The 23rd New York had recently returned from its service on the Texas-Mexico border when this image was taken in April 1917. The 23rd was part of the New York Division, known officially as the 6th Division when it served duty patrolling the Rio Grande during the second half of 1916. New York State’s allotment for the Mexican Border campaign was a full division, almost 20,000 men. When the unit left for Texas in July 1916 they took almost 4,000 horses and mules with them, which in turn were just a portion of the 70,000 animals the Americans took with them in support of Pershing’s Punitive Expedition. Beasts of burden were a prized commodity; American suppliers had been selling them by the thousands to European nations since the outbreak of the Great War, shipping them overseas for duty in the trenches pulling field artillery and whatnot. To say the animals were expendable would be an understatement.
The 23rd did not see combat in Texas. That was left to Pershing Regulars. The New York militia, with all the other National Guard units, patrolled the Rio Grande under the command of Major General Frederick Funston. In a sense it was the dog that did not bark; their presence kept the border calm. The regiment did participate in a 110-mile hike and undergo a division-wide inspection by Governor Charles S. Whitman. Most of the New York Division was home–“bronzed and fit” as one headline captured it—by late winter 1917. The 23rd saw duty until the end and was one of the final units to return. By the time this photo was taken the United States had declared war on Germany. Through early spring the 23rd’s battalions were dispatched piecemeal across the state to guard infrastructure from sabotage. Everyone knew however that it was a matter of time before the men went overseas. As mentioned the regiment saw no combat during the Mexican campaign, but its experiences on the border served the men well when it was time to go to Europe.
(image/Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 22 April 1917)