On 2 May 1917, a month after the American declaration of war, Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing received word that he was to go to France with four infantry regiments and an artillery regiment.2 He "construed this message to mean that these troops were to form a division," and on 16 June 1917 the "First Expeditionary Division," made up of the 16th, 18th, 26th, and 28th Infantry Regiments, which had recently seen field service under Pershing's command on the Mexican border, sailed for France. With them went not one but two artillery regiments, the 5th and 6th FA, followed later by the 7th FA.3
On 14 July 1917, while Pershing began organizing AEF headquarters, 1st Division headquarters was set up at Gondrecourt, northwest of Neufchateau (Map No. 1), with Maj. Gen. William L. Sibert in command. By early September the engineer, signal, and medical components of the division had arrived, the artillery under Brig. Gen. Charles P. Summerall had left for the training area at La Valdahon, and the formal training of the division began.
The 1st Division was the only one in the AEF to have sufficient time to undergo the entire course of training in France prescribed by CHQ AEF.4 This plan allowed one month for acclimatization and instruction under French tutelage in the battalions and lower units. The second month was spent learning trench warfare tactics, with French battalions in a quiet sectors. During the last month, back of the line, the combined division trained in the tactics of open warfare. The division was then considered ready to take over a sector on the fighting front.5
As it began training in the practice trenches at Gondrecourt, the division was issued both the French M-2 gas mask and the British small box respirator
Map No. 1 Location of the 1st Division, Sep 1917 - Apr 1918
(SBR). With them the troops received their first training in gas warfare as "gas alarms with imitation gas clouds were used to give skill in putting on and wearing the gas mask." Special attention was given to perfecting the men in adjusting the mask within six seconds of the alarm and to impressing on them the necessity of strict gas disciplines And they were told repeatedly that when the gas alarm sounded there remained only "the quick and the dead."6
Adequate as the gas training may have appeared at the time, it could not be foreseen in the closing months of 1917 how important gas would be in the operations to come. It seems probable that it may have been like the training with the machine gun, which was also considered essential but "had not assumed the importance that it developed in the last year of the war."7
Ready for experience under actual trench conditions, on 14 October the division was consolidated and ordered to the quiet Sommervillier sector, between Luneville and Nancy, in Lorraine.8 On the night of 21 October, a battalion from each regiment and designated batteries of the division moved in beside corresponding units of the 18th French Division and began training in caring for themselves in the trenches, in patrolling, observation, and artillery
procedures. The battalions and batteries were rotated at ten-day intervals until all had been at the front.
The 1st Division was relieved on the night of 20 November and returned to Gondrecourt, having lost 36 men killed, 36 wounded, and 11 captured.9 Back at Gondrecourt, the division was stripped of large numbers of its officers, NCOs, and men to fill out GHQ staffs and furnish training cadres, and refilled from replacement units coming from the states. On 14 December, at Pershing's direction, Major General Sibert was relieved of his command and replaced by Maj. Gen. Robert L. Bullard, who had originally commanded the 2nd Brigade and more recently had been commandant of the schools of the 1st Division.10 After hasty training of the replacements, the division began its large-scale maneuvers, during which frequent "gas alarms and clouds of low-lying smoke to imitate gas would compel everyone to put on the gas mask as though his life depended upon it."11 The 1st Division was ready to go into the line on its own.