By Jack Thomas Tomarchio
The Louisiana Maneuvers, 1941. The Army was preparing for war, and to train up for the coming
action in Europe, the National Guard was Federalized. From June to August 1941 over
400,000 men conducted extensive war games in Northern and Western Central Louisiana.
The Troop almost lost a future captain during these exercises when Robert Sturgis Ingersoll, Jr.
No. 1376 became all too familiar with a deadly coral snake. Ingersoll, who The Philadelphia
Inquirer described as a “socialite young Philadelphia attorney” was training as a member E Battery,
166th Field Artillery Regiment when he picked up a deadly coral snake. Ingersoll, then a
First Lieutenant had been transferred to the unit with a number of other First City Troopers when
the 166th was Federalized in 1941. An avid snake collector since his boyhood, Ingersoll had in the
past caught six foot rattlesnakes with his bare hands. While on the great Louisiana Maneuvers with
the 166th he found a coral snake in the forest and picked it up. Unfortunately the snake had
other ideas about the meeting and writhed away before striking Ingersoll with it fangs. The coral
snake is the most venomous snake in North America and in 1941 no anti venom then existed.
Not to be out done (or killed, for that matter) by a mere inhospitable reptile, the redoubtable
Ingersoll, exhibiting remarkable sang froid directed several other soldiers to cut a gash where the
fang marks were and suck out the venom. This being done, he was evacuated from the field to Camp
Shelby, Mississippi for observation. Arriving back on post he telephoned Roger Conant, the curator
of the Philadelphia Zoo and told him of the steps he had taken and asked for his advice. Conant told
him there was nothing to do but wait 24 hours and see if he was still alive. Ingersoll did wait,
found himself alive in the morning, and went back to duty. He served in Europe in World War II,
earning a Bronze Star for valor and a Purple Heart before returning to the Troop and eventually
being elected Captain on July 6, 1948.
One side note, while the saga of the snake bit socialite ended in 1941, the snake bit curse
continued to dog one of the Ingersoll family business for many years and endures to this day. His
father R. Sturgis Ingersoll, Sr. was one of the owners of the “loosingist” franchise in major league
baseball, those fighting Philadelphia Phillies.