The vast majority (96%) of Florida’s Fallen were enlisted men, the most common rank being private or its naval equivalent of apprentice seaman. Edward Cantey De Saussure was among the relatively few officers from Florida who died in the Great War.
Born on March 13, 1891, in Atlanta, Georgia, he was the son George Reynolds De Saussure (1857-1928) and Sarah Davie Cantey (1866-1956). The De Saussures had four other children: Mary (1888-1982), Esther (1893-1993), Henry (1897-1958), and George Reynolds, Jr. (1905-1962).
The De Saussures descended from a French Huguenot family that first settled in South Carolina in the 1770s. Edward’s grandfather, Henry William De Saussure, a lieutenant in a South Carolina regiment, was killed in June 1862 at Fraser’s Farm near Richmond, Virginia. A native of South Carolina, Edward’s father, George, moved in the 1870s with his three brothers to Atlanta, Georgia, where he began working in the banking industry, first as a bookkeeper and later as a cashier with Atlanta National Bank, one of the largest commercial banks in the South. He next served as vice president of Southern Banking and Trust, before becoming vice president of Exchange Bank in 1892. Six years later, he was appointed U.S. Bank Examiner for the southeast region, a government position he held until 1904, when he resigned and relocated to Jacksonville, Florida. Here he worked as cashier for the National Bank of Jacksonville, which became Barnett National Bank in 1908. Two years later George De Saussure was vice president of Barnett Bank. At the time of Edward’s death, George also served as Jacksonville manager for the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta.
When it opened in 1926, the Barnett Bank building, 112 W. Adams Street, at 224 feet tall and eighteen stories high, was Jacksonville’s tallest skyscraper.
Edward attended public school in both Atlanta and Jacksonville. In 1908, at the age of seventeen, he began working as a clerk for the American Naval Stores Company in Jacksonville. Once Florida’s largest industry, and one of the oldest industries in the United States, naval stores involved the manufacturing of turpentine and rosin, as well as several of their derivatives, used in a variety of products, such as paper, printing ink, soaps, paint thinner, degreasers, and for medicinal purposes. Two years later, Edward joined the Consolidated Naval Stores Company, one of the largest naval stores in the world which specialized in harvesting gum from long leaf yellow pines to create turpentine. With its home office located on the 7th floor of the Consolidated Building at 116-120 East Bay Street, Edward held several positions: first as accountant, then in 1912 as bookkeeper, and from 1914 to 1917 as assistant secretary and treasurer. By Spring 1917, he had left Consolidated to become auditor for the Hotel Mason.
In 1923, Consolidated was purchased by Baker, Fentress & Company of Chicago. Today, it is known as CTO Growth Realty, Inc.
Constructed in 1912, the Hotel Mason was located on the corner of Bay and Julia Streets. The 12-story structure was demolished in 1978.
While in Officer Training Camp at Fort McPherson on May 31, 1917, Edward De Saussure registered for the draft.
When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the nation was woefully unprepared to fight a modern war. One of army’s most pressing needs was a trained officer corps to lead an expeditionary force to fight in France. To achieve this goal, the army chose to establish a series of Officer Training Camps (OTC) to commission officers for its hastily formed and rapidly expanding divisions. By the end of the war, almost half of the army’s officers were products of such camps. The first of these camps for men in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama was held at Fort McPherson, near Edward De Saussure’s hometown of Atlanta, beginning May 15. Then twenty-six, De Saussure applied for admission. The fact that he already had three years of military experience (1908-11) in Co. D, 1st Infantry, Florida National Guard, in which he held the rank of Sergeant and qualified as both a “marksman” and “sharpshooter,” only enhanced his application. He was accepted among the first 2,500 candidates into the 3-month program, whose purpose was to give new officers the basics of military science and just enough knowledge and skill to train their draftee or volunteer soldiers. Joining him were scores of other Floridians, as well as his brother-in-law, Esther’s husband, Charles Thomas Sego, of Augusta, Georgia. On August 15, Edward De Saussure was one of 1,585 (including 46 others from Jacksonville, 141 from the state of Florida) to complete the OTC. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, Officer Reserve Corps, U.S. Army.
As a “90-day wonder,” as with most of the officers commissioned from the Fort McPherson OTC, the army assigned him to the 82nd Division, which was then forming at the newly created National Army cantonment of Camp Gordon some 14 miles north of downtown Atlanta. At Gordon, De Saussure was assigned to the 328th Infantry Regiment, organized August 28-29, 1917, and commanded by West Pointer and Mexican border veteran Col. Julian Robert Lindsey. Joining him in the same regiment were other graduates of the OTC at Fort McPherson and fellow Floridians: Captain Adone D. Tomasillo of Bagdad, in HQ company and later regimental intelligence officer; Captain James M. Tillman of Lake Wales, who commanded the 2nd battalion and was promoted to major; First Lieutenants Robert E. Davis of Jacksonville, Company A, and James W. Hatton of Tampa, Company C; and Second Lieutenants Kirby Pelot Stewart of Bradenton, Company G, and John W. Hampton, also of Tampa, Company M.
Nicknamed the “All-American” Division because it had draftees from the forty-eight states, the 82nd underwent training in European-style trench combat, as well as open warfare, using rifles and bayonets, hand and rifle grenades, or machine guns. That is, if they could get such weapons, despite a serious shortage of them. Too often the “Camp Gordon 1917 Model” rifle was in the shape of a five-foot wooden pole. On top of that, there were few qualified instructors and even fewer British and French soldiers who could assist in the training. Supplies of regulation rifles—mainly M 1903 Springfields— and other small arms were not readily available until as late as February 1918. But the shortages of machine guns, mortars, and other specialty weapons continued to plague the division.
There were also manpower issues. Beginning in early September 1917, the first group of draftees began arriving at the camp. These men were largely from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama. By the middle of October each company had about fifty percent of its authorized strength. But then the War Department ordered the transfer of these recruits to other camps, so that by the end of October each company was left with only its officers and a few NCOs. All but 783 of the division’s soldiers were reassigned to other units, just as training had begun. De Saussure and his fellow officers had to start over training a new set of men from Northern and Eastern camps. Although the 82nd was back up to strength by the end of November, it had lost over a month of desperately needed training.
A standard U.S. infantry regiment at the time numbered 3,720 men. Most of these men served in one of three battalions, each with four rifle companies. Added to these were HQ company, Supply company, Ordnance and Medical Detachments (including Chaplains), and Machine Gun company. Second Lieutenant De Saussure was assigned to the Machine Gun company for the 328th Infantry, with 175 soldiers and 3 officers at full strength, commanded by a captain. Each machine gun company had three, 4-gun machine gun platoons of 46 men. The first platoon was led by a first lieutenant, the other two by a second lieutenant. The remaining 40 men were responsible for various duties in support of the platoons, including supply and mess. In non-motorized units a stable sergeant oversaw the care of up to 30 mules or horses. There were two buglers and one saddler to repair harnesses. Teamsters pulled wagons, field kitchens, ammunition wagons, spare gun parts and at least one water wagon. The remaining men were runners or mechanics or van drivers, but they could be pressed into service as gun crew members or ammunition handlers. Hence the need for cross-training.
The Browning, .30 Caliber, Model 1917 machine gun.
At Gordon, De Saussure’s company was issued and trained with M 1895 Colt-Browning machine guns. Nicknamed “potato digger” because of its unusual operating mechanism, the M 1895 now considered by the army to be obsolete was never to be used in battle. Newer models, such as the belt-fed, tripod mounted, water-cooled M 1917 Browning heavy machine gun or the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) were not used in the A.E.F. until the start of the Meuse-Argonne offensive in September 1918, and then only in limited quantities. Instead, American machine gun companies would have to rely on foreign models, such as the problem-filled French Chauchat (“Show-Show”) machine rifle, the rugged and more reliable gas-operated M 1914 French Hotchkiss heavy machine gun, the standard .303 British Vickers or the American-designed, English-produced Lewis light machine guns. But such weapons were not available to De Saussure’s men just yet. Learning to operate them or how to deploy them and to become reasonably proficient at doing so would require additional training in France.
Even the weather seemed to conspire against the beleaguered division. The harsh winter of 1917-18 brought large amount of snow to Atlanta and limited the training to indoor activities for days at a time. When the 82nd departed for France in April 1918, its soldiers were almost totally deficient in the use of all the weapons in Uncle Sam’s arsenal.
The 328th Infantry Regiment passing in review in formation known as “Lindsey’s special” at Camp Gordon on April 4, 1918.
On April 19, 1918, the 328th Infantry Regiment began traveling in units by train to Camp Upton, New York, where they completed their final training and preparations prior to transport across the Atlantic. On April 30th, they moved to the port of embarkation in Boston. Here Lieutenant De Saussure’s Machine Gun Company, HQ Company, and Supply Company and 1st battalion boarded the SS Grampian, a troop transport owned by Canadian Pacific Steamships. The 2nd and 3rd battalions were loaded on the SS Scandinavian. Leaving in a convoy of some seventeen ships from New York harbor on May 3, they arrived at Liverpool, England, on May 16, 1918. From there, they passed through Southampton by train before crossing the Channel to Le Havre, France, arriving on May 18. Soon they arrived in the St. Valery-sur-Somme training area in the British sector, about forty miles from the front, for additional training with the British 66th Division. Here they were ordered to turn in their American rifles and equipment for British rifles and equipment. And they were issued gas masks and steel helmets. De Saussure’s men gained experience using Vickers and Lewis machine guns. Three weeks into training with the British Army, and after getting used to the British weapons, orders came on June 16 to leave all the weapons, draw American arms in their place, and to move to the area of the French Eighth Army in the vicinity of Toul, in the American sector, including the towns of Franchville, Saint-Étienne, and Lucy, where they continued training. Lieutenant De Saussure’s machine gun company attended an Automatic Arms School at Bois-l’Évêque, between Toul and Nancy, for training from French officers with French Chauchat machine rifles and Hotchkiss heavy machine guns.
Between June 26 and 29, the 328th performed a relief in place and assumed the positions on the Woëvre front in the Lagny Sector formally occupied by the 104th Infantry, a unit of the 26th Division. De Saussure’s men first entered the trenches on July 5, 1918. Trench life consisted of numerous night patrols, a few artillery barrages, and “gazing” at the enemy line across “No Man’s Land” for hours. Similar reliefs in place occurred with various elements of the 328th on a weekly basis until August 5, when the 82nd Division was relieved by the 89th Division and moved to reserve positions around the towns of Troussey and Rigny-la-Salle, where De Saussure’s men were billeted. In mid-August, the 328th Infantry relieved the 6th Marines, 2nd Division, and took up positions in towns in what was known as the Marbache Sector, north of Nancy. Here, De Saussure received word that he was promoted to First Lieutenant on August 16, 1918.
In early September, Lieutenant De Saussure’s regiment took part in combat around the town of Norroy as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest battle in American history until the 1944 invasion of Normandy. The 328th engaged in a series of offensives along the west bank of the Moselle River, with the objective for the regiment to always keep contact with the enemy. Subsequent advances moved the regiment through Norroy and near the town of Vandières, where it sustained 185 casualties from artillery fire at point blank range and mustard gas attacks. On the 18th, the regiment moved to the Marbache woods on a high hill south of Belleville to rest, reequip, and regroup.
Between September 24 and 26, the regiment left the Marbache sector and moved to the Argonne Forest, occupying former French positions on the southeastern edge. By early October, subsequent advances and relocations found the regiment at a site east of Camp Mahaut, in the vicinity of a German cemetery, near Apremont. On the night of October 6-7, the regiment, with 1st battalion leading, followed by the 2nd and 3rd battalions and De Saussure’s Machine Gun Company, marched through Varennes in the direction of Fléville, where it took up defensive positions and prepared to resume the offensive.
On October 7, the 328th Infantry advanced near La Forge. Fighting continued into October 8, and when American forces were prevented from advancing by German machine guns and heavy shelling in key locations, including one known as Hill 223. Among the many casualties that day was 2nd Lieutenant Kirby P. Stewart of Bradenton, Florida, an OTC classmate of De Saussure’s at Fort McPherson, who was leading one of the assault platoons of Company G when he was killed near Chatel-Chéhéry. Lieutenant Stewart’s name is included on the Memorial Scroll.
During October 9 and 10 the regiment took part in action on Cornay ridge near the town of Cornay, after which it occupied a position near the town of Pylone. By October 11, the 328th had rested and been reorganized, and moved into defensive positions near Fléville, where it remained through the 13th. By midnight of the 14th, the 328th finally neared the town of Sommerance and moved into position north of the Sommerance-Saint Juvin Road. Troops occupied fox holes as German heavy machine guns began firing, causing many casualties. In response, Lieutenant De Saussure’s men were ordered to prepare to support an attacking battalion. As soon as the battalion rose to attack after 8:30 am, it was met by withering artillery, rifle, and machine gun fire, as well as gas, from German trenches some 200 yards away. Lieutenant James W. Hatton of Tampa, another of De Saussure’s Florida OTC classmates at Fort McPherson, who was leading a platoon in Company C, was instantly killed. He too is memorialized on the Scroll. Shortly afterwards, Lieutenant De Saussure was wounded in the hand and evacuated from the front for medical attention. Unwilling to be separated from his men any longer, he removed the tag marking him as wounded and he returned to action to resume command of his company. Only a short distance was covered before he was killed by a bursting artillery shell.
During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, from September 29 through October 19, the All-American Division suffered over six thousand casualties, about a quarter of its force. On October 14, the same day Lieutenants De Saussure and Hatton died, the 328th regiment had 92 wounded and 29 killed. By the 16th, De Saussure’s Machine Gun Company was reduced to no officers, and the remaining 27 men were sent back to Apremont to rest and recover. By the end of October, the 328th had lost 26 officers and 931 men, about one-third of the regiment. On the night of October 30-31, the 82nd division was relieved by the 80th division and removed from the front. The division would not return to the front before the Armistice.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant De Saussure and others in his regiment who died were buried in an American cemetery in Sommerance, not far from where they fell. After removing the young officer’s personal effects, an Episcopalian chaplain presided over his burial. Lieutenant Clifford Sego, of the 327th Infantry, serving in the same brigade as De Saussure, was among the first to visit his brother-in-law’s grave. On October 21 Sego wrote a letter to his wife Esther informing her of her brother’s death. “If I should get killed,” he told her, “I’d like my grave to be in such a spot. It is a beautiful green valley in a picturesque French village that we have just taken from the Germans.” Sego continued: “It is a great thing Edward has done…. He has given his life for the good of others.” Little did Lieutenant De Saussure know that two days before his death, his younger brother, Henry, a private in the 116th Field Artillery, was in Camp Merritt, New Jersey, preparing to board the troop transport S.S. Agamemnon for service in France.
Atlanta Constitution, November 17, 1918.
On June 12, 1919, Lieutenant De Saussure received, posthumously, the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism. The citation read:
Lieutenant De Saussure was painfully wounded by shrapnel while in command of his company. Continuing to direct its operations while he was having his wound attended at the dressing station, he insisted upon returning to his command immediately thereafter, and, in attempting to do so, was killed by a bursting shell. His conspicuous devotion to duty and self-sacrificing spirit furnished an inspiration to his men, which contributed materially to the ultimate success of the attack.
Eight days earlier, the army disinterred his body and moved it to Grave 64, Section 45, Plot 2, of the Argonne American Cemetery located in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Meuse, France. On December 5, 1921, his remains were disinterred again and reburied in Grave 22, Row 33, Block B of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery. It was here that Lieutenant De Saussure’s mother visited on the Goldstar Mother’s Pilgrimage in 1933. By then the cemetery was the largest American cemetery in France, containing the graves of 14,246 soldiers who died in the Meuse-Argonne campaign.
Within a year of his sacrifice, an American Legion Post in Jacksonville bore his name. The new organization planned a parade, in 1919, to celebrate the first anniversary of Armistice Day. The Edward C. De Saussure American Legion Post No. 9 remains active today. In November 1921, during the Armistice Day Parade, Lieutenant De Saussure’s father, George, marched with veterans of the 82nd Division to commemorate his fallen son. Several newspapers, including the Ocala Evening Star, reported the event with an article entitled “Took His Son’s Place in the Ranks.”
Ocala Evening Star, November 19, 1921.
Lieutenant De Saussure’s Florida Service Card.
Memorial, Quaker Cemetery, Camden, SC.
Notification of next of kin by commanding officer.
Burial Case File
Condolences from President Wilson
George De Saussure, Sarah and George, Jr., from joint passport application, 1921.