Friday, April 28, 2017

A Pearson Anglo-Saxon Past

There must be an Anglo-Saxon past to the Pearson family name. There are no records but the weight of history demands it.

Bayeux Tapestry

The Harrying of the North

The family patriarch, Edward Peersonne, hails from Wilmslow Parish in Cheshire County, far in the north of England. It was there, far from London, that Anglo-Saxons bridled against Norman rule, and there that the last stages of the Mercian uprising was brutally put down by the bastard William in his winter campaign of 1069-1070. They called it "harrying". Fields and livestock were destroyed and William's men laid waste to villages and slaughtered man, woman and child.

New Norman populations were invited in and the survivors labored on.

Kingdom of Mercia

A Viking past?

There is the following totally unsubstantiated claim on Ancestry that I paraphrase:
The Pearson name is of Danish or Norman origin. Tradition has it that the Pearsons were Vikings, who left Scandinavia and went both to England and France, especially to Normandy. English Vikings bearing our name settled in Northumberland, a county of northern England between the Humber and the Fifth of Forth, before 1200 A.D.
Our own clan chose Wilmslow, Mobberley and the surrounding hamlets in Cheshire County. The city of Chester was the terminus of the Norman conquest, and some historians think that the Pearson name came to England via the Norman Conquest of 1066 A.D.
Blond hair, blue eyes, and long noses exist in the Pearson family line, I have them, but where it came from is anyone's guess.Vikings were blond haired and blue eyed and long nosed, as were many Anglo-Saxons. One should also keep in mind that the Normans themselves were originally Vikings who settled on the French coast.

And please don't forget the Swedes and Danes and King Canute who famously tried to hold back the tides.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Morrow of Big Things

Sergeant Varlourd Pearson, Distinguished Service Cross.

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Sergeant Varlourd Pearson (ASN: 1449077), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Company I, 137th Infantry Regiment, 35th Division, A.E.F., near Baulny, France, 28 September 1918. Though wounded three times by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets, Sergeant Pearson refused to be evacuated and continued to lead the advance of his platoon, remaining in command for several hours till he received a fourth wound which proved fatal. General Orders: War Department, General Orders 95 (1919). Reported in Military Times

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which was fought from 26 September 1918 until the Armistice of 11 November 1918. My grandfather, James Madison Pearson took part in that battle as did his cousin,  

Varlourd Pearson. Varlourd was a member of Company I, 137th Infantry Regiment under the command Colonel Clad Hamilton. The picture I have of Varlourd is as a young boy, perhaps ten or twelve years of age. My grandfather never spoke Varlourd's name. He did tell us of his childhood and the times he his cousins and friends played along the banks of the Tallapoosa River as the Braves of Tallapoosa County.

Varlourd Pearson

Heroes of the Argonne

The Argonne Forest is a strip of rocky hills and wild woodland along France's north-eastern border with Belgium. It is bordered on the east by the Meuse River. Today, it is two hours by car north of the village of Graffigny-Chemin where my grandmother was born.

The Argonne Forest itself was of no strategic value. It was hilly and wooded and the scattered farming villages were small. But it was the scene of intense fighting between French and German forces in 1915 and 1916 and would be again in 1918, this time with the crucial addition of the American First Army. One can also say with some confidence that the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that took place here lead to the Armistice and the end of World War I.

The morrow of Big Things, chapter 7 in the book Heroes of the Argonne: An Authentic History of the Thirty-fifth Division by Charles B. Hoyt, 1919, retells the story of the first day of battle.

Map of Meuse-Argonne Offensive battle order of 1st Army and 35th Division

The First Day

Nine divisions of American troops under the command of General Black Jack Pershing, faced four German divisions under the command of General von Marwitz.This is not to say the odds favoring the Americans were overwhelming. On the contrary, the Germans were well-entrenched with a system of caves and trenches. There were bunkers and pill boxes and the throughout the Germans had deadly machine guns which could kill by the dozens and hundreds in a matter of minutes.

The place was Vauquois Hill. It was by 1918, a grey cratered landscape shelled beyond recognition. The village of Vauquois, which had been at the base of the hill was gone.

Vauquois Hill, 1916

Vauquois Hill

The hill of Vauquois was strategic for both sides, because who held the hill overlooked the land east of the Argonne Forest and the supply routes leading to it. It was the Germans first line of defense in what had become a defensive war. Behind this, the Germans established the Hindenburg Line, behind this the Kriemhilde Stellung, and behind that the unfinished Freya Stellung.

Operations of 35th Division Meuse-Argonne, credit Charles Hoyt, Lyons

The Night of Stars

Sergeant Varourd Pearson was a member of Company I, 137th Infantry Regiment (Kansas National Guard formed in Manhattan), under the command of Colonel Clad Hamilton. This unit was part of the 35th Division (Kansas and Missouri National Guard, which included Captain Harry Truman, Battery D, 129th Field Artillery), under the command of General Peter Traub, part of the First Corps under the command of General Hunter Liggett.

The evening of the 25th of September was a night of stars, unusually dark and unusually quiet except for the occasional whizz of a German sniper bullet. The peace was interrupted at 2:30 am on the morning of the 26th by an artillery barrage, but the soldiers still had a few hours before the attack.

Along with his helmet, canteen, rifle and bayonet, an infantry soldier carried 250 rounds of ammunition, and, on his back, a raincoat and mess kit, plus three days rations, consisting of two cans of “bully beef” and three tins of “biskwee” or hard tack. On his belt hung incendiary grenades, explosive grenades, and rifle grenades to attack machine gun emplacements and hardened dugouts.

Dawn Approaches on the 26th of September

As dawn approached, the night of stars gave way to a dismal scene of fog and smoke.  The deafening artillery barrage came from both sides now. The earth which once trembled, now heaved and rocked as heavier artillery commenced firing - 75mm guns, 77’s, 110’s, and 155's; and tens of thousands of screaming shells, naked to the eye but heard by every frightened soul, cross-crossed the sky.

At 5:30 am the advance began. The honor of leading the attack went to the 69th Brigade, with the 137th and 138th Regiments abreast. Brigades and regiments would advance by battalion in staggered columns with 500 meters separating the battalions. The 137th regiment was followed by the 139th, tasked with cleaning out the trenches of remaining Germans.

Operations of 35th Division Meuse-Argonne, credit Charles Hoyt, Lyons

Sergeant Varlourd and the 137th's advanced with rifle and bayonet against machine gun nests dug into the side of Vauquois Hill. A German photo taken in 1915 of the Argonne Forest gives us an idea of the terrain, a snaking mass of barbed wire and the gnarled, splintered trunks of trees. The terrain would have been difficult in the best of conditions, but in the smoke and fog, against machine gun fire and artillery, it was hell on earth.

Argonne Forest, 1915, German archives

By 7:40 am, the American artillery barrage ceased.  The 137th was on its own. Eventually, Sergeant Pearson and his fellows made their way through the woods to a point south of Cheppy on the way to Charpentry.

Cheppy, France, World War I

The 27th of September

At the first light the soldiers of the 137th pressed on. To their left, the 28th Division struggled in the woods of the Argonne Forest. This left the men of the 137th open to flanking fire, forcing Sergeant Pearson and the 137th west towards Varennes. A mile south of Varennes, on the Neuvilly-Fleville road, Sergeant Pearson and the 137th could now see the tall steeple of the church at Varennes. Their advance was stopped by German artillery fire, and Sergeant Pearson took shelter with his company in abandoned German gun emplacements. As the bombardment ended and now joined by French tanks, they advanced taking the village of Varennes.

When the day ended, the Americans had also taken Montblainville, Charpentry, and Baulny. Sergeant Pearson could now relax and break out a tin of Bisk-wee and a can of Bully Beef and take a drink of water.

The 137th awaited the still advancing Americans units on the right, and the regiment was now a jumbled mixture of men from different units.The number of casualties at this point is unknown, but when the offensive woul end, the 137th would record casualties of nearly 1,300 men of the 2,800 soldiers who fought.

The day of the 28th of September

An advance was ordered for 5:30 the next morning - the objective, Exermont.

Sergeant Pearson awoke on the morning of the 28th. It was cold and cloudy. The air filled with a fine rain. Perhaps he put on his raincoat, perhaps not for that would have made movement hard. It is more likely that he continued on cold and wet. At 6:30 am, the Germans counter attacked and were driven back. The 137th advanced a mile and a half that day, and their front lines would form its own salient into the German lines, and the heaviest loss of lives would be recorded.

The Kansas Guard Museum continues the story.

[The 137th Regiment] encountered severe machine-gun and shell fire, particularly from the Montrebeau Woods, ... a short distance north of Baulny. By this time the advance had turned slightly to the west, more or less following the bank of the Aire River. By night the men had secured a hold on the edge of the woods, but they were not in possession of it. A mile and a half had been attained by the end of that day’s operations.

Sergeant Pearson would not live to see the night. The citation reads::

Though wounded three times by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets, Sergeant Pearson refused to be evacuated and continued to lead the advance of his platoon, remaining in command for several hours till he received a fourth wound which proved fatal.

Exermont, WWI

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Zenia Blasingame

Zenia Blasingame

If you really want to learn about Zenia, you will be curious about her father and mother, and what their lives were like; and where Zenia was born, what her childhood was like, and how she came to be married to Charles; all those things that neighbors are curious about, but does it matter? Is it not enough that Zenia was strong willed and beautiful, that she and her husband raised and educated their children, and that for the most part, though there was tragedy and difficulty, that their lives were well spent and happy?
Her name was Zenia. From a photograph, she looks to be a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, and though it is hard to be certain, and it is hard to be certain of many things, she wears rings on one or two fingers on her right hand but none on the left hand. She wears a narrow dark dress popular for the late 1880's with a lace collar about he neck and a thin rope at the waist. Her dark and wavy shoulder-length hair is parted in the middle, and pulled back. The photograph does not tell us if the color is black or brown. She wears a pair of simple earrings.  The hint of a smile show on her lips, a Mona Lisa smile with an air of mystery.

But the most remarkable feature on her face are her piercing dark eyes which gaze directly into the camera, as if to say, "Stop staring."

Zenia Blasingame Pearson

Blassingame, Blasingame, Blasengame

There are multiple spellings of the Blasingame name. I have found nothing of her before this photograph. She married General Charles Lafayette Pearson. That I know about her. I do know that several of her children were educated at Emory College in Atlanta, Georgia. I do know that several sons went to Manhattan, Kansas to attend the Kansas State Agricultural College. One son Nevels, after graduating from Kansas State, taught at Michigan Agricultural College (Michigan State) in Lansing. And that her youngest son Varlourd joined the Army in Manhattan when the First World War broke out. Another son Bert played eight years for the Chicago Bears.

In the year 2014, while looking for Pearson headstones in a cemetery near Dadeville, Alabama, I was told by a white gentleman that Charles and Zenia sent their children north to be educated.

What does one make of this?

Unspoken words

My grandfather James Madison Pearson was born in Alabama in 1894 or 1896. (Discrepancies often appear in research. The story I heard was that he fibbed on his age in order to enlist in the army. To his grandchildren, he was known as Daddy Matt. I can still hear in my mind my grandmother addressing him as Matt, and I suppose that is where we picked up the habit.).

If Daddy Matt spoke about his aunt Zenia, it was to others not me. Nor did he speak of Varlourd and that seems curious to me*, but then Daddy Matt spoke little of his family. He spoke fondly of his days on the family farm, eating watermelon, and playing Indians with his cousins in the forests and along the river bank, but that is it.

*Sergeant Varlourd (Varlaurd) Pearson was killed in action on September 28th, 1918 and is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. He posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross. My grandfather fought in the same battle, but in different units. One does not even know if the two of them were aware of this.

Varlourd (Varlaurd) Pearson was two or four years younger than my grandfather. The discrepancy arises because my grandfather lied to enlist in the service and serve in the Philippines.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Varlourd Pearson

Distinguished Service Cross Award to Varlaurd Pearson

Headquarters 35th Division, American Expeditionary Forces,
October 17th, 1918.
(General Orders, No. 83. 

The Division Commander takes great pleasure in citing in General Orders the following-named officers and enlisted men for gallantry in action during the six days' battle from September 26th to October 1st, 1918.

Sergeant Varlaurd Pearson, Company I, 137th Infantry.
Although wounded by machine gun fire September 30th (sic.), displayed excellent leadership in handling his platoon, which he kept well organized, and succeeded in dislodging several machine gun nests.

By command of Major General Traub

Reminiscences of the 137th U. S. Infantry Regiment, Compiled by Carl E. Haterius, 1919.

For an update on the battle, see the Morrow of Big Things.

Varlaurd Pearson

I know little  about my grandfather's cousin, Varlourd Pearson. Until a few weeks ago, I did not know that he and my grandfather were both soldiers who fought in France during World War I. My grandfather came home from the war. Varlourd is buried in France.

To an Athlete Dying Young by A. E. Houseman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose...
Poem is finished at the end of this blog post.


The only photograph of Varlourd reveals a well-groomed and serious young man with dark hair and eyes. My grandfather never mentioned his name, though they were close in age. My grandfather did speak of the family farm, of playing Indians down by the river, of watermelons for nickel, and a childhood full of adventure.

Varlourd Pearson
Varlaurd (Varlourd) Pearson, (1898 - 1918) was born on a farm in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. He was one of nine children of “General” Charles Lafayette Pearson and Zenia Blasengame. It is likely that he was educated at Emory College in Atlanta, before going to Kansas Agricultural College (Kansas State University).

When the United States entered the First World War, he enlisted in Manhattan, Kansas, with Company I, 137th Infantry Regiment. His company was sent to France and saw action on the front near Verdun during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. They were ordered to assault Vauquois Hill, which was defended by units of the German Third and Fifth Armies

Sergeant Pearson was killed in action on September 28th, 1918. He posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross, our nation's second highest medal.

Family Photo

This is a family photo of Varlourd (second row to the right) with his father, several brothers, and his sister Annie (Zenia). Missing is an image of his mother Zenia. An educated guess is that the photo dates around 1910.

Charles Lafayette Pearson (center) and children

[Older brother, Nevels Pearson (upper left) also enlisted in the army.]

Vauquois Hill

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive offensive began with a barrage on the night of September 25th and an early morning assault on the 26th.

Varlourd and his company faced the enemy at Vauquois Hill. Before the war, this was a tiny hillock overlooking the town ow Vauquois. French and German units fought for control of the strategic hill, totally obliterating the town. By September of 1918, the Germans were well entrenched in the honeycombed hill.

A surviving soldier of Company C described the assault that took place on the morning of September 26th.

September 19, 1918. Proceeded by truck to Foucacourt, Meuse. September 20, 1918. Marched to woods near Auzeville.

September 25, 1918. Left at 7 pm and marched into position between Aubreville and Vauquois Hill. On our way up the whole sky to the north and northwest blazed forth with the fire of heavy guns laying down a barrage which was to start the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in just a few hours.
September 26, 1918. …Went over the top at 5:30 am. We captured Vauquois Hill early and proceeded northwest toward Cheppy, to a point just short of Charpentry.

Battle lines, Sep 26, 1918, Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Cheppy, France

September 27, 1918 - The 28th Division on our left was having tough going through the heavily wooded Argonne Forest, and this began to expose our left flank to crossfire, and this forced our main direction more and more to the west and northwest. Our men assisted the 28th Division at Varennes and Montblainville. On this day we overran Charpentry and Baulny, and came out on higher ground beyond to the north.

September 28, 1918 - We had to repel a counterattack early this day, and thereafter followed the day of our heaviest losses in casualties as we pressed toward Exermont with our left flank increasingly exposed to crossfire. Our front became almost a salient into the enemy line and we suffered grievous losses all during the day.


Varloud Pearson was killed in action near Exermont.

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Sergeant Varlourd Pearson (ASN: 1449077), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Company I, 137th Infantry Regiment, 35th Division, A.E.F., near Baulny, France, 28 September 1918. Though wounded three times by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets, Sergeant Pearson refused to be evacuated and continued to lead the advance of ; his platoon, remaining in command for several hours till he received a fourth wound which proved fatal. General Orders: War Department, General Orders 95 (1919).

 The finish of A. E. Houseman's poem To an Athlete Dying Young


Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.