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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Average: 2 (3 votes)

Wildcat Division

by R. Jackson Marshall III, 2006

A shoulder patch insignia of the 81st National Army Division., a.k.a., the Wildcat Division, 1918. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.The Wildcat Division, a World War I unit officially known as the Eighty-first National Army Division, was organized in August 1917 with drafted soldiers, mostly from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. Approximately one-third of the soldiers were North Carolinians from almost every part of the state. Two regiments-the 321st Infantry and the 316th Field Artillery-and the 321st Ambulance Company were made up almost exclusively of North Carolinians. The division was called the "Wildcat" Division in recognition of the irascible wildcats that inhabited southern states and after Wildcat Creek, which ran near Camp Jackson, S.C., where the unit was mobilized. The men adopted a wildcat silhouette as a shoulder patch, the first insignia worn by troops in the American Expeditionary Force.

In 1918 the Wildcat Division sailed for Europe where, after additional combat instruction, it was sent on 19 September to the St. Dié sector of France's Vosges Mountain region. There, as part of the French Seventh Army, the division held what was considered a quiet front, although it fought off German trench raids and endured artillery bombardments. On 19 October the Eighty-first was relieved and ordered to the rear to await transfer to the American 1st Army, which was fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. While serving in the St. Dié sector, the division suffered 116 casualties.

In early November 1918 the Eighty-first moved to the front lines near Verdun, where its infantry regiments attacked German lines on the morning of 9 November. From the outset the division encountered heavy machine gun and artillery fire; heavy fog and smoke hindered visibility but also likely saved American lives in the attack. By late afternoon, the 322nd Infantry Regiment had captured the ruined village of Moranville. On the south side of the forest, the 324th Infantry Regiment slowly pushed the enemy back but then abandoned much of the ground by withdrawing to a safer position. The day's fighting produced mixed results, with success north of Bois de Manheulles and frustration south of the forest.

"Tuffy," the mascot of the 81st Division in World War II. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.When on the night of 10 November Wildcat Division commanders received no official confirmation of rumors that an armistice might be signed the next day, the 321st and 323rd Infantry Regiments planned a dawn attack on the main German trench line. At daybreak the 321st went "over the top" for the first time and attacked enemy trench positions north of Bois de Manheulles, slowly advancing through heavy fog and shell and machine gun fire. At 10:30 a.m. the 323rd began to fight its way through the barbed wire entanglements along the German main trench line into and south of Bois de Manheulles; some Americans entered German trenches and many were either killed or pinned down under enemy fire. At 11:00 a.m. the firing abruptly stopped when the armistice of 11 Nov. 1918 ended hostilities.

Following the armistice, the Wildcat Division marched 175 miles to a rest area and in early June returned to the United States. During the short time the Eighty-first was in combat, it suffered 248 killed and 856 wounded.

References:

Felix E. Brockman, Here, There, and Back (1925).

C. Walton Johnson, Wildcats: History of the 321st Infantry, 81st Division (1919).

Additional Resources:

North Carolina State Archives. "The Old North State and 'Kaiser Bill': North Carolinians in World War I" N.C. Office of Archives and History. 2005. http://www.history.ncdcr.gov/SHRAB/ar/exhibits/wwi/OldNorthState/index.htm (accessed October 24, 2012).

"81st Infantry Division." United States Army Center of Military History. http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/cbtchron/cc/081id.htm (accessed October 24, 2012).

Johnson, Clarence Walton. History of the 321st infantry with a brief historical sketch of the 81st division, being a vivid and authentic account of the life and experiences of American soldiers in France, while they trained, worked, and fought to help win the world war ; "Wildcats". Columbia, S.C.: R.L. Bryan Co. 1919. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/u?/p15012coll10,511

House, R. B. "Wins Distinguished Service Cross Lieut. W. O. Smith, Of "Wildcat" Division, Decorated For Gallant Service." The Orphans’ Friend and Masonic Journal. October 22, 1920. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/u?/p15012coll10,764

House, R. B. "Chief Of The "Wildcats" General C. Batley, Pennsylvanian, Commanded The 81st In France." The Orphans’ Friend and Masonic Journal. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/u?/p15012coll10,766

Wildcat Veteran's Association. "Wildcat national reunion: eighty-first division, November 8, 9, 10, 11, 1936, Knoxville, Tennessee." S.l: The Association]. 1936.

81st Wildcat Association website: http://81stwildcatassociation.com/ (accessed October 24, 2012).

Image Credits:

"Military Insignia, Accession #: H.19XX.193.27." 1918. North Carolina Museum of History.

"Photograph, Accession #: H.1947.44.2.2." 1941-1945. North Carolina Museum of History.

 

Comments

Comment: 

My grandfather was in the Wildcat division, how can I find out more about his experience during World War 1

Comment: 

Hi Ronald,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and sharing this question.

I'm including here some resources that you may want to check to get more information.  You may be able to locate information specifically about your grandfather's service as well as information about the Wildcats in World War I more generally.  I hope this helps.  Please feel free to post back if you need additional help. You may also want to visit your local public library to see if they have any resources as well.

  • First, the National Archives has veterans service records.  Please visit their website for more information: https://www.archives.gov/veterans
  • You may be interested in the refernces and additional resources included with the entry. Some are online, and for the others, you may be able to find them at a local library or have your local library borrow them through interlibrary loan.
  • You may want to contact U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.  Here is the link to their website: http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec/index.cfm.  Staff there may be able to point you to resources that may be of interest.
  • The U.S. Army Center of Military History may be able to help as well.  Here is their website: http://www.history.army.mil/
  • Here are search results on WorldCat for the subject heading for the Wildcat Division: https://www.worldcat.org/search?q=su%3AUnited+States.+Army.+Infantry+Div... is online catalog that searches the holdings of libraries around the world.  These search results include numerous works on the Wildcat Division. You can view an individual resource and also see if it's located in a library near you. WorldCat is useful for seeing the range of works that exist on a given subject.  You may also find journal articles and dissertations included as well.  Some may even be available online.
  • Here are results from a search of Google Scholar (Google Scholar searches a variety of publication types that include scholarly and academic writing) on the 81st Division: https://goo.gl/kFJqe2.  I always recommend weeding through many pages of the results to see if you can find anything of use.
  • Finally, here is the link to the website for the 81st Wildcat Association:http://81stwildcatassociation.com/.  They may have some resources as well.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

My paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant who lived in Manhattan, NY and was conscripted into service prior to being admitted to US Citizenship. My grandfather served in the 317th Machine Gun Company, 161st Brigade, 81st Division during all of their engagements in the Great War.

I'm curious as to how immigrants from NYS were combined with men from NC & SC and wonder what the "talk" may have been around the dinner tables and campfires! Talk about a clash of cultures! Are there any references or publications that dealt with the topic?

I've collected some beautiful representative artifacts from the 81st and would welcome an opportunity to share the same with an 81st/Wildcat Association, but I see that there is a website that may have been "hacked."

Any leads would be much appreciated. My grandfather died in 1969. I was eight years old & my father knows little of his service. Thanks!

Comment: 

Good afternoon and thank you for sharing your family's history,

That is a very good question!  I have not been able to find a publication that specifically talks about the role of cultures in the 81st, which isn't too say that it doesn't exist.  I do have a few ideas for resoruces you might want to consult to try to learn more.

  • First, you may be interested in the refernces and additional resources included with the entry. Some are online, and for the others, you may be able to find them at a local library or have your local library borrow them through interlibrary loan.
  • You may also want to contact U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.  Here is the link to their website: http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec/index.cfm.  Staff there may be able to point you to resources that may be of interest.
  • The U.S. Army Center of Military History may be able to help as well.  Here is their website: http://www.history.army.mil/
  • Here are search results on WorldCat for the subject heading for the Wildcat Division: https://www.worldcat.org/search?q=su%3AUnited+States.+Army.+Infantry+Div... Worldcat is online catalog that searches the holdings of libraries around the world.  These search results include numerous works on the Wildcat Division. You can view an individual resource and also see if it's located in a library near you. WorldCat is useful for seeing the range of works that exist on a given subject.  You may also find journal articles and dissertations included as well.  Some may even be available online.
  • Here are results from a search of Google Scholar (Google Scholar searches a variety of publication types that include scholarly and academic writing) on the 81st Division: https://goo.gl/kFJqe2.  I always recommend weeding through many pages of the results to see if you can find anything of use.
  • Finally, here is the link to the website for the 81st Wildcat Association: http://81stwildcatassociation.com/.  They may have some resources as well.

I hope this helps!  Please feel free to post another comment if you have additional questions.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

Retired from 81st ARCOM. Would like to see the story surrounding the fact that this patch was nicknamed Perishing's patch. Was it true he wanted the patch removed from the uniform?

Comment: 

Dear Ronald,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and taking a minute to leave your comment and ask your question.

That's a great question!  Unfortunately, we don't have any additional information in NCpedia to give an answer.  Unofficial and more anecdotal sources that I have found suggest that other units wanted the patch removed but Pershing ended up allowing it for it's importance in encouraging esprit de corps. 

By separate email I'm going to connect you with reference librarians at the Government & Heritage Library who can help you locate sources that might be able to answer the question more definitively.

Good luck and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

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