WWI Profile: Hanson Hillard Leonard 1888-1936

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Source: The Charlotte News (Charlotte, NC) 08, Feb. 1919, p.9
Hanson Hillard Leonard
Southport, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
April 2, 1918 – April 18, 1919
May 17, 1918 – April 13, 1919
Wounded: September 19, 1918

Hanson Hillard was born and raised in Brunswick County, NC. A partial family tree is located in FamilySearch.

Hanson had a brother who also served, Stacy Harvey Leonard. See below for additional details about his brother’s service.

Hanson’s 1917 Draft Registration Card shows he was single and working as a farm hand for Hiram McKeithan in Southport.

Hanson was ordered to report to duty on April 2, 1918. [Source: ancestry.com] On April 26, he was assigned to Company I, 120th Infantry, 30th “Old Hickory” Division.

Previous posts describe activities until September 1, 1918, when Private Edward Mills was wounded. A few days later, the Regiment was relieved by the British.

September 5th and 6th were devoted to cleaning up. The entire Regiment was deloused and bathed at “Kill Bug Station and Hop Factory,” each man receiving a clean suit of underwear. After a period in the line the little bugs were plentiful.

The Regiment trained until the end of September when the 30th Division broke the Hindenburg Line. While Pvt Leonard’s NC Service Card shows he was wounded September 19, the Official History of the 120th Infantry does not seem to indicate an opportunity. More telling is that the document does not include a list of wounded for the dates between September 5 – September 29. While it is possible that his wounds were received on the 19th, it is more likely that he was wounded during the breaking of the Hindenburg Line.

On the night of September 23, 1918, the Division was transferred to the 4th British Army, commanded by General Rawlinson. No one knew what was to take place, but each man in the Regiment felt the time had come for the Regiment to prove its worth.

The Regiment was formed in columns of twos on the road between Acheux and Forceville. Lorry after lorry rolled into place, and at 8:00 P. M. all troops were embussed and ready to move into the night.

All night long the movement continued through Albert, Peronne, Doingt, and along the marshy Somme. With the sky growing lighter in the east the Regiment debussed at Cartigny and marched to Tincourt. Once more the flash of guns and the burst of “Very lights” could be seen.

The same day the Regiment was joined by a detail of Australian officers and men, who were to give whatever assistance the Regiment might need; and from these Australians more was learned in the short period they were with the Regiment, particularly as regards the rationing of troops in the line, than in the entire period of training.

In the afternoon the Regiment marched to Hervilly. Regimental Headquarters was in the side of a sunken road. The troops were scattered wherever room could be found, the mass of artillery, infantry, and cavalry filling the entire country.

The Regiment learned that in front of it lay the hitherto impregnable positions of the Hindenburg Line, against which many fruitless attacks had been made; that the British Army had been given the task of fighting the only decisive battle in the World-War; that the place of honor in this attack between Cambria and St. Quentin had been given the 4th British Army; that the 30th Division, as part of the 4th British Army, would attack in the center with the 46th British on the right and the 27th American on the left; that the 119th and 120th Infantry Regiments had been selected to do the job, with the 117th Infantry to follow and attack to the right after crossing the Canal, and 118th Infantry as Divisional Reserve.

1920 Hindenburg Line model
Source: Library of Congress

This Regiment’s sector of the Hindenburg System consisted: First, of three rows of heavy barbed wire, woven so thick as to resemble a mass of vines and briars intermingled–each row was from thirty to forty feet in depth, and to which the artillery fire did but little damage; second, three rows of the Hindenburg trenches, on which four years of work had been spent; third, the backbone of the entire system, Bellicourt, the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel. This Canal passed for a distance of 6,000 yards underground from Le Catlet on the north to Recquval on the south.

It had been built by the Great Napoleon, and in some places was 193 feet underground. The Germans filled the Canal with barges, lighted it with electric lights, and fitted it with dressing stations. On the barges accommodations were provided for a division of troops, where they could rest secure from any shell-fire.

The end of the tunnel had been closed with ferro-concrete walls with openings left for machine gun. To the trench system and to the town of Bellicourt, overhead, ran concrete tunnels through which troops could move to reinforce the front line or to occupy the prepared positions in Bellicourt; third, the Catlet-Nauroy Line, a supporting system; and, fourth, the village of Nauroy, which had been prepared for defense.

Over the entire area were machine guns without number, not only the probable approaches, but every inch of front was covered by one or more guns.

The Germans believed the position could not be taken, and even when lost, prisoners would not believe it to be possible, and laughed at those who would tell them.

It was the turning point of the war.

Between September 29th and October 1st, 1918, the three days of the Hindenburg Assault, the following 120th Infantry casualties were reported.
202 KIA
759 Wounded

Many months later, Pvt Hanson Leonard returned on USS Martha Washington with his Regiment in early April 1919, and was honorably discharged on April 18, 1919 with no disability. Nothing is known about his wound or recovery.

He married in 1928. The 1930 Census showed he was the father of two step-children. His life ended suddenly in 1936 at age 47. The 1940 Census shows he and his widowed wife had at least one child together.

Hanson Hillard Leonard was laid to rest in Pender County, where he was living at the time. There is no picture of his gravesite but an application for a military headstone was submitted and approved.

Additional details about his brother Stacy’s service

Stacy Leonard’s NC WWI Service Card shows he was a Private in 156 Depot Brigade. The Depot Brigades were to receive, train, equip, and forward replacements (both officers and enlisted men) to replacement divisions of the corps. Yet his military headstone lists “Pfc Co L, 20th Infantry.” Why the discrepancy?

Luckily, Pfc Stacy Leonard’s military headstone application was available on ancestry.com. The back shows that he enlisted in the National Guard on January 20, 1917, and was honorably discharged on September 16, 1917, with a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability (SCD). He was then ordered to duty (for the draft) on August 25, 1918. He served until December 6, 1918 when he was honorably discharged.

His injury or illness in 1917 had to have been recoverable as he passed the physical examination a year later and was accepted for duty. Unless it was a service related disability, he would not have received military disability in 1917.

This explained the discrepancy. As the highest rank achieved is credited, the Brunswick County Army/Marine WWI Veterans – Units, Dates Served was updated to reflect Private First Class. The units and dates served were modified to include both sets of service.

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Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
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