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Blood in the Argonne. The

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Blood in the Argonne. The "Lost Battalion" of World War I
By Alan D. Gaff. (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2005. Pg. xvi, 368. 50 B & W Photos, 3 Maps.) ISBN: 0-8061-3696-0.

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - January 10, 2006

The legend of the"Lost Battalion" of World War I is just that, a legend. The "Lost Battalion" was, in reality, the 77th Division of the 308th Infantry unit of the United States Army, led by Major Charles W. Whittlesey. During an offensive in the Argonne Forest, a unit of the 77th Division was surrounded by German troops after breaking through the enemy lines. Despite being outnumber and under heavy bombardment, they managed to hold fast until they could be relieved nearly a week later. From this incident, a rumor started that the entire Division had been cut off from the Allied lines and had been 'lost'. It was not long before a newspaper printed an erroneous account of this 'lost Division', upgrading it to a Battalion.

In Blood in the Argonne - The "Lost Battalion" of World War I, Alan D. Gaff examines the true facts about what happened in the heavily wooded Charlevaux Valley of the Argonne Forest in France, and how an urban legend grew to gain the stature of fact. In this gripping, and fluid account of the horrific events that took place in October of 1918, Gaff tells the story from the vantage point of the men who served in the Division. He draws upon the sworn testimony of the soldiers who lived through the fighting, from memoirs and other documentary evidence, and from photographs. The text is interspersed with excerpts of personal quotes from the men involved in the battle. Gaff also examines the military implications of the battle, how the battle was executed, and how Whittlesey's leadership qualities helped his men survive through the long precarious days they spent surrounded by German troops.

The men of the 77th Division where a mixed bag, made up in part from draftees from around the New York City Region and untrained replacement troops from 'out west'. Many of these western replacements where so untrained that they had never fired a rifle! (Pg. 109.) Their ability to break through the enemies lines, and to survive being encircled and harassed by the enemy is a testament to their stamina and determination, and more important, of the leadership ability of those who lead these men into, and out, of the field of battle. It is important to note that of the approximately 700 men who stood with Whittlesey, nearly half were wounded or killed during this action.

Gaff is an independent scholar and author of such well-received books as Bayonets in the Wilderness: Anthony Wayne's Legion in the Old Northwest. In writing this book, Gaff has applied rigorous historiographical methodology and all his sources are well documented. In addition, he has included an up-to-date bibliography that will ably assist anyone wishing to further explore the subject of the 'Lost Battalion'. A complete list of all the men in 77th, as well as men from other units that joined up with Whittlesey after breaking through the German lines has also been included, along with notations of on their fate. Blood in the Argonne is also the eighth volume in the University of Oklahoma Press' outstanding The Campaigns and Commanders Series.

Blood in the Argonne - The "Lost Battalion" of World War I is a well researched and a well-written book that brings to life the hellish events that occurred in the dense forests of the Argonne. Telling not only of the battle itself, Gaff also examines the events leading up to the confrontation, the aftermath of the encounter, and he offers a glimpse of what happened to these courageous doughboys after they came home from the war. In the course of telling the story of the 'Lost Battalion', Gaff also paints an extremely interesting and accurate picture of what life was like in the American army in 1918. Blood in the Argonne is a compelling and informative book that will fascinate anyone with an interest in World War I or military history, and it is well suited for use as a supplemental text in University level history and military science courses.

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