The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter 9, Part 2

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

However, all American soldiers were giving food account of themselves in those hot July days. Marshal Foch, as July 15th passed into the 16th, with the allied lines everywhere holding solid, said: "Je suis content." It was no longer possible that the world would contain only two classes: Teutons --and others. Forthwith the High Command began to study more closely their plans for a counter-offensive. By the night of July 17th Marshal Foch was ready to strike. The line chosen for the Allied blow was between Soissons and Chateau-Theirry, a line of about twenty-five miles extending southward from the valley of the Aisne to the Marne. The key position was Villers-Cotterets Forest. To make the blow effective at that vital point, Marshal Foch must have three divisions of the hardest fighters that the combined Allied Army of eleven million possessed. Two of the divisions he chose were American-the 1st and 2d Divisions; the other was partly American--the Foreign Legion of the French Army. Great were the doing of those fighting Americans next day, the 18th. The 1st and 2d Divisions, with the For-

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eign Legion between them, swept onward, taking position after position, and sending back thousand of prisoners--haughty Germans who, though dazed by the thud of the impact, were still unshaken in their belief in the invincibility of the Teutons. They were not yet willing to concede that their storm-troops had been countered by something more boisterous. It was at this time that a Kansas coined a new troop-name. A German prisoner, when asked what unit he belonged to, replied proudly in English: "I am a storm trooper." At once, the interrogating sergeant retorted: "Storm troops? Do you know what we are? We're from Kansas. We're Cycloners."

The cyclone continued through the night of 18th, and when morning broke, the Americans had so far broken through the enemy lines as to have crossed the road running southward from Soissons to Chateau Thierry. They had broken the enemy's lines of communication, leaving the Germans no option by to retreat from Chateau Thierry, their nearest point to the French capital. Gone was the Teuton dream of clanking his spurs along the Parisian boulevards. Gone was his last chance to dictate peace. Americans were congesting the roads, and there was not longer any room for the Germans in Paris--in France, for that matter.

General Mangin, who commanded the operations on July 18th, frankly gave his opinion of the American Army in the following order:

Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Soldiers of the American Army:

Shoulder to shoulder with your French comrades, you threw yourselves in to the counter-offensive begun on July 18th. You ran to it as if going to a feast. Your magnificent dash upset and surprised the enemy, and your indomitable tenacity stopped counter-attacks by his fresh divisions. You have shown yourself to be worthy sons of your great country and have gained the admiration of your brothers in arms.

American comrades, I am grateful to you for the blood you generously spilled on the soil of my country. I am proud of having commanded you during such splendid days and to have fought with you for the deliverance of the world.

The turn of the tide, which had been against the Allies since August of 1914, cam e on July 18, 1918. Then the Germans began to retreat from the Marne, mainly, let it be said with reasonable humility, because of the vigor of the new element that had been injected in the Allied forces. It was America's day. she did not win the war, but her strength was the factor that turned the scale away from militaristic Germany.

Although the Germans still faced the enemy stubbornly, they began to step backward from the Marne after the onslaught of the American Regulars and Marines had made Chateau-Thierry untenable. The first American units to enter that town, that "grave of German hops," were the Yankee Division. They reoccupied chateau Thierry on July 21st, jointly with French troops. The 26th Division had long before relieved the 2d division after the Belleau Wood fighting of the latter; and had been somewhat impatient that is own part of the offensive of July 18th

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should be restricted to such a small area. The Belleau position had been trying, but now that the Germans were being pushed backward, the lanky Yankees were to be allowed to stretch their legs a little more. They did not stay long in Chateau-Theirry for they could find no Germans there, and they had been given permission to chase them. They soon found then--found that the Germans were able, in their retreat, to put very awkward obstacles in the way. Two battalions of the 28th American division went with the 26th. After eight days of active engagements, the New Englanders were relieved by the 42nd Division, which had been permitted to catch their breaths a little after having met the impact of the last grand offensive of the Germans on July 15-17.

By this time the Marine salient has lost its pocketlike shape, and now formed itself more like a bow. The German "backed out of the Marne salient as a Western 'bad man' would back out of a saloon with an automatic pistol in each hand." It tried the nerve of even strong men to followed him closely in his retreat. But there was active as well as strong men among the Americans who were pushing the desperate Germans backward. On the right of the Rainbow Division was a brigade of the 28th, and beyond the men from Pennsylvania were the irrepressibles of the 3d division. The 32d division also went through its first experience of major offensives at the Ourcq, behind which the Germans retreated. There was grim fighting on the heights of the Ourcq. "On one of the summits, after the fighting was over, ten Americans were lying dead facing ten Germans. All the Americans had their bayonets fixed" but it seemed hat both Germans and Americans were caught in a whirl of cross-fire from machine guns. We had to pay a bloody price to break the German resistance, but our men never faltered. There were never any half measures. The Germans were given no rest, although of necessity we got none ourselves. One of the hottest units on the trail was a battalion of the New York Irish Regiment, that commanded by Major William J. Donovan. He had already proved that he was a fearless commanders, had indeed, while in the training sector, come tot he notice of the French by intrepid coolness in one tight corner, and here, on the Ourcq, he was destined to add the Distinguished Service Cross to the Croix de Guerre which the French had bestowed upon him, for his previous exploit. #1 The official citation tells not only of the bravery of Major

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Donovan, but also the story of the 165th Regiment, during those days of restless pursuit and punishment of the Germans:

He led his battalion across the river Ourcq and captured important enemy strong holds near Villers-sur-Fere, France, on 28th to 30th July, 1918. He was in advance of the division for four days, all the while under shell and machine gun-fire from the enemy, who were on three sides of him, and hew was repeatedly and persistently counter-attacked. Fifty per cent of his command were lost and he himself wound twice. His coolness, courage, and efficient leadership rendered possible the maintenance of this positions.

At no point ha the retreat of the Germans become a rout. The retirement was orderly, deliberate. He fought savagely for every foot of ground that he was forced to concede to the worrying Americans; and when across the Ourcq, fresh divisions came to relieve the dog-tired German rearguard. These new divisions had been ordered to prevent the crossing of the Ourcq by the Americans al all costs. But to be to prevent and to be able to prevent were not synonymous, as the Germans found. Led by Major Donovan and his battalion of the Fighting 69th of New York, the regiments of the Rainbow Division crossed, and could not be driven back. But what fighting! On July 30th the town of Sergy was captured and recaptured nine times within the twenty-four hours. What a lesson for the Kaiser's own! When the remnants of the fresh Prussian guard division at last left the town in our possession, it was obvious that an American guardsman was at least the equal of the Prussian guardsmen. The decimated Prussian guard units were into enforced retirement, their place being taken by a Bavarain guard division. Despite repeated attacks by the latter, the town of Sergy remained in

American possession Major Donovan and his battalion of fighting Irish-men had "cracked the shell," and the other units of the Rainbow Division had savagely attacked the kernel of the German positions across the Ourcq. There was no option therefore for the enemy but to continue backward.

In view of the recapture of Soissons on August 2d, and of the driving of the Germans from before Rheims, haste was imperative is the Germans would reached the Vesle River, the next line of defense, before the retreat had degenerated into a rout. The indefatigable 42d followed them two-thirds of the way to the Vesle before relinquishing its place in the front lien, to the supporting 4th Division. The advance had by that time reached Chartreves. The 4th went on with the 32nd Division, and on the night of August 3d looked down upon that terrible valley of the Vesle, which, after the experience of another new York division--the 77th--in it during the next few weeks was to come into American history as "Hell-hole Valley." The 42d Division went to well deserved rest, laving other less fatigued American divisions to "carry on.' "In eight days of battle, the Rainbow division had forced the passage of the Ourcq, taken prisoners from six enemy divisions, met, routed and decimated a

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crack Prussian division, a Bavarian division, and one other, and had driven back the enemy's line for 16 kilometers." In every day of the fight the new York regiment, the old 69th, had participated. Major-General Menoher had reason to be proud of his command.

While the 77th Division was chafing in the trenches along the Vesle River, the 42d and other divisions were being reorganized for another major operation. But before going farther into that matter it would be well to close the Marne-Vesle operation by spreading upon these pages General Pershing's letter of commendation, published in General Orders in August 7th. His order ran:

It fills me with pride to record in general orders a tribute to the service achievements of the First and third Corps. Comprising the 1st, 1d, 3d, 4th, 26th, 28th, 32d, and 42d Divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces.

You came to the battle field at a crucial hour for the allied cause. For almost four years the most formidable army the world had yet seen has pressed it invasion of France and stood threatening its capital. At no time has that army been more powerful and menacing then when, on July 15, it struck again to destroy in one great battle the brave men opposed to it and to enforce its brutal will upon the world and civilization.

Three days later, in conjunction with our allies, you counter-attacked. The allied armies gained a brilliant victory that marks the turning point of the war. You did more than to give the allies the support to which, as a Nation, our faith was pledged. You proved that out altruism, our pacific spirit, and our sense of justice have not blunted our virility or our courage.

You have shown that American initiative and energy are as fit for the tasks of war as for the pursuits of peace. You have justly won unstinted praise from our Allies and the eternal gratitude of our countrymen.

We have paid for our successes with the lives of many of our brave comrades. We shall cherish their memory always and claim for our history and literature their bravery, achievement, and sacrifice.

Perhsing's order, it will be noticed, was addressed to the units of the 1st and 3d Corps, of the American Expeditionary Forces; but A. E. F. had by that time expanded to such an enormous extent that Perishing, in organizing the American First Army found himself in command of five full army corps.

The fortunes of war were all with the Allies then, it seemed. In April, 1918, the allied commanders had had to bear up as well as they could while realizing that Germany was about thirty per cent stronger than the Allies on the Western Front. Since that time, the German military machine had been inconstant use; had been exposed to the most boisterous weather; and had begun to show woeful signs of wear, no opportunity having come for overhauling. On the other hand, the allied machine had been receiving brand new parts from America and soon, in the next overhauling, would become, to all intents, "as good as new." Palmer, in thinking of he great transformation that had occurred in the military situation in two months, marvelled. He writes:

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What was it that the Allies were saying in June and early in July? If we could hold until August 1, the arrival of American troops would make our defense secure. On August 1 we had conquered the heights of the Ourcq and were starting in pursuit of the Germans to the Vesle. Has there ever been such a transition of feeling as that which began on July 18 with the drive to Soissons? Stroke after stroke driving the enemy back! More and more prisoners and guns! That great German army was fighting in a muddling defensive. Accepting the word of the German staff that the withdrawal was. . . . . . .July and August were great months for civilization. They saw old armies galvanized with fresh energy; and a new army prove itself.

The new and proved army that he refers to, it would seem, comprised those divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces that had fought so valiantly alongside French or British armies. But up to the end of August no war correspondent had seen more than two American divisions in the front line, side by side, under an American corps commander. This state of affairs was, however, destined to change. Indeed, the change had already come. On august 10th, to be exact, the organization of the American First Field Army had been completed. From then on the American Expeditionary Forces were to be just as independent an organization as was the British Army, commanded by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, or as was the French Army, commanded by General Petain. Perhsing was coming into his own. He who, in the blackest days of march, 1918, had so nobly set aside all personal vanity effacing himself as a commanding general, by placing at the disposal of French and British generals, all the American troops that were available, was now to assume command of an army of five army corps., al American. Even some French units were to move to his command.

After the withdrawal of the 28th and 42d Divisions from the front-line in Champagne in the early days of August, Perhsing had been quietly drawing to Lorraine, the "Transplanted untied States in France," almost all the division that were not vitally and imperatively needed in the line. And in Lorraine, Perhsing 's new American Army was quietly but quickly organized.

Nearly all the American divisions saw Lorraine. When divisions came out of the line for a rest period, or a new division came to France, the invariable destination was Lorraine. How Americanized the province had become! And what ambitious operations were quietly, but enthusiastically, talked of in army circles in Lorraine during the latter days of August and the first of September. The Germans, no doubt, would have liked to have had a much more efficient espionage system in operation in the vicinity of the American G. H. Q. during August, when American units seemed to be pouring into Lorraine like Moslems into Mecca. The German Staff probably dreaded that soon something sensational would happen. They may have imagine American armies darting this way, plunging that way, coming with a terrific thud

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Somewhere--to the woeful wearing of German legions; but they had no firm convictions, until too late, that St. Mihiel, the salient which had defied all the attacks of French, was the real objective of General Pershing's "Wild West Show." They were more inclined to look upon the presence of so many American units in Lorraine as no more than that province had become a rest-area as well as a training-center for American units. And, as everyone knew, there were an appalling, or rather deplorable, number of absolutely green American divisions then in France. Many an American who had been quietly pursuing this prosaic tasks of civil life in May and had never handled a rifle was in France in August.

However, the only information that could be positively accepted by the Germans, in probing American plans, was that there was a huge American Army in France, and an ominous concentration of it in Lorraine. They probably knew that five Army corps was about as large as a normal French Army. They probably knew that Americans always to go "one better" than the best; that Americans are so apt to think and do things in a big way. An American division was almost equivalent to a French corps, and Pershing now possessed in France thirty divisions. He had under his command approximately a million and a quarter men. Quite a disturbing aggregation, perhaps the Germans thought--if even half of them measured up to the standard of the Marines of the 2d Division or of the Fighting Irishmen of the Rainbow Division, or of the men of the Iron Division, or the New Englanders, or the New York Guardsmen of the 27th. If he went close into analyses, the German would concede that all Americans--green or otherwise--that they had yet collided with were good fighters.

Undoubtedly a great operation was impending. The German Intelligence Department could be sure of that; but by this time they probably knew enough about the American characteristics to imagine that when the time for stroking came, the blow would be sudden and hard, that, to use the common parlance of the men of the Melting-Pot division, "they'd be somep'n doin'," when the boys for "good and ready." They probably had on file a good character-sketch of the American commander, and knew that Pershing usually went "hot and strong;" at whatever he undertook. Altogether, their deductions of American possibilities of action cannot have brought them much ease of mind early in September.

The five American Army corps at that time were as follows:

First Army Corps--1st and 2d Divisions of the Regular Army; the 26th (New England), 32d (Michigan and Wisconsin), 41st (Sunset), 42d (Rainbow), divisions of the National Guard.

Second Army Corps--4th Division of the Regular Army, 28th (Pennsylvania), 30th (Tennessee, North and South Carolina and District of

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Columbia), 36th (Missouri and Kansas), divisions of the National Guard, 77th (New York) and 82d (George, Alabama and Florida) Divisions of the National Army.

Third Army Corps--3d and 5th divisions of the Regular Army, the 27th (New York), 33d (Illinois) divisions of National Guard, the 78th (New Jersey and New York), 80th (Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia) divisions of the National Army.

Fourth Army Corps--83d (Ohio and Pennsylvania), 89th (Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona), 90th (Texas and Oklahoma), and 92d (Negro troops) division of the National Army, the 37th (Ohio) and 29th (New Jersey, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and District of Columbia) divisions of the National Guard.

Fifth Army Corps--6th division of Regular Army, 36th (Texas and Oklahoma) division of National Guard, 75th (New England), 79th (Pennsylvania, Maryland, and District of Columbia), 85th (Michigan and Wisconsin), and 91st (Pacific Coast) divisions of National Army.

Not all of these thirty divisions were needed for this first all-American offensive. Pershing, in his report, refers to only seven American divisions as in the line of attack on the first day at St. Mihiel; but there were many supporting divisions that went up for severe fighting on the second and succeeding days. A German official report of the battle states that there were "at least nine American divisions" in it. (By the way, the German classification of those nine American divisions will interest those men of the Rainbow Division who labor under the conviction that the Yankee division (the 26th) from New England had "nothing on" the Rainbow Division from all of U. S. A. The German report reads: "Of these nine divisions, two, the 1st, 2d and 42d, were first-class attacking divisions; two, the 4th and 26th, were good fighting divisions." The Rainbows had, apparently, impressed the Germans).

There were many famous American division absent from the St. Mihiel array. The 27th (New York) guard division was still fighting shoulder to shoulder with British and Australians, Field Marshal Haig thinking so well of their fighting qualities as to appeal to Pershing not to draw them away from the British area. The same applies to the 30th (Wild Cat) division, which, throughout the war, was to be linked in battle-service with the 27th, both being destined to see the war through in the British area of operations. The other New York division, the 77th, was too much engrossed in chasing the Germans from the Vesle to the Aisne (in company with men from Pennsylvania) to think of "going home" to Lorraine for the great American "fireworks." But there was another New York division which, in addition to the Rainbow, had a part in the St. Mihiel offensive. New York should be bracketed with

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New jersey, it would seem, in thinking of the 78th division, which was one of the supporting units on the opening day of St. Mihiel, and went up and into severe fighting on the second and succeeding days of that operation. The 78th division is generally classified as of New Jersey, but a considerable portion of its personnel came from Western New York. Other divisions that came into notice in the St. Mihiel battle include the 3d and 5th of the Regular Army, the 33d and 35th divisions of the National Guard, and the 80th, 82d, 90th and 91st divisions of the National Army. In his St. Mihiel report, Pershing speaks of the First, Fourth, and Fifth corps of the American First Army.

At all events, military activity in the "transplanted Untied States of France' during the month of August and first half of September, in preparation for the Great Adventure, was on such a prodigious scale as to make even war-calloused "official observers" gasp. War correspondents who had had much experience along the Western Front during the four woe-begotten and war-blasted year, in which killing had seemed to be the all-absorbing purpose of everybody, had grown accustomed to stupendous troop-movements. Yet it must be confessed that the flicker of hope, of seeing a great American Army in France, which had been before American correspondents as they had wandered in and out of the battle area, seeing British and French soldiers in millions, but Americans only here and there had lone since flickered out. Now, however, these correspondents were going about with 300-watt faces. Their radiant hope could light a hall, and what they could tell of the great happening in the constantly-growing American center in France could fill a city hall to overflowing. The American doughboy was in evidence, here, there, everywhere--wherever one turned in Lorraine. He had multiplied a million times; and the accumulation of the wheels of war--transports, guns, ambulance, motor truck, wagons, and all the military miscellany that came, many deep, in a never-ending line from the S. O. S. was staggering. In a letter home, one doughboy pictured it thus: :No doubt you think Fifth Avenue, New York, a very busy thoroughfare, but after seeing military traffic on the roads of France, it would look like the Main Street of a deserted village." Here, indeed, in Lorraine, was an American Army of a size that was in keeping with the standing of the Untied States among the great Nations of the world. Here, in his headquarters, the so-called :Advanced G. H. Q.," was a real typical American general, the clean-cut, hard-as-nails Pershing: and within easy call were an inconceivable number of American divisions. One seemed to see a new regimental or divisional number every hour. "Had we really grown this great?" pondered Palmer. "Had the Allied shipping been able to bring all this force, human, mechanical and material, across the Atlantic in face of the submarine?" the answer was before his eyes. Undoubtedly what he saw was American. Beyond a doubt the allies had accomplished this.

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Yes, this and more, for he knew that there were still many American divisions that he could not see, but were actively in the mélée somewhere along the long Western Front. And he knew that there were many more in the making in America; also that ships would be available to bring them over. Certainly, he had reason for confidence in the future; even in the immediate future. He knew that America could pinch off this salient without drawing upon that part of its manhood which was already at grips with the Germans on other parts of the French Front. And he was confident that greater achievements than this were to be gloriously accomplished by the ever-growing American Army. Certainly, those of Pershing's aides, who a year before, had been working out American projects on the basis of army of a million, or of two million, American soldiers were not mere dreamers.

It was not a simple operation this St. Mihiel offensive. Indeed, it called for superior generalship, for the operation that Pershing had in mind was a daring one. Some of the strategists of the French and British staffs looked upon his plan as something more than daring; they viewed it almost as suicidal for anew , untried army to approach such defenses. All were agreed that it would prove a much more difficult operation than would develop in a straight frontal attack. But frontal attacks during the four years of war had failed, with casualties greater then the total force that Pershing now planned to use. Undoubtedly, the task before him was a difficult one; yet Pershing--who if only in this test has proved himself to be worthy of a place among great military commanders--found the simple way of carrying through a difficult operation. It was not simple thinking. His thought on the subject had been profound. Ever since he had been in France, the St. Mihiel salient had been in his mind. In the clearness of original thought, when he had first studied the map, he had seen that the logical attack was at the bases of the salient. Even before he had a full division in France, he had to all intents marked off St. Mihiel as American ground. When he had first looked up at Mont Sec, which stood guard like a geologic giant over that salient, he had said: "We ought to have that mountain." And the unfortunate doughboys in the Toul Sector echoed his words--to a man. Mont Sec, towering above them had long since "got their goat.' Their experience was :like sitting at the foot of the stairs and having a fellow at the top throw rocks at you from behind a curtain," writes Palmer. Certainly, we ought to have that mountain. All Pershing's study of military tactics, all his profound thought of a year, merely confirmed his original conviction, and plan of operations.

He manoeuvred his troops into position with masterly skill, and, if the actual fighting had been strenuous, there is no doubt that Pershing, in generalship, would have been equal to the emergency. As a matter of fact, however, it proved to be necessary to do not much more than

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parade the American Army before St. Mihiel to win the salient. It was to all intents ours at the end of the first days fighting. The fact that we were there, and in such numbers, and all imbued with the irresistible American spirit, ready to tear our way through anything, was sufficient to bring the St. Mihiel German forces to the opinion that "they preferred living as prisoners to dying for their Emperor in hopeless resistance." Pershing won this spectacular victory to some extent by display of force, and to a greater extent by dash of attack. There was no long period of artillery preparation,. At one o'clock on the morning of September 12 we sent our challenge to the enemy. It was inclosed in a bombardment of sufficient intensity to make them realize that big operations were impending. All the efforts of the American Nation seemed to be concentrated in that bombardment. As Palmer, who watch the operation from a commanding hill, describes it:

The labors and sacrifices of the people at home were concentrated in this inferno of accumulated preparation. Our guns were speaking the power of the Mississippi's flow; of the heat of the desert; of the coal and metals from our mines; of the throbbing life of our cities and wheat fields--top support the flesh and blood of our men waiting in the front-line trenches to commence our first attack as an army. It was the thought of our men which made you pray that all the shells screaming over their heads would go straight to their targets.

There was hardly any reply from the German batteries. Either the Germans thought that this was only the first of many days of preparatory bombardment, or the spirit of resistance had left them. The following extract of letter found upon a captured German next day confirms the latter thought. The letter reads:

FROM HEINRICH KIRSCHKE, 47th Infantry.

Sept, 11, 1919.

. . . . When will that time cone again that we can live together again so comfortably in Berlin? It looks very day for our beautiful Germany. Who knows whether the Americans will not even yet break through? This morning at 3 o'clock, we were again alerted, and thought the Americans were going to attack, but nothing as yet. However, we captured a couple of prisoners who said that they would be in Germany in eight days.. . . . . We few fellows cannot hold up this superior might and most all go helplessly into captivity, and, of course, most of the prisoners are murdered . . . . .

According to all appearance, we are approaching turbulent days. We are constantly alerted and it is feared that the Americans are going to attack in this sector. They are said to have assembled tremendous numbers of tanks and troops on the other side. In that case we are lost.

It seems, from other evidence, that this was a general opinion among the rank and file of the Germans in the St. Mihiel defences. They numbered only about 50,000, but, if possessed of fighting spirit like that shown by the average Prussian six months before, they might have defied an army twice as large as that which Pershing used. The Germans had the guns, but did not use them. German batteries which still had the camouflage on them and had not fired a shot were found next

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Day. had the enemy used their machine guns as the Germans had on the Marne , our losses would probably have been proportionately as appalling as those at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, or as those to be suffered by the New York Division in breaking the Hindenburg Line. But, as Palmer writes of the St. Mihiel Germans: "The die-hard spirit was not in this command." In the face of the overwhelming force of Americans, evacuations of the salient had, it seems, been decided upon. The German do not relinquish what they can keep, but at that time the average German in the St. Mihiel area had no other desire than to avoid the enemy.

Of course, as a soldier from Kansas expressed it: "We had the jump on them." Pershing had had no intention of politely knocking on the door of St. Mihiel, and of patiently waiting for someone to answer. He wanted the door opened, and, with characteristic American vim, he planned to bump into it and force it open. He would not wait, or stand upon ceremony. An artillery preparation of four hours would do, he thought, just as well as one of four days.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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