Stephen F. Austin State University

The Battle of Mount Carmel (September 2015)

By Rickey Robertson

One of the greatest military events in American history took place 74 years ago this month in Louisiana and East Texas. This great event became known as the Great Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. These maneuvers actually prepared the United States Army for World War II. General George C. Marshall, the new army Chief of Staff, needed to build a bigger, more well equipped army, for he could see the war clouds rising in Europe. With the US Army being filled with draftees and National Guard units that had been federalized for one year, the maneuvers were planned and equipment, supplies, and everything needed for the maneuvers began to be gathered. And when the preparations had been made over 470,000 men began their long travels to Louisiana where the maneuvers would be held. Over 19 full divisions arrived and were ready to maneuver by September 1, 1941. General Marshall wanted any mistakes made in training to be made in Louisiana, not on the battlefields possibly in Europe. And we remember the greatest maneuver battle of these maneuvers, the Battle of Mount Carmel on the 74th Anniversary of this great event.

When the maneuvers began General Ben Lear, commander of the Reed Army, sent General George S. Patton Jr. and his 2nd Armored and sent them to attack toward Many and Fort Jesup, then turn south and attack towards Peason Ridge. If the 2nd Armored could advance to Peason Ridge, the tanks could fan out across the cut over highlands and they could attack and possibly capture Leesville and Camp Polk. Little did they know that Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, chief of staff of the Blue Army, was planning a surprise for them at Mount Carmel.

Mount Carmel was just a little country community and in 1941 was identified by the school located there, Mount Carmel Baptist Church and Mount Carmel Cemetery, Young's Grocery, Addison's Store and station, scattered farm houses and fields, and the only sign denoting it as Mount Carmel being a small sign erected by the FFA Chapter at the school. Nothing much to speak of was it. But on military maps there was something strategic about Mount Carmel. It had a crossroad and to the military these are locations that must be captured and held so troops and vehicles could continue to advance.

On Wednesday September 17, 1941 forward elements of General Patton's 2nd Armored moved into Mount Carmel and began to rest and relax in the warm September sun. The forward units were several half-tracks and peeps (later known as the jeep) with infantry support at Mount Carmel Baptist Church. All of a sudden, firing began and the Red Army troops looked and charging through the Mount Carmel Cemetery came hordes of Blue Army infantrymen. The Red Army scouts and advance units pulled back to the cross roads at Addison's Store and called for tank support from Patton's tanks. As the Blue Army infantry advanced they brought forward their anti-tank units armed with 37mm anti-tank guns and began firing on the Red Army tanks. Into the school yard at Mount Carmel High School and in and around Addison's Store the battle raged. Fierce fighting took place throughout the fields surrounding the crossroads as units maneuvered to attack and hold onto the crossroads and the road junction. With the Blue Army anti-tank units knocking out several of General Patton's tanks, the 2nd Armored retreated up the Corleyville Road toward Many and Fort Jesup where they could regroup. The Blue Army units converged on Addison's Store but in the excitement they forgot one thing. They did not bring up anti-aircraft guns in the event of a bombing attack. All of a sudden, as the Blue Army units milled around in the roadway, Red Army attack bombers appeared and began to flour bomb the troops who began to scatter. During this attack, LIFE magazine reporters and photographers took several photographs that became famous in an article written in LIFE magazine in the October 6, 1941 issue. And when you look at these photographs, you see the GULF Oil sign and Addison's Store in the background. For the next 3 days the armored units continued to regroup and attack at the Blue Army at Mount Carmel but they could never break through to Peason Ridge. So thus ended the greatest maneuver battle of the Louisiana maneuvers. And to this day, the Command and General Staff College still teaches this battle and the tactics learned at the Battle of Mount Carmel to military officers .

I have enjoyed interviewing many people over the years about this battle and I share just a couple of their stories. The late Jennings C. Rogers, the FFA advisor at Mount Carmel School and his wife had been on a trip to Baton Rouge in their automobile to Baton Rouge on the day of the Battle of Mount Carmel and had arrived back home late in the evening . Mr. Rogers said that in view of his car headlights, there were things moving up and down in his yard. When he got out he found that what he had seen were soldiers helmets moving around . A large group had captured his house and had dug foxholes all over his yard, and that when the soldiers saw the headlights of his vehicle, they would raise up out of their foxholes and peek at the approaching vehicle. Mr. Rogers stated that there were soldiers camped everywhere, and they even asked if he would be kind enough to let them sleep on his porch and in the barn and outbuildings of his farm. He readily agreed to do so.

Another person, the late Eileen Addison Lombard, told me that Addison's Store was a busy place and her family worked long hours serving the troops who were buying everything from cold drinks to cigarettes and candy. She remembered the LIFE magazine reporters and photographers being in and out of the store, along with famous personalities such as General Patton, Colonel Dwight Eisenhower, General Lear, and General Krueger. She remembers General Patton directing military traffic right in front of the store. Yes, right here in the midst of Sabine Parish and the Community of Mount Carmel were several of the most important military officers who would stand out during World War II.

It has now been 74 years since the Battle of Mount Carmel. But you can still recognize the important crossroad junction at Addison's Store that has been restored. There is a new church building and the cemetery has a fence and paved road through it. The school is gone but the fields are still there and it again is just a sleepy little country community. But 74 years ago Mount Carmel was the most important location for the US Army in the Louisiana Maneuvers. Let's never forget this battle. Don't my readers agree that this sure would be a great site for a historical marker in honor of the Battle of Mount Carmel? I do, so we can honor the men who fought and trained right here during the Louisiana Maneuvers ! They fought and died for our freedom during World War II and let's always remember them and the Battle of Mount Carmel.

Addison's Store located in the Mount Carmel Community as it looks 74 years later (Robertson Collection).

Addison's Store located at the vital crossroads at Mount Carmel as it looks today. (Robertson Collection)

Infantry position located in a field near the vital crossroads during the Battle of Mount Carmel (Robertson Collection).

The exact location that the Blue Army came charging out of the Mount Carmel Cemetery to attack the Red Army in the Battle of Mount Carmel 1941 as it looks today (Robertson Collection).

Red Army scouts and half-track sitting in front of the original Mount Carmel Baptist Church just minutes before the Battle of Mount Carmel erupted. (Signal Corps/Robertson Collection)

Hidden 37 MM anti-tank gun during the Battle of Mount Carmel. The Blue Army anti-tank units stopped General Patton's tanks in this battle. (Signal Corps/Robertson Collection)

Red Army weapons platoon preparing to defend Mount Carmel from the attacking Blue Army infantry units. (Signal Corps/Robertson Collection)

Present sign denoting the Mount Carmel Community on La. Hwy 118 also known as the Louisiana maneuvers Highway. (Robertson Collection)

Blue Army infantry units coming from Peason fording Goodson Creek just east of Mount Carmel along Highway 118. This photo was taken just east of present day Maurice Lane at the bridge. Drivers pass this location each day. (Robertson Collection)