Montfaucon: Captain Barber and the 313th Regiment

Capt. Timothy Barber of the 79th Division, 313th Regiment died October 10, 1918 in the midst of the World War I Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Learn more about the 313th Regiment and the hard fought battles of this offensive.

Video Transcript

NARRATOR: In the early hours of October 9th, 1918, Captain Timothy Barber, the battle-weary regimental surgeon of the 79th Division’s 313th Regiment lit a candle to view the dark interior of an abandoned German bunker he might use for an aid station. When Barber dropped his match to the ground, it fell into a pile of German pyrotechnics creating an awful explosion that mortally wounded him. In the year that followed Captain’s Barber’s widow and mother chose to leave his remains buried overseas because neither could go through the grief of reburying him in his native soil of West Virginia. Barber joined 14,246 others in the Meuse-Argonne cemetery in Romange, France. Exactly twelve years after her son’s death, Lucy Barber wrote to the Quartermaster Department and thanks for the all-expense paid trip to her son’s grave they had just provided her.

“We were all impressed with the care and thoughtfulness that met every wish and need. Also we were very appreciative of the generosity that has done so much more than any of the other countries." Mrs. Barber and countless others who recorded their pilgrimage to the cemetery’s log book likely pondered the untold stories of the personal losses spread before her.

By 4:30 a.m. on the morning of September 26, 1918, the untested 79th Division’s 313th Infantry Regiment anxiously waited in trenches south of the ruined town of Avocourt. In one hour they would 220,000 other American soldiers spread across a 26 mile line in the launch of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The soldiers of the 313th Regiment marched all night through heavy rain and darkness to reach this point. Traveling light, with only the necessities of war, they traversed thick brush, endless fields of barbed wire and terrain scarred with deep, mud-filled shell craters.  As they moved forward, friendly artillery screamed overhead, climaxing in an intense barrage twenty minutes prior to their attack. Soldiers hoped that each shell might help weaken the German forces soon to be encountered. The soldiers of the 313th Regiment attached with a heavy burden on their shoulders. Their objective was the honor position of offensive’s first phase. By days’ end they were expected to clear 4.3 miles of enemy territory and take the formidable heights of Montfaucon, on which the Germans observed the entire American sector from four to five positions.

This same terrain claimed over 300,000 French casualties in 1916. The success of the entire campaign hinged on control of Montfaucon. It took the 79th Division only two days to capture Montfaucon, however, the cost to the 313th was high. The regiment lost 45 officers and 1,200 enlisted men.  Captain Barber remained on the front lines the entire battle, and worked tirelessly providing relief to his wounded regiment. Writing to his mother after the worst phase of the battle, Barber described his hellish ordeal. “I’ve been on the firing line a week, and it was like a lifetime in hell. It was one of the worst and bloodiest battles of the war. Any why, or how I came through it is more than I can tell.” In the days following Montfaucon, the 313th advanced little more than a mile and was halted at the Northern end of the Bois de Beuges Throughout October, American forces struggled to move north. Each German defensive line become more formidable than the last and American casualties steadily increased. It would take nearly a month for American forces to cover a distance comparable to the first few days of the offensive and critically break the German lines.