Stephen F. Austin State University

72 Years Later: Remembering the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 (September 2013)

72 Years Later: Remembering the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941
By Rickey Robertson

It is hard to believe but it has been 72 years ago when the biggest military event in the history of the U.S Army took place in Louisiana and East Texas. Yes, the Louisiana Maneuvers took place 72 years ago in September 1941 with over 470,000 men swarming throughout the maneuver area, and 34,000 of these troops being mounted cavalry. Time has not stood still but this great event is still remembered by many who lived through these maneuvers so many years ago. I think so many still remember it because of the impact it made in the lives of the people living throughout the area. And the ultimate impact that the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 made on the United States was that it actually prepared our military for the upcoming war lurking on the horizon.

General George C. Marshall began getting more men and equipment after the fledgling 1940 Maneuvers brought out the issues of lack of manpower, equipment, vehicles, aircraft, and armored vehicles. With the inception of the draft and the federalization of National Guard units, overnight there were nearly a million men in uniform. General Marshall knew that the only way for these troops to get actual field training was through large scale military maneuvers. He was able to obtain the whole army maneuver budget for 1941 to fund the Louisiana Maneuvers. Once he had the funding, where was he to find an area large enough to train military units of every type, size, and description in the art of war?

The Army had been looking for an area to conduct it's maneuvers and the so called "Sabine Area" had been found to fit all the requirements. In Louisiana this comprised 31 parishes of the state and several counties in East Texas along the Sabine River. This area had a wide variety of different types of terrain, and troops would encounter rivers, bogs, hills, sand, clay, Louisiana's famous "gumbo" mud, cleared highlands, timberlands, and open lands. They would experience heavy rainfall and hot dry dusty weather. General George C. Marshall declared the terrain in the battle area, located in the lands lying between the Red and Sabine Rivers, was the "finest he had ever seen" for this type of training. The success of the maneuvers would also influence decisions to use this area for future military use, and to evaluate the need for additional military camps and posts that could assist with troop movements, supply and logistics, and needed equipment of all types. The fledgling army supply and medical systems were severely lacking as it was, and with no supply depots available unless additional camps were built, it would indeed be a monumental task. To provide supplies for the first maneuvers in 1940 and 1941 it would take at least 14,000 men just to transport and deliver the needed supplies for such a vast undertaking. In 1941 alone it would take 16 million meals for the soldiers in the field for just 14 days.

The units that would participate in the maneuvers began their journey to Louisiana by rail, truck, and even for the cavalry, on the back of their mounts. When they arrived they were divided into 2 armies, the Red and Blue Army and were divided into 2 phases which were September 15th to 19th and September 24th to 28th, 1941.

During the 2 phases of mock maneuver battles, the major objective each army was trying to capture was Peason Ridge. If captured, Peason Ridge was an avenue that allowed the armored and cavalry units a direct route to capture Leesville and Camp Polk. Battles and skirmishes were fought everywhere, from the open watermelon fields to every bridge and ford on the many creeks and every road junction. 2 of the major battles of the maneuvers were in Sabine Parish. The Battle of Mount Carmel was a large battle in which the Blue Army attacked General George Patton's Red 2nd Armored Division at the Mount Carmel Church and Cemetery. Patton had to pull back towards Many after this battle. The second major battle occurred at Zwolle when the 1st Cavalry Division, a mounted cavalry unit, swam the Sabine River at midnight and attacked General Patton's supply lines and supply dumps at the depot area of Zwolle. An almost unheard of accomplishment by the cavalry with no soldiers or horses lost in the movement.

General George Patton in Phase 2 was able to use his 2nd Armored Division in the Blue Army. He was attacking north toward Peason Ridge and saw that the Red Army was using delaying tactics to protect the town of Shreveport. He turned his armored units west and crossed the Sabine River in several places and turned north once inside East Texas. He advanced and came in behind Shreveport and was about to capture Barksdale Field and Shreveport when the maneuvers ended.

Today we celebrate the 72nd Anniversary of the Louisiana Maneuvers. In and around where I live at Peason Ridge we still run across mementos of these great maneuvers. While plowing my garden this year I found some old 30 caliber shell casings from the maneuvers, and my wife and I found 2 dog tags and some coins over the last year that were from the maneuvers. And yes, you can still see along some of the roads the anti-tank gun positions, trenches, and many foxholes that were dug by the troops during the maneuvers. And people still find items from the maneuvers in their barns, trunks, gardens, and even while hunting that were lost during the maneuvers.

But sadly the one piece of history that pertains to the Louisiana Maneuvers that is quickly passing away is the soldiers themselves who came and served here. There are still about 1 million World War II veterans alive of the nearly 12 million who served. We think that is a sizeable number but it is not. But by 2024 there will be less than 100,000 living and by 2036 less than 400 will be alive. We have seen the last World War I veteran left in the world pass away and we may well see the last World War II veteran pass on. The Louisiana Maneuvers prepared our nation for World War II and gave thousands of American soldiers much needed combat training that they used in winning World War II. Through the sacrifice of the Greatest Generation we were successful on all battle fronts. One World War II veteran who had also served in the Louisiana Maneuvers told me "the Germans and Japanese were about to take over and destroy the world and civilization as we knew it. We had to get together and do something". Let me tell you, they got together and did something ! They did something about the worst and greatest war in our history. They accepted the challenge and they won that war ! Let us remember these young men who came to Louisiana and learned the art of war during the maneuvers 72 years ago. We have freedom because of their service !