Reminiscing: The Maneuvers come to Lancaster, Circa 1944

September 7, 2023

As remembered By Elva Woodard Hart and told to Billy Woodard 

Picture of Hwy 141 & the concrete “culvert” (built by soldiers)

In the annals of time, certain memories from our childhood are etched with a clarity that surpasses the years. As I cast my mind back to the World War II era, circa 1945, I find myself transported to a slice of history on Highway 141 in Tennessee in the community of Lancaster Hill in Smith County Tennessee. A tapestry of compassion, transformation, and camaraderie unfolded along this road during those days. 

Amidst the rolling hills of our beautiful Tennessee’s countryside, U.S. Army troops engaged in rigorous training maneuvers. Their footsteps resonated with the weight of history past and present. A long column of soldiers marched up Lancaster Hill, their journey taking them from Gordonsville to Center Hill. These were the days of sweat and determination, and it was during these times that I, a small child, bore witness to events that have left an indelible mark on my memory. 

At the crest of Lancaster Hill, a woman named Della lived on their farm and was watching the soldier’s approach on the hot, dusty gravel road. As the column of weary men came into view, Della’s heart went out to them. The soldiers were parched, their throats as dry as the gravel beneath their boots. In an act of spontaneous kindness, Della called out to her husband, George, urgently directing him to fetch the “bucket and dipper”—a water well situated conveniently close to the road. With urgency, she implored, “George, these boys are hot and thirsty, they need a drink of water!” 

Under the sweltering sun, a few soldiers found solace in the cool water Della offered, quenching their thirst, and temporarily easing their fatigue. However, like many gestures of goodwill, this act of generosity was short-lived. The intervention of a sergeant brought a halt to this impromptu oasis, limiting further aid to the parched troops. Yet, the memory of Della’s compassion remains with me as a testament to the enduring power of human empathy. 

As the troops marched onward, a string of trucks followed—a fleet of supply vehicles, Jeeps, and fuel carriers. It was a sight to behold as the procession wound its way through the landscape. As fate would have it, the convoy reached about a mile from the bottom of Lancaster Hill, where an old wooden bridge spanned a branch on our farm. Here, destiny took a turn that a six-year-old me would never forget. 

Before my eyes stood a spectacle: the back end of an Army Supply Truck jutted into the air, its front half submerged in the branch. The wooden bridge, now reduced to splinters.  

In the aftermath, a new dirt road was crafted by the Army, circumventing the collapsed bridge. This path led vehicles into a field, across the dry branch into our cow pasture, and back onto Highway 141—a dirt road that is the main road from Gordonsville to Lancaster.  

The soldiers, with their tents, transformed the landscape into a temporary campsite. With their vehicles parked below our farmhouse, the soldiers embarked on the task of extracting the truck from its trap and erecting a new bridge—this one of concrete. As the construction work ensued, the routines of our farm shifted. The animals that relied on the passage under the bridge to reach the spring for water now sought new sources and trails. 

In the rhythm of daily life, our farm ensured a steady supply of fresh milk—cows were milked, butter was churned, and buttermilk flowed. Amid the soldiers’ encampment, the door of our home became a threshold between worlds. As I stood behind the farmhouse screen door the soldiers would say, “Hi, little girl” as they sought to purchase gallons of milk and buttermilk. A simple transaction, yet it spoke volumes of the ties that transcended wargames and battle training—those of sharing and humanity. 

Time moved forward, as it always does, and the day arrived when the new bridge was finally complete. The soldiers packed up their tents, the campsite transformed once more. As they moved on down Highway 141, my heart held a pang of sadness. Their departure marked the end of a chapter—a fleeting but significant chapter—of connection between strangers turned acquaintances. 

As the years flowed like the currents beneath that new concrete bridge, the passage of time solidified its structure. The bridge remained steadfast, a silent witness to the stories it carried. And here we are, in 2023, where the memories of a child’s eyes have given way to the wisdom of age. My brother, Bill Woodard, notes that the bridge endures—unyielding, unchanged, and with no cracks to mar its structure. 

Highway 141 carries with it these stories, these moments of compassion and transformation. In the mosaic of history, these fragments remind us of the enduring thread that connects humanity—a tapestry woven from acts of kindness, unforeseen events, and the journeys we all embark upon, be it on a dusty road in 1944 or the paths we traverse today. 

May 3 -4, 2024 on the Historic Courthouse Square in Carthage we will be celebrating the “Tennessee Maneuvers Remembered” which took place here in Tennessee between September 1942 and March 1944.  Nashville was the principal railhead and Lebanon was chosen as headquarters.  More than 850,000 soldiers were trained in the Tennessee Maneuver area and Smith County was an integral part of the exercise.   

If you want more information about event May 3 thru 4, 2024 go to the “Tennessee Maneuvers Remembered” Facebook page or contact us here at the Smith County Chamber of Commerce, 615-735-2093, and article submitted by Billy Woodard, Director, Smith County Chamber of Commerce)