When the regiment was relieved from the duty in Lorraine, we
moved back to the land of the
Moselle and entrained and started westward. After a
twenty-four hour railroad journey, we
arrived in the valley of the Marne, and our regimental
headquarters were located at St. Amend.
Here we rested for five days, played ball, had concerts and
bathed in the river. What a relief it
was, after the four tiresome months in the trenches to be free
again, but our freedom was of short
duration. On June 27 we were transferred to the Fourth Army,
commanded by General Gouraud,
one of the highest honored and best loved generals in the
French Army, and at once were ordered
to make a thirty-five kilometer march toward the front. Early
the next morning we dragged into
the little town of Courtsols where we rested until the night
before the fourth of July.
We were now in the famous Camp De Chalons country, on ground
that has been made famous
by past history. The Romans had made great highways through
this country, and there were many camps and villages that bore
the names that carried one back to the days when Attila and
Saracens had battled here. Here the French had conducted
a great offensive in 1917 and this same country was taken by
the Germans in 1914. This country is vividly described by Colonel
Walter Wolf in his story of the
Rainbow Division. He says "It was into this sector we moved,
the arid and outlandish part of
Champagne, with not a vineyard, not a garden and not a field
of wheat – known because of its
meagerness as the 'lousy Champagne.' It was very white and
very desolate, the scrubby trees
were dwarfed and gnarled, and with their patchy foliage merely
emphasized the blankness and
glare of the scene. Heather bounded chalk was everywhere,
chalk reflected the heat and kept the
cool of the ground within, made the road firm and readily
afforded deep dug-outs of great
strength and resisting power. The only touch of color upon the
width of these plains was the thick
poppy field, then full blown."
It was amidst this weird scene, over these dreary roads, that
we marched on July 4 into the
battered town of Suippes, and from there into Camp 3-5 and 4-5
and into the wooded position.
Here we became a part of General Gouraud's Army of Defense;
two divisions of French and our
own Rainbow Divisions made up the troops that were assigned to
this position, in which we were
informed the Germans would throw the full power of their
strength. Against us there were massed
nine divisions of the Boche, who were planning an offensive in
which they expected to
overwhelmingly defeat us, to drive through and capture the
Marne River towns and force a quick
conclusion of the war.
When we moved into out camps all was quiet and still. Scarcely
a gun was fired during the day and occasionally a lone
airplane circled above our line; otherwise in the daytimes an
observer would little have dreamed that a great battle was
soon to be fought here. Our own boys who loafed during the
day, as soon as the touch of darkness covered the land, worked
with feverish haste digging trenches, swinging guns into
position, bringing up ammunition, preparing for the greatest
conflict in which it had ever been their privilege to play a
part. From the night of July 8 until the night of the 14th,
our boys were called to the alert postion shortly after
midnight and stood thus until just before dawn in the morning.
We were taking no chances of a German surprise attack.
General Gouraud sent us the following order:
|" To the French and
American soldiers of the Fourth Army: We may be attacked
at any moment. You all know that a defensive battle was
never engaged under more favorable conditions. We are
awake and on our guard. We are powerfully reinforced
with infantry and artillery. You will fight on a
terrain, that you have transformed by your work and
perseverance into a redoubtable fortress. This fortress
will be invincible and all the entrances are well
The bombardment will be terrible, You will support it
without weakness. The assault will be fierce, in a cloud
of smoke, dust and gas, but your position and your
armament are formidable. In your breast beats the brave
and strong hearts of free men.
glance to the rear, none shall yield a step. Each shall
have but one thought, to kill many until they have had
why your General says to you, "You will break this
assault and it will be a happy day."
With the words of this brave general ringing in our ears, we
waited for the attack to commence. Night after night in the
clear moonlight with rifle by our side, we strengthened our
positions and wondered if the attack would come before
morning. Our division had never taken part in a great battle,
and now we were to be suddenly thrown into a fight on which
would hang the whole history of civilization. The
Germans had broken the British lines on the left in March and
had driven through for thirty-five kilometers. In May, they
broke the French line and drove through clear to the Marne
river, and captured Chateau Thierry, forcing the French back
forty-seven kilometers. Now, the enemy was to attempt an even
greater attack and we were to have part in resisting his
Never shall I forget the night of that battle. The air was
tense with the coming tragedy. At that moment darkness began,
ammunition was rushed to the front, artillery teams came
swinging up, quickly unloaded their shells and galloped back
after further supplies. Messengers were dashing up on
motorcycles in the dark and dashing quickly away again.
Officers were feverishly writing messages, runners nervous and
excited, were carrying these messages to every part of the
line. By 10 o'clock all was in readiness and for two long
hours we stood and waited for that battle to begin. The moon
was shining softly, slipping from behind first one lazy cloud
and then another. The breeze sighed softly among the scraggy
pines as though moaning over over the tragedy that the rising
sun would witness. Men talked in nervous tones, laughed over
things that were not laughable and smoked furiously at their
cigarettes. Many a fellow gave a last message that night
to the comrade at his side and told him to carry it back to
some loved one waiting for him, for no man knew whether fate
would be kind or unkind to him before morning and many a
fellow, perhaps for the first time in his life, looked up at
the stars that was shining so softly above him and thought of
the Creator into whose presence he knew many of his buddies
and possibly himself would enter in a few hours. Men do not
often pray in battle but many of them prayed this night. They
prayed to the Great Father to give them the courage to die as
bravely as their comrades had died at Lorraine, to give them
the strength to endure the long hours of bombardment and to
conquer the fear that was tugging at their hearts. I cannot
but believe that the Master, who went through Gethsemane
understood those men, who were trying so bravely to follow in
At twenty minutes to twelve our own guns opened with a roar
that shook the earth about us. Four hundred and fifty guns
were pouring a steady stream of shells into the enemy's lines
and our boys lay there in the trenches and chuckled to
themselves at what a nice surprise the enemy was receiving.
Promptly at 12 o'clock or 12:10 the enemy's guns opened with a
terrible roar and the roar of his screaming, bursting shells
smothered the sound of our own guns. Never have I seen such a
bombardment. Trees were torn up by the roots, dust and rocks
were whirled in every direction, men's bodies were blown into
atoms, horses were slaughtered by the thousands and many of
them wounded, broke their halter ropes or dashed away from
their drivers, screaming and neighing in their pain. Our camps
were on fire, every road, trench, path of shelter of any kind
was under a continuous and terrific fire. Airplanes by the
hundreds were circling overhead, dropping bombs on our
artillery and amidst all this the stretcher-bearers came down
the road with white faces, but with jaws set, carrying their
wounded comrades, placing them in ambulances which dashed
quickly away with them to the temporary hospitals in the rear.
Our own little aid station, under the command of Major Henry
Bunch and Lieutenant Neil Van Meter had from fifty to one
hundred wounded and dying men lying there under the open sky
with no shelter of any kind. A battery of the One Hundred
Fifty-first Field Artillery that was across the road was
firing as rapidly as it could. Its little guns were barking
viciously toward the approaching enemy and a large German gun
was sending its huge shells, trying to put out of action these
little cannon, which were causing him such terrible losses.
Light had just begun to dawn in the cast as a boy was brought
in and laid down by the side of the path and Lieutenant Neil
Van Meter came to me and said, "Better speak to that lad,
Chaplain, he is wounded pretty bad, won't last but a few
I went over and knelt down by his side. A shell had crashed
through his foot and cut away the ankle entirely. A piece of
slug had done through his left leg above the knee and he had
wrapped a wire about it and twisted a stick in it to stop the
flow of blood. His left arm had been shattered at his side and
he lay there so still and white, but with never a cry coming
from between his lips.
I said, "How are you coming, old chap?" and between his
clenched teeth, cheerfully he said, "All right, I guess. I
guess I'll make it." "Lad, you are wounded worse than you
think, and you can't live, my boy, you will be dead in less
than a half hour."
He was rather startled by this, and said, "Am I going to die,
Chaplain?" I said, "Yes, lad." And then I asked "Is there
anything I can do for you?" He said, "Yes, will you write and
tell my mother, Chaplain, all about it?" I said I would and he
seemed content. He asked me to play a few francs to a comrade
of his, and I said, "Isn't there anything else lad, that you
want to say for yourself before you go?" He said, "I
guess not, but will you give me a cigarette?" I lighted it and
gave it to him and he lay there and smoked drawing the smoke
into his lungs and blew it out through his nose. He seemed to
take great comfort in it. He looked up at me, blew out another
puff of smoke and smiled so coolly up into my face. I turned
away to hide my tears and after working with some others a few
moments, I came back. His cigarette was still burning between
his fingers, but he was lying there, his pale set face so
boyish, was cold in death. And thus he died without a cry
coming from between his lips.
This is only one example that I can give of all those glorious
men, both French and American, who died in this greatest
battle of modern times.
Of this battle, a writer in the French paper, Illustration of
July 27, 1918, gives a vivid account and I will quote from it:
"On the Champagne Battle Field,"
"The Victorious Defense of Chalons."
"On July 15, just a week ago, the Germans launched the
offensive which we had been
expecting for several weeks.
It was developed with the usual fury, was meticulously
prepared as always, against two of our
armies, on a front of more than eighty kilometers, between
Chateau Thierry on the West and the famous Main de Massiges on
the East. This time it was the
Group of Armies of the Imperial Crown Prince – the armies of
Von Boehn, Von Mudra and Von
Einem – which made the attack." It is then to the
heir of the Hohenzollerns that this abrupt check to the fifth
attack of the year must be charged.
From the first day the enemy's failure was certain. Only on
his right wing did he gain any appreciable advantage; crossing
the Marne at several points between Fossoy and Oeuilly, and on
both sides of Dormans. However, he found himself, at the
bottom of this loop in a strip of the valley between the river
and a line of heights solidly held by our soldiers, in a very
precarious condition as following events proved for , in the
night of July 19-20, he was forced to cross back to the north
At the center, in front of Rheims, the offensive was limited
to a demonstration. In reality he attempted to reduce the
Montagne de Rheims and capture the unhappy city.
But to the East on his left wing where the Germans attacked
the army of General Gourard, the affair showed for us the
light of a magnificent, victorious defensive, one of the
most characteristic, as well as one of the most successful
defensive of battles -- as will be seen in the future -- of
this formidable war.
Moreover, it was there, I think, that he intended to make a
powerful effort. The stake was no less than Chalons-sur-Marne,
the Catalonic plains where Aetius had already saved the Latin
world its freedom and its civilization."
On what was based this tranquil serenity of the chief on the
day before an attack, which was sure to prove so formidable,
which had been prepared with that rigorous care of which we
were already well aware and for which the most powerful means
available would be used. On an absolute confidence in the
valor of his soldiers and on the excellence of the plan of
It consisted in leaving on the advanced line, exposed to the
preparatory bombardments, to the hot deluge from minewerfer,
only slight forces, small groups of lost children, under the
command of resolute indefatigable officers charged first and
above all with warning the rear of the precise moment of the
attack when the assault waves would be thrown forward. The men
to whom were confided these posts of honor were sacrificed
beforehand and knew it. It remained for them but to die a
glorious death. It shall be seen that they did not fail at any
point. Some of their number, moved by a great spirit,
preformed prodigies of valor. On that day the Aces were
numbered by hundreds. What more can I say? The blazing trail
of rockets shooting to the ealy morning sky did not even call
for help. They signalled to their brothers, to the avengers,
the danger: "Here comes the enemy."
Behind the advanced line, separated from it by an open space,
was another undulating line on the plain; it was this line
which was to break if built, were like the pebbles of the
strand, around which breaks the foaming, mounting tide. Cut at
first, and it was cut two or three times at some points, it
accomplished its role in retarding the forward march of the
enemy. It stopped the enemy three hours -- three hours of
bloody hectacombs for him. It was the cause of his disaster.
The victory was decided there on that line of redoubts of the
advance elements, in front even of the real line of defense.
This disposition would be good only on condition that all was
in its place at the moment of the commencement of the attack.
It implied a rigorous surveillance at all times of the
movements of the enemy. No one knew whether the German,
skilled in camouflaging, would be able to hide his
preparations. That explains the aggressive activity shown at
all times by the Gourard army and which was still more
increased during the last weeks while they waited with growing
impatience each day for the great event. There was always a
raid going on at some point or other. This was the
triumph of astute vigilance.
Since the beginning of June an offensive on a grand scale was
expected on the front of the army. As time passed many
indications announced the imminence of the attack, --
indications that were noted. It is known that the front
opposite of the Eleventh Army, and no doubt the whole front,
was equipped for a sudden attack for several months. Little by
little one saw the increase in circulation on the railroads;
the munition dumps growing, the aviation fields being
prepared. The front, however, remained quiet and the artillery
showed little activity. But one observed, as was the case
before the offensive of May 27th and that of Jun 9th, for
example, the fire by high bursts, -- discreet procedure for
the regulation of the artillery.
The, suddenly, on the 13th, behind the apparent immobility of
the front, one perceived a more intense movement on the narrow
gauge railroads, from the Suippe toward Epoye; one scented the
movement of troops. The roads north of Suippes showed little
more animation also; wagons and individuals were on the march
from north to south. The morning of the 14th wagons in greater
number, but moving singly and not in convoys, went back from
the zone of the batteries; it could be guessed that they had
been obtained from the almost daily raids to which, above, I
have made allusion. The soldiers knew the necessity of them.
They took part in them with enthusiasm. Their operations were
fruitful during the whole first fortnight. The communiqués
made note of some of them.
On July 6th came the first precise information, a simple
intimation that the attack was
imminent on the Champagne front. On what extent of the front
was still a mystery at that date.
On July 8th certain indications revealed to us aggressive
plans without as yet our being able to say exactly what they
were. The following day the General would give out his order;
of that there was not a showdown of a doubt.
By July 10 the date of the attack was better established by
our information service; it would take
place July 14 or 15. The zone involved would be the zone of
the Fourth Army as far as Mont
Teton on the East. We have at last the details of the
July 11, 12, and 13 gave confirmation of everything. Finally,
on the 14th, a detachment led by
a lieutenant, fighting like a whirlwind, carried out the best
of all the raids and the one which gave
the best results obtained in several weeks. It was then
learned that the attack was merely a
question of hours: the artillery preparation would commence at
ten minutes past midnight. At
4:15 A.M. the infantry would leave the trenches under cover of
a rolling barrage.
It seems that such precautions astonished -- and even left a
little bit skeptical -- the staff of the fine and valiant
American Division which that day fought with us. A little
later they declared themselves delighted that the event had
proved they had been mistaken.
VICTORY IN A FEW HOURS
Whatever might happen the Army was ready. Kept informed from
day to day of the situation
Generals Foch and Petain had approved the dispositions taken
and had given the command of the
Fourth Army troops necessary to assure the execution of the
same. In war it is always necessary
to reckon with the unexpected, fate, luck, call it what you
will, but as everything had been done to
meet it they could count upon an infallible success. The order
of the day of the 7th reflects this
On July 14th at 11:00 P. M. General Gourard gave the order to
begin the counter-offensive preparation. It was launched a
half hour later foretelling the German bombardment.
At the hour mentioned, at ten minutes past midnight, this
bombardment was launched with a
terrible roar. It surprised no one. In this period of
expectation, where every day the attack was felt
to be more imminent, the commander of the army had been able
to visit even the posts of the
Colonels and enable them to share his firm confidence.
Everybody was in place. The "position in readiness" so
minutely studied out was taken up.
The violence of our counter offensive fire surprised the
enemy. Batteries silent up to that time,
and which had not been located, suddenly revealed themselves,
producing the infallible effect of
At 4:15 A. M. the rockets of the vigilant look-out men of the
line of observation ascended in the breaking dawn; the waves
of assault rushed forward. Then our own barrage descended like
a whirlwind on our first positions, where the enemy was
arriving and which the German guns of all calibers and the
minewerfer had already hammered. The battle was going to be
enacted according to schedule. Luck was with us. Not a hitch.
In the same way that the observation detachments had done
their duty, the advance elements of the first line battalions
were carrying on, fulfilling the mission which had been
entrusted to them, "to hold back and disintegrate the enemy";
each man remained where duty commanded him to hold.
Many of these must have fallen into the hands of the Germans.
News was received from some of them however. Thus, the Army
Corps which was fighting at the left of the front proudly
recorded the heroic attitude of a half section which,
encircled, submerged by the wave which overwhelmed it, sent at
6:30 A.M. a carrier pigeon to announce that it was still
holding. Another group resisted until 10:00 A.M.
On the line of redoubts, the Germans were stopped three full
hours at least. Even when certain of their elements had
slipped between, many little fortresses besieged, continued
furiously to resist.
For example, the garrison of Mont san Non belonging to the
same regiment at this half section of which I have just
spoken, to the same therefore, which had made the twenty-seven
prisoners some hours before -- Heavens! how we should like to
give more credit to these heroes, telling more clearly who
they are -- the garrison under the orders of the Captain
remained besiege until 6:00 P.M., but always in liaison with
the rear especially by wireless telephone, so well had the
dispositions been taken. And it kept the command in touch with
the course of the fight. The Battalion Commander himself was
surrounded not far from there in his command post with a part
of his men. All of them made the same stubborn resistance to
the assaults of the enemy, and it was only when the
authorization had been given for the same, and after they had
exhausted all their munitions and accomplished the destruction
provided for, that the Major, the Captain, and their two small
garrisons retired, forcing a passage by bayonet and bringing
back prisoners. A Lieutenant of the Chasseurs a Pied
accomplished a similar exploit. How many others also! A
regiment in the center which repulsed eleven successive
attacks was cited.
But from the first minutes of the attack, so to speak, they
saw clearly that it was a failure for the enemy.
The initial resistance which he was not expecting had
disconcerted him. The minute clock work of this too precise
machine was suddenly thrown out of gear.
While the attacking troops had arrived before the line of
redoubts, all the machinery behind them was continuing to
function according to the schedule based on the hypothesis of
a victorious progress. The barrage rolled rhythmically
far in advance of the furious waves breaking against the dyke
which was resisting them, and the furious divisions of the
second line, fully convinced that the first were pursuing
their regular advanced like the hands of a clock, had advanced
behind them at the appointed hour; then motor convoys, supply
wagons, horse drawn batteries, in columns on the roads -- into
all that our artillerymen fired with open sights, pounding,
grinding, unceasingly, the men, the heavy trucks and the
horses. Never has any one seen such fine hecatombs. At the
source of the Ain, on that little hillock which General
Merchand used to love and which he called "Place de l'Opera,"
seventy corpses were lying in one heap. But it was perhaps in
the region of the "Monts" which he had just abandoned during
the night in conformance with the plans of the command, that
the carnage was the finest. They were seen to appear on the
crests, at present denuded, where no cover masked them from
view, and then to plunge down the slope. Magnificent targets!
"We were firing into the mass!" the gunners say.
At a certain moment in this region of the Monts, an artillery
observer reported that the Germans were in the act of forming
an artillery park under our noses. "It's a scandal." cried the
captain of the battery. And in a few shots the park was
tended to. In their case the facility with which they had
crossed the line of alert, so thinly occupied, had given them
the illusion of a successful advance. It is thus what a
captain in command of a tank section who was captured on the
hillof Tabure at the moment when he had just written and
preparing to send the following message:
"Tabure Hill, July
15th, 7:00 A.M.
The five tanks
have all crossed the first enemy line and are continuing
to advance toward the Wardberk where the enemy possesses
numerous machine gun nests. I am going to Somme-Suippes,
continuing the pursuit of the enemy and will return
They did lead him to Somme-Suippes to the command post of the
General and there they said to him: "Well, you've reached it."
But the jest was not to his taste.
Here was the situation at 7:00 A.M. At the right our
advance elements were holding well on
all the line of redoubts; in the center the enemy was in
contact with our intermediate position; at
the left the pressure was intense between the Ferme des
Marquises and the Maison du Garde; the
enemy reached the Roman road and the woods southeast of Prunay.
At noon, according to the expression of one of the Army Corps
Commanders, "Their legs were
broken." Their offensive was smashed. Victory was ours.
"A great personage," said one of the first prisoners, "is
observing this from up there." In fact the German emperor, as
formerly from the top of the Grand Couronne he watched for the
moment to rush upon Nancy, was waiting on Mount Blano, in
Ludendorff's house, for the hour to enter Chalons. Thus he was
able to see another of his dreams fade.
At two points only had the attack penetrated our intermediate
line; to the north of Prosnes and
at Perthnes-le-Hurlus, carried for a moment and then retaken
by us. These modest gains were
only momentary for the enemy.
On the 16th, however, he
resumed the charge. He had not renounced the hope of getting a
foothold on our position of resistance.
Between the Vesle and the Suippe he attacked the first time at
10:00 A.M. and again at 1:15 P.M. He was repulsed on
both occasions and left numerous bodies on the ground.
East of Suippe he attacked three times. He was always repulsed
In the morning, after a strong artillery preparations, he
charged forward with strong forces south of the Maison
Chamagne. He did not succeed in gaining even the principal
parallel of our intermediate position.
In the night of the 16th-17th he made a new attack in the
region of Auberive, but with as little success. In return, we
on our side, regained some terrain in the sector of Balcon, at
Beausejour and retook a redoubt which he had abandoned.
A great artillery activity reigned during the entire day of
the 17th on our side. It was a destructive fire on the enemy's
batteries, harassing and interdiction fire, and even fire on
moving targets. Thus at the Trou-Bricott, of famous memory,
groups occupied in trying to release two tanks in distress,
were taken under our fire and obliged -- those who could get
away -- to leave their task.
Our infantrymen were none the less impetuous. To the east, the
days of the 17th and 18th they had reoccupied, despite a
bitter resistance, all the line of the redoubts of the first
position, and on the entire front re-conquered certain points
necessary to the security of our position of resistance.
And that was the end of the battle. In reality the decisive
phase had lasted about four hours.
(A little farther in his article the writer again pays tribute
to our Division.)
They had in their midst in the most perfect fraternity of
arms, an American division. It esteemed it an honor to rival
them in courage and nerve. Its men went under fire as into a
football game, in shirtsleeves, with their sleeves rolled up
over nervous biceps. In a trench where they were operating in
concert with our Chasseurs, sixty corpses were counted on a
field of two hundred and fifty meters. Ah! the Germans who saw
them at work can no longer doubt that they are there and
indeed, as our troopers say, "certainly there."
This was a fine tribute paid to our troops by their brave
French comrades and doubly appreciated because it was our
first great battle. The next day, the 19th, General Naulin,
commander of the Twenty-first French Army Corp, issued the
"21st Army Corps,
Headquarters, July 19, 1918
moment when the Forty-second American Division is on the
point of leaving the Twenty-first Army Corps, I desire
to express my keen satisfaction and my sincere thanks
for the services which it has rendered under all
valor, ardor and its spirit, it has very particularly
distinguished itself on July 15th and 16th in the course
of the great battle where the Fourth Army broke the
German offensive on the Champagne front.
proud to have had it under my orders during this period;
my prayers accompany it in the great struggle engaged in
for the liberty of the World.
Commanding the 21st Army Corps.
This order filled our hearts with pride for we had done that
which we craved to do, we had won the admiration and love of
the brave French troops, which we so much admired. That night
when the orders came, we marched away to new scenes, into new
battles, but as we passed over the hill we glanced back to
where our comrades had fought so gloriously and died to
gamely. The roar of battle was hushed and the still and quiet
of the evening had settled down over their couch where we laid
them to rest. There beside the Sommes Suippes road the
traveler-by of the future will pause and remember as he sees
the little crosses standing, that there the American soldiers,
five thousand miles from home, fought and died to save France
and the world. And it is in true appreciation that I record
here the names , faces and gallant deeds of our heroic dead.
May the reader, as he looks into their boyish countenances,
appreciate the sacrifice which they made.