First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America’s First Battle of World War I, by Matthew J. Davenport, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2015, $28.99
Army veteran and attorney Davenport has crafted a rare work of impeccable research, insightful analysis and eloquent prose focused on the U.S. 1st Infantry Division’s May 28, 1918, attack on Germans holding the French village of Cantigny. The division was the first of General John J. Pershing’s fledgling American Expeditionary Forces to land in France, the first to enter the trenches, the first to fight and the first to suffer combat casualties.
Davenport argues the victory at Cantigny announced to the world that the tide of war would thereafter flow against the Germans. The battle was a relatively small affair, tolling less than 2,000 combined casualties, but the morale boost to the beleaguered Allied powers and expectant American home front were incalculable. The “Big Red One” would thereafter be at the forefront of U.S. military action, through the November 1918 Armistice, the battles of World War II and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Ably led by Maj. Gen. Robert Lee Bullard, the only American officer to command a division, a corps and an army on the Western Front, 1st Division included such future generals as George C. Marshall, architect of victory in World War II, and D-Day commanders Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and Clarence Huebner, the latter of whom led the division ashore at Omaha Beach.
Davenport’s wonderfully descriptive book includes eight useful maps and 20 photographs, as well as extensive endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography.
—William John Shepherd