#28: The Caucasus campaign (1914-16)

All the military movement from our region and recruiting post was in the direction of the Russian Caucasus frontier, a far 400 miles away. There was no railroad and the Black Sea shores were dominated by the Russian fleet. Horse-wagons were used for all transport until the horses were decimated by the strain, then two-wheeled ox-carts were pressed into service. But the patient cattle had such heavy loads and such scanty fodder, that they dropped by the way and farmers commandeered with their cattle, abandoned oxen, carts and loads along the road, and stole back home in dreadful fear of penalties for desertion. Then the camels were drafted. They endured snow and cold as well as sand and heat, and American children in the happy days gone by would often count 500 camels in a day's ride across the beautiful Anatolian plains and mountain ridges. Now, however, we heard, as an example, of one train starting with 900 camels of which only 36 reached the front. Then the military authorities called for the donkeys and then our neighbors in Marsovan shed tears, not that they were unwilling to do their bit, but they knew that poor Jack and Jenny from their little stalls under the house could not carry food enough to feed themselves all the way to the distant battle front, let alone reaching there with loads of military supplies.

Soldiers recruited and sent forward in frequent convoys marched all the way on foot and some of our young graduates, found to be capable and reliable as well as educated, were appointed subaltern officers and placed in charge of such groups of men for the long march to the war front. A convoy of recruits would reach a village toward evening and the officer in charge would requisition lodging and supplies for the night. Most of the men were away doing their own soldier service, and the village women with their children and others would neither dare to refuse their uninvited guests nor remain in their homes over night when soldiers were camping in their village. So the village families would go out to the fields or forests to pass the night and return cold and miserable in the morning to find that their hungry visitors had eaten what there was to eat; had burned what there was to burn; had carried away what there was to wear; and had left behind them a half-wrecked village. A few days later, the experience would be repeated, and this time one or more of the soldiers would be left behind sick with smallpox when the rest marched away, and soon the village cemetery would be crowded with fresh graves. Some villages were almost or entirely wiped out by such experiences. The atmosphere around us and around everybody in the country was quivering with excitement. This was war.

NEXT: The first exodus (1916)