The Bloodiest Battle in American History
Today is 96th anniversary of the commencement of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. At the time it was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, The offensive was “probably the bloodiest single battle in U.S. history,” with 117,000 casualties and over 26,000 killed. Among the dead is my great uncle Thomas Kelley.
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Maas-Argonne Offensive and the Battle of the Argonne Forest, was a part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front. It was fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice on November 11, a total of 47 days. The battle was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, and was one of a series of Allied attacks known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which brought the war to an end. The Meuse-Argonne was the principal engagement of the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War.
Although the Meuse-Argonne was “probably the bloodiest single battle in U.S. history,” in that it had the largest number of U.S. dead in a single battle (over 26,000), the battle is largely forgotten in the United States[, and the Argonne war cemetery is often ignored by tourists[. The battle also hailed the debut of the Browning Automatic Rifle in combat, with both the US and France using them significantly for the first time in battle. According to the American view, the battle’s pressure on the Germans was an important factor in their agreeing to the armistice: “Until the last, this battle had worried German commanders most; unlike other sectors of the front, here they had little space short of a vital objective that they could afford to trade for time.” Historians have since begun to debate the legitimacy of this claim, with many believing that the Meuse-Argonne offensive was simply a diversion from greater Allied offensives and successes elsewhere.
In an interview, Paul von Hindenburg stated, “So I must really say that the British food blockade and the American blow in the Argonne decided the war for the allies.” and that “… without the American troops and despite a food blockade… the war could have ended in a sort of stalemate.”
Many of the dead rest at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, a 130.5-acre (52.8 ha) World War I cemetery in France. It is located east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon in Meuse. The cemetery contains the largest number of American military dead in Europe (14,246), most of whom lost their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and were buried there, including my great-uncle Thomas Kelley. The photo to the left is of a memorial to him in Cranston, Rhode Island.