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Five Days in October: The Lost Battalion of World War I

by Robert H. Ferrell, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 2005, $19.95.

Robert Ferrell’s new book on one of World War I’s most legenday topics is short—only 130 pages, plus an index, appendices and a comprehensive roster of the U.S. Army soldiers involved. In his book, Ferrell nevertheless makes an in-depth examination into the military politics that led to the isolation and trapping of 500 troops from two companies from two different battalions of the 77th Division in the Argonne Forest between October 2 and 7, 1918.

Ferrell explores the pressures that General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), exerted on his subordinates—and their subsequent fear of replacement should they fail to carry out Pershing’s aggressive orders. One pressured subordinate was the 77th Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Alexander. Ferrell points out the many errors made in haste within the command and communication structures of both the 77th Division and the AEF. In a scholarly and intelligent manner, Ferrell, professor emeritus of history at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, also examines the errors, inaccuracies and accepted myths in previous accounts of the ordeal of the “Lost Battalion” and its commander, Major Charles W. Whittlesey.

Though decidedly academic and not meant for the novice or amateur student of history, Ferrell’s account and reexamination is concise and well-written, moving seamlessly from event to event as he conducts a thorough investigation into the actions—and inaction—of the officers directly involved with the entrapment and eventual relief of those troops.


Originally published in the August 2006 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.