“It was the most poignant incident of the American part in the World War, and its biggest newspaper story.”—Thomas M. Johnson, “The Lost Battalion,” American Magazine, November, 1929
From October 2nd through 7th, 1918, three battalions from the U. S. Army’s Seventy-seventh Division were trapped by German forces in a pocket of the Argonne Forest. The men’s courage under siege in the midst of rifle, machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire with nothing to eat and with water dangerous to obtain, has gone down in American history. In Five Days in Ocotber, Robert Ferrell presents previously unavailable material, providing a fuller understanding of the story behind the Lost Battalion.
The causes of the entrapment were several, including command failures and tactical errors. The men had been sent ahead of the main division line without attention to flanks, and because of this misstep, they were surrounded by the Germans. Thus began a siege that took the lives of about 200 men.
After enduring two days of attacks from the Germans, American artillery fire hit the area. It started just beyond the Lost Battalion’s location and succeeded in damaging the German position. However, it shifted directly to the pocket, forcing the soldiers to hunker down and wait it out. By the time the fire ended, an hour and a half after it started, 30 men had been killed or wounded and many trees and bushes had been flattened, exposing their position.
In the midst of the shelling, Major Whittlesey sent his last carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, with the message:
We are along the road parallel 276.4. Our artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it. – Whittlesey, Major, 308th
The story is that Cher Ami, shot by enemy fire, managed to deliver its message, but died soon after. It was later stuffed and exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.