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An American Soldier in World War I

George Browne

Publication Year: 2010

George “Brownie” Browne was a twenty-three-year-old civil engineer in Waterbury, Connecticut, when the United States entered the Great War in 1917. He enlisted almost immediately and served in the American Expeditionary Forces until his discharge in 1919. An American Soldier in World War I is an edited collection of more than one hundred letters that Browne wrote to his fiancée, Martha “Marty” Johnson, describing his experiences during World War I as part of the famed 42nd, or Rainbow, Division. From September 1917 until he was wounded in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in late October 1918, Browne served side by side with his comrades in the 117th Engineering Regiment. He participated in several defensive actions and in offensives on the Marne, at Saint-Mihiel, and in the Meuse-Argonne.

This extraordinary collection of Brownie’s letters reveals the day-to-day life of an American soldier in the European theater. The difficulties of training, transportation to France, dangers of combat, and the ultimate strain on George and Marty’s relationship are all captured in these pages. David L. Snead weaves the Browne correspondence into a wider narrative about combat, hope, and service among the American troops. By providing a description of the experiences of an average American soldier serving in the American Expeditionary Forces in France, this study makes a valuable contribution to the history and historiography of American participation in World War I.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Studies in War, Society, & the Military


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

When I began this project in the late 1990s, I had little idea where it would lead or the number of people it would put me in contact with. It has been a truly rewarding experience, and I can only offer my deepest thanks to all who have touched this project at one time or another ...

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pp. 1-10

The United States declared war on the Central powers - Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire - on April 6, 1917, and joined a conflict that was already in its third year. On that fateful day, Americans had to come to grips with what this war meant and how it would affect their lives. ...

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1. Mobilization and Training in the United States

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pp. 11-36

When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, Brownie was working in Waterbury, Connecticut. As his letters reveal, he enlisted for several reasons, not the least being a sense of duty to his country and a desire to have a choice in his assignment. 1 Enlistees had some choice in their assignments ...

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2. From the States to a Quiet Sector in France

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pp. 37-62

Brownie and most of the 42nd Division arrived at Saint-Nazaire, France, by November 1, 1917. One transport carrying part of the division had to return to New York after experiencing engine trouble, and those troops eventually rejoined the division in December. Brownie's experiences during his first few months in France ...

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3. Training and Action in a Quiet Sector

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pp. 63-86

The 42nd Division began active training in the trenches in the Lunéville sector of northeastern France in late February 1918. Although this area had seen fierce fighting earlier in the war, both the Germans and the French now sent units there for rest and to receive replacements before sending them back to more active ...

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4. Champagne and the Battle of the Ourcq River

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pp. 87-108

When the 42nd Division withdrew from the Baccarat sector in June, it was one of the most experienced AEF divisions. Only the 1st Division, which had launched a small offensive at Cantigny in late May, and the 2nd Division, which was becoming famous in the BelleauWood, had more battle experience.1 Upon withdrawal ...

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5. Rest and the Battle of Saint-Mihiel

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pp. 109-124

The battle of the Ourcq River had a profound impact on the 42nd Division. Nearly 20 percent of its soldiers had been either wounded or killed, and the survivors believed they had earned a lengthy respite from the war. It was not to be. After resting and recuperating a short time, the division was again on the move ...

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6. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the End of the War

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pp. 125-140

The largest American offensive of World War I began on September 26 when the AEF attacked German forces in the Argonne Forest between the Meuse and Aisne rivers, approximately twenty miles north of Verdun. Nine divisions of U.S. troops, totaling more than 200,000 men, struck German positions in the densely ...

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pp. 141-154

The war's end brought elation as well as additional challenges. The soldiers experienced hope and frustration; the AEF wrestled with occupying part of Germany, maintaining discipline, and sending troops home; and demobilization burdened the American government. Brownie continued to write Marty from November ...

Appendix: Composition of the Rainbow Division

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pp. 155-156


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pp. 157-186


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pp. 187-196


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pp. 197-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780803256361
E-ISBN-10: 0803256361

Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Studies in War, Society, & the Military