AMERICA IN FRANCE (CONTINUED)
It was late when we left Verdun, on the afternoon of the day which saw us at its beginning on the southern edge of the St. Mihiel battle-field, and the winter daylight had passed into darkness before we began to run through a corner of the Argonne, on our way to St. Menehould and Chalons, passing by the wholly ruined village of Clermont in Argonne. The forest ran past us, a wintry fairyland, dimly lit by our quickly moving lamps, and apparently impenetrable beyond their range, an optical effect, however, that may be produced in darkness by a mere fringe of trees along the roadside. But I knew while I watched the exquisite effects of brown and silver, produced by the succession of tall, pale trunks rising above the lace-work of the underwood, as scene after scene pressed upon us out of the dark, that we were indeed in a forest country, only some twenty miles away from the scene of General Pershing’s drive at the end of last September, when he achieved on the first day an advance of seven miles through difficult country, while General Gouraud was pushing forward in Champagne; and I found myself speculating in the dark on the many discussions I had heard both among English and Americans of that advance, and of the checks and difficulties which, as I suppose is now generally admitted, followed on the first brilliant operations.
During the last few weeks further information has been forthcoming about the Meuse-Argonne battle, as the American operations between the Argonne and the Meuse from September 26th to November 11th are apparently to be known. But a good deal of obscurity still hangs over the details of the fighting. In the British Army I came across the very general belief that the staff and transport work of the advance had been—in the words of a well-known historian of the war—“as was natural with a new army, scarcely adequate to the fighting qualities of the troops engaged.” And I often heard regret expressed that the American Command had not been more willing to avail itself of the staff experience of either or both of the older armies, which might—so the British or French spectator thinks—have lessened the casualty lists among extraordinarily gallant but inexperienced troops. “Replacements fresh from home were put into exhausted divisions with little time for training,” says General Pershing’s report. And “some of the divisions were fighting their first battle.” They were faced also at the beginning of the advance by some of the best remaining German troops. When one thinks of all the long and bitter training in the field that went to the perfecting of French or British staff work, and then of the difficult nature of the ground over which the First American Army had to make its way, one can only feel the deepest sympathy for the losses sustained by the fresh and eager troops. The Argonne forest itself had long been recognised as impenetrable to frontal attack, and on the Argonne side of the American twenty-mile front, along the western edge of the valley of the Aire, the ground is still heavily wooded and often very hilly. As one of the ablest military critics, himself a soldier of great distinction, expressed it to me: “Foch had set the Americans an uncommonly hard task!”