WWI Profile: Jackson Berry Potter 1896-1972

To view this or an earlier profile at any time, click on the veteran’s name on the WWI Brunswick County Veteran list, which is also accessible by the blue button on the top right of the webpage.

Photos of her great uncle Jack contributed by Dale Coleman Spencer
Jackson Berry Potter
Winnabow, Brunswick County, NC
NC National Guard

July 12, 1917 – May 12, 1919
December 8, 1917 – April 28, 1919

Jackson Potter was born in Brunswick County, NC. A partial family tree is located in FamilySearch.

In June 1917, Jack registered for the WWI Draft as required. His registration shows he was single, living in Town Creek, and farming and supporting his parents.

A month later, Jack enlisted in the NC National Guard. He initially was a Horseshoer but in October he became a Wagoner, which he held throughout the war.

What is a Wagoner?

Horses and mules were crucial in this time period.

“Horses and mules carried men to battle and wounded men to safety. They transported food, water, medical supplies, guns, ammunition, and artillery to the front lines through appalling weather, over unforgiving terrain, in horrifying situations, and surrounded by dead and dying men and animals. Yet they continued to do their part, in spite of being terrified and often while sick and wounded themselves, and they worked until they were annihilated by guns or poison gas, or simply died in their harnesses from exposure and sheer exhaustion.” [Source: Fran Jurga’s blog]

Eight million horses and mules died in WW1. And Wagoners were some of those responsible for their well being.

Greg Krenzelok, Historian for the US Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group (Facebook link), details the many and overwhelming duties of the U.S. Army Wagoner here.

Army vehicle transportation by animal consists of spring wagons, ambulances, and escort wagons. The Wagoner must have the skills to care for the animal and machinery, plus understand how to handle both. He is responsible for his team, harness, and wagon, tools and spare parts, and the condition in which he keeps them is a measure of his efficiency. A successful Wagoner is one who keeps his wagon and animals in good condition and gets his load to its destination at the proper time. This requires constant attention from morning until night.

Recall the WWI Profile of Martin Newman Mintz in which a lack of horses and mules forced his Artillery Brigade to withdraw. Horses and mules and those who cared for them and handled them were crucial in war.

With the country still struggling to heal following the Civil War, the formation of the Rainbow Division offered an opportunity to unite. August 1917, the Rainbow Division was formed with National Guard troops in 26 states from California to Oregon to New York and Alabama. It was an all volunteer division.

The Washington correspondents who had grabbed the story from the War Department and flashed it red-hot all over the nation had many glorious words to say about the fact that America’s sons from the north and the south, the east and the west were at last going to fight side by side to make the world safe for democracy. America was sending a “Rainbow” of hope to Europe. ~The Story of the Rainbow Division (1919)

Wagoner Jackson Potter

The rainbow became the name and insignia of the division that stretched “over the whole country like a rainbow.” Its initial design was a half arc, but later modified to a quarter arc to memorialize half of the division’s soldiers who became casualties during WWI.

This photograph of Wagoner Jackson Potter shows the insignia on his shoulder as a quarter arc, which indicates it was taken near the end or after the Great War. The two chevrons on his lower sleeve indicate 2-6 month periods of service overseas, another indication this photo was taken after the war.

Camp Mills, Long Island
Source: Library of Congress

By mid-September 1917, 27,000 men were assembled in Camp Mills on Long Island. The entire country was vested in their success.

The North Carolina National Guard was chosen to provide the troops for the 117th Engineer Train. The table below shows those from Brunswick County. Most were also Wagoners.

42nd Division, 117th Engineer Train

Name Co.
Wag Joseph L Clemmons Transferred 09/27/1918
Wag Pearl Collum
Wag John B Cox Transferred 05/19/1918
Horseshoer James E Gilbert
Wag Erie J Gore SCD 10/10/1917
Wag David M Hilburn
Pvt John H Holden
Wag George Floyd Kirby
Saddler Josiah C Maultsby SCD 01/12/1918
Pfc William O McKeithan
Wag Dorman L Mercer Wounded 07/27/1918
Wag Joseph E Mintz
Mess Sgt Clyde Needham A Bugler at discharge
Wag Walter D Nelson
Wag Adrian Phelps SCD 10/10/1917
Wag Jackson B Potter
Pfc Vance Reynolds
Wag Herbert T Sellers
Pvt Oscar David Sellers SCD 10/10/1917
Wag James D Skipper
Wag Wesley W Skipper

Shown below are the pages from the 1917 published roster. All of the Brunswick County men are included; not all appear in alphabetical order.

“Roster of the Rainbow Division (Forty-Second)”

Most of the 42nd Division left the United States on October 18, 1917, straight for St. Nazaire, France. It was one of the first divisions to arrive in France. Some units, including a ship of infantry that was forced to return early in the trip due to engine trouble, did not begin the journey until December. Pvt Potter boarded at Newport News, VA,  on December 8, 1917, joining the Division during their intensive training in France.

The day after Christmas, the 42nd began a 100 kilometer march to a new training area. This march was later known as “The Valley Forge Hike.”

The supply system had not yet been established, which meant the soldiers had little food, no overcoats, and no spare shoes. A blizzard created huge drifts of three or four feet deep. Men were often marching barefoot through the snow, creating bloody tracks similar to Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. They huddled together to keep warm at night, as temperatures dropped below zero. Many became ill and could not continue.

The Americans’ respect for the French grew, as they contemplated four years of war and the possibility of never returning home.

Upon arrival, the engineers (and trains) were busy day and night.

Source: US Army: Rainbow Division soldiers get ready for war in the winter of 1918

A French instructor introduces National Guard Soldiers of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division to life in the trenches during World War I. French instructors taught American Soldiers the basics of trench warfare as the Americans prepared to enter combat in the winter of 1918. ( Courtesy New York State Military Museum)

Rainbow engineers from the 117th Engineers, originally from North and South Carolina, had worked tirelessly to improve conditions during the division’s time at the training area near Rolampont. The regiment built 80 barracks, 70 horse stables, 18 bath units, pigeon lofts, latrines and reworked electrical and water systems for the thousands of Doughboys now preparing for combat.

The engineers then went on to conduct their combat training at night, providing classes for officers and NCOs or small arms ranges, marches and drill.

In February, the 42nd Division prepared to enter the front. They quietly took their places in the trenches in the Luneville sector in Northeast France, without alerting the enemy. This was previously a quiet sector but the Americans were anxious to prove themselves. Soon they were in the thick of an active sector.

A month later, the Division was ordered to rest. However, the German offensive was unleashed on March 21, 1918. The Division was ordered to return. The Rainbow Division was given the honor of being the first American division to occupy a divisional sector on its own and under its own command.

Over and over again, the Division was ordered to rest, but was unable to do so. It is credited with 264 days of combat, with half the division becoming casualties. It holds the record for continuous duty at the front line for three months straight. Following the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the Rainbow Division became part of the Army of Occupation, remaining in Germany until April 1919.

Details of the 42nd Division’s record of continuous duty at the front line will be included in the posts following this one.

In April 1919, Jack returned to the United States with many of his fellow NC wagoners. He returned to the family farm. He married Fannie Lewis in 1920, raising a family in Brunswick County.

Source: findagrave
In 1972, at the age of 75, Jackson Berry Potter passed away. He was laid to rest in Peace Memorial Baptist Church Cemetery in Winnabow. A military flat marker is shown.

Johnson, Lieut. Harold Stanley (1917) “Roster of the Rainbow Division (Forty-Second)”. New York, Eaton & Gettinger, Inc. Printers.

Reilly, Henry J. (1936). Americans All, The Rainbow at War:Official History of the 42nd Rainbow Division in the World War. Columbus, OH: Heer.

Sherwood, Elmer W. (1929). Diary of a Rainbow Veteran. Terre Haute, IN: Moore-Langen.

Thompkins, Raymond S. (1919). The Story of the Rainbow Division. NY: Boni & Liveright.

World War I American Battle Monuments Commission (1944). 42d Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington DC: GPO.

If you would like to help us honor Jackson Berry Potter or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

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