Research team from TTU, MTSU discover historic Sgt. York site in France

A research team led by Tennessee Tech University history professor Michael Birdwell and Middle Tennessee State University geography professor Tom Nolan have uncovered conclusive evidence of the location in France where Sgt. Alvin C. York performed the World War I heroics that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Birdwell and Nolan formally announced the historic find during a joint press conference at MTSU on Friday.

They also unveiled some of the more than 1,400 artifacts they uncovered in a recent expedition to Chatel-Chehery, France — including a U.S. Army collar disk from the 328 Infantry G, which was the company to which York belonged when he single-handedly captured more than 100 German soldiers in a battle there on Oct. 8, 1918.

“The icing on the cake is that collar disk,” Birdwell said. “This makes it very clear that we are in the right location. It came, more than likely, from one of the six American soldiers who was killed in that battle.”

In addition to the collar disk, the team recovered artifacts consistent with items described in historic documents that German soldiers discarded as they surrendered to Sgt. York and the seven surviving soldiers of Company G.

Those items included German bayonets, gas masks and gas mask filters, Mauser rifle bolts, fired German and U.S. rifle rounds and spent Colt .45 rounds.

The most recent expedition in November was the team’s second sojourn to France this year in search of the precise location of Sgt. York’s historic victory.

In the interim between their two trips to the Argonne, Birdwell and Nolan continued to conduct historic and geographic research and to seek expert advice from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee State Museum.

The researchers also discovered the burial records for the six Americans killed on Oct. 8, 1918 — documents that played a role, they say, in refining the search area.

In their efforts to locate the site, the researchers used advanced mapping technology, with Nolan utilizing 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 Major E. C. B. Danforth, as well as written accounts by both German and American battle participants.

This information was then superimposed on maps of the modern landscape to help the researchers focus their metal-detection fieldwork and pinpoint the specific site.

“The discarded equipment, ammunition and expended cartridge cases we found may have little individual historic value, but their spatial relationships and patterns corroborate historic information that a large number of German troops surrendered at that site,” Nolan said.

During the November expedition, Birdwell and Nolan were joined by an international team of historians, archaeologists, geographers and other interested parties.

They included French archaeologists Yves Desfosse and Olivier Brun, Belgian archaeologist Birger Stichelbaut, World War I historian Michael Kelly, a guide with Bartlett Battlefield Journeys in the United Kingdom, military artifact experts Eddie Brown and Ian Cobb of Great Britain, Frederic Castier, historian and official representative of the First Division Museum, Chatel-Chehery mayor Roland Destenay, Fleville mayor Damien Georges, who also serves as the regional forester for the Argonne, and Jim Deppen of Nashville.

The researchers are now identifying and cataloging the artifacts for future museum placement.

For more information about the York Project, including research updates, log on to www.sergeantyorkproject.com.

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