Born in Fort Niagra, NY, on 25 Jan 1897, son of a distinguished family including father MG Peter C. Harris, Adjutant General of the Army, and a grandfather Captain Doctor in the Confederate Army 1861-65. West Point class of 1918 (actually graduated in Aug 17 because of the war). As youngest CPT in the AEF, company commander in the 6th Engineers in continuous combat from 21 March until his death on 20 October. Mortally wounded while cleaning out a German machine gun nest in Clair Chenes Woods, he was captured by the Germans and died in captivity. A plaque in his honor hangs in Cullum Hall at West Point.
Charles Dashiel Harris
No. 5745. Class of 1918 (Aug., 1917). On the morning of October 20, 1918, Company B and two other companies of the 6th Engineers went “over the top” behind an infantry regiment. When the Regiment failed, Captain Harris leg the Engineers forward being mortally wounded near Aincreville, France. Aged 20 years.
Charles Dashiell Harris was born at Fort Niagara, N. Y., January 25, 1897. His education, begun in the public schools of Washington, D. C.; was continued at Plattsburg, N.Y.; at St. John’s School, Man- lius, N. Y., and at the Columbia Preparatory School, Washington, D. C., where he received his preparation for the Military Academy. He entered the United States Military Academy in June, 1914, and was graduated therefrom on August 30, 1917, a member of the Class of 1918, the date of graduation having been advanced owing to the exigencies of war. Although one of the youngest members of his class, his standing at graduation was number five, while for the work of the final year he stood at the head of his class.
Upon graduation he was appointed Captain in. the regular army, being, at the time of his appointment, the youngest officer of that grade in the vast army then in process of organization in the United States. He was assigned to the 6th U. S. Engineers, Washington Barracks, D. C., and on December 2, 1917, left with his company (B) for Hoboken, N. J., en route to France. The 6th Engineers were part of the 3rd Division, but arrived in France some months in advance of the remainder of the Division.
The British being in need of the services of engineers in connection with the work of constructing heavy steel bridges over the Somme river and canal at and near Peronne, the headquarters detachment and two companies of the 6th Engineers, including Company B commanded by Captain Harris, were attached to the Royal Engineers, British Fifth Army, and participated in that work. They were still so attached when the German drive of March 21, 1918, was launched, and at that crisis were of great assistance to the British in laying out and constructing successive lines of trenches. Later they constructed, and for several days occupied, as Infantry, front line trenches in the gap between the British Fifth and Third Armies, which was filled in by a picked-up force of General Carey, of the British Army. The trenches occupied by Captain Harris’ Company were directly in front of the city of Amiens and, therefore, in what, at that period, was the most critical part of the line. In a commendatory dispatch to the regimental commander, General Rawlinson, commanding the British Fifth Army, stated:
“I fully realize that it has been largely due to your assistance that the enemy is checked.” Because of the services rendered by these two companies, the commanding officer of the 6th Engineers was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order by the British Government, and was later made a Brigadier General in the United States army.
After having performed considerable engineering work in the vicinity of Amiens, including the construction of steel bridges over the Somme river, plank and macadam roads, and trenches, dugouts and wire entanglements for the defense of that city, the 6th Engineers rejoined the 3rd Division a short time before the second battle of the Marne. They participated in that battle and in subsequent engagements which occurred during the advance to the Vesle river, and later in both the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. Being trained for combat as well as for engineer duty, the 6th Engineers, when not engaged in building bridges and roads, in laying out and constructing trenches, or in other engineering work, were fighting as Infantry.
Captain Harris’ own company was in action against the enemy, either as engineers or as infantry, almost continuously from the 21st of March until his death on October 20th. Referring to the services of Captain Harris, an officer of the 6th Engineers wrote: “”The Company he commanded was in every action in which any part of the regiment participated and in every work which was undertaken. Company B is the Color Company of the regiment.”
At 7 a.m., on the morning of October 20, 1918, Company B and two other companies of the 6th Engineers went “over the top” behind an infantry regiment, carrying barbed wire and tools with which to wire Clairs Chenes Wood, should the infantry regiment succeed in driving the Germans from that position. Owing to the intensity of the enemy’s machine gun fire the infantry failed in their purpose, whereupon the engineers decided they would attempt the capture of the woods themselves, Captain Harris, as the senior engineer officer present, assuming responsibility for the decision after a conference with the other two company commanders. They accordingly threw down their wire and tools and plunged into the battle, Captain Harris leading Company B. With a small detachment in advance of the remainder of his company he captured two machine gun and three German prisoners. Observing that the Germans were reforming for a counter attack and not having with him a sufficient number of men to operate both the captured guns, Captain Harris himself seized one of them, moved it across an open space in order to get a clear field of fire, and was operating it against the enemy when he was shot through the left lung.
At the time he was wounded Captain Harris was some distance in advance of his company and separated from it by a road swept by machine gun fire. He lay where he fell for some time before he could be carried across this road, the enemy having meanwhile laid down a barrage. As soon as the barrage was lifted two privates of his company and the three German prisoners started to carry him to an American dressing station, but the men lost their way in the woods and were captured by the enemy. Captain Harris was carried to a German first-aid dressing station near Aincreville, where he died shortly afterward.
After Captain Harris was wounded it became necessary for his company to retire temporarily from Clairs Chenes wood. They later renewed the attack, but before they succeeded in recapturing the wood Captain Harris and his two litter-bearers had fallen into the hands of the enemy.
Captain Harris could very properly have sent a subaltern to clean out the machine gun nests which were delaying the advance of his company, but he chose to undertake this dangerous task himself, and so sacrificed his life for what he conceived to be his duty. His grave is on the south bank of Andon creek, about six hundred yards southeast of the village of Aincreville.
Upon the recommendation of his Division commander the Distinguished Service Cross was, by direction of the President, awarded posthumously to Captain Harris for his heroic act by the Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces. The official notice of the award, published in General Orders No. 70 War Department, 1919, reads as follows. “Charles Dashiell Harris, Captain, 6th Engineers. For extraordinary heroism in action in Clairs Chenes Woods, France, October 20, 1918. While leading his Company in an attack on enemy machine-gun nests he, with three of his men in advance of the remainder of his Company, fearlessly attacked an enemy machine-gun nest, capturing three prisoners and two guns, turning the guns against the enemy. He was mortally wounded while operating one of the guns in an exposed position.
Next of kin: Major General P. C. Harris, The Adjutant General of the Army (father), The Dresden, Washington, D. C.”
As a cadet at the Military Academy young Harris was exceedingly popular. He was president of the Dialectic Society and cheer leader, and took a prominent part in all the social and other activities of his class. The parents of one of his classmates paid him the following tribute:
“No finer or truer boy ever lived. Charlie was a born leader in enterprises serious or gay, in scholarship, athletics, and in friendship.” All the members of the 6th Engineers loved and respected Captain Harris. They tell of his coolness under fire and of his remarkable judgment. He said little, but when anything was to be done he was always ready with a well defined plan which he could execute. He was of sunny disposition, and his cheery optimism is well illustrated by the following extract from one of his letters, written a short time before the second battle of the Marne: “I am all right and in the best possible health; with interesting work to keep me busy and enough exercise and good food to keep me healthy; nothing to spend money on, so also wealthy; and lots to learn, so wise.” A fellow officer of the 6th Engineers speaks of him in the following terms: “Captain Harris was one of the finest characters I ever knew – brave, he seemed not to know the meaning of fear; loyal, cheerful, kind, confident, proud of his country and his men, who loved him and were inspired by his courage, endurance, his utter lack of selfishness, and always his first thought was for their comfort and welfare. The fact that he was the youngest Captain in the army made them doubly proud of him. They would have followed him anywhere – and did. His uniform cheerfulness and high sense of duty kept us up when our spirits were getting low. He was one of the coolest men under fire I ever saw – calm, steady, fearless – and merely by the fact of his presence helped the men to complete successfully very many dangerous and nerve – racking tasks.”