Major General George E. Leach (1876 - 1955) was an American military officer and two-time Republican mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Field Artillery on April 15, 1905 in the Minnesota National Guard.Leach saw duty on the United States–Mexico border as a major and later, Colonel, Field Artillery, from June 1916 until February 1917.
He commanded 151st Field Artillery, 42d Division, August 5, 1917 to July 14, 1918. Leach saw combat at Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. For his service in the First World War, General Leach received the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, and Purple Heart, in addition to other awards and decorations.
Leach was re-appointed Commander, 151st Field Artillery November, 1921. After duty as CNGB, he returned to command the 59th Field Artillery Brigade, 34th Division until 1940.
Major General George E. Leach served as Chief of the National Guard Bureau from December 1, 1931 to November 30, 1935.
George Emerson Leach came from a military family. Two of his great grandfathers fought in the Revolutionary War. His father fought in the Civil War. Leach himself fought in World War I with the famous Rainbow Division in France. He later went on to serve for a dozen years as mayor of Minneapolis.
Leach can trace his family history back to 14th century England where one of his direct ancestors, John Leach, was a surgeon for King Edward III. In the 17th century, the Leach Family emigrated to America.
Young George spent his summers working on his aunt's ranch in South Dakota, and when he was 14 he was present when the Sioux at Wounded Knee rebelled in 1890. The local settlers had barricaded themselves in the local town, but Leach's aunt told George to take a bull they had just purchased back to the farm. He drove the bull to the farm, passing farmers who were deserting their farms for the shelter of the town.
Leach said he didn't arrive until just before dawn, and then slept on the kitchen floor, afraid of being killed in his bed. In the morning, he had to check on the bull, but he was terrified he would be shot as he left the house. "It was a hundred yards to the barn, and I bet I set a world's record in that 100."
Later that winter, the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred and over 300 Sioux were killed by soldiers.
Leach went to Central High School in Minneapolis, but he barely graduated as he devoted most of his time to athletics. He enrolled at the University of Minnesota, and tried to get an appointment to West Point. He was the alternate on two occasions, but never made the final cut.
As the years went by, Leach, like his father, took on a variety of jobs. One of those was inspecting grain elevators in Minnesota and the Dakotas for an insurance company. Because there were few railroads, Leach rode his bicycle from town to town.
"I didn't consider it a good day's work unless I rode my bicycle for 100 miles and climbed to the top of 40 or 50 elevators."
He became an insurance agent, and then got into the banking business in South Dakota. At first, with the land speculation and booming economy, the banking business was lucrative, and at one time Leach owned 26 quarter sections of land. In the end, hard times came to the prairie and Leach was forced to sell his banks and land.
In 1902, he married Pearl Van Vorous, but the marriage took a bad turn in 1910 when she moved to the Bahamas to open a tea room. She never came back, and the two were finally divorced in 1923, although Leach said they always stayed close friends.
In 1905, Leach joined Battery B of the First Minnesota Artillery, a National Guard outfit. "From then on, my whole life was wrapped up in the National Guard, and although I had to make a living on the side, it was my first love."
The men served for no pay, and, in fact, had to chip in 25 cents a week dues just to keep the battery going. Leach moved up from second to first lieutenant his first year, and was made captain in 1908.
The battery was run on horsepower, and at one point bought a stable, but it didn't work out. "The venture of owning our own horses was not a success, and to save the battery from going into debt, Phil Brooks and I bought the stable and the horses and we started a riding school."
There were ups and downs in the horse business, he said, "and mostly the latter." He was eventually forced to sell the stable and farm that he owned.
In 1916, Poncho Villa began making trouble on the Mexican border, and Leach's unit, which was now called the Second Battalion of the 151st Field Artillery, was called up and sent to Texas for training. Leach was promoted by Minnesota Gov. Burnquist to colonel, commanding the battalion.
After nine months of hanging around in Texas, the unit was sent home in February of 1917. Leach had a sense that America's entry into World War I was imminent, and he struggled to keep the National Guard unit together, paying for their meals at a St. Paul Greek restaurant out of his own pocket. The strategy worked when Leach's unit became the first federally recognized unit in the United States in April.
"We were back at Ft. Snelling with the government, not me, feeding the men."
When President Wilson decided to create a national division, comprised of 26 Guard units and four regular Army regiments, Leach's 151st Field Artillery was chosen as one of the three artillery regiments. The 42nd Division was given the name "Rainbow Division" because, as Gen. MacArthur said, "It stretched like a rainbow from one end of America to the other."
The first movement for the 151st was from Ft. Snelling, marching down the same road Leach's father had marched down at the start of the Civil War. Leach took 1,260 men to Camp Mills, N.Y. In October, the division left for France, and was one of the first American divisions to reach the battlefield.
As the division embarked on the ship President Lincoln for transport, Col. Leach was told by the Army that he could not take his band instruments. Leach, however, made a secret agreement with the captain of the ship to stow away the instruments, and they arrived with the regiment in France. "The result was that for months we had the only band in France."
World War I soldiers were also instructed not to keep diaries, lest they fall into the hands of the enemy, but once again Leach ignored the order and kept a thorough diary of his war experience. He said he was convinced by the experience of his father, who did not keep a diary and regretted it. Leach felt that the men under his command deserved a history of their service. The diary has over 500 entries, and they tell a story of the 151st and the Rainbow Division over the 19 months they spent overseas.
After spending several weeks in France, the unit finally got its guns, French 75s, on Nov. 18th and began training on the pieces at Guere. Leach became brigade commander on Dec. 21 and later became regimental commander. On the 24th, a gun blew up and killed two men. "The men killed were blown to pieces. The destruction was so complete I could not determine the cause, but it was not the fault of the gun crew."
On the 28th of January, Leach got his first chance to go up in an observation balloon, used extensively in World War I for spotting for the artillery. "I never had to call on so much nerve before. I put on a fur lined suit and had the parachute strapped on me and climbed into the basket about four feet square and started up. The sensation was terrific." The balloon ascended to 2,000 feet.
In mid-February, the regiment began moving toward the front. On February 20, they arrived at Luneville. "At 7 a.m. I heard my first of the guns." By the 26th, Leach was involved in placing his guns. "Returning on the road to Pexonne, we had a close call from a shrapnel shell… This has been my first experience under fire, and it is not as bad as I thought it would be."
The regiment, about three kilometers behind the trenches, began exchanging fire with the German batteries, using forward observation from hilltops and from periscopes along the trench line. On March 4, Leach escorted Col. Douglas MacArthur, who at that time was the division's chief of staff, through the gun emplacements.
That same night, the Germans attacked the Rainbow Division's lines and 20 men were killed. The attack failed, and the Germans were driven off. The next day, March 5, there was heavy shelling all along the line, with several wounded. "This has been a bad day."
On the 6th, Leach was resting in the hay loft of the barn that was his quarters when a sentry informed him that a "general officer" wanted to talk to him. Leach descended the ladder and turned around to find himself face to face with Gen. Pershing, the leader of the American forces. Leach came to attention, and Pershing immediately asked him what he had done to prepare himself to be a leader of a battalion of artillery. Leach stammered out the best answer he could in a minute's time. "If the general was impressed with my stated qualifications, he did not show it, but with as little ceremony as announced his arrival, he was gone."
The Division made its first attack on the German lines on March 9, and Leach's batteries fired 5,422 rounds in support of the attack. The regiment had 20 casualties from German shelling. The next day, Leach found out that 25 of his men had been gassed and were feeling the effects.
On the 15th of March, Leach was inspecting his positions when a German shell hit about 100 yards in front of his car. Because they were artillery men, they knew the next shell would be closer and they dove for the ditch. "The next shell struck the front of the car, cutting the steering post in two, and exploding in the back seat. As I lit in the ditch, one hand was evidently above the level of the road, and a piece of red hot shell hit me in the finger." The men lay in the ditch for 20 minutes while the Germans destroyed the car with more shelling.
The regiment withdrew from its position on March 22 after a month on the line. Leach spent much of the R&R simply walking the French countryside. After the rest, the guns and men were returned to their former positions on March 30th. Leach now took on the responsibility of the division's trench mortars and five French batteries.
On April 4th, Leach went to brigade headquarters and got a pleasant surprise. "I read in the London Times that I had been cited for the D.S.C. (The Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's highest award for valor outside of the Medal of Honor) and it makes me very happy. In the first month of the war I received the highest award at the hands of the President and my number is sixth to be given in France. I don't deserve it and owe it to the bravery of my men. General McKinstry invited me to dinner in the evening to celebrate the occasion."
Leach explained in his diary that if the Germans hit one of their roads with five shells, the Americans would respond with 10 shells on one of their roads. In this way, the firing sometimes escalated into a general bombardment. At the same time, both sides had an understanding not to shell the small towns along the front. When the weather was cloudy and the Germans couldn't send up balloon or airplane observers, the 151st often had a band concert. In the distance, you could hear the German bands playing.
On May 23rd, Leach was inspecting Company E and found that the men were "tired and discouraged" and had not finished putting their guns in position. Leach saw that the sand bags around the guns were not in place and he ordered them filled "against many protests." "Just before daylight one of their guns blew up and if the sand bags had not been filled, every member of the gun crew would have been killed. I was repaid for the tough discipline I had to administer the night before."
The artillery regiments took a hard shelling and a gas attack on May 19, and one unit lost 30 men. Leach's regiment had 14 wounded. "We kept up our firing all night and by daylight the gas concentration was very bad and the men exhausted. This was our worst night." It was nothing like what they would face in the future.
On June 14th, the Division again got orders to withdraw for rest. Leach rode horses and toured the countryside in the Moselle River valley. By late June, the Division moved back toward the front at the Marne River.
On July 3rd, Leach wrote in his diary of his extraordinary luck thus far in the war. On this date he was out for dinner with other officers in the city of Chalon, and, although he had leave until morning, he had a hunch he should head back to his regiment. He and his driver were barreling along in the dark, no headlights. "Without any warning that I can explain, I ordered the driver to stop at once, which he did with such force that we slid for eight or ten feet." The driver flipped on the headlights for a second, and there was a French infantry regiment lying down, resting in the road. "I shudder to think what would have happened." Back on the road, roaring along again without lights, Leach thought he saw a darker shadow alongside the road. Again he ordered the driver to stop. This time it turned out to be a private from the regiment who had crashed his motorcycle and was unconscious. Leach found a message in the man's pocket, and it was orders to Leach to move the regiment before daylight. The motorcyclist had been heading to Chalon to deliver the orders.
On the 12th, Leach called on General MacArthur to congratulate him on his promotion. In the following days, the Americans braced for an expected attack by the massed German forces. On the 14th, a French colonel, finding out it was Leach's birthday, had a meal and party prepared. Captured prisoners said the German assault would begin at midnight, and at 10 minutes to 12, the party ended and Leach went to his command post. At midnight the bombardment began.
The Germans attacked with six divisions against two Allied divisions as the Battle of Champagne got underway. Four of Leach's guns were blown up in the terrific shelling of the night. By the 17th, the attack had been halted, but at a terrible cost. "Practically all of the French and American soldiers in the front line were killed." Leach's regiment had 45 casualties, and 65 horses killed. Leach's batteries fired 54,000 rounds at the enemy. Under intense fire, four artillery pieces were brought up to replace those destroyed. Leach was overwhelmed by the heroism of his men. "I could not mention the name of a man in the Regiment today that was not a hero."
The battle continued as the Allies went on the offensive near Chateau Thierry. Leach spent the night of July 25 in a French farmhouse "where I caught the best assortment of cooties I ever had." Leach explained that the French were careful savers of manure for their fields, and kept the pile near the house so they could watch it. "Just as we had prepared a simple supper, a German high explosive shell burst in the center of the pile, with results too disagreeable to mention."
The Allies were driving the Germans back at a rate of about two kilometers at day, and the countryside was littered with the bodies of the two armies. "The smell of the dead is very bad." In addition to the German artillery, the regiment faced daily attacks from the German air force, which controlled the skies above France. At one point, a German aviator chased Leach and another officer around a tree, "so close that we had the opportunity to empty our automatics at him, but the necessity of dodging his machine gun bullets hindered our marksmanship."
On July 29th, Leach recorded that one French city, Sergy, was captured and re-captured 11 times over a period of several days. On the 31st, Leach wrote, "The blast of the artillery at my P.C. has been so bad since Sunday that I have the peculiar sensation of being loose in every joint." On August 2nd, Leach received a direct order from MacArthur: "Advance with audacity."
On August 3rd, the regiment found the grave of Quentin Roosevelt, the son of the former president. Leach wrote to Theodore Roosevelt, and he later wrote back his thanks for locating the grave. The personal conditions for the soldiers were awful. "The flies are terrible. It is almost impossible to eat without including them and the unburied dead make a very bad situation from a sanitary standpoint. I am covered with cooties and very uncomfortable."
The regiment was finally relieved on Aug. 10 after 26 straight days of combat. They spent nearly a month recuperating. On Sept. 7 1918, General Pershing formally presented Leach, and 30 other members of the Rainbow Division, with the Distinguished Service Cross. Leach would also earn the Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart during the war. The ceremony was held on the eve of a great American attack in the war. Gen. MacArthur confided to Leach that the assault could cost as many as 75,000 casualties.
On Sept. 12th, the attack on the St. Mihiel Salient began with the 42nd Division in the center, supported by three other American Divisions. The division was also supported, for the first time in great numbers, by tanks. The troops advanced across No Man's Land and began pushing the Germans back through the city of Essey. It was Leach's duty to keep his artillery up with the advancing infantry. In just over a day, the Americans had pushed the Germans back 19 kilometers and captured seven towns, a thousand prisoners and great stores of ammunition.
There was a brief respite after the battle, but by early October, the 151st Field Artillery was in the thick of it again. On Oct. 8th, the regiment poured 6,000 shells into the German front lines in several hours. On Oct. 10th, Leach described the area: "The desolation of the battlefield is beyond description. Many dead Americans and Germans everywhere. Dead horses along every road. Every building and every tree destroyed and the ground one mass of muddy shell holes."
This battle marked the loss of perhaps the Rainbow Divison's most famous soldier. The poet Joyce Killmer was killed in the St. Mihiel Salient.
Leach and his men went six straight nights without sleep hammering the enemy positions. When they finally got a night to sleep, on Oct. 16, nothing could bother them. "My P.C. (headquarters) was harassed all night with artillery fire, but we were too tired to care."
The German lines were slowly breaking all along the Western Front, and the 42nd Division went into stand-down for a few days. A new enemy was taking its toll however – sickness. The polluted water, unburied dead, and constant rain brought great misery to the Yanks.
On Oct. 27th, Leach was able to change clothes for the first time in six weeks. On the 31st, the regiment marked its first year in France, having spent 203 of those days in combat.
On Nov. 1st, the regiments supported a Marine attack, and on Nov. 4th, the 42nd Division began an advance. The division advanced to the Meuse River and pushed the Germans to the other side. The city of Sedan was captured. On Nov. 10th, Leach wrote, "There are many rumors of the armistice and there is surprisingly little rejoicing."
The next day, Nov. 11, 1918: "The Armistice is signed and at eleven A.M. the firing ceased. Nothing impressed me so much as the absolute silence."
The Division earned a splendid reputation during the war, and when the war ended it had penetrated the furthest north into the German lines. On Nov. 15th, Leach received a letter stating: "The 151st Field Artillery has fired accurately, rapidly and whenever requested. Its liaison with the infantry has been intimate, daring and most satisfactory. Its personnel is magnificent. The courtesy and professional attainments of its officers are exceptionally fine. It has been at all times abreast of the highest standard of gallantry and technical skill." It was signed by Gen. MacArthur who had just been named commanding officer of the Rainbow Division.
The division was part of the Army of Occupation of Germany, and after that service, it arrived back in the United States on April 26th, 1919. It had been overseas for a year and a half. It had spent 264 days in combat.
The 151st arrived back in Minnesota on May 8th, and was honored with parades in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Throngs lined the streets and hung out of windows. "How shall I describe what I felt in that moment? What I felt, I am sure, every one in the Regiment felt. The vivid sense of relief – the thought of home – childhood memories – pride – sorrow – and chief of all, gratitude to the people of my own town, every one of whom at that moment seemed a friend."
After the war, Leach eventually returned to civilian life. "I stayed in the regular army as long as I could stand it." In 1921, he was convinced that he should run for Mayor of Minneapolis as a Republican. Politics were somewhat aggressive in Minneapolis in those days, and Leach received phone calls that if he continued his quest for mayor, his house would be burned down. Leach won by 10,000 votes, and the day after the election his house was burned to the ground.
In 1922, he journeyed with a Minnesota contingent to Chicago for the American Legion national convention. At the convention he proposed support for universal service, an issue that became part of the Legion's platform for many years.
In 1924, he married again, this time a dancer and physical education instructor he had met while in France. She had been with a USO troupe.
In 1929, like many Americans, he was heavily invested in the stock market, and when it collapsed, he owed $34,000. He was urged to take bankruptcy, but like his father before him, he instead worked to pay off his debt, which he finally did in 1935.
He stayed mayor until he was defeated in 1929. He became Chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington from 1931 to 1935, and then returned to Minneapolis where he was elected mayor for two more terms, leaving office in 1941.
He stayed in the National Guard and commanded the 151st for many years, and he later commanded the 59th Field Artillery Brigade of the 34th Division until 1940. He died in Minneapolis in 1955 at age 79.