The Lost Battalion

The Lost Battalion

The Lost Battalion

The Lost Battalion


For a generation the Lost Battalion exemplified the best of America's involvement in World War I. Until World War II pushed the Lost Battalion out of the national memory with its own scenes of horror and heroism, mention of the unit's name summoned up what America admired in its soldiers: unpretentious courage, dogged resistance, and good cheer and adaptation under adversity.


Edward M. Coffman

On 26 September 1918, the American First Army launched a massive assault along a front of some twenty miles, stretching from the depths of the Argonne Forest to the Meuse River. During the next six weeks, Gen. John J. Pershing pushed more men into the battle, and casualties mounted to more than 120,000. The number of men involved-- more than a million -- and the heavy losses made this battle even greater than the major American actions that would follow in World War II.

Later, Pershing recalled that the first days of October were the time of "the heaviest strain on the army and me." His hope that the heavy blow of the initial assault would break through the German fortifications had been dashed. Attack after attack simply could not breach the German line. Despite heavy casualties, Pershing continued to exhort his division commanders to keep up their attacks.

On 2 October, New York draftees and a smattering of midwestern and western replacements, in companies from two understrength battalions with some attached machine-gun units, took part in another attack. Under the command of a recently promoted major, Charles W. Whittlesey, they advanced and found a valley in the Argonne that took them beyond the German lines.

Whittlesey, a thirty-four-year-old Harvard Law School graduate who practiced his profession in New York City, and the other officers were all civilians temporarily in uniform. His military background consisted of a term at the Plattsburg training camp in the summer of 1916 and the experience gained training green troops and leading them through the battles of the summer of 1918.

He had protested the order to attack with his tired, understrength command, but when overruled he led his men to their objective. Mean-

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