1-113 Editorial Note on First Division under Bullard, 1917-1918

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on First Division under Bullard

December 1917-January 1918

General Sibert was relieved of command on December 14 and replaced by the former commander of the division’s Second Infantry Brigade, Brigadier General Robert L. Bullard (U.S.M.A., 1885). Pershing’s headquarters staff thought Sibert, who was basically an engineer with little troop service, overly conservative in his approach to training, and pessimistic, by which they meant that he accepted too fully French tendencies to train primarily for trench warfare rather than for a war of maneuver. (Robert L. Bullard, Personalities and Reminiscences of the War [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1925], pp. 98-99; James G. Harbord, Leaves from a War Diary [New York: Dodd, Mead, 1926], pp. 201-2.)

During the autumn of 1917, while Marshall was acting chief of staff, Bullard had complimented him on his handling of the job. When Bullard arrived at First Division headquarters in mid-December, it was with the intention of making Marshall permanent chief of staff, although Marshall did not know this until much later. But at the time, Marshall and some other of the staff officers were infuriated with General Headquarters’ “misunderstanding of our situation. . . . These fellows at G.H.Q. were almost all my close friends and associates at Leavenworth, and most of them had been student officers under me . . ., but we were wholly out of sympathy with each other, and I felt that they didn’t understand what they were doing at all. They had become very severe and they didn’t know what they were being severe about. . . . General Pershing was severe, so they modeled their attitude on him. I was so outraged by this that I talked a great deal and I made a great mistake . . . I learned the lesson then I never forgot afterwards. . . . What I did was I demonstrated to General Bullard that I had no business being the chief of staff in that state of mind. . . . He made Campbell King chief of staff, who was a much more moderate person and didn’t get `het-up’ to the extent I did. . . . I never made the mistake—I don’t think—again. . . . I think it delayed [me] a great deal. I think I would have been chief of staff of the division, and I would very quickly have been made brigadier general.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 211.)

Repeated warnings of an impending major German offensive in the spring of 1918, and Pershing’s determination that the American troops give a good account of themselves, resulted in a period of intensive training during December and January. Marshall wrote that “the suffering of the men at this time exceeded any previous or subsequent experience.” On January 14, the division began moving to the Ansauville subsector, north of Toul, on the south side of the St. Mihiel salient. Division headquarters was established at Menil-la-Tour, which Marshall described as “a small, cheerless village.” (Memoirs, pp. 53, 59, 61.)

Although the sector was a relatively quiet one, it was the first time the American staff had administered so large and elaborate an area, and Marshall found the job demanding. “The work had generally to be carried on with four or five observers from G.H.Q. standing at one’s elbow to watch how it was being done. This did not tend to quiet the nerves and promote the assurance of the division staff during their novitiate,” Marshall recalled. His job during this period “was divided between working on the new plans for the dispositions of the troops, and familiarizing myself with the sector by frequent tours of the front.” (Ibid., pp. 61, 66.)

Near the end of February, Marshall became convinced that the Germans were preparing to raid the First Division’s lines. He wrote the following instructions for Chief of Staff Campbell King’s signature. (Ibid., p. 68.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 129-130.

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