As September 1918 began, amid the steady drumbeat of good news from the front in France, the American Army was close to being established as an independent fighting force.

It had earlier been announced that the American First Army was being organized and in Washington, on Aug. 31, Chief of Staff Peyton March said the U.S. troops brigaded with the French and British were being withdrawn “as rapidly as possible” to join the American First Army.

Presumably that meant that the U.S. would soon kick off its own offensive to push back the Germans and on Sept. 2 the Banner hinted as much with a story that “some developments of importance” were starting on the southern front.

Pershing had insisted all along that the U.S. would field its own army, under its own commanders, not just feed units piecemeal to the British and French. However, his plans were interrupted by the big German offensive in the spring of 1918 when it looked for a while like the Germans might break through.

Tremendous pressure was applied for Pershing to allow units to reinforce the British and French, and he did so when the crisis was at its worst.

He was also pressured to make shipping machine gun units the top priority, even though that would disrupt the plans to build a well-balanced army with the full range of support needed. He also realized the battle would be won or lost before the troops from the U.S. would have any impact on the fighting.

Interestingly, the one Allied general who supported Pershing was the French General Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre, who had been commander-in-chief of the French army at the beginning of the war, but was promoted to Marshal of France and set aside in an advisory role. He quickly resigned and later led an important mission for the U.S.

Joffre agreed that the Allies would hold on and Pershing should concentrate on getting the American Army ready.

The beginning of September was eventful. Sept. 1, for example, a headline in the Daily Banner proclaimed “Huns Retreating on 50-Mile Front.”

The same day it was announced that safe conduct across Finland had been granted to citizens of Allied countries seeking to leave Russia. The same day, the U.S. government recognized the Czecho-Slovak people as a “co-belligerent nation.”

Sept. 5 it was reported that “all relatives of Kerensky,” who had led the anti-Bolshevik government, were under arrest.

It was announced Sept. 3 that Kenyon College would be organized Oct. 1 as a unit in the Students Army Training Corps. Members would rank as privates in the U.S. Army and would undergo 11 hours of military training per week.

In the Sept. 6 Banner, a long article appeared on the exemplary performance of a black regiment fighting in an area under French command. The entire regiment was being recommended for the war cross.

Black units are almost overlooked in the accounts of U.S. involvement in World War I. In at least one case, Pershing allowed a black unit to serve with the French, not just in support of the French or alongside French units, but almost as a part of the French army. They were uniformed and equipped by the French and were praised by the French for their performance. Whether this regiment was a part of that unit I don’t know, but it likely was.

 

Chuck Martin: 740-397-5333 or cmartin@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews

 

 

 

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