Diary of an Artillery Soldier at the End of the War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Benjamin Edgar Cruzan was a bugler with the 341st Field Artillery. He was drafted in December 1917 and landed in France in July 1918. He kept a diary during his time in the Army, and this selection covers his experiences during the final two months of the war. The 341st was on the firing line for fifty-three days, in the thick of battle, firing more than eighty-seven thousand rounds of ammunition. Cruzan records the final days of the war, when rumors of peace talks did little to alleviate the danger for men on the front. He paints a vivid picture of the artillery marking the countdown to the armistice with measured and timed barrages. His diary is surprisingly upbeat, even as it records extremely dangerous conditions. Though he had only a third-grade education, Cruzan writes in an engaging, casual style, full of bravado, slang, and exclamations. His diary provides a glimpse into the experience of an adventurous young soldier at the close of the war.

Summary Overview

Benjamin Edgar Cruzan was a bugler with the 341st Field Artillery. He was drafted in December 1917 and landed in France in July 1918. He kept a diary during his time in the Army, and this selection covers his experiences during the final two months of the war. The 341st was on the firing line for fifty-three days, in the thick of battle, firing more than eighty-seven thousand rounds of ammunition. Cruzan records the final days of the war, when rumors of peace talks did little to alleviate the danger for men on the front. He paints a vivid picture of the artillery marking the countdown to the armistice with measured and timed barrages. His diary is surprisingly upbeat, even as it records extremely dangerous conditions. Though he had only a third-grade education, Cruzan writes in an engaging, casual style, full of bravado, slang, and exclamations. His diary provides a glimpse into the experience of an adventurous young soldier at the close of the war.

Defining Moment

The 341st Field Artillery took up battlefield positions for the first time on September 18, 1918, along the Beney-St. Benoit Road. This position was in the center of the St. Mihiel salient, a triangular wedge of territory in northern France, between the towns of Verdun and Nancy. It had been heavily occupied and fortified by the German Army since the fall of 1914. The US Army had attacked St. Mihiel on September 12, catching the German artillery unprepared and, in four days, had forced a retreat out of the salient and surrounding area. The army then turned its attention to the front farther to the north, near the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest.

From September 26 until the armistice on November 11, 1918, Allied troops engaged the German Army all along the Western Front and made steady but hard-fought gains. The 341st Field Artillery did not follow its division (the Eighty-ninth) to the center of the offensive in the Argonne Forest, as a shortage of horses made movement of their large artillery pieces impossible, but remained facing German troops along the line south of the Argonne, near the town of Haumont. The official regimental history, Regimental History, Three Hundred and Forty-First Field Artillery, Eighty-Ninth Division of the National Army (1920), describes the activities of the 341st as primarily support for “raids,” smaller-scale operations that pushed back the German lines in pockets, such as an attack on Marimbois Farm on the morning of October 21, where artillery supported the infantry through both “neutralizing and barrage fire.” In other words, heavy and light guns were used first to eliminate enemy artillery positions and then to drive back German troops, so the infantry could take their position. The raid on this farm was successful, resulting in the capture of twenty-eight prisoners and “important information.” On November 8, the 341st supported a raid on Bois Bonseil by preventing German reinforcements from reaching the troops there. Various other raids met with similar success, eliminating pockets of resistance and capturing men and matériel (equipment and supplies). Gas attacks were also made by both sides, though official documents of the time are careful to describe US gas attacks as “retaliatory.”

Though the large-scale engagements of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive took place to the north of the 341st, the unit was under almost constant attack from shells, artillery, and bombs dropped by airplanes, and as late as November 9, two days before armistice, a planned large-scale offensive began with several days of preparatory artillery, but the men did not go “over the top” of their trenches. The battle had been ordered for November 11, the very day that the armistice ended active fighting.

After the armistice, the 341st Field Artillery rejoined the Eighty-ninth Division and moved in to secure Germany. After a difficult winter and spring in occupied Germany, the 341st finally left France in May 1919.

Author Biography

Benjamin Edgar Cruzan was born in 1895 and grew up in rural Norwood, Missouri, in a log house. He received a limited education, leaving school after the third grade. In 1912, his father moved the family to Kansas City, Kansas, and Cruzan was drafted from there in 1917. After the war, Cruzan worked for the Department of Agriculture until his retirement in 1963. He died at age ninety-one in 1986 and is buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Neosho, Missouri.

Document Analysis

Cruzan kept a diary from Christmas Day 1917 until he arrived home in Kansas City on June 8, 1919. The selection given here covers the period where he was on the front lines with his unit, and it ends ten days after the armistice. Cruzan encounters shelling for the first time on September 20, and, as with many other dangers he faces, he responds with humor: “Had my first experience on ducking shells. The Dutch [Germans] put over a few.” Five days later, three shells land very near his camp, and he acknowledges that with a slight adjustment to their range, the Germans “will get us [for] sure.” The nearness of danger was not going to cost Cruzan a night’s sleep, however. “Well I am tired so will go to bed good night.” The conversational, casual style of Cruzan’s diary is influenced, in part, by his lack of formal education. His sentences are simply constructed but clearly convey his optimism and sense of humor. When he leaves to find Jake Cruzan, a fellow soldier and possibly a relative, he finds him in a village whose “name is about a foot Long.” After several days of incessant rain, he quips that “if it rains Like this in this Country all the time I would not swap a home in hell for a 4000 acre Ranch huh!” His mood is not dampened by conditions on the front line, though. “War is not so bad if it is all Like this… Are we down hearted(?) HELL, FIRE, NO.” When he sees a group of German prisoners being brought into camp, he says they are “regular Rocky mts [mountain] Goats–all Beard.” After the armistice, when he is waiting to find out where he is going to be sent, he expresses both joy and frustration. “OH Joy Oh boy where do we go from here–‘that’s the question.’”

Cruzan mentions peace talks throughout this period. He is excited to get home and see his family and friends, and he is aware that rumors of peace do not have any effect on his immediate situation. Even as he is aware that peace talks are ongoing, he and his unit are being shelled by the Germans, and soldiers around him are leaving the trenches and going “over the top,” many to their death. Despite his desire to go home, Cruzan also wants peace to happen on the best possible terms for the United States, and he is prepared to fight until that happens. “I hope peace comes but by no means a German Kind we want it to be our way.” When the war does come to an end, Cruzan is glad for having played a role–“I am glad to have taken a part in this World War”–and he hopes he did enough to earn respect, writing, “53 days of actual service on the firing Line–that aint Long but I Can say that I have saw service on the Battle Line.” Though impatient for orders at the end of the war, and missing home, Cruzan is still in fine spirits. “All is Well. Still Waiting.”

Essential Themes

Though Cruzan’s lack of formal education is clear, his diary vividly portrays a soldier who enjoyed his work (he seems equally excited about hauling sandbags or working as a telephone operator) and kept his sense of humor and adventure, even as he is aware of the extreme danger he faces. He sees some terrible things–two soldiers blown up by a shell two days before armistice, a German soldier blown up in his trench, half-starved Allied prisoners returning from Germany–but he says stoically, “We saw some sights that’s all”; he is certainly looking forward to going home. Cruzan counts the ammunition fired until the literal minute of armistice, charting how many rounds his battery was able to fire, as the men fed the guns as fast as they could. Overall, Cruzan’s diary conveys his sense of humor, optimism, commitment to the fight, and willingness to have a place in the war.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Browne, George Waldo. The American Army in the World War: A Divisional Record of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. Manchester, NH: Overseas Book Company, 1921. Print.
  • Lloyd, Nick. Hundred Days: The Campaign that Ended World War I. Philadelphia: Basic, 2014. Print.
  • Neiberg, Michael S. The World War I Reader. New York: NYU P, 2007. Print.
  • Palmer, Alan. Victory 1918. New York: Grove, 1998. Print.
  • Randel, Harry E. Regimental History, Three Hundred and Forty-First Field Artillery, Eighty-Ninth Division of the National Army. Kansas City: Union Bank Note, 1920. Print.
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