William David Davis

The following is taken from 600 DAYS’ SERVICE – A HISTORY OF THE 361st INFANTRY
Twice wounded – Cited “for gallantry in action against Spanish forces at Santiago, Cuba, July 1, 1898.”
361 Inf 91 Division – in early Sept 1918, fought in the St. Mihiel Offensive, followed up on 26 September as part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The 17th – 19th Oct, the Regiment moved to Ypres Belgium attached to the French 7th Corps. Colonel Davis, commanding the 361st Regiment of Infantry of the 91st Division, was killed in action November 1, 1918, while personally supervising the disposition of the companies of his regiment on the front line.


William D. Davies

William D. Davies

The chief asset of the regiment in these days was cheerfulness, a spirit emanating from Colonel Davis himself, who refused to tolerate any other attitude. Feeling keenly each loss to the regiment, and realizing thoroughly the nervous strain and continued exposure to which his men were being subjected, he did everything in his power to make their condition clear to the higher authorities while at the same time he used every possible effort to care for the military situation, to bring up rations, water, ammunition and

To further appreciate his leadership read more at ( especially at 149)


KIA Nov 1, 1918 Moregem, Belgium ( between Roubaix & Gent )

Colonel William D. Davis, commanding the 361st Regiment of Infantry of the 91st Division, was killed in action November 1, 1918, while personally supervising the disposition of the companies of his regiment on the front linefor its continued participation in the battle in which the division had been engaged during several days preceding. The 91st Division had but recently been transferred to Belgium from France where it had taken part, at intervals, since the latter part of September, 1918, in the sanguinary conflicts on the Argonne front.
Colonel Davis was born in Michigan, March 11, 1869. His father was a veteran of more than four years service in a Michigan cavalry regiment in the Civil War. Colonel Davis entered the Military Academy in June, 1888, graduating in June, 1892, when he was appointed Second Lieutenant and assigned to the 17th U. S. Infantry which was at that time stationed at Fort D. A. Russell, Wyoming. He remained in the 17th Infantry until June 28, 1906, when he was detailed to the Q. M. Department. At the expiration of that detail he was transferred, in June, 1910, to the 5th Infantry as Captain and promoted to Major and assigned to the same regiment March 25, 1915. He was at the date of his death Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry in the regular army.

While with the 17th Infantry he served for a time as Regiment Commissary and also as Regimental Quartermaster of the regiment and took one year’s course of instruction at the Torpedo School at Willett’s Point, New York, in 1895. He took part with his regiment in the Cuban campaign where he commanded his company as First Lieu- tenant in the action at San Juan Hill where he rendered conspicuous service. After the close of the campaign in Cuba he went with the regiment to the Philippines, where he remained until March, 1902, when the 17th Infantry was returned to the United States for temporary station at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, but to remain there only until June, 1903, when it was again sent to the Philippines to remain there until the Autumn of 1905, when it took station at Fort McPherson, Georgia. While in the Philippines he took part in many of the engagements and hostile actions incident to the Philippine in- surrection and conflicts with the Moros in Mindanao. As Captain in the Quartermaster’s Department he rendered important and efficient service, principally in the Construction Division as constructing Quar termaster at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, Fort Mackenzie, Wyoming and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and again as Regimental Quarter master of the 5th Infantry at Plattsburgh Barracks, New York.

He gave up his appointment of Regimental Quartermaster in order to take the course of instruction at the staff school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, but was obliged to relinquish that after less than one year’s attendance by the operation of the “Manchu Law.” He returned to duty with his regiment which was then transferred to Panama, but was enabled to enter the course of the Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in 1915, where, during the partial suspension of the activities o’f that school on account of the Mexican border troubles, he was assigned to duty as instructor with the provisional officers’ classes until transferred in February, 1917, to San Francisco, California, for duty as instructor with the Reserve Officers training classes, where he served until transferred in August, 1917, to Camp Lewis, American Lake, Washington, to organize, train and take command of the 361st Infantry, with which regiment he went to France in June, 1918.

Colonel Davis was married in June, 1896, to Miss Abbie Greene, a daughter of Captain Charles H. Greene, of the 17th U. S. Infantry and a veteran of the Civil War, in which he served as an officer of a Rhode Island regiment of Infantry. He is survived, beside his widow, by two sons and a daughter. The oldest son, Frank G. Davis, is a graduate of the Military Academy in the class of 1921. Another son thirteen years old and a daughter eleven, are with their mother at her present place of residence at Muskogee, Oklahoma.
To the superficial observer the recital of incidents of Colonel Davis’ twenty six years of service as an officer of the regular army from the date of his graduation from the Military Academy to that of the departure of his regiment to France, as briefly stated in the foregoing paragraphs, may appear as a dry statistical statement only.

To an officer of Colonel Davis’ character, temperament and disposi tion, as they were known to those who were intimately acquainted with him, especially to those associated with him in his daily life as his military superiors and as subordinates, they were known to be years of incessant toil, mental and physical, and of unremitting study combined with full appreciation of the heavy responsibilities in which he was at times involved, in his practical and administrative military duties, not to mention periods of physical exposure in the hostile actions in which he took part in Cuba and the Philippines.

No one, however, recognized more than he himself did, the fact that the experience gained and the knowledge acquired in all these years of toil and study was but the preparation for that which might yet come and which to him did come in its full force and significance when, on reporting for duty at Camp Lewis he found himself confronted with the task of organizing, training and fitting for actual service a regiment which within a limited number of months he would be expected to lead in battle against a ruthless enemy experienced in all the arts and artifices of modern war. And this with a body of men the greater portion of whom were without previous training and with officers and non-commissioned officers almost wholly devoid of military experience. Full official report and recognition of the part taken by the 91st
Division and of the regiment of that Division commanded by Colonel Davis in the great war can safely be left to the military authorities charged with that duty. It will, however, be a source of gratification to his surviving classmates of the Military Academy and to his many friends and acquaintances in and out of the service to allude here to extracts from ‘letters received by Mrs. Davis and to other sources of information, to expressions furnishing evidence of certain phases of Colonel Davis’ conduct and character in his relations to the officers and enlisted men of his command, of qualities which, while they give testimony of efficient leadership would not ordinarily be topics touched upon in official orders and reports.

Bearing upon what has been said in regard to the manner in which Colonel Davis utilized the opportunities that came to him to prepare himself for the supreme test of his career, it may not be out of place to quote here a few brief extracts from letters written by ‘his former regimental commanders in which they give expression to their estimate of his character and qualifications.

Brigadier General Henry C. Ward, U. S. Army, retired, who commanded the 17th Infantry during its first tour of service in the Philippines, writes of him:
* * * “He was a lovely character, always happy, cheerful and an excellent companion. As an officer he had few equals. He was brilliant, capable and efficient and I considered him one of the best officers under my command. He was loved by all officers and enlisted men of the regiment. I was always proud of him. As an officer he had few equals.:
Colonel J. T. Van Orsdale, who commanded the 17th Infantry during its second tour of duty in the Philippines and after the regiment’s return to the United States, writes:

“I am very glad to testify to the esteem and respect in which Cap- tain Davis was held during the time he served in my regiment, a feeling which I am sure was shared by the entire regiment. He was an efficient officer, prompt and energetic in the performance of his duty and per- sonally greatly liked. I am sure every one who knew him regretted to hear of his untimely death.”

Many testimonials have come to hand tending to show the respect and esteem in which he was held by the enlisted men of his command, of his former regiments of the regular army as well as by those of his own in France. All go to show that this was largely due to his untiring efforts for their care,. comfort and safety and, without relaxa- tion of discipline, he gained their respect. and devotion by fair, just and impartial treatment.
The following extracts from official and personal reports and letters bear testimony of the manner in which he was esteemed by those who were in positions from personal contact and association, best able to judge of his qualifications as an officer and commander of men.

In a letter addressed to Mrs. Davis, November 5, 1918, a few days after the battle in which Colonel Davis was killed, by Brigadier General J. B. McDonald, he writes:

“* * * The enclosed order is the tribute of the Brigade to the memory of its most respected and beloved regimental commander.
This letter is one of sympathy from a soldier to a soldier’s widow who has lost her noble husband in the most glorious manner a man can die on the field of battle, for the noblest cause ever fought for, on the front line, adjusting his command for the greater safety of his soldiers.

“I had previously had the honor of recommending him for promotion for Brigadier General and for the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in action, and the pleasure of seeing it approved by the Division Corps and Army Commander-in-Chief and was looking forward to seeing him wearing his star with equal distinction and gallantry.
The Brigade buried him in a churchyard near by and you will be notified of its locality in due time.

I wish to add the deepest sympathy for you and the little children of the whole Brigade and of our prayers for your future welfare and the best things for you and them always.”

General Orders No. 11.
The Brigade Commander announces the death of Colonel William D. Davis, commanding the 361st Infantry, by shell fire, on November 1st, 1918, while adjusting the front line of battle.

No greater loss could have befallen the Brigade and the service loses in Colonel Davis one of the best and most valuable officers. His example as a leader and organizer was invaluable to the regiment and the whole Brigade.

The Brigade Commander feels a great personal loss in the death of Colonel Davis and extends to his bereaved family and friends his deepest sympathy and that of the whole Brigade.

(Signed) J. B. McDONALD,
Brigadier-General U. S. A., Commanding.

Following are extracts from a letter written to Mrs. Davis by Colonel M. A. W. Shockley, a member of the General Staff at Army Headquarters:
“* * * I regret exceedingly not having been able to write to you before regarding Colonel Davis. * * * Colonel Davis was instantly killed, as you already know, at Waertighem, near Audenarde, by enemy shell fire while examining the ground to- the front of the position of his regiment and the enemy’s line, in preparation for an attack to occur the following days. I visited the regiment on Novem ber 2nd and found such a warm affection for him among the officers and men. This led to the complaint that his great personal bravery rendered them uncomfortable for fear that they would lose him as they did.

There is little to be said by me or his other friends by way of consolation to you except that, while we regret his death as the loss of a friend and an officer who would have gone to high rank by his military skill, fine leadership and bravery and had rendered invaluable service to his country, yet his death was so gallant and so without distressful suffering. You and the family have lost his companionship and guidance, but you have the consolation that, as we all may die, he died as we all may wish we might die: as a gallant soldier in an instantaneous transfer from perfect health to eternity.”

Captain Jacob Kantzler, Adjutant of the regiment, writes:

* * * “The greatest personal loss to me in this war was the loss of my Colonel. I loved him and loved to serve him. More I cannot say now. Some day I hope to see you and say more.
Your husband made a wonderful record. It was conceded everywhere that he was a General in the highest sense of that term.”

In a letter written to Mrs. Davis by Major William J. Potter, one of Colonel Davis’ Company Commanders, who was severely wounded in the action of the regiment on the Argonne front and who had been promoted for distinguished service and invalided to the United States, he writes from a hospital at Scranton, Pa.:

* * * “I hesitate at this late date to renew the pain of a partly healed wound, but hearing of my Colonel’s death on the field of honor I hasten to offer my deep sympathy in your bereavement. A braver man than Colonel Davis never lived. He exposed himself freely and by his shining example inspired us all. To him is due the immortal fame of the 361st Infantry. He organized and trained a regiment that did him honor.

It was in battle that we learned to love him; so watchful and resourseful; so tireless in efforts to save men’s lives; so fearless in the presence of danger. Time and again he came up to the front line and when I pleaded with him to get down so a sniper wouldn’t get him, he would smile and tell me not to be afraid for him. The only way I could get him down would be to stand up beside him, then he would order me to lie down and would move off.

* * It would make your heart warm to hear the men speak of their Colonel. They are as proud of him as he was of them. His memory will be green in the hearts of his boys. His body lies in the Flanders fields, but his spirit will lead the survivors home. My heart goes out to you who feel his loss keenest, but we also mourn a gallant soldier and a courageous leader.”

An intimate lady friend of Mrs. Davis,. a resident of Tacoma, who made frequent visits to Camp Lewis after the return of the 361st Infantry to that cantonment from France,. writes of her conversations with the enlisted men of the regiment:

* * * “I have not hear from you for months, but knowing how cruelly hard the home coming of the 91st Division is to you, I write to speak of the honor, the affection and admiration so frequently expressed by your husband’s regiment at the camp. So far, of course, the 91st is represented here only by casuals, but their numbers, greater than from any other unit, their multiplicity of wounds, their good cheer under it all, speak eloquently of their prowess in the terrific advance they made on the Argonne, and against Audenarde they did the impossible. I have been much at camp just lately at the cantonment base hospital and in the barracks, and with the reconstruction work, and my wonder grows. I wish that you might hear or that I might repeat all the comments made by the men upon your dear husband and his enheartening bravery.

They never speak of Colonel Davis without adding praise and liking. In turning over the leaves of a book of photographs one day, while surrounded by a group of private soldiers, one of them said, when I came to his picture: ‘Stop right there; that was the bravest man in the 91st, and that is going some. You said we fellows were brave; why, anybody would be following a man like that who had never heard of fear. Colonel Davis would walk up and down calmly smoking and never know that shells were fired. He was right at the head, leading every time we advanced. Talk about his star: the 361st have already placed that upon his shoulder.’ The rest substantiated all that this man said, and this occurred not only once but every time I have talked with them.”

What is here written of the various incidents of Colonel Davis’ career is convincing evidence of the fact that he utilized to the fullest extent the opportunities opened to him by a life of hard and incessant work and study to prepare himself to meet the heavy responsibility that so suddenly came to him and enabled him to exhibit qualities of leadership that assured to him the confidence of his military superiors and the trust and admiration of the officers and men of his command. Even though his untimely death deprived him of the enjoyment of the fruits of the promotion that was practically assured to him had he survived, it is not amiss to paraphrase the remarks of the enlisted men of his regiment when at Camp Lewis they said:
“The 361st had placed upon the shoulders of their Colonel by following his leadership to his heroic death a brighter star than could have been conferred upon him by the government.”

He has been cut off in the prime of life with many years of usefulness to his family and his country yet before him. With thousands and tens of thousands left on the battle fields of France and Belgium he is of those “whose only part in all the pomp and circumstance and tumult of rejoicing shouts of welcome to the home coming hosts that fill the circuit of the hills and valleys of our land, is that his grave is green.” But his family, and those of us who knew him have the consolation to know that he sealed with his heroic death the full measure of a useful life and was entitled to receive, when he appeared for examination before the Final Board a clear, cold MAX on his Alma Mater’s most exacting interpretation of her motto for devotion to Duty, Honor, Country.

G. R. ’72.

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  1. Derrell Stanfield
    Posted December 19, 2020 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    I have old book 600 day’s service Colonel William d Davis story of its life achievements in war names March 11th 1869 through November 1st 1918 is the book valuable

  2. Posted December 19, 2020 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I believe the West Point Library would really appreciate having that book. Phil Burns

  3. Helen Greene Davis
    Posted January 25, 2021 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    This is a nice piece. Who runs this blog/blog section? I have photos of an engraved saber presented to Col Davis by his men in the 17th in Cuba, 1898, if you’d like copies. Also a book on the 365th, somewhere. And General Orders he wrote shortly before his last action.

  4. Posted January 25, 2021 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Phil Burns – Thinkcreativelya@aol.com

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