THE ENEMY CONTINUED TO OCCUPY THE heights across the Vesle, trying desperately to stem the American onrush long enough to prepare himself for a counter-thrust. We of the 4th Division did not realize the status of the German mind at this time, nor did Foch, Haig or Pershing, to judge from what they have written.
Far to the west, at 4:30 on the morning of August 8, the crash of five thousand great field guns signalled the assault which sent eleven of Haig's divisions and 450 tanks into battle on a 14-mile front east of Amiens, and one hour later a French army under Haig's command extended the mighty blow. The vast operation, which was accompanied by the most stupendous artillery barrage in history, was a complete success. It was the first in a series of magnificent hammer blows which Haig unloosed on this date, and which he continued until the Armistice. Ludendorff, in his room at the Hotel Britannique in Spa, Belgium, was shaken to his heels by the evil news that came back to him.
"August 8, " he wrote in My War Memories, 1914-1918, "was the black day of the German Army in the history of the war . . . . by the early hours of the afternoon I had gained a complete impression of the situation. It was a gloomy one. . . The 8th of August put the decline of the fighting power [of the Germans] beyond all doubt . . . . The war must be ended."
By the 11th of August the British had captured 22,000 prisoners and 400 field guns, and Haig, with perhaps clearer vision than any of the other Allied commanders, was telling Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, military representative for Great Britain on the Supreme War Council, that "we ought now to hit as hard as we could, and try to get peace this autumn."
Nevertheless, the Germans flailed our sector with accurate, efficient, well-timed artillery fire. They were good gunners. They wasted relatively few shells, and their machine gun outposts were shrewdly situated, in respect to sheltered positions as, well as to offensive effectiveness. Their crews were well trained, and at this time displayed an inclination to give ground or to relax their labors in the face of an attack from our side. They were genuinely fine soldiers, and they succeeded in inflicting heavy losses on us in the Ville-Savoye region. We of the ambulance company worked almost incessantly in evacuating the wounded back to Mareuil-en-Dôle, and from that ghostly village back to the field hospitals in the quiet zone.
On the 9th of August we cared for an unusually large number of stricken soldiers, taking them back to the cellars at Ville-Savoye for temporary dressings. They were men from that group which had crossed the Vesle River and advanced to within the very teeth of the Germans.
Litter-bearers brought in one American soldier who had a bullet from a machine gun lodged in his thigh. I talked to him briefly, and he told me that at being struck, he was able to flounder to the edge of a small crater and wriggle his way slowly down into its bottom. He lay there, hoping to be removed by our litter-bearers or to gain strength enough to crawl back to safety. But his wound bled profusely, and he began to have an intense thirst. Laboriously, he crawled or pulled himself out of the crater, and wormed his way along until he saw another crater that held a small pool of muddy water.
Sprawled in this crater was a wounded German soldier. They drank the water together, then the American fell back, exhausted. He lay there for 24 hours before he was found. Maggots found his wound and swarmed into it with avidity.
When I cut away the cloth of his breeches, I could not see his wound. It was black with burrowed maggots. In some alarm I cleansed the wound and destroyed the maggots, and then stared at the flesh in amazement. It was glisteningly pink and clean, with firm, healthy granulation tissue and not even the suspicion of infection.
This was my first experience with so-called maggot therapy, an aspect of surgery that today is well known and infinitely more advanced than it was in 1918. The principle in itself was not new. Ambroise Paré had commented on it in 1557; it was known to Baron D. J. Larrey, Napoleon's famous military surgeon, who in 1799 observed the curative effects of live maggots on the badly infected wounds of French soldiers. Dr. J. F. Zacharias, a surgeon of Cumberland, Maryland, who served in the Confederate army during the Civil War, actually employed maggots in caring for the wounds of Rebel soldiers.
But it was Dr. William S. Baer, clinical professor of orthopedic surgery in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who placed this age-old procedure on a scientific basis, and amplified it so that it could be used in civil medicine. Baer had reached France in June, 1917 as a member of the Johns Hopkins Unit (Base No. 18), but he was soon transferred to the headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces at Chaumont as orthopedic consultant, and his duties took him into all sectors held by American troops. One day in 1917 he had occasion to care for two American soldiers suffering from large flesh wounds in the scrotum and abdomen, and compound fractures of the femur. Yet these men, who had lain in No Man's Land for seven days without food, water or medical care, had neither fever nor any evidence of sepsis when Baer saw them. He did notice that their wounds were filled with thousands of maggots, a sight that disgusted him, as it did me. In spite of the fact that the mortality among soldiers having compound fractures during the World War was very great, the condition of Baer's two patients, except for the effects of starvation and thirst, was excellent. He was amazed.
In 1927, at the Children's Hospital School in Baltimore, Dr. Baer continued his researches in maggot therapy. Using maggots obtained from the blowfly, he was able to heal osteomyelitic wounds of from one to five years' duration. He proved that maggots could destroy the bacillus responsible for gas gangrene, and be evolved a technic of breeding blowflies (Lucilia sericata, Meigen, and Lucilia cæsar, Linnaeus) in such a manner that their larvae would be sterile. He died in 1931 of a cerebral hemorrhage, in the midst of his valuable studies at Johns Hopkins University.
The 10th and 11th of August were not particularly eventful. The Fourth Division moved out of action for a rest, and was relieved by the 77th Division. We of the Fourth Sanitary Train turned over our dressing stations to medical officers of the 77th, and began the trek back to the rear.
As we started to leave Ville-Savoye, we paused to laugh at the spectacle of an incoming brass band whose members were all on horseback. As is ever the case on foot or on horse, the musicians with the big brass horns had all the worst of it in handling their unwieldy instruments. When they were not buffering their own ears, they were smashing their horns against the necks of their astonished mounts. The incongruity of these harassed musicians, in a region that three days ago had been lashed and blasted by high explosives and shrieking missiles, was a hilarious interlude to the blood and carnage about us.
From the 4th to the 12th of August, in association with Ambulance Companies 19 and 33, we had evacuated no less than 2,700 men. Of our own company, Private Charles H. Reese bad been killed by shrapnel at Chery-Chartreuve. Private Michael Jereczkek had been wounded; he died of his injuries. Privates Bust, Brawley, Hoefle, Ross, Stafford, Juzzell and Junge had been gassed and evacuated. Private Vogelpohl had been wounded.
We moved back to the Château de la Forêt for a rest; but even in this quiet zone we were not wholly secure. The 39th Infantry Regiment, encamped in the Forêt de Fère not a half-mile south of us, was bombed by German airplanes and the 10th Machine Gun Battalion suffered the loss of 10 men.
It was while we were bivouacked in this forest that Ludendorff, according to the British authority, Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, went to a Crown Council at Spa and told the Kaiser and his aides on August 15, after the British victory at Amiens, that Germany could no longer hope to win the war, and that pleas for peace should be initiated at once, while German armies still occupied much French and Belgian territory.
The men who had helped to win the Vesle sector of the Aisne-Marne (called the Second Battle of the Marne) salient now had an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves in the very forest they had fought through. It might be imagined that the respite would be a keen pleasure. So it was, but not entirely so.
How some they have died, and some they have left me,
And some are taken from me; all are departed--
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
Too many of the "old familiar faces" were missing. Too many young lads were now lying at peace beneath fresh-turned sod on the banks of the River Vesle. Too many of them would never need a rest again.
While we idled in this forest we were visited by round-faced, cheery Winston Churchill, brilliant English prime minister, who was at this time secretary of state for war in the British cabinet. He was accompanied by an English general whose name I cannot recall.
New equipment was issued to the troops at the Château de la Forêt, and replacements were added to depleted units.
On the night we moved out of the woods, we had another harrowing experience at the hands of German airmen. We had been thoroughly schooled to step off to the side of the road and stand in absolute silence on the dark grass and underbrush if an airplane known to be hostile soared over us, because a column of troops marching over the luminous white chalk roads of this sector would make a good target from the air, particularly if the night happened to be moonlit.
Soon after we left the woods, we heard the sinister drone of German airplanes, swelling gradually into a surly roar as they approached us. We fell out of column formation at once, and hugged the earth, almost afraid to breathe. Suddenly, blinding comets of light descended from the sky, and we knew that the aviators had dropped calcium flares which would light up the terrain for the bombers. But the flares burned fitfully and died out, and the airmen flew away, baffled. They had not seen us.
We marched steadily southward, to a place near the Bois de Conde. Captain Dobbins and I had breakfast with the 4th Ammunition Train, then we had a bath in the waters of the River Surmelin, a small stream that enters the Marne about 5 miles east of Château-Thierry. On the 16th of August we reached Montmirail, a village of about 1,800 souls, south of the Marne.
On the 18th of August our ambulance company, with Field Hospital 33, began a journey to Pres-sous-Lafauche, headquarters of Brigadier General Booth and his 8th Brigade. We bivouacked at Saint Dizier, and went on the next day to Vitry-le-François, where Captain Dobbins fell and broke his collarbone. On the 17th several units of the 4th Division began the march into Reynel, the great army training center built by the Emperor Louis Napoleon III, and situated about 30 kilometers northeast of Chaumont, where Pershing's general headquarters were.
Reynel was built in a lovely part of France, quiet, green and mild in climate. The effect on our men, after a month in the bogs of the Vesle sector, was wonderful. They could bathe as often as they liked. They could, at long last, rid themselves of the ubiquitous cootie. They could shave with hot water, put on clean clothing, and attend to their darning needs. They were billeted in private homes, barns, public buildings, stores, and barracks of the Adrian type. The French people of the region were most happy to see the young American fighters, and their good nature and cheery confidence in the might of American arms lent much to the maintenance of good morale among our men. Had French generals displayed as much faith in our men as French people did, Pershing might have been spared much annoyance.
The division's losses were fully replaced by newly-trained soldiers. Supplies of all kinds poured in from the railroad at Rimaucourt, particularly medical supplies for our company. We had experienced much difficulty in obtaining new parts for our ambulances when they broke down; but we had unusually skilled motor mechanics in the division, so ingenious that they could patch up our decrepit vehicles with seemingly little more than a roll of tape and a bale of fence wire. While we were at Reynel our machines were thoroughly overhauled by these excellent workmen.
I spent the next 12 days in holding sick call, lecturing to the men of the company, and supervising the transportation of men from different organizations to field hospitals. Several weighty events took place while the division rested. The Second Battle of the Marne, in which we had participated on the Vesle sector, bad just been fought and won by the Americans and French; now Pershing was preparing for the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient, fighting for the first time as he chose. He planned to use the First American Army, commanded by Major General Hunter Liggett. Telephone lines were being laid in preparation for the offensive, the queer-looking little 60 centimeter railways (about 20 inches between rails) that connected the trenches with the railheads were being constructed by throwing down portable sections of rails. Camouflaging of roads and strategic areas had to be effected; searchlights were rushed into position, and installations for sound and flash ranging for artillery had to be made. Franklin D. Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the navy, visited General Pershing at Chaumont on August 24; and Walter Damrosch, for many years conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra, conferred with Pershing concerning the training of American military brass bands, a subject in which "Black Jack" was keenly interested. While we were in Reynel we heard of Haig's magnificent capture of Bapaume in Western France on August 29, and of the capture of Noyon, on the River Oise above Compiègne, by the French.
It was on the 25th of August that Major General John Leonard Hines assumed command of the 4th Division. Major General Cameron, who had taken the Division from Camp Greene, North Carolina, where it had been organized, to France and through the Aisne and Vesle campaign, was appointed commander of the 5th Army Corps. He left the 4th Division on August 16.
The 10th French Army under Major General Charles Marie Emmanuel Mangin, aided by the 32nd American Division under Major General William G. Haan, began an attack on the 29th to drive the Germans from the Vesle and Aisne Rivers, to clear this sector for Pershing's St. Mihiel offensive. On the next day, Pershing took formal command of the St. Mihiel sector, and was ready to issue preparatory orders when Generalissimo Foch, who bad been made a Marshal of France at Bombon by Clemenceau on the 6th, came to him in person and suggested adoption of a plan that would have placed Major General Joseph Dégoutte in complete charge of the American forces. Pershing, knowing that Dégoutte had sacrificed many hundreds of American lives in July on the Aisne sector, refused point blank to allow his forces to be split up. Foch left Chaumont in a huff. On the 2nd of September, with Pershing standing firm as a rock, Foch capitulated. He agreed that the Americans should fight as an American army. And Pershing chose to fight east of the Argonne, at St. Mihiel.
The actual concentration of more than 500,000 American soldiers was done chiefly at night. Troops were concealed in the forests or other remote places during the day, and the men resumed the march at nightfall, proceeding in silence and without lights, Most of the railway trains and motor transports were owned by the French, and were handled by them during these movements. On the 29th of August the headquarters of the First American Army were transferred from Neufchâteau to Ligny-en-Barrois, 25 miles southwest of St. Mihiel, at Pershing's orders.
And on the first of September, we moved by motor truck and ambulance to Vanincourt, as the 4th Division pushed onward into a sector that bad been in German hands continually since September of 1914---a region back of which lay the enemy's all-important Mézières-Sedan-Metz railway system, and the enormously valuable Briey iron bases; a region so tightly held under the Teutonic domination for the preceding four years that French peasants and workers living in it had not the slightest suspicion of how the war was going or how the Allies were faring.
THE ST. MIHIEL SALIENT LAY TO THE EAST and south of the Argonne Forest, a fact which meant that if Pershing should attempt to reduce the Argonne salient first, the German concentration in the St. Mihiel sector would remain at his rear as he drove northward. Conceivably, by moving to the west from St. Mihiel, the Germans could have pinched off the Americans' source of supply and their communications, trapping Pershing between two German forces: ahead of him in the north and behind him in the south. Essentially, the battle of St. Mihiel was a tactical maneuver designed to clear that particular region of a not-too-powerful enemy who might at any moment have become dangerous.
Actually, however, the enemy was hard-pressed on the seaboard at this time. Haig, using forces which included the 27th and 30th Divisions of the United States Army, had smashed the Hindenburg Line on August 30, in an epic struggle in which 35 British divisions had beaten back 79 German divisions for a distance of 20 miles on a front 30 miles wide, and had taken 67,000 prisoners and 680 heavy guns.
The battle of St. Mihiel has been celebrated as the first extensive triumph of American soldiers fighting as a unit in France. Such a view is not wholly correct. That the Americans won a victory cannot be denied. The battle itself, wrote Colonel Arthur L. Conger of the United States Army, and former president of the United States Military History Association, had been planned in the United States long before the American General Staff ever reached France. Moreover, Ludendorff knew before hostilities began that the American assault was impending. The battle was scheduled to begin September 12, but an Allied deserter told Ludendorff about it on September 1. The German general had in fact planned to evacuate the sector as being too dangerous to try to hold, particularly since Haig had smashed the Hindenburg Line on August 30, causing Ludendorff to send all his available troops to bolster the cracking lines opposite the British. But Ludendorff's subordinate commanders in the St. Mihiel sector had assured him that they could defend the area against all comers, and Ludendorff reluctantly acquiesced.
Foch sent four French divisions to fight with Pershing's fifteen American divisions, and although the French divisions were one-half the size of American divisions, they added considerably to the total number of Allied soldiers who fought in the battle of St. Mihiel.
At Vavincourt men of the 4th Division learned some thing about the effectiveness of the French espionage system.
It should be remembered that in all our overland movements we knew nothing about where we were going or what we were to do---orders were issued and we obeyed them without question. But at Vavincourt an old Frenchwoman who kept the village wine shop told a French liaison officer attached to our division that the American army planned to reduce the St- Mihiel salient and that our division would take part in the struggle. Who she was we did not know. Yet she obviously was intelligent or shrewd enough to understand military maneuvers and to describe the plan of battle and the movement of troops. Possibly she was affiliated with the French espionage system. Perhaps her little wine shop was really a souricière --literally a mouse trap---a public house, gin shop, railway station, café or the like, in which Allied officers would naturally congregate and in which their conversation could be overheard by French operatives simulating employees.
In the area of Vavincourt the final intensive training before the battle was conducted. Sentries patrolled the region constantly on the alert for the shadowy threats of German airmen. Men were forbidden to use the roads; they were even ordered off the streets of the villages in the neighborhood. Thoroughly dry wood was used in the company kitchens to reduce smoke to a minimum.
On the nights of September 5-6 and 6-7, the 59th Infantry Regiment and the 12th Machine Gun Battalion started to relieve the French in the Toulon sector,, southeast of the great fortress of Verdun. What the incoming Americans saw amazed them. Roads had disappeared entirely under the gigantic hammering of the guns. Shell-holes were so frequent that it was said that German shells had exploded at least every ten feet throughout that ghastly countryside. Blasted, blackened stumps and jagged fragments of lacerated wood reared up out of the churned-up mire to remind one of the swaying green forests that had once stood there. For miles on end, the view was one of stark desolation.
Even so, the veritable labyrinth of French trenches surprised the Americans even more than the havoc that had been wrought. There were dry, well-built concrete dugouts, electric lights, running water, the latest type of electrically-operated communication apparatus, and concealed listening posts fitted out with powerful field glasses and efficient telephones.
Far away, over the gently rolling plains of the Woëvre and atop a green hill, was the fortified city of Metz, 35 kilometers distant, in German hands since the 10th of May, 1871.
Foch had gone to school at the little Jesuit College of St. Clément, in one part of Metz. In a cemetery within the city lay the bodies of 7,200 Frenchmen who had been slaughtered in the Franco-Prussian War. Metz, on the River Moselle at the junction of the Seille, bad been plundered and sacked by Attila and his Huns in the Fifth Century, but until 1870 it had been affectionately known as La pucelle (the virgin) because it had never surrendered to a foe. France had gained Metz in 1648 under the terms of the Treaty of Westphalia, only to lose it to Bismarck two centuries later.
Two kilometers in front of our line was Manheulles, a hideous mass of pulverized stone and shredded timbers, with a few walls sagging crazily here and there, behind which, we knew, were German machine gun nests. Off to the north, far outside the zone of battle, could be seen the drifting smoke of the Briey iron basin, with tiny German railway cars shuttling back and forth between busy factories and smelters like mechanical toys wound up with a spring.
On the raw plains between that quiet, remote scene and our lines many men would have to fall, some not to rise again. The greatest maelstrom of iron shells and lead butlets ever loosed in that part of France would rock the earth and shatter the heavens, and the pitiful soil would be flayed open and tossed to the skies once more in huge gouts of mud and chalk before the carnage should cease.
Colonel Conger wrote that on September 8, four days before the Americans struck their first blow, the German forces had been ordered to retire to the Michel Stellung. Thus, on the night preceding our assault, the German heavy guns were being withdrawn, and could not be used at all in repulsing the subsequent Allied advance. European military authorities have ironically alluded to the battle of St. Mihiel as the "sector in which the Americans relieved the Germans", referring to the fact that the Germans were retiring before the strife began. It is true, as Colonel Conger pointed out, that those German infantrymen who remained offered very little resistance. Part of the German apathy no doubt was the result of the serious internal dissension in Germany, where the Social Democrats in the Reichstag were clamoring for the liberation of Belgium and of all territories occupied by German armies, plus abrogation of the Treaty of BrestLitovsk. In America the New York Sun on September 11 carried this headline:
HINDENBURG LINE PRACTICALLY WIPED OUT;
FOCH IS CIRCLING ST. GOBAIN FOREST BASE;
FRENCH AND BRITISH AT GATES OF ST. QUENTIN
Facing the Allies at St. Mihiel was German Army Detachment C, under the command of General Fuchs, who was not a first class general officer. He had only eight divisions in the line, and three in reserve, as against nineteen Allied divisions of which the fifteen American divisions were double size. In other words, the Germans bad eleven divisions and the Allied command had thirty-four, a superiority of nearly 3 to 1 in favor of the Allies.
Nevertheless, the Germans had a strong defensive position at St. Mihiel. On the western face of the salient was the Côte de Meuse, steep hills 1,600 feet high. Mont Sec and the lower-lying hills south of the Rupt de Mad gave the enemy an almost invulnerable emplacement.
Rain began to fall on September 9. It poured down continually in dreary torrents until the 13th. The naked earth of the region became a steaming quagmire, so tenacious that on occasion, one artilleryman at a time would have to stumble a hundred yards to an ammunition dump, bring back two shells on his shoulders and return again and again with similar burdens, Caissons and motor trucks could not roll over those boggy roads.
At 1 o'clock on the morning of September 12 the tremendous cannonading began. Ton after ton of high explosives hurtled forward into German territory, some of it striking empty trenches. The hollow, deep-throated bellows of long range naval guns, set up on railway tracks in the rear, drowned out the sharper reports of the French seventy-fives. The glowering skies were lighted up for miles by huge sheets of orange, red and white flame. The earth trembled so violently that at times a soldier had difficulty in standing upright under the mighty shocks, yet the gunners worked desperately, shouting and cursing as each man sought to outdo the man next to him. Three thousand great guns sent ten million dollars worth of iron and steel screaming toward the German lines between 1 and 5 o'clock on that gloomy, rain-drenched September morning at St. Mihiel. At the Battle of Gettysburg 33,000 rounds of artillery ammunition were fired; at St. Mihiel more than 1,000,000 rounds were fired. Yet the Union army at Gettysburg lost fully 21,000 men, whereas we lost only 7,000.
Soldiers of the 4th Division pushed off in the early afternoon of September 12. They encountered heavy machine gun fire from the German rear guards, and returned. On the 14th they took the shell-swept village of Manheulles, where they found hot meals of roast beef, fried potatoes, sauerkraut coffee, loaf sugar and dark bread, awaiting the taking. The Germans, fleeing the town, had left their kitchens behind them in their haste to get away with whole skins. Fresnes-en-Woëvre was captured at 2 o'clock on the 14th, and all objectives were reached by the coming of dusk.
How far the impetuous, untried American troops might have gone probably always will remain a question without an answer. Pershing is known to have believed that he could reach the Mickel Stellung if Foch had permitted him to continue the advance. Major General Joseph Dickman, commander of the 3rd Army Corps, was sure of it.
Lieutenant General Max von Gallwitz, commander of all the German forces in that portion of the so-called Hindenburg Line, wrote that "a successful attack launched against the Michel Stellung would have been more important than the successes gained along the Meuse and in the Argonne.
". . . an American advance to the town of Longuyon would have been a blow which we could not have borne."
General Fuchs is known to have been terrified by the savage speed of the American onslaught. Except for Foch's obstinate insistence on maintaining his policy of "limited objectives," which means that attacking troops should advance only to a predetermined objective and remain there despite the opportunities for continued progress, Pershing might have taken Metz in one sustained onrush. The bloody battle of the Meuse-Argonne thus would not have had to be fought, and the war would have been ended much sooner than November 11. But Pershing considered himself bound by Foch's orders, and his soldiers stopped at the objectives laid down by the Frenchman. Yet the Americans captured nearly 16,000 Germans and 445 guns.
A man who had commanded a company of Marines in the battle of Belleau Wood was transferred to the 4th Division with the rank of colonel shortly before the battle of St. Mihiel. He was given command of the 59th Infantry Regiment. He was hard and choleric, and he was in every sense of the word a taskmaster, but he had the welfare of his men at heart, and virtually all his actions tended to militate in favor of the men in the ranks and their comfort.
At about 5:30 o'clock on the afternoon of the second day of the St. Mihiel operation I came to the officers' mess of the 59th Infantry for supper. It was the only regiment in the 4th Division that had a part in this particular battle, and the position it occupied was not important. We sat down to supper in one of the most elaborate trench systems I had seen thus far, and were ready to eat when this colonel suddenly asked a young second lieutenant if his men had had their dinner, and if so, the nature of the rations and the condition of the men. The young lieutenant replied that the men had not yet been fed. The colonel flew into a violent rage.
"Why, you ------" he stormed, "don't you ever let me catch you sitting down like this to stuff your guts until you see to it that the men have been fed, and fed properly! Now get to hell out of here and don't come back until the men have eaten!"
It was my observation that however hard or stern an officer might be, if his men realized that he considered their interests to be paramount, he would have but very little trouble in the matter of obedience or respect. Men would cheerfully work long and hard for such an officer.
During the night of September 14-15, part of the 59th Infantry Regiment was relieved, and on the following day the relief was completed. On the night of September 19-20, the 4th Division, less its brigade of artillery, fell back westward into the Bois de Landrecourt and the Bois de Lemmes. Division headquarters were established at the town of Lemmes. We were only a few miles southwest of the fortress of Verdun, which the Crown Prince and Von Falkenhayn had failed to take in 1916.
Since the war, the literature of exposure and protest has produced many accounts purporting to prove that the French and Germans had an agreement not to shell or bomb each other in the region of the Briey iron basin, the object of the agreement being to allow both nations to produce necessary munitions without interference. Such a contention may be true. It is admitted that the St. Mihiel sector prior to our coming had had been a quiet one, manned by German troops sent there for a rest and by French troops who were not of the first order. Nevertheless, what we understood at the time was that the basin was the least desolated portion of the front, and that France, for purely selfish reasons, wished to keep it so. She had every expectation of winning the region back if the Allies were successful, and she could not be blamed for desiring to receive the territory in the best possible condition at the cessation of hostilities. The arguments for either view are credible, but it should be remembered that French officers made not the slightest objection to the tremendous cannonading initiated by the Americans in that region. The French forces even supplied a great number of guns, and French airplanes flown by Americans many times dropped scores of bombs in the Briey basin.
While the 4th Division was at rest after the St. Mihiel campaign, the men were ordered to wear their gas masks for two hours each day in preparation for the more severe campaign to follow. They also received intensive training in combat maneuvers. It was a rigid rule throughout the American Expeditionary Forces that the soldiers, no matter how far removed from the front lines they might be, were never to be left to their own devices for amusement. Idleness breeds mischief all too quickly, and mischief cropping out in a force of a million men could have been disastrous to the cause.
When I entered the United States Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, I had been assigned to the National Army, which meant that I was a member of those forces that had been recruited for the duration of the emergency. I was thus not an officer of the regular army. But at Fort Riley I had applied for an examination for appointment in the Medical Corps of the regular army on the theory that if the war continued for a long time, it would be more advantageous for me to be in the regular army than in the National Army.
On September 20, 1918, while the 4th Division was at rest, I was summoned to Tours, far to the southwest for examination. Tours was the headquarters of the surgeon-general of the American Expeditionary Forces, and also for the Service of Supply, headed by Major General James G. Harbord.
I managed to get a ride in a motorcycle side-car, and in this manner I left our sector for the nearest railhead. While waiting several hours for a train which would take me to Paris, I had a very pleasant visit with a young French second lieutenant, who was obviously of excellent station and background. He spoke English well, and we began to discuss various French customs in contrast to those of America. Inevitably, we started to discuss French women, and I was amazed at what this officer told me. We had been speculating on French morals.
"Why," I said, "in my country a girl would be ostracized forever if she slept indiscriminately with men, and it became known."
"But no," the Frenchman assured me solemnly, "not in my country. Here, a girl can be what you call immoral and still be respected, if she is an honest girl."
"I don't understand," I protested.
"Why, it is very simple. The girl must be honest; that is, not given to trickery or lying. People would say 'MIle. So-and-so sleeps around with different men, but she is a good girl, an honest girl.' "
I still did not understand such mores, but I decided not to press him further. He was not necessarily wrong: the difficulty was that we had each been exposed to wholly different environments. This was a custom that I had read about, but I did not know that it actually existed. So when this young officer informed me that it actually did exist it struck me with much astonishment.
The next day I reached Paris. It was not the jocund capital of wit and amusement that it is popularly supposed to be, but it was gay enough. All street lamps were dark and shutters were tightly drawn everywhere, by order of the military governor of the city. But the cafés and theaters were open, and any American officer was a hero to the demonstrative Parisians of those days. I had a good time.
The following morning I left for Tours, south and west of Paris on the fabulous River Loire, a city whose history extends back to the days of the Roman conquerors, made famous in later times by Honoré de Balzac's Droll Stories. Balzac, once called "a sort of medical Molière . . . a museum, in-folio, of pathological anatomy," and by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, who never liked him, "The indiscreet physician of secret maladies," was born at Tours in 1799. The entire region is steeped in a mystical romance; the magnificent châteaux of Amboise, Chinon, Loches and Blois are hard by. It was at Blois that Balzac, in his Sur Catherine de Medici, had the celebrated military surgeon, Ambroise Paré, operate on Francis II of France, first husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, as the youthful French monarch lay on his deathbed, afflicted by a suppurative process of the ear.
I spent the evening in Tours, and took an oral examination on the following morning, conducted by officers of the Medical Corps of the regular army.
While I was at Tours, I had the honor and good fortune to meet Major General William Crawford Gorgas, surgeon-general of the United States Army. General Gorgas had arrived in France on September 8. 1918, to inspect the various base hospitals, field hospitals and evacuation hospitals. My conference with General Gorgas made a deep and profound impression on me. He was a very distinguished-looking man, tall, slender, white-haired and ruddy in complexion. He spoke softly and seriously, almost gravely.
When I was presented to General Gorgas, he asked me why I had come to Tours and on learning my mission, inquired about the physical condition of the men at the front, as well as about our methods and successes in evacuating the wounded. I knew that General Gorgas had conquered yellow fever, and that he had almost totally eradicated it from Havana and the Isthmus of Panama. He had even extended his great work to South Africa. Sir William Osler said that in his opinion the greatest ovation ever accorded a medical man in England had occurred on the occasion of General Gorgas' visit to London in 1914, where he addressed the Royal Society of Medicine. The University of Oxford honored him with the degree of Doctor of Science on March 23, 1914
General Gorgas spent only a short time in France. One reason for his extreme gravity when I saw him at Tours may have been the knowledge that he would soon have to retire from the army. He was approaching the retirement age, and although considerable pressure was exerted on the War Department to continue him in the surgeon-generalcy, it was of no avail. He left France in October and retired three days after the Armistice had been signed. In London. the next year, on the way to Western Africa to complete his work on yellow fever there, he fell ill. Sir John Goodwin, surgeon-general of the British army, attended him, and King George V hastened to bestow on him the insignia of Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. But he died on July 3, 1919, and was given the funeral of a major general in the British army. He is buried in the Arlington cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington. I think he was one of the greatest spirits of his time, and certainly one of the greatest of all American physicians.
I returned to Paris, took a train to the railhead nearest our sector, and rejoined my company on September 21 at the village of Sivry-la-Perche, west and north of the Bois de Lemmes. I found the men vaguely aware of the fact that another big push was imminent. No one knew what it was, but it was said that "Black Jack is up to something new." We could tell that we were moving to the west and north. To some it appeared to be a withdrawal from the enemy, but it was not.
The task of planning the transfer of nearly a million soldiers from the St. Mihiel salient to the Meuse-Argonne region was entrusted to an officer who is now (1939) chief of staff of the United States Army, Major-General George C. Marshall. He was at that time a colonel, 37 years old.
"Four thousand cannon were moved up," wrote Major-General Johnson Hargood, "with 40,000 tons of ammunition, delivered at the rate of thirteen carloads a day. Nineteen railheads and eighty-seven depots were established for supply. Thirty-four hospitals, 93,000 horses and mules, 164 miles of light railways and seventy-five miles of standard-gauge railways were rebuilt or constructed anew.
"The timing for such a movement and the details that had to be worked out to be sure that each unit would arrive in order at the right place, without confusion or congestion on the roads, go beyond the comprehension of the ordinary man. It was all done within a period of fourteen days, at a short distance behind the lines, and no German aviator discovered it. . . .
"In the preparations for the Meuse-Argonne, one of the largest bodies of troops over collected together under the command of one man bad been secretly transferred from one battlefield to another in the very face of the German General Staff."
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