War Letters of Kiffin Yates Rockwell

Journey through a Century of Memories

September 8, 1915

Share Élève Pilote Aviation Militaire, Avord (Cher), Sept. 8, 1915. Dear Mamma: Have been very busy lately and now have time for only a note. I have at last gotten what I have been trying to get these past two months. I am transferred to the aviation as a student-pilot. That is a jump from the lowest branch of the military service to the highest. It is the most interesting thing I have ever done, and is the life of a gentleman, and I am surrounded by gentlemen. I have been here only this week but I fly each morning and afternoon with an instructor sitting behind me, directing my movements. It is very easy to fly but I must get the habit of the movements, and understand the air currents. I am perfectly satisfied here and everyone treats me royally. Love to Agnes and all friends. Much love, Kiffin....

June 8, 1915

ShareHospital 101, Rennes, June 8, 1915. Dear Mamma: Paul went back to Paris Saturday and so I am all alone now. I am still in bed but hope soon to get up. My wound has closed up very nicely but of course the muscles are still rather sore and the side where the bullet came through has to heal over, which will take some time as the hole is rather large. I received a letter from one of the boys of my squad, telling me what happened after I was wounded. There were six Americans in my squad and eight others of different nation­alities. We all fell but the other five Americans and the corporal who was a very good friend of mine. He was a Moor and spoke a little English. The second day of the fighting he took command of the company. Two battalions of about half strength have been formed out of the whole regiment. We are all watching the U. S. now. If she wants to keep up her name and be respected by other nations, I don’t see how she will keep from fighting. If she does declare war it ought to be easy for you to get a good commission for me. If troops were to be sent over here I could stay in France and be quite a lot of assistance when the troops arrive. I have received but little mail from U. S. since I changed Régiment s. However, the Vicomte du Peloux keeps me posted. Write me in care of him, or of Paul. Much love, Kiffin....

May 26, 1915

ShareTo the Vicomte du Peloux Hospital 101, Rennes, May 26, 1915. My dear Friend: I received your letter several days ago and enjoyed and appreciated it. I am taking life exceptionally easy; my wound is progressing well and I suffer very little. Owing to the long time I had gone without attention, they thought at first they would have to cut it open, but it is doing so well they have decided cutting is not necessary. As I said before, this hospital is much better than the average military hospital. It was a large school for boys before the war. It has a nice garden and on fine days I am carried down to enjoy it. Paul’s visits make it a great deal pleasanter for me and I have many other visitors. But I have much time for reading which is mostly English magazines, though I read the French papers every morning. When I get a little more energy I shall devote more time to the French. At present, I am taking my mind off every­thing as much as possible. Sometimes, I nearly imagine that the whole war has been only a horrible nightmare. But it doesn’t take me long to disillusion myself. The hospital has so many pitiful examples of the effects of the war—men crippled and terribly disfigured for life. I do hope the war will soon be over and that Italy has really come in, which may cause other small nations to join us also. However, I do not want it to end till Germany is completely broken. We have all gone through so much that...

May 21, 1915

ShareHospital 101, Rennes, May 21, 1915. Dear Mamma: I have wanted to write to you but knew that Paul and the Vicomte du Peloux would write you that I am doing well. My wound is through the muscles of my thigh and doesn’t pain me any but will keep me away from the front for at least two months. This is a better hospital than the aver­age and I am treated royally so really rather enjoy it. Paul is here and comes in every day from twelve to five, and it seems to me that everyone in the city who can speak English has been in to see me, offering to do whatever is possible for me. They tell me I will be here six or eight weeks and after that I will get at least a week’s convalescence in Paris. Then I don’t know what I will do. Our depot is in Lyons but there is practically nothing left of my regiment. We did some brilliant work and made a great advance, but naturally suffered terribly in doing so. When I was wounded we had captured all the trenches in front of us, had taken one village, La Targette, and were taking Neuville St. Vaast. Most of my regiment had fallen and I presume that the rest fell during the following days. So when we wounded report for service I suppose we will be put in some other regiment, although I do not know. If they put us into regular French Régiment s I will try to get into one in which the Vicomte du Peloux has officer...

May 13, 1915

ShareHôpital Auxiliaire No. 101, Rennes, I le et Vilain, May 13, 1915. Dear Paul: Well, I am lying between two nice, clean sheets now for the first time in nearly nine months, so I guess you know how good it must feel. We went to the trenches on May 5th to stay forty-eight hours, as the trenches were only a little over one hundred meters apart, and there was nothing to do but stand guard and work building tunnels and boyaux toward the German trenches. When our two days were up, instead of being relieved, we were told that there was to be an attack all along that line the coming night at midnight, and that our battalion was to lead our regiment. So all that day, every­one was busy going to the rear for cartridges, food, etc., and also working throwing up an embankment nearly reaching to the barbed wire of the “Boches.” This work was very dangerous, as it was done under rifle fire and danger from bombs, but we were protected a little by our own rifle and artillery fire. I spent three hours at it and didn’t like it a bit. We got everything ready, and at eight o’clock settled down to wait for the bombardment which was to precede the at­tack, but it didn’t begin. At ten o’clock, we were told that the attack had been postponed, and that the following morning we would be relieved. So we went out to our temporary trench and spent the night on guard in it. The following morning we were relieved, and marched twelve kilo­meters to the...

May 18, 1915

ShareTo the Vicomte du Peloux Military Hospital 101, Rennes, May 18, 1915. My dear Friend: I hope you will pardon my not having written you sooner but I knew Paul was telling you I am doing well and I have been a little tired, so have just rested without doing any writing. I will not write much of the battle as Paul told you what I knew about it and the papers told you more. However, I want to say that I was certainly proud of my regiment that day. When I was in the second regiment I had but little confidence in the men and never wanted to see them called upon to make an attack. When I went into the first regiment I immediately saw that it was composed of different kind of men. They were more serious about the war, and the volun­teers were men who engaged out of love and admiration for France, and because they knew they were right. They were men who had the courage of their convictions and were will­ing to die, if necessary, to prove it. So the day we were called upon to attack, every man went into it willingly with the determination to do his best, and humming the Marseil­laise. As to the officers—no officers ever led their men better than ours led us. Practically every one of them fell, but they fell at the head of their men, urging them on­ward. I don’t want you to think that I am cold-blooded, without feeling, but the horror of it all is overshadowed by the feeling of, pride and admiration...

May 11, 1915

SharePost Card to the Vicomte du Peloux May 11, 1915. Dear Friend: Am en route to some hospital, having received a nice clean bullet through the thigh day before yesterday. We made one glorious advance, breaking the German lines, driving them out of the trenches and advancing over open country fighting every step of the way. It lasted for five hours, and by then we had advanced three or four kilo­meters. I do not know where I am going, but we are now in Abbeville, so that is on the route to Paris. If we go through there I will try to get off and go to the American Ambulance. Kiffin Rockwell....

May 5, 1915

Share1er Étranger, Bon B. 2ème Cie., May 5, 1915. Dear Paul: Would have written you sooner but have not done any writing to speak of lately. I suppose the Vicomte du Peloux told you that we had changed sectors. Since the 24th of last month I have not done much of anything but travel around and at the same time have as good a time as possible. The last four days we have all been eating and drinking to a fare-you-well. We have been able to get all the wine we wanted, and things to make special meals. Each day we have had a big party. The only time we have done any work was night before last when we went to the trenches ten kilometers from here and worked out between the lines. The bullets were pretty thick, and one of my friends, an Italian who had been in on all the parties, was killed near me. The same night Battalion D had four killed and fifteen wounded. The night before, Battalion C lost fifteen. All this was without any real fighting. I hate to think of what is going to happen soon, for we are all going into hard action. A big battle is going to commence soon, and we have already received instructions as to what our position will be in it and what we have got to do. It is no rumor this time. I have seen the troops, artillery, etc., enough to con­vince me. So in the meantime we are making the best of things and getting the most out of life possible. To-night,...

May 2, 1915 – Dear Mamma

ShareMay 2, 1915. Dear Mamma: I left the trenches at midnight of the 24th ult. Since then we have been doing quite a bit of traveling. When we left we thought we were going to Lyon for repose and then go to the Dardanelles, but when we passed through Paris at mid­night of the 26th, and turned north, we knew that was all off. We have been in the rear of the lines at different places now for several days and expecting to go into hard action at any time; we are now back within a half mile of a railroad sta­tion, and for all we know we may embark for some other sector. The weather has been very hot, but what marching we have done has been short stretches at a time and I have really enjoyed it all. It has been such a change from the last six months and has been interesting to see the country and also the large movements of troops, artillery, many aëroplanes, Zeppelins, captive balloons, etc. There is quite a change in the civilians also. They are not so hysterical and excitable, and instead of crying, they give one a cheerful smile. Paul wrote me that the Atlanta papers had been giving me quite a lot of publicity and that the Journal had published my letter to Agnes. Others also have written me, and all of you write and act as if you thought I came over here for notoriety and to try to be a hero. It has hurt me and made me mad also to think how few people there...

May 2, 1915

ShareTo the Vicomte du Peloux 1er Étranger, May 2, 1915. Dear Sir: I received your two letters yesterday with the mandat for 151.50 francs and am returning the money order, signed by Kelly. Haven’t been to the trenches yet since coming up here. In fact I am very puzzled as to what we are up to, as we keep moving around. We are now within one kilo­meter of a railroad station and it would not surprise me if we take train again for some other sector, though we may go straight into the trenches from here. We get the papers, and of course they explain a good deal to us. Anyway, what­ever we are planning to do, it is a great change from the last six months and to me is proving a mental and a physical rest. We have had a number of rumors regarding Italy and other countries but I am of the same opinion as you and will not believe Italy in the struggle until I see it. I think Italy has shown herself a coward and very selfish, but in spite of that the Italians in the Legion have proved themselves very good soldiers and I like the ones we have in this company very much. It is fine weather here and we are all taking life about as easy as possible in the army. Tell Paul about this letter. Regards to your wife. Sincerely yours, Kiffin Y. Rockwell....

April 28, 1915

ShareTo the Vicomte du Peloux 1er Étranger, April 28, 1915. Dear Sir: We started to Lyon for repose, at least all the officers and everyone thought so. But orders were evidently changed while we were en route, for we are now in the rear of the lines getting a little rest after a very strenuous trip—very heavy firing in front of us. We went through Paris about midnight of the a6th but the train did not stop ten minutes, as we were then making fast time and turned north from there. I was disappointed but after eight months one gets indifferent. Note address on other side of card. Sincerely yours, Kiffin Y. Rockwell....

April 22, 1915

ShareApr. 22. I will leave my letter the same, but we did not leave last night. We got everything ready and expected to go and did leave the trenches we were in but stopped in others more in the rear. They say this stop is only temporary and that we will leave any time now within the next two or three days. Of course something may happen to prevent, but I really think we are going this time. The captain had a telephone message last night, saying Italy had declared war on Austria. Most of our Company are Italians so it created great excitement. Haven’t heard the message confirmed, but hope it is true. K. Y. R....

April 21, 1915

ShareTo tine Vicomte du Peloux   1er Étranger, Apr. 21, 1915. Dear Sir: I have only time for a short letter as that long-looked-for period of repose has arrived. We leave the trenches to-night for the rear and for a rest. I do not know where we will go. The depot is at Lyon and we may go there or we may be sent to Camp Mailly. I am enclosing an international money order for ten dollars that one of the boys here has and does not know how to get the money. His name is Russell Kelly, who went to Virginia Military Inst. the year after I was there. The sender is James E. Kelly, his father, a lawyer, whose address is 45 Broadway, New York City. This is the first money Kelly has had since being here, so I would like for you to send it to me at once and charge to my account until order has been cashed. Also, send me one hundred francs, as I may need it in repose. If we are in the rear long I will try to get to Paris, though I have no idea what the chances are. I received your letter yesterday and enjoyed hearing. I really had plenty of clothes all winter, and the reason I wrote Paul about the underwear was for summer. I consider that I have put you to enough trouble without having you do things that Paul can do for me. I received the package of eatables the second day, back in the trenches, and have enjoyed all the contents. I was glad...

April 17, 1915

Share1er Régt. Étranger, B. 2, April 17, 1915. Dear Paul: I was very glad to receive your letter this afternoon as it was all I had heard from you for over a month, except one card. I have written the other Regiment and two of the fellows about my mail, but all I have received is what I wrote you of. I have been hoping to hear that you are going to be discharged, for I know you are not physically able to come back to the trenches and stand the life. I received the underwear at the same time as the letter. I was glad they were not warm suits, but would have preferred something in the line of B. V. D.’s as they are easier washed, and easier for clearing of lice, but this is good underwear, so am satisfied. In regard to seeing a doctor and getting evacuated, I have never reported at sick call once since you left. I may be wrong, for I still have very painful rheumatism in my arms and hands, but I have been conscientious about doing my best ever since I enlisted. At first I was handicapped very much by not knowing any French. Now, however, I speak a little and understand more. They all treat me now as being a good soldier. The corporal shows a little favoritism towards me; more than to anyone else in the squad. The sergeant asked me not long ago if I wanted to be a candidate for corporal. That, how­ever, meant drilling when the others were at rest; and then, the men do...

April 10, 1915

Share1er Régiment Étrg., 2ème Rég, de Marche, Bon B. 2ème Cie., 4ème Son., Secteur Postal 109, April 10, 1915. Dear Paul: I have been intending to write you a letter for a long while but haven’t felt like writing any at all lately. When I re­ceived notice of being transferred, I had just come in from work and it was about 4:30 o’clock. They told me I was changed to the 1er Étranger and was to leave at 6:30. It was a surprise to me and a rush order. I left some of my things there, washing, for instance. However, I had little regrets at leaving the outfit, although things were at the best stage for me that they had ever been in. Capdeville and I were practically running the 9th, and Morlae had suddenly become exceptionally friendly towards me, owing to my having “got his number” on a few things. Our Lieutenant, who had always been very friendly to me, had just been made captain of the company. But I came here and found conditions very good: good officers and the men are good soldiers, an entirely different outfit from the 2ème. We went to the trenches the night I arrived here and stayed for twenty-two days in them, and then came here for a week’s rest two nights ago. Things were rather quiet in the trenches. The lines are very close to­gether in a field that is level as a floor. The trenches are laid out so that it is almost like an underground city. The Regt. made them this winter. They are about eight feet deep...

April 1, 1915

SharePost Card 1er Étranger, April 1st, 1915. Dear Paul: Received your letter a couple of days ago, glad to hear from you and that you were in Paris. I have been in the trenches for sixteen days now and will probably stay a week longer, then go back for a week’s repose. This is a better regiment than the Second was. More discipline, etc., but better soldiers and men you would have confidence in in case of action. There are five other Americans and not a bad bunch. Love, Kiffin....

March 29, 1915

ShareTo the Vicomte du Peloux 1er Étranger, March 29, 1915. My Dear Sir: Received your card yesterday and was glad to hear from you and to learn that Paul was on his way to Paris. Have been in first and second line trenches for thirteen days now and will probably stay nine or ten days longer. The lines are very close together here but we have exceptionally good trenches, so it wasn’t very bad. A cheap watch would be very handy for me. Regards to your wife. Sincerely yours, Kiffin Y. Rockwell....

March 21, 1915

ShareVia Bureau Central Militaire, Paris, 1er Régiment Étranger, March 21, 1915. Dear Mamma: I guess you will be surprised to see my new address. I wrote to Paul the early part of the year telling him I was dissatisfied with local conditions in the other regiment and asking him to see if it were possible for me to get into another regiment or into a regular French regiment. We found that owing to the laws of the country it was impossible for me to get into a regular French regiment and I was making up my mind to be contented where I was. About a week ago I came in from working on trenches and was told I had been transferred to the 1er Régiment and was to leave in two hours. I packed my sack in a hurry and rode that night with the first wagon to a town in the rear. The following morning I went to the headquarters of the Army Corps where the General and several other officers talked with me and treated me very courteously. I stayed there until six that evening, when I got into a limousine with a captain who spoke a little English and who took much interest in the fact that I came over to France for the war. I rode with him to the headquarters of another Army Corps where I spent the night. The following morning I climbed into a limousine with another captain who spoke perfect English and had been in the States. On our journey we came right through Rheims which was in a terrible condition...