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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.

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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 "Tuffy," the mascot of the 81st Division in World War II. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.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.

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.

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: 

Looking for information on my uncle Leonard V. Stamper. Who was in the battle of Peleliu . He was in the Wildcats 81st Infantry Division, 321st or 323rd Infantry Regiment. I know he was awarded the Purple Heart . I would like to find more information and or pictures of his time in service. If you can be of help it would greatly be appreciated.
Thank you,
J. Gullion

Comment: 

Hello, 

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your comment and question. 

There may be photos at the State Archives of North Carolina. 

I am sending your comment to our reference department as they may have additional suggestions for you. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library. 

Comment: 

Looking for any information on my husband’s great grandfather Ernest McLain Primm. All the info we have is a transport list that says he was on the ship Martha Washington headed to France in 1919 and that he was in Company D 324th Infantry and was a corporal.

Comment: 

Hello, 

  • First, the National Archives has veterans service records.  Please visit their website for more information: https://www.archives.gov/veterans and a lot of their records are now on Fold3.com if you have access (not a free site)
  • 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: https://ahec.armywarcollege.edu/.  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/

Hope this helps and good luck! 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Hi Kelly,
I am looking for more information on Charles L. Evers from Robeson county NC.
He was one of the few KIA casualties the division suffered when it was sent to the "quiet sector" in the Vosges Mtns for combat training. Is there a way to find out more about him during the war and the circumstances surrounding his death? He was my grandfathers cousin. Thank you.

Comment: 

My Dad was in the 321st Wild Cat Infantry division....trying to find photos as my Dad has passed...

Comment: 

Hello,

I suggest contacting the State Archives of North Carolina (https://archives.ncdcr.gov/researchers/services). They have a large photographic collection and may have a photo.

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Hi, My Granddad, Jackson M. Rogers (North Carolina), served in WWI with Company D, 323rd Infantry Regiment, 81st Division as a Heavy Machine gunner. I am trying to get as much info as I can about his service with the Regiment. i have also come across a mystery: when he left France for the U.S. after WWI, his records state he was with the 271st Military Police Company of the 81st Division, along with a bunch of other guys he sailed home with. More info would certainly help. Thanks!

Comment: 

Hi, Scott, 

Thank you for taking the time to ask your question and leave your comment! Are you a NC resident? If so, you can get a GHL library card. https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/services/library-card This will allow you to access many of our databases remotely, including Fold3 which is a database of military service records. If not, please contact our reference desk with your question at slnc.reference@ncdcr.gov

Best, 

Kelly Eubank

N.C. Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

My grandfather, Homer Grady Orr, of Leesburg, AL, was also a Wildcat.
I have his draft and deployment papers, his Wildcat patch, compass, and some German items (bayonet and pewter matchbook holder) which have the Kaiser Helmet logo.
Thanks for adding one more piece of the puzzle!

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