Forgotten Hero of World War I


Dale Price at Dyspeptic Mutterings has a great post on General Hunter Liggett, one of the bright lights of our involvement in World War I:


The fighting in Korea is usually referred to as “the Forgotten War,” a reference to how little of an impression it has made on the American historical consciousness. Outside of M*A*S*H*, the cultural markers of that War are non-existent.

But I would argue that America’s involvement in the First World War has made even less of an impression. It resonated at the time, but the wrangles over Versailles, the League of Nations and repayment of loans issued by America soured the nation quickly.

It became the war America wanted to forget–and it must be admitted that our nation did a pretty good job of it.

The only Americans from the conflict who pierce the cloud of willful forgetting are Sergeant Alvin York, General John Pershing and, most poignantly, the Unknown Soldier. 

Which is truly unfortunate, since it was, in terms of actual casualties per day of combat, America’s bloodiest war.

In April 1917, the United States brought into modern, mechanized warfare a first class navy, the Browning automatic rifle, the Springfield M1903 and a flood-tide of enthusiastic fighting men.

To say that America was criminally-unprepared to fight in the Great War is an understatement. 

And her officer corps’ experience consisted of frontier policing, brief fighting in the Spanish-American War and the bloody counter-insurgency in the Philippines. The Army War College, an effort to systematically train officers along European General Staff lines, was not quite 16 years old when the War began.

And the process of promoting Army officers by merit instead of seniority was not quite 30 years old.

In the aftermath of the declaration of war on the Central Powers, America had to engage in a crash mobilization program, expanding an army from the low five figures to over four million by the end of the War.



Pershing became America’s Generalissimo, which was helpful from the standpoint of administration and a steely determination to forge an American fighting force. But amongst his flaws were playing favorites, micromanagement, and being an at best indifferent tactician.

This would lead to a crisis in America’s bloodiest campaign, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Pershing, retaining command of the First Army as well as being the overall American commander, was flatly-overwhelmed by the task. Small gains and large casualties were the result of the American assault on the formidable terrain. Exhausted, Pershing kicked himself upstairs and appointed Hunter Liggett to replace him.

Liggett was not a favorite of Pershing’s, but the latter was smart enough to recognize the merits of the stocky, unassuming veteran. Despite some initial continuing micromanagement by Pershing, Liggett was able to reorganize and refit the exhausted First Army. He also ordered the air arm of the AEF to provide more close support and air cover for American attacks. After a two week breather, he out-generaled the German commander by turning a flank in the strength of the German lines. From that day forward, the American armies were continually on the move, breaking out of the Argonne. At the time of the Armistice, American troops were a day’s march away from cutting the major German rail line supplying the Kaiser’s forces being rolled up by British and Commonwealth forces to the west. 

Go here to read the rest.  The completely undeserved oblivion that has swallowed General Liggett calls to mind General Sherman’s acerbic observation of military fame:

I think I understand what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers.

Published in: on October 30, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Forgotten Hero of World War I  
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