Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Battle of St-Mihiel

This article is a summary of The Americans in the Great War, which can be read online. The article concerns a portion of the Battle of St-Mihiel.  The original 1920 publication is part of a series of touring guides by Michelin. Read also online The Battle of St. Mihiel. My grandfather James Madison Pearson was in the thick of it.

James Madison Pearson in uniform

A note - The military records of James Madison Pearson would help. I am assuming that at the time, our grandfather was attached to the Second Infantry Division, the famous Indianhead Division. The Second Infantry Division was organized in October of 1917 at Bourmont, France under the command of  Preston Brown. The unit was composed of the 3rd Infantry Brigade and the 4th Marine Brigade. The 3rd Infantry Brigade, in turn, was composed of the 9th and 23rd Infantry Regiments. Our grandfather references General Brown in letters after the war. He was also billeted at Graffigny-Chemin, a short 2 miles from Bourmont. At the time of the St-Mihiel Offensive, the Second Division was under the command of Marine General John Lejeune.

French President Poincare, in a message to President Wilson, expressed the following words regarding the the St-Mihiel Offensive and the first major engagement of American troops on French soil :

" I congratulate you, Mr. President, on a victory which has been completed so brilliantly. General Pershing's magnificent divisions have just liberated with admirable dash, cities and villages of Lorraine which have been groaning for years under the yoke of the enemy. I express the warmest thanks of France to the people of the United States."
Marshall Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, similarly expressed his gratitude:

" This was where the Americans for the first time showed their worth. This is where we were able to judge of these admirable soldiers, strong in body and valiant in soul. In one swoop they reduced the famous salient, which during so long we did not know how to approach."
St-Mihiel lies on the Meuse River and is located south of Verdun and north of Toul. (As a note to the family, the famous sculpture of Ligier Richier, The Entombment, can be found in the Church of St. √Čtienne in St-Mihiel. Richier is family name.) The German salient at St-Mihiel was formed in 1914, early in the war, as the Germans tried unsuccessfully to take Verdun.the battle lines did not change much for the next four years. German defensive lines were marked by successive lines of trenches defended by machine gun nests and artillery. The length of the front was about 65 kilometers.The Germans forces consisted of eight divisions on the lines and five divisions in reserve.

The battle began on September 12, 1918. The operation was for the first time under American command with General Pershing planning the operation to the smallest detail. French units fought alongside the American 4th Corp and the I Corp, containing the Second Division. The Second Division on the right held that part of the front lying between Eparges and Spada Pass.

The Allies advanced quickly despite stiff German resistance. The multi-pronged attack was a success due in part to the use of supporting tank units and the audacity of unit commanders who accompanied the troops.The attack was so successful that on the following morning Generals Pershing and French General Petain entered St-Mihiel. The victory was complete: 16,000 prisoners, 443 guns of all calibres, and huge quantities of stores and munitions were captured, as compared to an Allied loss of only 7,000 killed and wounded.

Complete Allied victory over Germany occurred on November 11, 1918.

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