September 26, 1918: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive Begins

 

The Offensive opened with a six hour bombardment, brief by Great War standards.  In the three hours prior to H hour the Americans fired off more munitions than both sides fired off in the four years of the American Civil War.   Ten American divisions, approximately 260,000 men, advanced along with 700 tanks.  The attack is largely initially successful with some 23,000 German troops captured, with American advances up to six miles.  Here is General Pershing’s report on the first four days of the Offensive:

 

Following three hours of violent artillery fire of preparation, the Infantry advanced at 5.30 a.m. on September 26th, accompanied by tanks. During the first two days of the attack, before the enemy was able to bring up his reserves, our troops made steady progress through the network of defences. Montfaucon was held tenaciously by the enemy and was not captured until noon of the second day.

By the evening of the 28th a maximum advance of 11 kilometres had been achieved and we had captured Baulny, Epinonville, Septsarges, and Dannevoux. The right had made a splendid advance into the woods south of Brieullessur-Meuse, but the extreme left was meeting strong resistance in the Argonne.

The attack continued without interruption, meeting six new divisions which the enemy threw into first line before September 29th. He developed a powerful machine-gun defence supported by heavy artillery fire, and made frequent counter-attacks with fresh troops, particularly on the front of the Twenty-eighth and Thirty-fifth Divisions.

These divisions had taken Varennes, Cheppy, Baulny, and Charpentry, and the line was within 2 kilometres of Apremont. We were no longer engaged in a manoeuvre for the pinching out of a salient, but were necessarily committed, generally speaking, to a direct frontal attack against strong, hostile positions fully manned by a determined enemy.

By nightfall of the 29th the First Army line was approximately Bois de la Cote Lemont-Nantillois-Apremont – southwest across the Argonne. Many divisions, especially those in the centre that were subjected to cross-fire of artillery, had suffered heavily. The severe fighting, the nature of the terrain over which they attacked, and the fog and darkness sorely tried even our best divisions.

On the night of the 29th the Thirty-seventh and Seventy-ninth Divisions were relieved by the Thirty-second and Third Divisions, respectively, and on the following night the First Division relieved the Thirty-fifth Division.

The critical problem during the first few days of the battle was the restoration of communications over “No man’s land.” There were but four roads available across this deep zone, and the violent artillery fire of the previous period of the war had virtually destroyed them. The spongy soil and the lack of material increased the difficulty. But the splendid work of our engineers and pioneers soon made possible the movement of the troops, artillery, and supplies most needed. By the afternoon of the 27th all the divisional artillery, except a few batteries of heavy guns, had effected a passage and was supporting the infantry action.

The initial stage can be rated a success, but with grave deficiencies shown in American training and leadership and hence the pause for reorganization and to replace the initial attacking divisions.  The Offensive would resume on October 4, 1918.

 

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Published in: on September 26, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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September 25, 1918: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive is About to Begin

 

One hundred years ago the Meuse-Argonne Offensive is about to begin.  We will be covering it in detail.  In reading about the Offensive, it should be recalled that American divisions were twice the size of European divisions, and with the losses most German and Allied divisions, other than most American divisions, had sustained, the American divisions were often close to triple the size of those divisions.   Here is General Pershing writing about the American forces on the eve of the great battle:

Meuse-Argonne, First Phase

On the night of September 25th, the 9 divisions to lead in the attack were deployed between the Meuse River and the western edge of the Argonne Forest.

On the right was the Third Corps, Maj. Gen. Bullard commanding, with the Thirty-third, Eightieth, and Fourth Divisions in line; next came the Fifth Corps, Maj. Gen. Cameron commanding, with the Seventy-Ninth, Thirty-seventh, and Ninety-first Divisions; on the left was the First Corps, Maj. Gen. Liggett commanding, with the Thirty-fifth, Twenty-eighth, and Seventy-seventh Divisions.

Each corps had 1 division in re serve and the Army held 3 divisions as a general reserve. About 2,700 guns, 189 small tanks, 142 manned by Americans, and 821 airplanes, 604 manned by Americans, were concentrated to support the attack of the infantry.  We thus had a superiority in guns and aviation, and the enemy had no tanks.

The axis of the attack was the line Montfaucon-Romagne-Buzancy, the purpose being to make the deepest penetration in the centre, which, with the Fourth French Army advancing west of the Argonne, would force the enemy to evacuate that forest without our having to deliver a heavy attack in that difficult region.

Published in: on September 25, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Beginning of the Rise of George C. Marshall

 

 

A century ago George C. Marshall, an acting Colonel on the Operations Staff of the American Expeditionary Forces, was finishing up a military miracle, overseeing the movement of 400,000 American troops to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Marshall had first come to the notice of General Pershing on October 3, 1917 when Pershing was severely dressing down officers of the First Division after he had viewed what he regarded as a fouled up training exercise.  Major Marshall, the Operations Officer for the Division, interrupted Pershing and reminded him of the problems the First Division was laboring under. Pershing, instead of taking umbrage, listed carefully to what the young Major had to say, and on future visits to the First Division would take Marshall aside for the “straight scoop” on what was going on with the Division.  Pershing had Marshall eventually transferred to the Operations Staff of the AEF and after the War made him his aide.  Marshall, who would be Chief of Staff of the Army during World War II, remarked in an interview in 1957 that he never encountered an officer more willing to accept constructive criticism than Pershing.  Like many an American officer who rose to fame in World War II, Marshall’s service in World War I taught him many important lessons, and not the least important was the willingness to listen to subordinates who were giving him information to help solve the myriad of military conundrums that any conflict kicks up.

Published in: on September 24, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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September 23, 1952: Checkers Speech

The  “Checkers Speech” given by Richard Nixon which allowed him to stay on the ticket as Vice-President on September 23, 1952.  The speech got its name from Nixon’s use of the pet dog given to his daughters, Checkers, to gain sympathy by stating that the girls had gotten fond of the dog and he would not return it.  The speech was classic Nixon:  go on the offensive, self-pitying, maudlin and oh so effective.  Nixon was never a great orator, but until Watergate he never lost the touch of appealing to the average American.  His high brow, usually left wing, critics savaged him, but Nixon never forgot that the purpose of a political speech is  persuasion.

 

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A classic anti-Nixon poster asked if you would buy a used car from him.  For most of his career, Nixon could have sold a car with a shot transmission and four bald tires to to a substantial segment of the American population and they would have thanked him for it.  Whence this power?  I think Nixon early tapped into the resentment that a growing number of average Americans had toward the chattering classes that were rapidly losing touch with them, and looked down on them.  That Nixon privately shared many of the views of the chattering classes that despised him as the ultimate enemy is one of the greater ironies of American political life during Nixon’s career.

 

The “Checkers Speech” will always be remembered for this peroration:

One other thing I probably should tell you because if we don’t they’ll probably be saying this about me too, we did get something—a gift—after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-year-old—named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.

 

 

(more…)

Published in: on September 23, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Spanish Ladies

 

Something for the weekend.  Spanish Ladies.  One of the most popular of sea shanties, it was written circa 1796, by that most prolific of all authors Anonymous, an artifact of the French Revolutionary wars.  It quickly became popular among American sailors.

Published in: on September 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Unforgettable John Randolph of Roanoke

 

Of all the luminaries of our early Republic, none had a sharper mind than John Randolph of Roanoke.  It was his misfortune, and also the misfortune of the nation, that this formidable intellect was given to someone who was also more than a little mad.  From the time of his first election to Congress at 26, when the clerk of the House asked him if he was old enough to serve, he quipped, “Ask my constituents.”, his brilliance shone in his writings and speeches, as his madness grew as he aged.  But for the madness, I have no doubt that he would be one of the major figures in our history.  As it is, we have some immortal phrases to remember him.

“Time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions.”

“I am an aristocrat. I love liberty; I hate equality.”

“A state can no more give up part of her sovereignty than a lady can give up part of her virtue.”

“That most delicious of all privileges – spending other people’s money.”

“Never were abilities so much below mediocrity so well rewarded; no, not when Caligula’s horse was made Consul.”

“Life is not so important as the duties of life.”

“Mean spirits under disappointment, like small beer in a thunderstorm, always turn sour.”

“The surest way to prevent war is not to fear it.”

“We all know our duty better than we discharge it.”

Last but certainly not least is his memorable observation about political opponent Edward Livingston:   He is a man of splendid abilities, but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight.

Published in: on September 21, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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September 20, 1863: Rock of Chickamauga

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On the second day of the battle of Chickamauga the Confederates came close to destroying the Army of the Cumberland.  They were prevented from reaching this goal by a stubborn defense of Major General George Thomas, who earned that day the title of The Rock of Chickamauga.

Thomas commanded the Union left, and his men were involved in heavy fighting from 9:30AM to Noon on September 20, beating off a heavy two division Confederate attack.

Through a comedy of errors in miscommunication a gap appeared in the Union center when a division led by Brigadier General Thomas Wood moved out of the line.  At 11:10 AM Longstreet attacked the Union center with three divisions, one of those divisions going right through the gap in the line created by Wood’s withdrawal.  After several hours of hard fighting the Union center and right collapsed.

Thomas held the field on the Union left, forming his men into a semi-circle and beating off Confederate assault after Confederate assault.  He only withdrew after he was ordered to, and after darkness fell.  His stand deterred the Confederates from what could have been a disastrous pursuit of the retreating Union troops.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s special investigator, Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana was at the battle and he telegraphed the news to Stanton that would soon have the entire North hailing Thomas as the Rock of Chickamauga.  (Ironically on September 20, Dana, convinced that the battle was lost, and demanding an escort to Chattanooga, helped distract Union Colonel John Wilder from ordering a counterattack against Longstreet by his mounted infantry brigade that may have stopped the collapse of the Union center.) (more…)

Published in: on September 20, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Speak Like a Pirate Day

To all pirates I have but one thing to say:  amateurs.

Donald R. McClarey

 

 

Aye Maties, t’day is Speak Like a Pirate Day again!

 

 

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Pirate Gettysburg Address

 

 

 

Ar, it be about four score and seven years ago since our fathers made ye new nation, a liberty port for all hands from end to end, and dedicated t’ t’ truth that all swabs be created equal.

Now we be fightin’ a great ruckus, testin’ whether ye nation, or any nation so minted like it, can last through the long watch. We be met on a great boardin’ fight o’ that war. We have come t’ dedicate a spot o’ that field, as a final restin’ place for those who here swallowed the anchor forever that that nation might live. It be altogether fittin’ and proper that we be doin’ this.

But, truth be told, we can not set aside, we can not pray over, we can not hallow this ground. T’ brave swabs, livin’ and went t’ Davy Jones’ locker, who fit here, have blessed it, far over our poor power t’ add or swipe back. T’ world won’t writ what we say here, but it can never forget what those swabs did here. It be for us t’ livin’, rather, t’ be dedicated here t’  finishin’ t’ work which they who fit here have begun.   It be rather for us t’ be here dedicated t’ t’ great chore remainin’ before us—that from these honored swabs we take increased love t’ what they died for—that we here Bible swear that these shipmates shall not have went t’ Davy Jones’ locker for nothin’—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth o’ freedom—and that government o’ t’ crew, by t’ crew, for t’ crew, shall not perish from t’ seven seas. (more…)

Published in: on September 19, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Great War Week by Week

 

One of the best resources on the internet during the centennial of World War I has been the Great War series on YouTube.  I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the Great War, but I think it would be especially valuable to home schooling families.  Bravo to Indiana ‘Indy’ Neidell, the host of the series, and to all involved in this grand project.

Published in: on September 18, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Allen Guelzo

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Each year on September 17, the anniversary of the battle of Antietam, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had been a lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts that day, received a red rose from his fellow justice, Edward Douglass White, a former Confederate soldier from Louisiana whom Holmes joined on the Court after Holmes’ appointment by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. It was the kind of sentimental gesture Holmes appreciated, and which Frederick Douglass would have deplored. But Justice White had a point to make. “My God”, the old Confederate would mutter in palpable horror as he reflected on the war he had lost, “My God, if we had succeeded.”

 Allen Guelzo, Civil War Historian

Published in: on September 17, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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