.
Marched 300 kilometers (187.5 miles) to the Rhine as front line element of the Third U.S. Army and occupied for four months the center sector of the Coblenz bridge-head, holding 63 towns and 400 square kilometers (250 square miles) of territory.
First American troops to set foot on German soil--in Alsace in May, 1918; captured Fismes in the Marne offensive after an advance of 19 kilometers in seven days; fought in the Oise-Aisne offensive as the only American unit in General Mangin's famous Tenth French Army, breaking the German line which protected the Chemin des Dames; twice in the line of in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, fighting continuously for 20 days, penetrating the Kriemhilde Stellung, crossing the Meuse and starting frive to flank Metz.
Over 800 officers and men decorated by American, French and Belgian governments.
The colors of all four Infantry Regiments, three Artillery Regiments, and three Machine Gun Battalions wear the Croix des Guerre of the Republic of France while every flag and standard in the Division has four American battle bands.
Composed of Wisconsin and Michigan National Guardsmen; insignia a Red Arrow, signifying that the Division shot through every line the enemy put before it; given the name "Les Terribles" by the French; commanded in all its actions by Major General Wm. G. Haan and in the Army of the Occupation by Major General Wm. Lassiter.
Arrived in France in February 1918, being the Sixth Division to join the American Expeditionary Forces.
Left Germany, Homeward Bound, in April, 1919.
Arrived in the United States and demobilized in May.

The first 13 men of the division to die from enemy action went down with the Tuscania when that ship was sunk by a German submarine. A total of 2, 915 of its men died in action, 10,447 had been wounded, but 2, 153 prisoners had been taken by the Division. Remarkably, it had pierced every line it faced.

As a peace-time National Guard Division, the 32nd remained a joint Michigan, Wisconsin unit , and its famed song reflected this happy union of military strength:

Look out! Look out!
Here comes the Thirty-Second
The mighty Thirty-Second
Look out! Look out!
They led the way in France
Red arrows never glance
Though hell burn in advance!
Yea! On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin,
Michigan, My Michigan!
We fight for liberty
For justice and equality
We are the Badgers and Wolverines

Many thanks to Joan M Benner for transcribing these pages. Her professional page can be seen at: Golden Rule Genealogy.

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