“Welcome Home” Parade for Boston’s 26th Division — April 25, 1919

Fully a million people lined the way on a chilly and windy day to witness the historic event

It was a day the press called “the most glorious in Boston’s history.” A million people lined the parade route to welcome home 20,500 soldiers of Boston’s 26th “Yankee” Division. The parade began at 1 o’clock, starting from Charles and Beacon streets. The parade route went up Beacon Street, past the State House to Park Street, by Park Street, to Tremont Street, to Boylston Street, to Arlington Street, to Commonwealth Avenue (northwest), to Charlesgate West, to Commonwealth Avenue (southeast), to Berkeley Street, to Boylston Street, to Massachusetts Avenue, to Columbus Avenue, to Park Square.

In attendance at the State House, on a chilly and windy day, were the Governors of all the New England states, and most of the New England senators and congressmen. At Commonwealth and Massachusetts avenues 2,000 soldiers of the “Grand Army of the Republic“ sat, their old flags flying above them. These veterans of the Civil War cheered on those of the latest generation.

Below is a portion of an article on the “Welcome Home” parade that appeared in The Boston Post on Saturday, April 26, 1919. Beautifully written by journalist Harold F. Wheeler, it began with the following banner headlines:

Boston Roars Welcome Home To Heroes of Yankee Division

Wondrous Spectacle for City as Prides of New England Show the “Home Folks” Their Mettle — Parade Moves Through Streets Packed With Cheering Thousands Who Gave the Boys a Thunderous Reception — Fully a Million People Lined the Way to Witness Historic Event — Weather Alone Fails to Be on Good Behavior.

General Edwards and Colonel Logan With Others Receive Mighty Reception

Boys Happy at Fine Showing — Proud Day For Parents, Wives and Sweethearts

By Harold F. Wheeler

Heaven echoed their welcome!

They came home yesterday, truly home, the heroes of the Yankee Division, and their home folks, about 1,000,000 of them, paid to them all homage and honor and tribute.

Feet that had tramped long, weary miles through Flanders yesterday rang the cadence of the parade step through Boston’s streets — streets transformed into triumphal avenues.

To the right and to the left, as far as the eye could reach, were solid masses of people. They filled grandstands and overflowed them. They filled sidewalks and ran up the steps of buildings. They clung to ledges and cornices. Windows were filled with them, roofs. Chimney pots were lost among them.

Mighty banks these people made, banks a-blossom as with flowers tossed in a breeze. For everywhere, sprung up from the massed multitude, from above the miles of peering faces and shining eyes, were waving flags. Above them bunting and laurel. And between these human banks the Yankee Division flowed by as a river of khaki.

The progress of the heroes — all New England could have followed it, even though all New England had not been there. Cheers marked it, cheers that rose to a tumultuous bellow and rolled along with the marchers — the bellow of Boston’s and New England’s greeting.

Never such a scene in Boston before. Never, probably, again.

Many Looked For Faces Missing

A leaden sky was overhead when the parade started. But there was sunshine in the hearts of all, even those who could not hold back their tears as they watched the marchers and saw a gap in the ranks — a gap that told of a hero who had gone forth and had paid the supreme sacrifice, a hero who sleeps the sleep eternal, his body beneath the blood-soaked soil of France, his soul in heaven above.

Through their tears those who mourned such a hero cheered with the rest. It was as if they felt what General Edwards put in words when, halting once, he turned his horse to look at the division’s honor flag. A flag with a white field, it was, one gold star in the centre and beneath the centre the numerals, “1760.” That many the Yankee Division gave to save civilization.

“The thought,” said the general softly, “that is constantly in my mind is the 1760 we left over there. They are lying there that we may march here.”

Sun Shines Glorious Benediction

But there was sunshine for all as the parade ended. Just as the last of it came to the dismissal point the clouds opened and the sun shone forth. Like a benediction it was — a benediction to the division that marched through its triumphal avenues yesterday into history. For never again will the Yankee Division, as a unit of the army of the United States, pass in review.

In August, 1917, the division came into being. Heroes from all New England comprised it — men of New England’s old National Guard regiments. There was the world war, and they volunteered. Through all the history of New England, New England men had been the first to volunteer — in 1776, in 1861, in 1898. These men were true and staunch to the noblest traditions of their sires.

And so, in the night, they slipped quietly away to France in September, 1917 — the first National Guard division to enter the world war. There had been no parade, no cheers. The war precluded that. But they had gone. And they fought the good fight, went through the world war hell and immortalized themselves at Seicheprey, at Verdun, at St. Mihiel, at Chateau Thierry. They with their countrymen who later joined them won the war. And yesterday was the day that they had looked forward to from the night they slipped away to France — their welcome home as victors. Boston and New England did not disappoint them. Boston and New England gave them the victor’s welcome.

Many Waiting Since Dawn

Many, many days ago, preparations were completed. Yesterday Boston and New England turned out to carry out those preparations. With dawn people were abroad, those who had not been fortunate enough to secure grandstand seats seeking vantage points from which they could wave their welcome, give their heart-cheers. Men and women and children there were among those early crowds. There were mothers and fathers of the heroes among them, wives and sweethearts, sisters and brothers.

Each hour saw the crowds grow larger. By noon the parade route held its multitude. The human banks through which the khaki river was to flow were formed. Through all the great length of the parade route there was not a vacant place. And what a sight! The color of it! Like a trail ablaze the route was.

Not a building but what was draped in bunting that rose and fell with the wind. Flags were everywhere. They flew from millions of staffs. They hung suspended — thousands upon thousands of them — over the streets. And the waiting multitude — it seemed as if everyone along the whole six miles held another. Then there were the Corinthian pillars, white pillars garlanded with laurel and topped by gold eagles. Boston was in carnival attire.

In Full War Equipment

The men wore their steel casques, wore knapsack and slicker. At right shoulder they carried their rifles — the same rifles that they carried in France. And above the brown stock of the guns were fixed bayonets. In the light of the leaden sky the bayonets appeared like a field of marsh grass in the fall.

Unit after unit swept up Beacon Hill, then over the trail ablaze. Behind General Edwards, a truly gallant figure on his sorrel horse, came the division’s flag of honor, with honor escort. Then came in automobiles those wounded heroes unable to march — heroes with empty sleeves, whose legless bodies and bandaged heads told more than all that ever may be written of the hell passed through in France.

But every man in every one of the automobiles smiled. And some — those who could — answered cheer with cheer.

The article concluded with these words:

The day was the most glorious in Boston’s history — in New England’s history.

The men, 20,500 of them, practically all left of those who went overseas with the division, were in the parade. Their appearance told its own story — their service stripes, their wound stripes, their medals — Distinguished Service Crosses, Croix de Guerre.

Their names will endure forever — immortalized at Chemin des Dames, Apremont, Xivray, Bois de Belleau, Torcy, Etripilly Plateau, Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel, Raiville, Verdun, Meuse-Argonne.

Always Boston and New England will thrill at the sound of YD — at the names of YD heroes — always and eternally.

My ancestor Philip Edwards, who served with the Connecticut National Guard, was a member of Boston’s 26th Division. Phil was killed in action in France on July 21, 1918. This tribute was created to honor Phil on the 100th anniversary of his death.

Private Philip Edwards’ journey back to the United States began more than two years after the Yankee Division “Welcome Home” parade in Boston. Initially buried in a shell hole with three other American soldiers, he was reburied in November 1918 at the American Cemetery at Epieds. In June 1919, Phil’s body was moved to Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in Seringes-et-Nesles, France. He rested here until May 6, 1921 when the process of bringing his body back to Naugatuck, Connecticut began.

On his final journey, Phil traveled from France to the port of Antwerp, Belgium where his body was placed aboard the U.S. Army transport ship Wheaton. After a 23-day ocean voyage, the Wheaton reached Hoboken, New Jersey on July 2, 1921. Phil’s body left New York on July 15 aboard a New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad train with Private John McCarthy of the 16th Infantry serving as his military escort. Later that day, Phil was home. In the words of Boston Post journalist Harold F. Wheeler, one of the heroes of Boston’s Yankee Division was “truly home.”

Note: The banner at the top shows Boston’s 26th Division approaching the corner of Tremont and Boylston streets during their “Welcome Home” parade on April 25, 1919. Philip Edwards’ story is told in my children’s book One April in Boston.