For many Americans the attack on the Lusitania in May 1915 and death of an estimated 1,198 innocent lives including 128 Americans, solidified the belief that Germany was a brutal, degenerate monarchy. The sinking of that British ocean liner by a German torpedo began the push for American Protectionism and the United States of America for entering World War I On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress, asking for a declaration of war against Germany. Just over two months earlier, on January 31, the German government had announced its resumption of “unrestricted submarine warfare.” With the announcement, German U-boats would without warning attempt to sink all ships traveling to or from British or French ports. This war has been dominated by mass industrially made lethal technology, like no war had witnessed before. That meant the death of millions on European battlefields, making U.S. soldiers badly needed to fill in the depleted trenches of France. The fight on Western Front had settled into a battle of attrition, marked by a long series of trench lines that changed little over the course of four years of fighting.
Combat Training at Camp Lewis, Tacoma, Washington 1917 The 91st Infantry Division was a National Army Division. Based at Camp Lewis, Washington, it was composed of men from the western United States. The 91st Infantry Division was famously nicknamed as the "Wild West Division” with a "Fir Tree" as its Division insignia to symbolize its traditional home of the Far West. This nickname referred to the many cowboys, ranch hands and the overall western attitude within the division. In July of 1918, elements of the 91st began arriving at their assigned training areas in France, there were already approximately 17 AEF divisions ahead of them in the training process. While in France, the 91st Division had conducted additional training, but the AEF pushed it to the front lines before it was completed. These men were young and inexperienced, but they were eager to get into the fight. The decision involved the future operations of more than a million Americans. To the question General Pershing replied without hesitation: "Most assuredly: but as an American army and in no other way."
"Over the Top" The attack on St-Mihiel, 12 September proved quite successful, The American Army quickly occupied the salient, capturing 450 guns and 16,000 prisoners at the cost of but 7,000 casualties. The “next show” turned out to be the Meuse-Argonne, the battle that ultimately helped change the course of the war and contributed to the surrender of the German forces. By far, the Meuse-Argonne was the single most deadly battle for United States forces. This forty-seven day slaughter claimed the lives of 26,277 Americans and wounded an additional 95,786 out of the 1.2 million who fought. Here the 91st Division fought on the front lines of the Meuse- Argonne. In the first days of this battle, the 91st Division, although inexperienced, gained more ground than any other American division units flanks. However, it paid a heavy price in terms of American lives. Each of the German positions was skillfully organized in depth covered with elaborate belts of barbed wire and supported by concrete machine-gun and artillery emplacements which provided alternative protected positions for those weapons. All that could be done to improve observation posts. signal communications. routes, trails and light railway to assist the defense received meticulous attention by German engineer troops before and throughout the operations. In addition to the fully developed positions above mentioned were other partly organized defense lines which were intensively improved as need for their use increased. With Turkey. Bulgaria. and Austria on the verge of collapse. Germany's only remaining hope was to stave off defeat by dogged fighting on French soil until the Allies would grant favorable peace terms. Each of the German positions was skillfully organized in depth covered with elaborate belts of barbed wire and supported by concrete machine-gun and artillery emplacements which provided alternative protected positions for those weapons. It was understood that these operations promised great attrition on both sides. But it was commonly excepted that the Allies could afford substantial losses, given the continuing flow of Americans into France, whereas the Germans had largely expended their reserves during earlier operations. Note: The battle of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September 26 to November 11, 1918 resulted in the most U.S. military deaths in U.S. history where 26,277 soldiers were killed fighting against the German Empire. Many Historians have criticized The Corps headquarters that had issued the careless orders for the divisions to “advance at all costs”.
AT ELEVEN-THIRTY that night (23/12 o'clock) the heavy long range guns of the army artillery opened fire on selected targets in the enemy country. This bombardment grew in power and in intensity throughout the night. At 2:30 o'clock, all the guns of the corps and divisional artillery, silent up to that moment, went into action together. It is useless to try to describe that bombardment; those who lay under it during the hours before the "jump-off" will never forget it. It was so vast, so stunning, and the noise was so overwhelming that no one could grasp the whole. The German trenches were marked in the darkness by a line of leaping fire, punctuated now and then by the higher bursts of some particularly heavy shell. The retaliatory fire by German batteries passed over the heads of our leading regiments. Although the 363rd Infantry found no trenches sufficient for protection, and as, the night was warm them men preferred lying on the ground on the hill, no casualty occurred during the bombardment, as projectiles from the our own artillery passed well over the heads of the men. Although the Wild West Division had shown more grit than its allied divisions on the east and west and their inability to keep pace exposed the flanks of the 91st division to enfilading enemy fire. Despite the 91st making impressive gains on the battlefield while the other divisions could not, clearly showed that the tremendous cost of their gains did not surpass the benefits. “At a time when the divisions on its flanks were faltering and even falling back, the Ninety-first pushed ahead and steadfastly clung to every yard gained.” — George Cameron, Commander V Corps, Relief orders to the 91st Division When the leading waves of the 363rd Infantry passed over La Cigalerie Butte, they entered the valley of the Buanthe into a cloud and mist which completely concealed them on Vauquois Hill less than a half-mile to the west. Similarly, the 181st Brigade, advancing with the 362nd on the right and the 361st on the left, was able to cross No-man's-land (the valley of the Buanthe) through this cloud of smoke and mist without suffering casualties. All of the 363rd waves and the liaison group between the 35th and 91st Divisions crossed No-man's-land thus concealed, the last elements leaving La Cigalerie Butte at 6 o’clock. At the specified rate of 100 yards in every five minutes, the three leading regiments passed through the prepared lanes in the old French wire, deployed in No-man's-land and went forward without opposition. There was no delay in their movement. The two infantry battalions, with machine gun companies attached, were stationed between the two infantry brigades, ready to support either. Many prisoners and machine guns were captured by the two brigades in passing through Bois de Cheppy. German chemists had perfected a method of releasing chlorine gas from pressurized cylinders and thousands of troops were smothered in a ghostly green cloud of chlorine. The commander of British Expeditionary Force, Sir John French, called the use of gas "a cynical and barbarous disregard of the well-known usages of civilised war". The most widely used, mustard gas, could kill by blistering the lungs and throat if inhaled in large quantities. Its effect on masked soldiers, however, was to produce terrible blisters all over the body as it soaked into their woollen uniforms. Contaminated uniforms had to be stripped off as fast as possible and washed - not exactly easy for men under attack on the front line. "I fear it will produce a tremendous scandal in the world... war has nothing to do with chivalry any more. The higher civilisation rises, the viler man becomes," wrote Gen Karl von Einem, commander of the German Third Army in France. Soldiers describe a chlorine attacks, referring to the gas's characteristic green color - victims of a chlorine attack would choke. The gas reacts quickly with water in the airways to form hydrochloric acid, swelling and blocking lung tissue, and causing suffocation. The 91st Regiment suffered 3 different gas attacks during their offensive. But by this time, chlorine was no longer being used alone. Another, more dangerous "irritant", phosgene, was the main killer. But phosgene was slow to act - victims may not develop any symptoms for hours or even days - so it may not quite fit with the narrative of gas attacks at that moment in time.