Ninety-Eight Years Ago Today: Meuse-Argonne Offensive Begins

From 26  Sept. to 11 Nov. 2016–the 98th anniversary of the Meuse-Argonne–the webmaster plans to post a daily entry; some of which will be prepared by guest writers.  In most cases, the post will also contain a photograph of the grave of a soldier who died on that day and who is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.  During his recent battlefield tour the webmaster did a “random walk” of the cemetery; photographing individual crosses.

For the first entry, the author has selected a few paragraphs from Ed Lengel’s To Conquer Hell:  The Meuse-Argonne 1918.


“The barrage intensified as H hour approached, and “the metallic whiz of shells overhead merged into a continuous scream.”  The rippling light of gun flashes spread along the line, creating a false daylight.  Luminous dials of synchronized watches glowed eerily as the minutes counted down to 5:30.  In the last twenty minutes the barrage grew heavier, until the ground trembled to the sound of a million colliding express trains.  The Doughboys shuddered and gritted their teeth…

Men prayed, held charms, or performed superstitious rituals.  Some chatted.  Some even napped. Officers carried out a thousand duties and worried if they would show fear or let down their men.  “Among the men there was no elation, no joy of battle,” recalled Sergeant Maximilian Boll of the 79th Division.  “We spoke to one another with subdued spirits and arranged with one another to have our best buddy carry home a message to our folks just in case we didn’t make it.”  At 5:30, all their divergent thoughts merged into one.  “This is it:  This is what I’ve been preparing for, this is the moment to which all other moments of my life have been pointing.”  Shouted orders erupted all along the line:  “F Company, Over!”  “E Company, Ahead!”  Third Platoon advance!  Combat groups about 30 paces.  Scouts Out!”

Fog and smoke draped the battlefield as the soldiers heaved forward, their nostrils stinging with the odor of high explosive.  Dim figures moved across the battlefield, dropping into shell holes and popping up again, covered with slime and mud, on the opposite sides.  At Souilly, where Pershing had set up First Army headquarters on Sept. 21, journalists scribbled tales of Doughboys going over with a throaty cheer, shouting, “Remember the Lusitania!”  In reality, the men “went forward eating, smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and when they did holler at the Boche it was invariably a less romantic and more vulgar word they yelled.”

Pride, the sense of being part of a great nation on a historic mission, urged many of them on.  Looking around, the Doughboys saw–or sensed, depending on the thickness of the fog–“an armed host, every man going in one direction, with one purpose, and all advancing in relentless systematic order.  We were part of it!”  (To Conquer Hell, pp 88 – 90.)




Amzi H. Jeffers; Corpl. 364 Inf. 91 Div.; California Sept. 26, 1918