The General From Shrewsbury

February 24, 2012
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ACCORDING TO THE 1930 Federal Census, a family with the surname Graves lived on Sycamore Avenue in Shrewsbury, on block 171-176. The census listed it as a private home with residents that included William Graves, his wife Katherine, son Sidney and married daughter, Dorothy Orton.
On Sycamore Avenue, William Graves was the head of the household, but during World War I he was in charge of something much larger. Major General William S. Graves was commander of the 9,000-man American Expeditionary Force in Siberia. He served there with General John “Black Jack” Pershing.
Graves’ quiet life in the staid community of Shrewsbury was a far cry from his past exploits far from home, when he overcame near-impossible obstacles and hostile criticism for his faithful execution of a secret mission in that remote and primitive part of the world, 8,000 miles away.

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued direct orders to General Graves to go to Siberia to prevent the Bolsheviks from taking over Russia and to block a Japanese attempt to take over Siberia. His orders were to help the desperate and confused Siberians establish a form of self-government.
Graves was promoted to the rank of major general and undertook the mission to protect Allied ammunition and supplies held in depots along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, to render whatever aid possible to the Czech Army stranded in Siberia and discourage Japanese ambitions to annex Russian territories during the confusion and civil fighting that followed the Russian Revolution. For two years United States forces operated the Trans-Siberian Railroad protecting it against the bandits that roamed the countryside and the political militants that had invaded the area.
Major General Graves carried out his orders to the letter, firmly resisting pressure from the British, French and some United Stated diplomats who urged him to take military action against the Bolsheviks.
Although the Bolsheviks did come to power in Siberia and the Japanese did eventually occupy Manchuria, Major General Graves and his soldiers carried out their orders with great dignity, valor and compassion, just as his Commander-in-Chief President Woodrow Wilson had mandated. During his time in Siberia, William Graves was expected to act as a soldier-diplomat, not to intervene in the Russian Civil War despite strong pressure from the White Army, but to promote peace and stability in the region.
For his efforts to block the imperial takeover of the Far East and the hope he gave to the bewildered people of Siberia in their struggle for freedom, Major General Graves was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross from the United States; the Order of the Rising Sun from Japan; the Order of Wen Hu (the Striped Tiger), the Crown of Italy and from the Czechs, a carving depicting the Bohemian’s struggle for liberty. It hangs in the museum at West Point.
During his retirement in Shrewsbury the Major General wrote a memoir of his nineteen-month mission to Siberia entitled, America’s Siberian Adventure. It is a precise recollection of every detail of his time spent there. Historic and accurate it criticized Admiral Alexander Kolchak’s White Russian Army. He referred to Kolchak as a “butcher” who mistreated his people and recounted the time he (Graves) blocked delivery of weapons to Kolchak because he feared he would use them against his own troops. For this, the enraged Kolchak challenged the Major General to a duel.
Major General William Sidney Graves was born in Mount Calm, Texas in 1865 and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1889.
After thirty-nine years of distinguished service, he retired to a home on Sycamore Avenue where he frequently welcomed former members of his Siberian Command and gave interviews to the public.
He died from heart failure at his home on February 29, 1940 and was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery close to some of his comrades from the Siberian Expedition.

General William Graves

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