State Historic Site
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS Edward H. "George" Bitzer was an Iowa boy, born and bred. 1917 found the twenty-eight year old in Sheridan County, however, living in Verona with a wife and child.
Like dozens of other Sheridan County men, Bitzer joined the Wyoming National Guard soon after war was declared. When the Guard was nationalized for service overseas, it became part of the 148th Field Artillery.
In this undated letter from Camp Mills, New York (printed in the Sheridan Daily Enterprise in November 1917), Bitzer tells of his unit's train trip from Fort Russell (near Cheyenne) to Camp Green (near Charlotte, North Carolina).
Bitzer never made it back to Verona; he was killed at Chery-Chartreuve, France, on August 5, 1918, when a high explosive shell landed near the artillery guns he was manning. Buried where he fell, his remains were later transferred to the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in Fere en Tardenois, France.
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... At last the much longed for orders to entrain had arrived, and after the task of loading our equipment into the cars, we were soon giving farewell to Fort Russell and Cheyenne.
Various cities along the route were designated as exercising points where we would leave our stuffy coaches for a few hours, exercise and drill. This was indeed a welcome relief from the tiresome monotony of the coaches. Our first stop of this nature was at Grand Island, Neb. We were somewhat surprised at the size of this city, and enjoyed very much marching through the main streets, but owing to the early hour there were but very few people upon the streets.
At Omaha a similar stop was made after a pleasant ride along the Platte river. We took a walk through some very dirty and dusty streets while the water supply of the coaches and cook cars were replenished. We were only too glad when we were on the move again and moving eastward.
The muddy Missouri River was crossed at this point. The water being so muddy as to resemble liquid mud, it was promptly called "The River of Army Soup," which is indeed an unkind expression, as the soup and food served thus far is the best obtainable and of such proportion as to be nourishing and sustaining.
Having crossed the Missouri River, we were in the wealthiest agricultural State in the Union, this being Iowa, of course. It was in this State that we were feted and honored as much as the short time would allow. At Boone, Iowa, we were given a much appreciated reception by the citizens of this enterprising community. After a brief march through the business section, we were taken to a hall where we were each presented with apples, pies, cakes, peaches, flowers and magazines. This spirit of hospitality and patriotism was greatly appreciated, and as the train pulled out from the depot and the assembled multitude, cheer after cheer rent the air; all of us were doing our utmost in this way to show our appreciation of their kindness.
Brief stops were made at the cities of Carrol, Cedar Rapids and Clinton. The far-famed Mississippi River was crossed at this latter place, and many looked for the first time upon the "Father of Waters," which at this early hour was covered with a dense fog. It was indeed a keen disappointment to be unable to see this beautiful river at its best.
Crossing the State of Illinois at the time of year when the fields of corn are a beautiful brown, and the yellow pumpkins mingling between the corn rows. The trees, whose leaves were fast turning to golden tints, gave a relief to the sea of corn. It was indeed as if we had come into a fairy land. On every side, stretching as far as the eye could reach, were fields of corn. We became weary of looking at corn fields and began to wish for dinner time; imagine our dismay upon receiving corn for dinner!
At Chicago, a brief stop was made for exercise as well as to again replenish the water and food supply. The dirty and grimy appearance of the buildings and the ragged, dirty urchins gave us all a desire for a hurried departure from this city.
A night's run through the rich agricultural State of Indiana brought our train of seventeen coaches to Cincinnati, Ohio, where we stayed a short time enjoying such sights as were available from the car window. Crossing the historic Ohio River, we were soon among the rolling hills of Kentucky, the famous Blue Grass State. It was in this State that we saw for the first time those harbingers of the Southland in the way of tobacco fields, cotton plantations, sugar cane and many other products peculiar to the South.
At Russel, Ky., we had an opportunity to put our feet upon Kentucky soil for the first time. A march through the shaded streets of this beautiful little city was indeed a welcome relief, as the need of exercise was beginning to be apparent.
As we progressed southeastward, the Kentucky hills began to grow larger and larger until we were traveling through mountain gorges and gazing with interest upon the wooded slopes of the Appalachia highlands. We viewed with interest and a feeling of wonder at the apparent hardships the people of this locality undergo in obtaining their livelihood by tilling those stony and steep mountain sides. The angle of some of the fields viewed from the train was so steep as to make the use of horses and agricultural implements utterly impossible. All the work must certainly be done by hand, from the clearing away of the luxuriant vegetation to the planting and harvesting of the crops. ...
A brief stop at Erurn, Tenn., was made for exercise after which we soon crossed into North Carolina. Dark green hills and mountains with clouded peaks loomed about us everywhere. Our train making hundreds of seemingly impossible curves and over foaming cataracts. Lonely cabins of mountaineers would be occasionally passed, and scarcity of horses were noted for some distance. At least a hundred miles were covered before a horse was seen.
Words cannot, however, express the beauty and grandeur of this section through which we passed all too quickly. It was with a feeling of regret that we left this picturesque country and emerged gradually into fertile and productive country, for soon the plantations of cotton and cane began to take the place of the pine and fir trees, to which we had been accustomed to view upon lofty peaks and changing to dangerous precipices.
Arriving at our destination after a five days' ride, seeing many strange places and being feted and cheered at many places, we arrived at our destination - Charlotte, N. C. - a tired but happy lot. ...