Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Doughboy Basics: Was General Pershing the Only Notable General of the AEF?


Something has happened with the AEF that has taken place with most of America's other wars, but in its most extreme form.   The personality and story of U.S. Theater Commanders traditionally seems to suck up most of the oxygen for military biographers.  For instance, most Americans know that Douglas MacArthur was Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater in World War II, but a far lesser number know much about his invaluable lieutenant, General Walter Krueger,  who commanded the Sixth Army. For the Great War, there are a few lower level flag officers like Billy Mitchell and Douglas MacArthur that get some continued attention, but more in the context of their broader resumes. 

Below is an image from an issue of  Relevance, the Journal of the Great War Society, we produced in 2011.  It shows six generals who served with GREAT distinction during the war.  These individuals were featured in separate articles in the issue, in which we tried to make the point that there were a larger number of excellent commanders and senior staff in the AEF.  These were just some of the best examples. 



Going counterclockwise from the upper right,  Hunter Liggett saw success as a division,  corps, and army commander during the war.  He was the commander of the First Army during the last phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive we featured in the post of 29 October 2017. He, of course, has a huge army base in California named after him.  John Hines rose from major to major general during the war and commanded the III Corps that forced the Meuse River in November 1918. He later succeeded Pershing as chief of staff of the Army.  Fox Conner was the chief of operations of the AEF.  He performed outstandingly but is probably better know for being a champion and mentor for future generals George Marshall, George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower.  Dennis E. Nolan can very well be called the father of U.S. Army intelligence for the work he did organizing the intelligence section of General Headquarters. He looked like a professor, but he could fight with daring and courage, winning the Distinguished Service Cross in the Argonne Forest.  John Lejeune, USMC, future Marine Corps commandant and namesake of Camp Lejeune, was commander of the 2nd Division—the most active in the AEF—at St. Mihiel, Blanc Mont,  and Meuse-Argonne. Last, Peyton March was promoted from Pershing's chief for the AEF's artillery to chief of staff of the Army, after two months in France. When he arrived back in Washington, the War Department was floundering in the demands of mobilization. As one of the General Staff officers commented: "He took the War Department like a dog takes a cat by the neck and he shook it." Historian E.M. Coffman called March "the greatest unsung American general of the Great War."

There's a much longer list of AEF Generals who deserve more attention from historians and biographers.  Some interesting cases include:

  • Charles Summerall, commander of Vth Corps and future chief of staff
  • James Harbord,  chief of the Services of Supply
  • Charles Dawes, Purchasing chief
  • Mason Patrick,  Air Service chief
  • Malin Craig, chief of staff of a division, corps, army, and future chief of staff
  • Edward Lewis, commander, 30th Division
  • William Haan, commander, 32nd Division
  • Charles Menoher, Commander, 42nd Division
  • Henry Allen, commander, 90th Division
  • Wendell Neville, commander, 4th Brigade (future Marine Corps commandant)
  • Ulysses Grant McAlexander, commander 38th Infantry (Rock of the Marne) and 180th Brigade


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