U.S. Army Ambulance Service, Section 539 ["Black Cats"] Records
Scope and Contents
Clippings, photographs, a photograph album, maps, books, correspondence, pay and enlistment records, and other materials documenting the activities of the U.S. Army Ambulance Service Section 539, also called S.S.U. 539, in France during World War I. Although the history of the unit is fully detailed in the albums, books and newspaper clippings, a significant amount of personal information is to be found as well, in correspondence, photographs and anecdotes; in particular, personal letters and other documents of Howell Shepard are included. Most of the Howell Shepard correspondence is to his father, Amherst postmaster Frederick Shepard. The rest of the correspondence consists of round-robin letters exchanged among the 51 former members and affiliates of the unit from 1920 to 1926.
- Creation: 1917-1941
- United States. Army. Ambulance Service. SSU 539 (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
There is no restriction on access to the US Army Ambulance Service Section 539 Records for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.
Conditions Governing Use
Requests for permission to publish material from the US Army Ambulance Service Section 539 Records should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.
Biographical / Historical
Recruited in Amherst, Massachusetts in June 1917 from Amherst College students and local residents, this World War I ambulance unit comprised twenty-five Amherst College alumni and undergraduates, as well as thirty other soldiers, five officers, and eventually a number of French personnel. After training in Allentown PA, and departure on August 7, 1917, they arrived in France. Their original designation, unit 39, was amended to S.S.U. (Section Sanitare Unis) 539 on January 1, 1918. The unit adopted the image of the black cat for its insignia. Over nineteen months of service attached to both the French and U.S. Armies, it received two army citations and 22 individual citations, including the Croix de Guerre with Palm. It was involved in three major military operations: the Aisne-Marne, the Oise-Aisne, and the Ypres-Lys offensives. They also collaborated with the French army in four minor operations in the Tahure, Souvain, St.Hilaire, and Jumel sectors. The unit returned to America on April 2, 1919, and the majority of the Amherst soldiers were discharged on April 14, 1919 at Camp Devens, Massachusetts.
1.5 Linear feet (1 records storage box, 1 oversize flat box)
Language of Materials
World War I ambulance unit, recruited in Amherst, Massachusetts in June 1917 from Amherst College students and local residents. Collection consists of clippings, photographs, a photograph album, maps, books, correspondence, pay and enlistment records, and other materials documenting the activities of the U.S. Army Ambulance Service Section 539, also called S.S.U. 539, known colloquially as the "Black Cats," in France during World War I.
This collection is organized into seven series:
- Series 1: Photographs
- Series 2: Howell Shepard
- Series 3: Maps
- Series 4: Newspaper Clippings
- Series 5: Ephemera
- Series 6: Correspondence
- Series 7: Albums
- Graham Leach-Krouse, Peter Nelson.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.