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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

100 Years Ago: Surrounded! Day One for the Lost Battalion

Thursday 3 October 1918

Daybreak came, and we learned one of our men on outpost duty had bagged a prisoner. He was a surprised German who had readily surrendered and was promptly marched to Major Whittlesey, who questioned him at some length. His story was far from encouraging, disclosing the fact that there were a large number of Boche in the immediate vicinity. He added that he was one of a fresh contingent of troops that had been brought up during the night. Coming on top of this cheerless information was the discovery that the 307 Infantry on the right and the French on the left had failed to come up on the line with us, leaving both of our flanks entirely exposed and open to the enemy's fire.

Location of the Pocket (Click on Image to Expand)

For some time, Major Whittlesey studied the situation in thoughtful silence, then suddenly directed me to have a runner report to him at once. The outpost man with his prisoner was directed to escort the German back along the runner route to the regimental P.C. and also report the peril to our flanks. Fifteen minutes had hardly passed when both returned again, reporting to the Major that our runner post nearest the pocket had undoubtedly been shot up, for there was no sign of the men. He also mentioned having seen a number of Boche milling around in the bush to the rear. Here was unmistakable evidence that the enemy had not been idle during the night and had moved forward in considerable numbers and entrenched in the valley and on the hill in back of us. There was no doubt at all there were plenty in front, so we realized they must surely be well formed on our flanks.

It was a far from pleasant sensation that now gripped every one of us, who had been going strong and enduring all the fortunes of war stoically, ever since we had become seasoned fighting men. To now find ourselves completely hemmed in on all sides with only remote chances of getting relief made it difficult to describe our feelings of disgust as the news quickly spread. No one appeared to know what would be the next move, or who should execute it. We were like pieces on a chess board in a bad corner surrounded by kings. It was with just these impressions that I found my eyes seeking those of the Major's, endeavoring to note the slightest gleam of hope in them.

Whittlesey and His Officers and Men in a Post-Action Depiction

This, I felt sure, was his greatest hour of adversity. Would he be able to retain that outer demeanor of calmness, at a time when panic was knocking for admittance, and while the burden of responsibility seemed resting heavily on his shoulders? If his nerve was sorely tried, he had not begun to show it, although it was patent that he was calling upon every ounce of the stored energy of a stout heart and active brain in an endeavor to unravel the skein of disappointing circumstances. He had the nonchalance of a thorough sport, betraying not the slightest cause for mistrust or a break in his usual taciturn leadership. 

Sergeant Major Walter Baldwin, 308th Infantry (Lost Battalion)


  1. Is there a biography on Whittlesey?

  2. Great post - thanks! The SGM's words, especially the last paragraph, illuminate for me the outstanding leadership demonstrated by MAJ Whittlesey throughout this entire action.

  3. I've been down in that ravine -- very steep slopes and at one point I wondered if I'd make it back up to the road and my rental car ! Be sure you're in good enough shape before you go down, but the chance to be on the ground and among the worn-down but still recognizable fox holes is not to be missed.