An American Battlefield
From The Marne To The Vesle
By Raoul Blanchard
[The Atlantic Monthly, December 1918]
Terrific battles, ushering in the dawn of victories which will ensure the freedom of the world, were fought in July and August, 1918, between the Marne and Vesle rivers, from Château-Thierry to Soissons and Fismes. In this soul-stirring struggle the young American troops played a large part, and played it with heroism and success. It has occurred to us, therefore, that the American people will be glad to become acquainted with the battlefield made glorious by their sons, with the soil which will some day be a consecrated goal of pilgrimage for the entire nation.
This field of death, bristling with ruins still smouldering, was formerly, and will soon be once more, a beautiful stretch of country. Here we are in, the heart of the Île de France, and the countryside displays all the gracious charm of a typical French landscape. With its undulating plateaus, pleasant vales, broad green valleys, forests and greensward, châteaux and villas, small towns, and dear old villages thronged with souvenirs of the past, the district between the Marne and the Aisne was peculiarly representative of France—the France of the Merovingians and Capets as well as of the twentieth century.
There is no manufacturing and little commercial activity; but a skillful, varied, and persistent culture of the soil, with special attention to those most exacting of crops, the vine and vegetables, which are successfully raised only by dint of hard labor, and to the production of vast quantities of sugar-beets and cereals.
The villages, built of the beautiful stone of the district, have, one and all, an air of dignity and prosperity which gives animation to the landscape. The very names are among the most pleasant to the ear, and often among the most illustrious in the language. Our great men of letters, La Fontaine and Racine, Pope Urban II, who preached the First Crusade, and other statesmen and princes, all born in the province, had already made it a genuinely historic spot; and the memory of the battles fought by Napoleon at Château-Thierry and Soissons, against the invaders of 1814, has not yet faded. When they turned the enemy back from Paris, the Americans were fighting in the most truly French of all the districts of France, and their gallantry has imparted to it a new charm, a more resplendent glory.
But this attractive region does not exhibit everywhere the same features. The topography of the Île de France is so varied that one can distinguish several families, or groups, of landscapes between the Marne and the Vesle. Let us follow them, in the order, followed by the different stages of the battle.
The southern portion is the most elevated and most picturesque; it includes the shores of the Marne, from Epernay to Château-Thierry, as well as the hills and valleys to the eastward, grouped about the Ardre River in the district called the Tardenois. In the centre the battlefield embraces plateaus studded with low hills, half hidden by broad patches of forest, and cut by deep, narrow valleys—those of the Ourcq and its affluents; whence the region is known as the district of the Ourcq, or the Orxois. Lastly, to the north this undulating ground gives place to a practically level plateau, a vast table-land of cultivated fields, through which flow the deep ravines of the Aisne, the Vesle, and their affluents. This is the Soissonnais.
From the Tardenois to the Soissonnais by way of the Orxois, let us follow in the wake of the French and American armies, in their decisively victorious advance.
I. THE MARNE AND THE TARDENOIS
On emerging from the plains of Champagne, at Epernay, the Marne flows through the plateaus of the Île de France as far as Paris, and the country along its banks changes its aspect. Instead of the wide valley which seems one with the immense bare plain, the stream, breaking out a path for itself through the solid mass of the plateau, has cut a gash from 500 to 2000 metres in width, which turns and winds in graceful and ever-changing curves. Thus, although its general course is from east to west, the trend of the walls of the valley constantly changes and bears toward every point of the compass in turn. Moreover, these walls, intersected, by the ravines and valleys of numerous tributary streams, are cut up into capes, bastions, and deep hollows. Finally, the cliff from whose summit the plateau overlooks the valley, and whose average height is about 150 metres, at times rises steeply from the lowland, and again is broken up into terraces following the different strata of which it is composed. Thus, although the topographical elements are simple enough, they lend themselves to an ever-changing combination of forms, which gives to the landscape its great charm, and at the same time offers some formidable advantages of various kinds from a military standpoint.
The bright green ribbon of the Marne winds along the valley bottom. The placid stream, about a hundred metres wide and broken here and there by islets, wanders from one bank to the other, lined by poplars and willows. On either side of its limpid waters are broad fields, whose delicate greenery frames the sparkling line of the river, which forms a by no means impassable obstacle. In the days just preceding the German offensive of July 15, American patrols constantly crossed between Château-Thierry and Mezy, and picked up prisoners and information on the northern bank. In like manner, during that offensive the attacking German troops were able without great losses to cross the Marne and attack the defenders on the southern bank. To be sure, the Allied air-men made their life a burden by keeping up an incessant bombardment of the bridges, large and small.
But the real obstacle which this valley offers is found in the slopes which dominate it, and it was there that the fiercest fighting took place until the day when the French and Americans, having thrown the enemy back across the river, scaled the cliffs of the right bank on his heels and dislodged him therefrom. In this neighborhood there were two sectors of terrific fighting—that of Châtillon-Dormans upstream, and that of Château-Thierry below.
Going upstream, the valley is quite wide: from Monvoisin to Dormans, by Château-Thierry, it measures two kilometres almost everywhere. The high cliff which overlooks it on the north, cut by a multitude of narrow valleys coming down from the table-land of the Tardenois, forms a series of buttresses which make excellent defensive positions. On the sharpest, which is a genuine peninsula overhanging the main valley, sits the village of Châtillon, formerly crowned by a haughty feudal castle, on whose ruins was erected a statue of Pope Urban II, who long ago had trouble with the German emperors. The slopes below are hard to climb, because of their steepness and the network of tilled fields. Here we are at the heart of the vine-growing district, and these banks of the Marne contribute largely to the production of the famous champagne. The vines extend, on long rows of poles, to the very summit of the cliffs, especially on the right bank, which has a better exposure to the sun; they are often connected by strands of wire, on which straw mats are placed to protect the vines from the cold in winter.
On a lower level, nearer the stream, are magnificent orchards: the cherry tree joins with the vine to impart to those slopes an aspect of rustic opulence. Huddled white villages, with tawny-hued pointed roofs, follow one another in regular succession on the rolling ground. Their names have lately won a terrible celebrity: Binson, Vandières, Vincelles, Tréloup. Sandstone quarries burrow into the summit of the cliffs and furnish shelters for the defenders. Finally, there are strips of forest along the slopes wherever the exposure is thought poorly suited for crops. All these features unite to form a cheerful, animated, lovely landscape; but at the same time a conglomeration of obstacles which the Allied troops were able to overcome only after fierce fighting.
Below the little town of Dormans, the valley narrows temporarily: from Tréloup to Brasles it is frequently less than 500 metres in width. The cliff, although steep as before, is less cut up, and the patches of forest are larger. At the mouths of the smaller affluent valleys, the villages rear their church-towers on the hillsides, overlooking the lowest vineyards and orchards; on this right bank are Jaulgonne, Chartèves, and Mont Saint-Père, all taken by the Allies late in July, and Fossoy, where the Americans successfully repulsed the German attack of July 15.
But now the valley widens once more as it enters the broad basin of Château-Thierry. It is a beautiful spot, and at the same time, of great military value. The little town long ago forgot its role of fortress, but has been brutally reminded of it by the violence of the battles that have been fought in its neighborhood. In the foreground is the wide expanse of fields in the valley bottom; then a suburb of the town enclosed between two arms of the Marne. Across the river, scaling the slopes of a hill crowned by the ruins of a castle, the town rises, terrace-like, at the mouth of a narrow valley. The position can be carried by frontal attack only on the heels of a defeated foe, as Napoleon carried it in 1814, and Eranchet d'Esperey just a hundred years later. But in 1918 the Americans had to take Château-Thierry in flank, and in order to force their way into the town, had to fight the bloody battles of Vaux, Bouresches, and Étrepilly, which carried them to the north of the town and hastened its evacuation.
What is the nature of the terrain above those steep cliffs which enclose the valley of the Marne? Does it become more favorable to military operations than the deep depression through which the river flows? Not by any means. The surface of the table-land is broken by so many ravines and narrow valleys which descend steeply to the Marne, that it is cut into a multitude of ridges and hillocks amid which it is no longer possible to recognize the original horizontal aspect of the plateau.
On the other hand, the strata which lie on the surface—loam, sandstone, and clayey sand—make a heavy, impermeable soil, quite infertile, in which it is hard to raise anything, and which is largely given over to woods. Thus, freedom of movement is impeded by deep ravines, ridges running in all directions, and more or less dense forests; an offensive is difficult, and the defensive easy. This is true in the immediate neighborhood of Château-Thierry, where the ravines of Vaux, Brasles, Chartèves, Jaulgonne, and Tréloup, and the valley of the Surmelin, slash the plateau on either side of the Marne into fragments—into forest-topped hillocks which are genuine fortresses, where the struggle was terrific and where the Allies were able to advance only one step at a time: on Hill 204, west of Château-Thierry, in the Bois de Mont St.-Père, the forest of Fèze above Jaulgonne, and especially on the spur of the forest of Riz; and south of the Marne, at the broad, wooded bastion of Saint-Agnan and at La Chapelle-Monthodon, where the fighting was so intense from the 15th to the 20th of July.
This strip of broken table-land becomes broader again farther upstream, above Dormans and Châtillon-sur-Marne. In that direction the plateau of the Île de France ascends until it is more than 260 metres above the stream. Erosion has been even more active there, and in that part of the Tardenois the plateau is dissected into narrow strips separated by deep valleys, broad and moist, the largest of which is the valley of the Ardre. In the valley bottoms the streams are bordered by bands of tillage land; above, on the lower slopes, amid the vineyards and orchards which monopolize all the favorable exposures, is a multitude of small villages, some of which have become famous—Ste.-Euphraise, Bligny, and Ville-en-Tardenois, whose rustic dwellings of uncut rubble, arranged amphitheatre-wise, sheltered some 500 inhabitants. Higher up, on the woven surface of the plateau, are scattered villages built on limestone foundations—tiny fortresses, like Rumigny and Champlat, the scene of hard-fought battles. Almost the entire surface is covered with forests of pine and oak and birch. These are the woods of Le Roi, Courton, Pourcy, and Reims, where hand-to-hand fighting went on for more than a fortnight, British, Italians, and French succeeding at first in checking the enemy and then in forcing him back, in those titanic combats. They were, in reality, genuine mountain battles; for the hills reach a height of 265 metres, above the level of the plateau, while the valleys are at least 100 metres deep; and the difficulties of the uneven surface were greatly increased by the obstacles offered by forests, vineyards, streams, and the villages, closely packed with stone houses, which could easily be transformed into fortifications.
A deep, broad, swampy valley, traversed by an unfordable stream; surmounted by steep slopes bristling with vineyards, orchards, villages, and diversified by quarries; above, an entanglement of low hills, ravines, and valleys, under a mantle of forest—such was the theatre of operations in which the Americans won their first great victory. A more difficult terrain could not be desired, or one better adapted to test the valor of the victorious troops.
But, when they had made themselves masters of this battlefield, the Allies were by no means at the end of their labors; and the difficulties of the ground to be traversed were still serious in the central portion of the theatre of operations—the Orxois.
II. THE ORXOIS: OULCHY-LE-CHÂTEAU AND FÈRE-EN-TARDENOIS
The Orxois is a plateau extending north of the Marne to the Soissonnais, at a mean height of 160 metres. But it is very far from being uniform. Let us study the nature of its soil, and the relief, that we may comprehend its aspects more thoroughly. The substratum of the plateau of the Orxois is the layer of rock called 'hard limestone' 30 to 40 metres in thickness, so much of which is used for building material in the towns and villages. This layer is almost horizontal, and if there were nothing superimposed upon it, the plateau would be a practically level platform. But above the hard limestone are successive layers of a far different character—layers of sand, of Beauchamp sandstone, mingled with marl, making a moist, impermeable, infertile soil; then another layer of limestone, softer and more clayey than that below. Finally, this upper limestone is covered, especially toward the east, with thin layers of marl, clay and, lastly, Fontainebleau sand, which are connected with the strata of the Tardenois. Thus, to a depth of 100 metres, we find a succession of diversified strata, hard and soft, dry and moist, which impart great variety to the landscape.
The valleys which intersect this conglomeration run from east to west, toward the deep depression hollowed out by the Savières and the Lower Ourcq. From north to south, we can count three—the Upper Ourcq, by Fère-en-Tardenois and La Ferté-Milon, the Ru d'Alland, and the Clignon. Very wide where they pass through the upper strata, these valleys grow abruptly narrower and deeper when they reach the level of the hard limestone, where they are little more than deep and narrow ditches. Between these furrows, the marl, sand, and softer limestones, form ridges, now steep, now rising more gently, the sandy soil bearing woods, the limestones cultivated fields.
Thus the whole plateau of the Orxois is a series of elevations and depressions, running from east to west, which form just so many obstacles to an advance from south to north like that of the Allies. Luckily they approached this locality at the same time from the west, which enabled them to outflank the obstacles simultaneously with their approach from the south.
North of Château-Thierry, three or four kilometres from the Marne, the plateau is less diversified. The only obstacle is the valley of the Clignon, which deepens rapidly toward the west. Above it, at the summit of the limestone cliff, the plateau forms a species of promontories on which are built villages—Torcy, Belleau, Bouresches. The American troops had held their positions there during the last part of June, and it was there that the heroic marines halted the enemy, in his march upon Paris. And again, it was there that they assumed the offensive on July 18, to outflank Château-Thierry from the north. On that day they carried the ridges of Torcy and Belleau; on the 19th they pressed beyond Bouresches; and on the 20th they forced their way into Étrepilly and Château-Thierry.
Immediately beyond, the terrain is not so difficult. The Clignon valley becomes less rugged and gradually blends with the plateau. Toward Bezu-St.-Germain and Epieds lies a comparatively open plain with extensive stretches of fallow land. In this more open region the progress was more rapid; on July 22 the American troops took possession of Epieds, twelve kilometres from Bouresches, their starting-point.
But the difficulties are more serious farther to the north, along the hills which form the southern boundary of the valley of the Ourcq. Although the depression made by the Ru d'Alland, being broad and level, is not a considerable obstacle, it is not the same beyond. The relief map shows a line of heights running from west to east, and rising higher and higher in that direction. Prom these heights a multitude of valleys descend to the Ourcq, from south to north, cutting the crest into hills separated by depressions. Thus the terrain is broken up in every direction and well adapted to meet an attack from the west as well as one from the south.
It was necessary to deal with all these obstacles one by one. Starting from the west, the French had to carry successively these lines of crests and depressions with their fortified villages: ridge of Monnes, July 19; ravine of Neuilly-St.-Front the same evening; the hill of Latilly and its wood the 20th; La Croix and Grisolles the 21st, with their thickets and dense plantations of osiers. On the 23d the Allied troops took Rocourt and the wood of Le Chatelet; on the 24th the deep ravine of Brecy; and, finally, on the 25th, French and Americans together attacked the hill of the forest of Fère, which is 228 metres high, completely covered with woods, cut by ravines, and flanked by fortified villages. On the 27th the whole position was taken, and the Allies were on the verge of the deep valley of the Ourcq, which they were next to cross.
This line was a by no means inconsiderable obstacle. Imagine, if you please, a deep depression, twisting and turning in all directions, and from 200 to 400 metres wide, extending at least as far as Fère-en-Tardenois. It is bounded on either side by cliffs of hard limestone, 30 to 40 metres high, in which innumerable caves are scooped—the so-called boves, which are used as dwellings, with doors and windows flush with the face of the cliff. These boves are invaluable defensive positions, out of reach of bullets and shells. The valley bottom is wet and swampy, with dense clumps of poplars mingled with alder-bushes. There are numerous villages at the foot of the cliffs—Rozet-St.-Albain, Brény, Armentières—or on the slopes above, like Noroy. A frontal attack on such a position would have been too costly. The Allies turned the line of the Ourcq from the north. They crossed the river in force in the upper part of its course, where it has not yet attacked the stratum of hard limestone, and where the valley is wider, and the sides are less steep. Nevertheless they encountered terrible difficulties.
North of the Ourcq, indeed, the last heights of the Orxois form another chain of hills, from four to six kilometres wide—the last obstacle before we come to the plateau of the Soissonnais. These hills are of the greatest possible diversity of shape and vary in height from 200 metres at the western extremity to 230 at the eastern. Their bases consist largely of sandstone and Fontainebleau sand, with clumps of forest scattered here and there; higher up is the softer limestone, the land being entirely cleared and covered with crops. Here and there we find the remains of the former covering of clay and Fontainebleau sand—wooded ridges which expand toward the east into the wood of Seringes, the forest of Nesle, and Meunière wood. These hills, the last as we travel northward, where they command the whole of the Soissonnais, have therefore the greatest strategic value, particularly the positions of Hartennes, Plessier-Huleu, and Seringes.
Luckily these formidable defensive positions were approached from the west, astride the ridges. Starting from the forest of Retz, the French crossed the Savières with a rush, and in a single bound reached Noroy-sur-Ourcq and Villers-Hélon, which lie along one of the ridges, surrounded by orchards. On July 19 they had advanced three kilometres to the east; the strong line of the Ourcq was outflanked. On the 20th they were at Parcy-Tigny and Rozet-St.-Albain, pushing forward over the broken ground planted with sugar-beets and cereals, enlivened in spots by small clumps of trees perched on the sandstone hillocks. Thus they drew near to the heart of the position—the ridges of Plessier and of Hartennes. There the resistance was much more violent; but after three days of hard fighting, the French entered Plessier and approached the village of Oulchy-le-Ville, surrounded by picturesque heaps of sandstone blocks mingled with pines and birches. On the 25th, in the evening, they were in occupation of Oulchy-le-Château, which lies in a charming vale running down to the Ourcq. The line of the Ourcq, as to that portion where the river, flowing between high cliffs, constitutes a real obstacle, was in the Allies' hands.
It remained to complete the victory by the conquest of the eastern sector of the hills; and this again was no easy task. The French and Americans had now to approach that strong defensive position from the south. On the 28th they entered Fère-en-Tardenois; the Americans crossed the Ourcq, taking Sergy, which changed hands nine times. On July 31, after more titanic battles, they wrested Seringes from the foe. On August 1 there was a general advance all along the line, and the Allies carried the whole line of hilltops, from Plessier-Huleu to Meunière wood.
This was the end: the horizon expanded. From the heights conquered in fourteen days of fighting the Allies went down to the plateau of the Soissonnais; soon they would reach the Vesle and join hands with the troops who had retaken Soissons. Among the numberless heroes of this second battle of the Marne, they who stormed the heights of the Orxois and either outflanked or crossed the valley of the Ourcq were the bravest of the brave and are entitled to the largest share of our gratitude.
III. THE SOISSONNAIS
The third act of the battle was played upon a terrain quite different from those preceding it. The relief is considerably simplified. The great plateau of the Île de France, which is buried, as it were, under the accumulations of recent deposits, where erosion has worn gaps in the ridges of the Orxois, and hollowed out the deep ravines of the Tardenois, is reduced here to the substratum of hard limestone, almost entirely free from superimposed layers. So that, instead of being an uneven, swampy district, the Soissonnais is a dry level table-land, where the streams flow underground through the layers of limestone. A fertile district, too, for the surface is covered with a thin coating of loam, in which sugar-beets and cereals vie with one another in profusion of growth.
However, the plateau is intersected by occasional valleys, generally broad and deep. The two most considerable are those of the Vesle and the Aisne which come together above Soissons, at Condé, and isolate the famous Chemin-des-Dames to the north. Two tributaries, Ambleny brook and the Crise, flowing down to the Aisne, subdivide the southern portion of the Soissonnais, where the battle was fought. With respect to the plateau, these valleys are little worlds apart. Below the hard limestone, they have hollowed out a path through very soft rocks, sands, and clays; in these the streams have inevitably made large inroads, sapping the limestone cliffs which overhang them. Thus the valley bottoms are abnormally wide—from two to three kilometres near Soissons. The presence of the clayey soils makes them very moist, and we find there fields of beets and grain side by side with extensive tracts of grassland. On the lower slopes are many small fields given over to the less hardy products—beans, orchards, and sometimes grape-vines. Here are most of the villages, at the level where the water-courses, seeping through the limestone of the plateau, reappear in the shape of springs, on the impervious stratum. For the most part the villages lie along the hillsides, surrounded by trees, embellished by châteaux and parks. They are well-built and attractive, boasting churches of graceful architecture, thanks to the lovely decorative stone taken from the quarries in the limestone cliffs above, which are called boves, or cronies. A fascinating, fertile country, diversified and pleasant to the eye, before the war it might well have been taken as a sample of rural opulence.
Plateau and valleys, then, differ materially—the one monotonous and easy of access; the other, no less charming than varied, but presenting great difficulties of passage in the face of opposition. There is not a village on the plateau: only a few large farms and scattered sugar-beet refineries. In the valleys and on the slopes there are everywhere houses, châteaux, parks, orchards, and grottoes. The slender church-tower barely rises to the level of the plateau, as if to watch for the approach of an enemy. The conditions then were quite simple: on the plateau it was possible to gain many kilometres in a single rush; but in the valleys a fierce resistance was to be expected.
The French and American attack in the Soissonnais was fortunate in its starting-point. In the course of the hard-fought battles between June 15 and July 15, the French had retaken the entire valley of Ambleny-Cœuvres, and had gained a footing on the plateau to the eastward, which stretches as far as the outskirts of Soissons. To the south they had completely, cleared the verge of the forest of Retz, from which they were thus able to debouch into the plain.
The first onrush was magnificent. Starting at ten minutes to five in the morning, the Allies were within sight of Soissons at ten o'clock, having overrun the whole plateau on a front of some ten kilometres. Rarely has a more successful attack been seen in this war. It was even said that on this first day some French and Americans got as far as the suburbs of Soissons. But the danger for the Germans was too great and they brought all their reserves thither. Moreover, they had the valley of the Crise to support their defense.
This valley is the widest and deepest of all those which eat into the plateau of the Soissonnais from the south. The very considerable depression is more than 100 metres below the surface of the plateau, which it cuts in two, effectively shutting off all progress from west to east; for on the south a narrow isthmus, that of Vierzy, barely separates it from the ravine of the Savières; and on the southeast it reaches to the foot of the wooded hills of Hartennes. Clinging to the sides of the valley and of the ravines which open into it, numerous villages—Vauxbuin, Berzy-le-Sec, Villemontoire, Buzancy—are the more difficult to capture because the artillery can hardly see them, as they lie close against the hillside. It was on the Crise, in the latter part of May, that a handful of Frenchmen held up the German avalanche from the Chemin-des-Dames.
The Germans paid us back in July. Sheltered in the ravines and windings of the valley, their artillery, being almost invisible, had nothing to disturb its aim. The villages, the orchards, the grottoes, crammed with machine-guns, were so many fortresses; the whole valley was a veritable hell. There were incessant counter-attacks, which the Allies, on the bare plateau, entirely devoid of cover, could repel only with the greatest difficulty. They pushed forward step by step, and by fits and starts. On the 19th our troops were hard put to it to hold the ground they had taken the day before; on the 20th they barely began to nibble at the ravines, at Ploisy and L'Échelle. On the 21st the Americans took Berzy-le- Sec, and the French were astride the lower waters of the Crise; on the 23d they went down into the ravine of Buzancy. But not until the 25th did they gain possession of the promontory of Villemontoire; and only on the 29th did a Scottish division, after three days of forward fighting, carry Buzancy. This last success, to be sure, was decisive, for it uncovered the upper valley of the Crise. And so, on August 2, the enemy gave way; that day the Allies crossed the valley along its entire length, and advanced across the eastern side of the plateau as far as the Vesle. On the same day they entered Soissons—at last. The ancient capital of the French kings, the city which formerly disputed the claim of Paris to be called the metropolis, is now no more than a mass of ruins. For four long years the war has laid its heavy hand upon her; and it is no new thing for her, since she had played an important military role in 1814, 1815, and 1870. She owes it to her fine location, in the heart of a broad valley, where the roads from south and east meet. Let us hope that her martyrdom will soon come to an end.
Here ended the second battle of the Marne. The Alles have regained possession of the whole plateau which extends from the Marne to the Vesle and the Aisne. They have established themselves in the valleys of those great rivers, from Soissons to Braisne, Bazoches, and Fismes—even to Reims. They find there formidable obstacles to be overcome: a broad, moist, sometimes swampy bottom; facing them the cliff of the Chemin-des-Dames and the plateau of the Vesle, With, its cap of limestone, and its numerous windings lined with villages and grottoes. Except in case of a surprise or a voluntary retirement, it will be a hard job to carry these positions. But sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. The results already achieved are fine enough to justify us in declaring ourselves satisfied.
The work done in their début, by the American troops in conjunction with our own, was magnificent. They fought against victorious soldiers sure of success, and whipped them. They were engaged on a difficult terrain. In the south they were obliged to cross a broad river and wide valleys, to scale cliffs bristling with defensive positions. In the centre they were confronted by a confused entanglement of broken ground, hills and ravines, woods and open fields, bisected by a deep valley half-concealed by trees. In the north they became acquainted with the snare formed by plateaus falling abruptly away into the wolf-trap of ravines where the enemy, lying in ambush, refused to give ground. The Americans triumphed over all these obstacles, and deserve to be reckoned the peers of the best soldiers in the world. On the other hand, fighting as they have fought in these countrysides, so typically French in their simplicity and grandeur, and seeing all their charms foully outraged, our attractive villages destroyed, our churches—graceful masterpieces, in almost every case, of the Middle Ages—desecrated and shattered, they have come to understand France better; they have had a share in her misfortunes and in her hopes.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald