FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Dec. 8, 2006
EDITORIAL CONTACTS: Lisa L. Rollins, MTSU News and Public Affairs, 615-898-2919
Karen Lykins, Tennessee Tech University, 931-372-3214
Listen to Dec. 8 News Conference
(MURFREESBORO, Tenn.)—A research team led by geographer Tom Nolan, a member of the geosciences faculty at Middle Tennessee State University, and Michael Birdwell, an Alvin York scholar and member of Tennessee Tech University’s history faculty, recently uncovered more than 1,400 artifacts in Chatel-Chehery, France, at the site that is believed to be the precise location where Sgt. York earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Birdwell and Nolan formally announced the historic find during a joint press conference at MTSU’s R.O. Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology on Dec. 8 following their Nov. 12-26, 2006, expedition to France, where they were joined by an international team of historians, archaeologists, geographers and interested parties that included French archaeologists Yves Desfosse and Olivier Brun; Belgian archaeologist Birger Stichelbaut; WWI historian Michael Kelly, a guide with Bartlett Battlefield Journeys in the United Kingdom; military artifact experts Eddie Browne and Ian Cobb of Great Britain; Frederic Castier, historian and official representative of the First Division Museum; the mayor of Chatel-Chehery, Roland Destenay; the mayor of Fleville, Damien Georges, who also serves as the regional forester for the Argonne; and Jim Deppen of Nashville, Tenn.
The November research expedition was the local researchers’ second sojourn to France this year in search of the precise locale of York’s historic victory. During the prior trip, the researchers returned with the news that they were “80 percent” certain they had located the site, but additional research and work were needed. However, their latest trip marks the confirmation that Nolan and Birdwell were correct in their research to locate the site.
“Discovery of a U.S. Army collar disk stamped ‘328 Infantry G,’ Sgt. York’s own company, added to a preponderance of evidence gathered by the team (that we had found) the location of the battle that occurred near Chatel-Chehery on Oct. 8, 1918,” Birdwell said.
In addition to the collar disk, the team recovered artifacts consistent with historic documents that described items discarded by German soldiers as they surrendered to Sgt. York and the seven survivors of Company G. Among the items recovered at the expedition site were German gas masks, German gas mask filters, German bayonets, Mauser rifle bolts, fired German and U.S. rifle rounds, and spent Colt .45 rounds.
In their efforts to locate the York battle site, the researchers called upon advanced mapping technology. Specifically, Nolan used GIS to synthesize spatial information obtained from historic French and German battle maps and maps annotated by York’s commanding officers, Col. G. Edward Buxton and Maj. E. C. B. Danforth, with written accounts by both German and American participants. This information was then superimposed upon the modern landscape to help the researchers focus their metal-detection fieldwork.
“While historic interpretation and surface archaeology were both important, it was geography and GIS that provided the means to interpret that information and relate it to the modern landscape,” observed Nolan. “Without geography and GIS, we would not have been able to do what we did, meaning find the York battlefield site.”
The researchers’ first foray to the Argonne in March 2006 recovered enough material to indicate that the team was looking in the right place, but time constraints made it impossible to search any further. Upon returning to Tennessee, Nolan and Birdwell continued to conduct historic and geographic research and seek expert advice from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee State Museum. Aside from re-examining affidavits taken in 1919, as well as reviewing correspondence and significant documents from the National Archives in Washington, the researchers also discovered the burial records of the six Americans killed on Oct. 8, 1918—documents that played a role in refining the search area.
Additionally, Nolan said that reviewing the 1929 correspondence between Col. Buxton and Capt. Henry O. Swindler, wherein they discussed the re-enactment of the Oct. 8, 1918, battle, proved crucial to ultimately locating the battle site.
“Although the discarded equipment, ammunition and expended cartridge cases we found have little individual historic value, their spatial relationships and patterns provide confirmation of the historic accounts of the engagement,” noted Nolan, who used GPS to map the locations of the artifacts and display their relationship with other historic data.
Regarding the pay-off for their tireless work to locate the site where York is credited with single-handedly capturing more than 100 German soldiers in one of the U.S. military’s most storied exploits, Nolan said, “It’s truly gratifying that the artifacts we found are consistent with what we thought we would find. The shovels, gas masks and other items that we recovered corroborate historic information that a large number of German troops surrendered at that site.”
At present, the research team is identifying and cataloging the artifacts found for museum placement. As a result of the team’s find, French authorities intend to erect an historic marker at the location of the machine-gun nest overlooking the once-lost spot where Pall Mall, Tenn., native York fired his weapons and where the nine soldiers were wounded or killed.
“They are planning to dedicate the marker next October at a ceremony to be attended by the research team, and hopefully, by representatives from the State of Tennessee and the presidents of Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee Technological University in October 2007,” Birdwell said.
For more information regarding the York Project, including research updates, please access http://www.sergeantyorkproject.com/ .
• ATTENTION, MEDIA—For more information, including availability of audio of the Dec. 8 press conference via podcast, or to secure a battlefield site map created by Nolan for editorial