In the Company of Generals
The World War I Diary of Pierpont L. Stackpole
Publication Year: 2009
Pierpont Stackpole was a Boston lawyer who in January 1918 became aide to Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett, soon to be commander of the first American corps in France. Stackpole’s diary, published here for the first time, is a major eyewitness account of the American Expeditionary Forces’ experience on the Western Front, offering an insider’s view into the workings of Liggett’s commands, his day-to-day business, and how he orchestrated his commands in trying and confusing situations.
Hunter Liggett did not fit John J. Pershing’s concept of the trim and energetic officer, but Pershing entrusted to him a corps and then an army command. Liggett assumed leadership of the U.S. First Army in mid-October of 1918, and after reorganizing, reinforcing, and resting, the battle-weary troops broke through the German lines in a fourth attack at the Meuse-Argonne—accomplishing what Pershing had failed to do in three previous attempts. The victory paved the way to armistice on November 11.
Liggett has long been a shadowy figure in the development of the American high command. He was “Old Army,” a veteran of Indian wars who nevertheless kept abreast of changes in warfare and more than other American officers was ready for the novelties of 1914–1918. Because few of his papers have survived, the diary of his aide—who rode in the general’s staff car as Liggett unburdened himself about fellow generals and their sometimes abysmal tactical notions—provides especially valuable insights into command within the AEF.
Stackpole’s diary also sheds light on other figures of the war, presenting a different view of the controversial Major General Clarence Edwards than has recently been recorded and relating the general staff’s attitudes about the flamboyant aviation figure Billy Mitchell. General Liggett built the American army in France, and the best measure of his achievement is this diary of his aide. That record stands here as a fascinating and authentic look at the Great War.
Published by: University of Missouri Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Maps and Photographs
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The author of the diary that follows, a Boston lawyer by name of Pierpont L. Stackpole, who was commissioned a major and promoted to lieutenant colonel during American participation in World War I, 1917–1918, was, properly speaking, an aide to the generals of the American Expeditionary Forces, the AEF, during that great conflict. He...
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In the dark winter of 1917–1918, the AEF did not amount to much. During previous months, from the time early in May when Pershing and a small contingent of officers came from the United States, only three divisions— the First, Twenty-sixth, and Forty-second—followed. A fourth, the Second, was put together from miscellaneous units that had come over. All...
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Time was running short by early February 1918, for on the singular day, November 11, 1917, the Germans had decided on Operation Michael, the attack scheduled for March 21. The Americans needed to establish more corps headquarters, in preparation to receive the cantonment divisions—for at the beginning of the year the British government had...
3. Crisis—for the Anglo-French
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When the dozens of German divisions attacked, they by chance struck in a weak place. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig had been listening to French complaints for months that the French army held more front line than did the British, and so had arranged for his Fifth Army—the British had four army organizations in France—to take over thirty miles of line....
4. Giving Advice
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As the AEF began to take on proportions, what with appearance of such divisions as the Thirty-second, its complexity really required more advice, and the individual divisions needed help too, for, as General Haan said of his own Thirty-second, the men were all right but the officers hardly knew what to do. In some sense the officers, wearing proudly their new overseas ...
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5. To Soissons
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The crisis for the British and French armies on the western front began March 21 with the opening offensive of the enormous German attack, and the latter ran on through four more attacks—lunges—until the fifth that began July 15 and ended in failure the next day. The fourth offensive toward Soissons had taken this sizable French city and had much confused...
6. Aisne-Marne I
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The follow-up of the battle of Soissons was the Aisne-Marne offensive, and the individual who had to advance the action of I Corps was Liggett; his instruments for advance were appallingly weak, namely, the Twenty-sixth Division and a French division. All this was under the command of Degoutte, a suitable enough general but no assistance in pushing Edwards, who was...
7. Aisne-Marne II
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When the last of the German attacks failed one day after it began, July 15–16, the Allies and Americans began to force the German army back over a series of rivers from the Marne to the Aisne, and this effort required weeks, through most of August. American casualties were heavy because officers and men were without experience, save for the counterattack toward...
8. St. Mihiel
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Ever since the AEF chose the Lorraine sector for its portion of the line from the Channel to Switzerland—the Belgians at the top, British next, then French—Pershing and his staff looked forward to attacking the German fortress of Metz, and when the American commander in chief organized the First Army from the incoming cantonment divisions from the...
9. Attack in the Meuse-Argonne
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The Meuse-Argonne opened on September 26, 1918, and lasted until the armistice, November 11. It was the largest battle in American history; 1.2 million men took part. It was also the deadliest; twenty-six thousand men were killed or died of wounds. Casualties altogether were about one hundred thousand....
10. Second Attack
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John J. Pershing probably was not much of a strategist—otherwise he would not have followed the St. Mihiel attack two weeks later with the Meuse-Argonne. And as the latter battle developed, he showed he was not much of a tactician. When an attack failed, his favorite tactic was to try again. The second attack by the AEF, October 4, 1918, failed almost as...
11. Third Attack
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At last Liggett received the command for which he was so eminently fitted, together with the three-star rank that made him one of the two lieutenant generals in the AEF. Bullard, given command of Second Army, had the task, unlike Liggett, of putting together a staff, gathering a few divisions that already were across the Meuse, and attempting to capture the heights next...
12. Fourth—and Victory
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The surprise of World War I, except possibly to sophisticates such as Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett, was the suddenness with which it ended. Liggett, of course, was devoting his days to planning for a German defeat, and from his confidence Stackpole, his aide, could see decision replacing confusion, a good sign that something might be taking place that would ...
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After the war, in 1925 and 1928, Liggett was the author of two books about the war, Commanding an American Army and A.E.F.: Ten Years Ago in France. The first was written by Stackpole, the second by a Saturday Evening Post writer. After serving as commander of the IX Corps Area with headquarters at the Presidio in San Francisco, the general retired...
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Page Count: 223
Illustrations: 20 illus, 10 maps
Publication Year: 2009