“If one deserts in time of war the punishment is death, so I guess I will not try it…”
In his thirteenth letter home from Camp Lee, Virginia, to his sister Minnie Riggle, US Army Wagoner (mule team driver) Lester Scott, a World War I soldier from Wheeling, West Virginia, writes that he won’t be coming home for Christmas because the Secretary of War won’t allow it. Secretary Newton D. Baker issued a directive December 11 instructing divisional commanders at national army and national guard camps to restrict Christmas furloughs due to the harmful effect a general leave would have on camp discipline and the heavy burden it would throw on the railroads as reasons for the department’s action. “Most of the men in camps are far away from home,” Secretary Baker reported. “It would be a great expense to those able to afford a trip home, and a discrimination against the men who could not afford the trip. Moreover, it would seriously interfere with the training of the men if any large number were permitted to go home for the Christmas holidays.”  Lester, however, seems to think President Wilson disagrees, offering slim hope of a last-second reprieve. The weather in Virginia is cold and there are six inches of snow on the ground, which is hard for the mules. Meanwhile, Lester has been promoted to Private First Class, which surely beats being a “buck private.” He’s done well taking orders in the army and thinks Minnie could use some army discipline herself. If he does get to come home, he won’t abuse the privilege, lest he be considered a deserter.
Elsewhere on the same day, the big news was that Bolshevik controlled Russia signed an armistice with Germany (and the Central Powers) which would lead to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. This critical development effectively freed Germany to shift 44 divisions to the Western Front in preparation for a massive offensive in the spring of 1918.
Lester Scott was drafted in 1917 and trained at Camp Lee, where so many Wheeling soldiers were trained. And, like so many of his Ohio Valley comrades, he served in the 314th Field Artillery Supply Company, Battery “A,” 80th (Blue Ridge) Division in France. This is his thirteenth letter from Camp Lee, dated 100 years ago today, December 15, 1917.
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December 15, 1917 Letter – Lester Scott to his sister, Minnie Riggle
Dec. 15 1917
I will write you a few lines to let you know I am well and hoep you are the same. I recd your letter two days ago. Would of ans sooner but was waiting to see if I was coming home Xmas but guess we are all out luck. our secretary of war says ther will be none issued at present but the presidint is trying to over rule his decision so we may get to come yet but if we dont we will get the come later so dont be disapointed for you will not be the only one for none of the rest of the boys gets to go. mabe we aren’t having some cold weather here. nearly to 30 I guess and six inches of snow. We just have plates on our mules. I had to have a helper on my wagon to help get my mules up. but do you know I enjoy that kind of work. I got promoted to a first class private today. what do you know about that. I will walk the privates step now like any fellow does but I dont want it in the paper. we will get rid of the mules soon. got a letter from Cleo today. she is in Whg now. I think when we do come back we will get ten days. if I do come I will let you know soon. will coll you when I get to the Grove. I got a letter from vincent yesturday and one from Ed. it is to bad that jim wouldn’t let you have the horse to go to the social. he must be boss I guess ha ha. You want to be careful this cold weather. He might take a notion to run off with you. who had to milk that evening you. you ought to be in the army a while. I imigine you would get over those spells. I think you would do what you were told anyway at least. I dont do like I used to with dad. I dont tell the officers to go and do it their self. you know I get along good or I wouldn’t of got to be a first class pvt. that isnt very much but believe me it is better than to be a buck private. there will be some more of our boys transferred to south Carolina soon. one of the fellows left and went home for nine days. he is in the guard house now for 20 days. if one derserts in time of war the punishment is death so I guess I will not try it. well I close for this time so ans. soon. will see you all before long,
Listen to Episode 18 of “From Camp Lee to the Great War: The Letters of Lester Scott and Charles Riggle”
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From Camp Lee to the Great War: The letters of Lester Scott and Charles Riggle” is brought to you by Archiving Wheeling in partnership with the Ohio County Public Library (Wheeling, WV) and the Wheeling Academy of Law & Science (WALS) Foundation.
Jeremy Richter is the voice of Lester Scott. The letters of Lester Scott and Charles Riggle were transcribed by Jon-Erik Gilot. This podcast was edited and written by Sean Duffy, audio edited by Erin Rothenbuehler with music courtesy the Library of Congress.
[Music for December 15, 1917 episode: “Love Will Find A Way,” The Seven Black Dots (performer), 1921. Courtesy Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100010774/]
Many thanks to Marjorie Richey for sharing family letters and the stories of her uncles, Lester Scott and Charles “Dutch” Riggle, WWI soldiers from West Virginia.
 The Pittsburgh Press, December 12, 1917, pg. 5