1-102 Editorial Note on Pershing and the First Division, October 1917

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 1, 1917

Editorial Note on Pershing and the First Division

October 1917

Marshall termed the six months he spent with the First Division at Gondrecourt_July 14, 1917, to January 18, 1918_ “the most depressing, gloomy period of the war. We often referred to it as the Winter of Valley Forge.” His fortunate and pleasant housing and dining arrangements with a small group of companionable officers at the home of M. and Mme Jouatte “was in no small measure responsible for my being able to keep a stiff upper lip and wear an optimistic smile those days.“ (Marshall, Memoirs, p. 18.)

Along with the difficulties of outfitting and training the raw division went the problem of dealing with the French command and with Pershing’s headquarters at Chaumont. The division’s officers and men were constantly being ordered away to new assignments, and its leaders were constantly being scrutinized, paraded, and criticized from every side. (Ibid., pp. 21-22.)

On October 3, Pershing and some of his staff arrived at Gondrecourt to witness a demonstration which Marshall had had to arrange on short notice. In his memoirs, Pershing noted that he was “much pleased with the evidences of efficiency in this organization.“ (John J. Pershing, My Experiences in the World War [New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1931], p. 192.) But Marshall recalled a different reaction. When General Sibert and Chief of Staff Hanson Ely failed to give a sufficiently cogent critique of the exercise, Pershing was furious. “He just gave everybody hell, and he was very severe with General Sibert . . . in front of all the officers. Among other things, he said that we didn’t show any signs of much training; we had not justified the time we had had here;. . . and generally he just scarified us. He didn’t give General Sibert a chance to talk at all. . . . So I decided it was about time for me to make my sacrifice play. . . . I went up and started to talk to General Pershing, who dismissed the chief of staff rather contemptuously and was going off. I came to intervene, to intercede, as it were, to explain some of the things. He didn’t want to talk to me. He shrugged his shoulders and turned away from me. And I put my hand on his arm and practically forced him to talk.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 197.)

According to Benjamin F. Caffey_Marshall’s assistant in the Operations Section during 1918 and later a brigadier general_when Marshall was angry “his eyes flashed and he talked so rapidly and vehemently no one else could get in a word. He overwhelmed his opponent by a torrent of facts.” (Caffey to Forrest C. Pogue, January 14, 1961, GCMRL/Research File [World War I].) Marshall himself recalled that he was “just mad all over. I thought I had gotten in it up to my neck; I might as well not try to float but to splash a little bit. I’ve forgotten all that I said, but I had a rather inspired moment. The others were horrified, and General Pershing walked away from me by saying, `Well, you must appreciate the troubles we have.’ I said, `Yes, general, but we have them every day and many a day, and we have to solve every one of them by night.’ Then I left. . . . General Sibert was very regretful that I had done this, and some of my bosom friends came up to me and said . . . I was finished and I’d be fired right off.” Marshall himself thought that the worst that would happen was that he would be removed from the staff and sent to duty with troops, “and certainly that would be a great success.” But instead of ruining him, it helped. Afterwards, when Pershing would come to the division, “he would get me off away from the others and talk to me about the condition of affairs.” (Ibid., p. 198.)

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. 121-122.

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