Abraham Lincoln Battalion, Barcelona Parade

A volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, XVth Brigada Internacional
6 January 1937
Barcelona, Spain

On December 26, 1936, ninety-six young men settled into the third-class quarters of the S.S. Normandie as it embarked on its journey from New York to Le Havre, France. [1] Their disguises as tourists were thwarted by their “identical black cardboard suitcases, bound with yellow straps”, though no official bothered to inspect the military surplus they carried inside. [2] These were the first volunteers who composed what would soon be known as the Abraham Lincoln Battalion (often erroneously referred to as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade), men recruited by the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) “as its contribution to the fight against Fascism shaping up in Spain.” [3] In a speech before their departure, CPUSA leaders like Earl Browder told these volunteers that “they were the vanguard of an American working-class army privileged to open their war against World Fascism on the battlefields of Spain.” [4]

After arriving in France, the American volunteers made their way south. On the night of January 3rd, “they crossed the Pyrenees border, while tough-looking French border guards in blue uniforms [supposedly] raised their fists in the Popular Front salute.“ [5] Once in Spain, they made their way toward Albacete, where volunteers from around the world, known as the International Brigades, trained to fight.

On January 6, 1937, the first American volunteers arrived in Barcelona. “Mahlon F. Perkins, the [American] consul general, spotted from his window a sight never seen before in marches and rallies. Up the broad avenue came the Stars and Stripes, and behind it ambled about sixty men in an assortment of 1918 doughboy uniforms. […] Perkins watched in puzzlement as the group halted under his window and began singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ They probably sang as badly as they marched, but they knew the words to the second, and even to the third, stanzas.’ The specter that had haunted the Department of State for the past three months had materialized under Perkins’s window. Despite ‘the most scruputous policy of nonintervention’ […] a policy spelled out by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and underlined, many times, by Secretary of State Cordell Hull, the first group of American volunteers had surreptitiously slipped into Spain.“ [6]

Only some of the American volunteers had previous military experience, and, as is obvious from many of the photos taken of American and Cuban volunteers in Barcelona in January 1937, they had little training in how to properly wear their equipment. This inexperience would soon haunt them as, within the next two months 127 of the first ~500 American volunteers would lie dead in the Jarama Valley with another 200 wounded. [7] But this was still yet to come. The volunteers still clung to an almost naive hope that early January. Former OSU student Sam Levinger, later killed in the Belchite campaign, wrote home, “Barcelona has almost a million inhabitants not counting many thousands of refugees from parts of Spain captured by the fascists; I think most of the million turned out to cheer us. I don’t know where they got the energy–recruits for the International Brigades had been marching through the streets ever since those black November days when Franco was announcing he would eat supper in Madrid on a certain night.” [8]

🚩Note: This post is not meant to endorse any political ideologies 🚩

[1] Edwin Rolfe, The Lincoln Battalion: The Story of the Americans who Fought in Spain in the International Brigades, 18.
[2] Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War, 12.
[3] ibid., 9.
[4] ibid., 10.
[5] Rolfe, The Lincoln Battalion, 23.
[6] Eby, Comrades and Commissars, 1.
[7] Rolfe, The Lincoln Battalion, 57
[8] Laurie E. Levinger, Love and Revolutionary Greetings: An Ohio Boy in the Spanish Civil War, 46.

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