Sidney Manning Sidney Earnest Manning (1892-1960) was one of two Alabama natives (the other being Osmond Kelly Ingram) awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War I. On July 28, 1918, near Sergy, France, and the Ourcq River during the Aisne-Marne Operation, Manning, a corporal, assumed command of an automatic rifle platoon after two higher-ranking platoon leaders were injured or killed. He then provided fire cover for the men in his platoon so they could link up with others, refusing shelter until all the men had reached safety. He was wounded nine times. For his bravery, Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), listed Manning’s heroic deeds as one of the ten most courageous acts of the war.
Manning was born on July 17, 1892, in Butler County, to Barney Austin and Sarah Elizabeth Vickery Manning; he had three brothers and one sister. Early in his childhood, the family moved to a farm in Flomaton, Escambia County. His draft registration card lists farming as his occupation and that he was married. He had two children with Mamie Knowles Manning, one of whom died in infancy while he was serving overseas. He registered for the draft in June 1917 and was assigned to the Fourth Alabama Infantry. In August, the Fourth Alabama was federalized as the U.S. 167th Infantry Regiment. The regiment was part of the Forty-second “Rainbow Division,” a newly created unit that was comprised of National Guardsmen from 26 states and Washington, D.C. The 167th was commanded by the recently promoted Col. William Preston Screws. Manning was assigned to Company G, 167th Infantry Regiment. The Forty-second arrived in France in February 1918.
Croix de Guerre By mid-July, the German Army had pushed their way into the Château-Thierry region of France. It advanced ever closer to Paris during this wide-ranging spring offensive, hoping to win the war before the United States could become more fully engaged. To prevent further German advancement, the Allied forces launched a counter-offensive in the Aisne-Marne region, an area of weakness for the German Army. Alongside their French counterparts, Pershing and the AEF initiated their assault in July. The 167th by then was a battle-tested and proven outfit. At La Croix Rouge Farm (July 24-26), the Alabama troops were successful in breaking through the defenses of the heavily fortified farmhouse held by the Germans, at times fighting hand-to-hand combat and suffering 162 killed. The overall casualty rate was high for the Forty-second, which suffered 6,500 casualties during the offensive.
On July 28, the 167th was ordered north to cross the Ourcq River and capture a German position at Sergy. This small township lies just southeast of Fére-en-Tardenois and the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in the Aisne department. In the assault, the two highest ranking officers in the automatic rifle platoon (of which Manning was a member) were either injured or killed. Manning assumed command of the platoon although already severely wounded himself. Medal of Honor Certificate Undeterred, Manning was able to regroup and lead the 35 remaining men, all the while providing cover fire with his automatic rifle. He received additional wounds but refused medical treatment. Because of his heroic efforts, the consolidated platoon completed its objective. The victory came with a cost: all but seven of the men were either injured or killed.
Gen. Pershing personally awarded Manning the Medal of Honor in March 1919 while the Forty-second Division was stationed in Remagen, Germany, as part of the Army of Occupation. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart; the French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) and Médaille Militaire (Military Medal); the Croce al Merito di Guerra (War Merit Cross) from Italy; and the Medalja za Hrabrost (Medal for Bravery) from Montenegro. While in France, in addition to suffering grave wounds, Manning learned that both his infant daughter and a younger sister had died.
Sidney Manning Monument Manning returned to Flomaton in 1919. Reportedly, the town planned a big celebration, which the humble Manning avoided by disembarking the train early. He participated in vocational training related to agriculture in Greensboro, Hale County, before returning to Flomaton. At some point, he also had been trying to enroll in similar training in Mississippi, but his application was denied by the government because of his numerous injuries. In 1921, Manning attended the inaugural Veterans Day wreath laying event, at the U.S. government’s request, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. State representative John Coleman of Marshall County pushed a bill through the legislature in 1935 that allocated financial support to Manning for the purchase of a farm and equipment. Manning died on December 15, 1960, in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Montgomery, Montgomery County. He is buried at Little Escambia Cemetery in Flomaton. In July 1976, the city of Flomaton erected a monument to Manning in Lion’s Park; it was later moved to its current location in the Flomaton Welcome Center.
American Battle Monuments Commission. American Armies and Battlefields in Europe: A History, Guide, and Reference Book. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1938.
Amerine, William H. Alabama’s Own in France. New York: Eaton & Gettinger, 1919.
Frazer, Nimrod T. Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2014.
Stewart, Richard W., ed. American Military History, Vol. II: The United States Army in a Global Era, 1917-2008. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military, 2010;http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/030/30-22/index.html
Truss, Ruth Smith. “The Alabama National Guard’s 167th Infantry Regiment in World War I.” Alabama Review 56 (January 2003): 3-34.