Victim of Shell Fire


Victim of Shell Fire


Cahill, Edward F.




1918 June 27


Newspaper published letter of soldier injured in France.


A gift of Kennon Bowen and Robert E. Radspinner


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


World War, 1914-1918--Soldiers
United States. Army. American Expeditionary Forces


Rachel Dark




Material was kept in the family until donated to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library by Edward Cahill's grandniece and grandnephew in 2017.



Johnstown Boy Tells How He Received His Wounds in Battle


Head Split Open and Shoulder Filled With Splinters, He Returns to the States to lie Patched Up at Red Cross Hospital

JOHNSTOWN, July 5.-0ne of the most graphic word pictures of the European war has come from Edward Cahill, son of Mrs. Bridget Cahill, of Bakerton, Cambria county. Private Cahill is now at the Walter Reed hospital, Washington, DC, being "made over." He has lost the biceps of his left arm and part of his left ear and has a splintered shoulder and wounds of the head. Private Cahill's description of the battlefield and its horrors is given in the following interesting letter to his mother:

American Red Cross, Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC, June 27, 1918

MY DEAR MOTHER : Since I was wounded on the thirteenth of last November, I haven't been in much of a shape to write you much about it. I have always wanted to tell you the whole story, and now that I am so much better I will do so. As you know, I was one of the first American soldiers wounded in France, and it seems to me that it was ten years ago instead of seven months.

Our regiment relieved a French regiment on one of the hottest of the front-line trenches. As we toiled through the heavy mud as far as nine miles from the trenches shells were bursting, holes large enough to cover a good-sized house opened in the road sometimes right in front of our feet and the mud would stream high into the air like the first spasm of a oil well. By some strange miracle we passed the area of falling shells with no casualties. but added to our loads of 62 pounds each we were each carrying about 300 pounds of mud. Anyhow, it felt that heavy.

French Mud Has No Equal

There is not in all the world mud like that in France. It weighs more than concrete and sticks like a porous plaster. If it dries on legs and arms it has to be broken up with a hammer before the clothing will come off. If well dried it is shell-proof and turns a bayonet like a duck's back turns water. Outside of armor-plate and the hide of a cheap politician I have never seen anything quite so invulnerable as the French mud. It rains every day at the front. so a plentiful supply of mud is never lacking. Some say that the concussion of the heavy shelling makes the naturally rainy climate even worse but be that as it may it's wet enough and then some. One house by which we passed broke into small lumps and a cloud of white powder rose clear to the clouds. It was a direct hit, and where the two-storied house had stood there was nothing left but a large hole with a few broken stones and two uprooted trees on the edge of it. As we got closer the trees were nearly all broken off or had the limbs torn away by shell fire. On one side of the road or rather what had been an road--a shell had burst In the midst of some horses and cattle. Seven or eight were dead and one poor fellow, a horse, was sitting on his haunches like a dog and crying as pitifully as a child. One of our men in the rear walked over and shot him through the head. All around us the ground looked as though it had been turned upside down for as deep as 40 feet. Nowhere in the whole desert of things was there a sign of life besides ourselves. Even the birds had flown away.

Worst Kickers the Best Fighters

When we finished the nine-mile walk we were all about tired out from carrying our packs through the mud and walking around shell craters. So much mud was sticking to our feet that they looked like the feet of elephants. My knees ached so that I felt all the way that each mile would be the last I should ever walk but as tired as they were everybody was joking and laughing and nobody had a word of complaint. Some of those who were known to be the worst kickers back in camp where we had things easy were the ones who did the most to cheer things up when we struck the tough part. When we struck the the big road just behind the trench lines we met the French wounded being sent back. The walking cases had bandages on their heads or arms, sometimes both, and they looked pretty well tired out. T'hey yelled at us in French and a few wished us luck in English. Some of them were singing and laughing, and whenever one of their number would fall down others would forget their own wounds and jump to help him.

Welcomed by Tired Frenchmen

When we met the stretcher cases it made some of us feel pretty sick for awhile. Some of the stretchers dripped blood from their centers and some of the patients were red all over with it. All were covered with the same old mud, and the stretcher-bearers were the tiredest men I ever saw. All they could do was about a mile or so an hour. The engineers were busy fixing up the roads after the bombardment but things were torn up so that the ambulances had to wait about two miles back of the lines. We had it pretty easy after the French left. Only two or three deaths and a few wounded among us. When we first got in the whole world was trembling and whole acres of land looked like they were jumping sky high, and the crumbling dirt fell like rain from the upper edges of the trench. All in one minute it quieted and stayed comparatively quiet all the time we were there.

Wounded and Didn't Know It

When we were relieved a few days later myself and several others were on outpost duty and were the last to go. Just as we got word to come back I was wounded. A high-explosive shell had burst right in the middle of us. At first I didn't know that I was hurt. I thought the shell had blown some mud or dirt over me and stunned me a little, I stooped down to help up one of our men but my left arm wouldn't work somehow, though I felt no pain. He was dead, blown completely in two at the waistline. It was then I saw the blood running down my arm, but I still thought it was a scratch.

Four of our men were killed and nine wounded by the shell. I began to feel dizzy. The last l remember is falling into the mud and water at the bottom of a caved-in dugout. Several hours later I woke up bandaged and in an ambulance bound for the rear. The whole biceps had been blown away from my left arm, my head had been split for four inches and my shoulder was full of shell splinters. They took out over a pound and a half of small pieces in the hospital. I still have a little piece in my left ear that the doctor said he would leave me for a souvenir.

America Worth Fighting For

I am sure glad to be back in the States and I am feeling fine and dandy. My general health ls good and I am learning to use my arm. Some of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world are at this hospital just for the purpose of making over wounded soldiers. Because of a nerve in my face having been cut I have a slight impediment in my speech, but that will pass away. I have been told that with a little time and patience I will be as good physically as I ever was in my life, so, mother dear, you have no cause to worry about me. We are lucky all the way through. Many Is the mother who has lost her sons for keeps in this war. and there will be more, but, everything considered, it is about the best way to die that I know of; for, believe me; mother dear. we have some little country. I have to come home on furlough some of these days, but the most important thing is to get my arm fixed up first as the sooner they start the sooner it will be done.

Your loving son,


Original Format



Cahill, Bridget




Cahill, Edward F., “Victim of Shell Fire,” 1918 June 27, T100105, World War I Soldiers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.