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To General John J. Pershing
November 24, 1930 Fort Benning, Georgia
My dear General:
I have just finished going over the manuscript of your book.1 It arrived Thursday morning, and I have given it most of my time since.
Attached are my comments. Naturally they are the result of a hurried survey, but please keep in mind that they are also the result of hurried dictation. I have not had the time to be careful in my choice of language or to be very analytical. As speed was the dominant factor in this matter, if you were to have the manuscript Tuesday, I have done my best under the circumstances.
In the comments I have found it advisable, for brevity, to state my opinions flatly, without couching them in a more restrained or tactful fashion. I hope you will understand this. I am giving you the best I can manage under the circumstances.
COMMENTS ON MANUSCRIPT OF GENERAL PERSHING’S MEMOIRS
I will precede comments on specific chapters and pages by some general observations. In reviewing this manuscript, I have endeavored to go through it with three points in view:
a. The desire to locate any statements which might give an impression contrary to the facts.
b. An effort to guess the probable reaction of the ordinary reader to what you have said.
c. An effort to spot any portion which would give rise to acrimonious debate, particularly if the incident does not justify such attention.
I like the first half of the book. It is a very interesting presentation, despite the necessity for covering many complicated subjects. I do not like the frequency of criticism, particularly of the War Department. It seems to me the direct criticisms should be omitted in most instances, your presentation being confined to the facts; then once or twice spread yourself on a general criticism, with a mere reference to the accumulative instances justifying criticism.
When your silence, concerning practically everything in the war, is considered, I think the frequency with which you directly criticize the War Department will create a poor impression and will weaken your general statements. There is a great difference between hammering the country at large for a supine adherence or acquiescence to a policy of unpreparedness and parsimonious appropriations—there is a great difference between this and a constant criticism of certain individuals in the War Department, usually unnamed except by designation of positions. In most of the criticisms I have referred to, the paragraph can stand as written with the exception of the complete omission of the critical comment, which usually concludes the paragraph.
There were changes of control in the War Department, before these dates, and the individuals concerned are not definitely indicated. Every one of importance concerned with the war knows of your hostility to General March, just as they know of your hostility to General Edwards. I think it important not to permit your criticisms to confuse the public as to whom they are directed. I think it very important that your criticisms do not in any way reflect on Mr. Baker. Though we have a hundred more wars, I do not think we will ever be so lucky in the choice of a Secretary. I cannot conceive of any future field commander ever being accorded the support you received. I know you disagreed strongly with him on certain phases of the decisions, particularly regarding the draft during the spring of 1918. You may remember you had me make a rather lengthy study of the situation at this time.2 The result of this, so far as concerned my impression, was a tremendous admiration for the courage and force displayed by Mr. Baker and by General March at that time.
I think General March displayed picayunish qualities and personal animosity distressing to find in a man of his outstanding ability. But, to me, the fact remains that there was not another man, saving yourself, and possibly General Wood, who could have filled the terribly difficult position of Chief of Staff in Washington. Wood’s personal ambitions would probably have been fatal; March’s were not absent, but he did a remarkable job, in my opinion, which you should in no way belittle.
As to the earlier period of the war, the situation of the War Department was almost hopeless, and Mr. Baker could not be expected in a few months to reconstruct a machine loaded with impossibilities and which never had functioned correctly. In my detailed comments referring to one of your criticisms of the General Staff, I suggest that you point out the real difficulty, which was a collection of old officers at the head of every division, who had ceased mental development years before, or had had no opportunity to develop and were literally wholly unacquainted with any of the proper functions of a General Staff.
As to your comments on our allies, I think you might omit several where you attribute the ulterior purposes to some seemingly favorable offer or view of theirs. I believe the general reaction will be better if you leave the statement of facts to the reader without the frequent adverse comments at the conclusion of the paragraphs concerned. Then when you hit, hit hard, leaving no shadow of doubt as to what your criticism is and whom you are criticizing.
There is a tendency in your early accounts of troop actions to criticize the units or individuals for affairs or matters of comparatively small importance when compared to what occurred later on, when you usually pass over grave errors or commissions without any adverse comment whatsoever. I have called attention to this in the detailed comments.
I do not like your description of the Meuse-Argonne battle. It is too detailed, I think, for the general reader and not detailed enough for the military student. In endeavoring to mention each town and division and division commander, the battle has been made to appear a confused mass of little events, and from my point of view the big picture has been lost. I realize you wished to mention individuals, but practically every one of those mentioned has already been named in your final report. I think you should have described the battle from a very broad and non-technical point of view, and should have drawn attention to great feats or great difficulties by detailed descriptions of incidents in those sections of the field. November 1st was a great feat; it was the first occasion where the army could operate on equal terms with the other armies as to time of occupation of sectors, special troops; the great barrage, artillery and machine gun, in front of the V Corps was worthy of special comment as to its character; the plunge forward in the center of the army by the center divisions was a splendid feat, in great contrast to the frequent half-baked efforts on other fields; the maintained momentum which carried the army up to the Meuse,—these outstanding characteristics of that fight should be featured. My main objection to the handling of the Meuse-Argonne and, to a smaller extent, to the St. Mihiel, is the submergence of the great facts or feats of the battle under a mass of minor details as to small movements of divisions, names of woods and villages, etc.,—often to the exclusion of details covering efforts of great gallantry. For example, the first phase of the crossing of the Meuse by the 5th Division, the attack of the [October] 4th, 5th, and 6th by the 1st Division, the remarkable endurance of the 4th Division, some units of which remained in the line until the 22d of October, I think. You treat Alexander, of the 77th Division, with a very lenient hand, compared to your occasional strictures of the 26th Division.
Chapter II, page 2, first paragraph, last sentence:
Retain comment, but omit direct reference to Chief of Staff.
Either indicate more definitely what the trouble was—senior general staff officers wholly untrained for such duty, faulty arrangement, misunderstanding of army at large of the General Staff, and active resentful hostility of permanent bureaus, hopeless fight of younger General Staff officers as yet inexperienced in General Staff work, etc, etc.
Chapter II [III?], page 11, 1st paragraph:
Change “several engagements” to read “many engagements”.
Change “inclined to yield” to read “sometimes yielded”.
“God damn him”. This will be featured in all press reviews, as it constitutes news. Will the whole English nation take the slant that you have struck at the character of George V?
Chapter XI, page 1, second paragraph, last sentence:
“Laxity and neglect at home”. This should either be qualified with some explanation or considerably moderated. It gives an erroneous impression.
Page 5, first paragraph, end of last sentence:
This particularization seems unnecessary and objectionable. The reaction to it will be unfavorable to you.
Chapter XIII, page 4, last sentence:
I would omit this.
Page 5, first paragraph, last sentence:
I would omit this.
Chapter XVIII, page 19, first paragraph:
The effect or influence of the power of the permanent bureaus had its part, and a decided part, in all considerations by the General Staff.
Chapter XXVI, page 16:
Criticism of the 26th Division is a delicate affair. There is this to be said on the side of the division: A raid was usually, almost invariably, a surprise—by the very nature of the operation. Most raids, I guess about 80%, succeeded for this reason, the local garrison having a small chance against the overwhelming assault, and under the heavy concentration of artillery fire. Furthermore, and especially, Seichprey was one of the most vulnerable spots on the western front. (I labored personally with its defense for several months.) I suggest you pass this affair by without adverse comment. Nothing is gained by the criticism, mild as it is, and the solid animosity of an entire region will certainly be awakened. The game is not worth the candle. (Contrast this criticism with the absence of criticism of the 77th Division at Champigneulles in November. Chapter 49, page 7.)
Chapter XXX, page 3, last paragraph, first two lines:
Is this a proper charge against the War Department? Could this particular emergency, with its special solution as to shipping certain units, be foreseen?
Chapter XXXII, page 12, last complete paragraph:
“Faulty system of training at home”, and end of last sentence. This involves too much of repetition of this criticism and weakens the case. (See also last paragraph of Chapter XXXVIII and main paragraph of Chapter XXXVIV, page 13.)
Page 12, next to the last complete paragraph:
“Lethargy and laxity”. This is a correct characterization, but without explanation it is unjust. It refers to battle-worn men, tired and bored to death, war blase officers. What our attitude would have been the fourth year is problematical, but I doubt if it would have been one to praise.
Chapter XXXVI, page 6, first paragraph, next to last sentence:
I again urge that you include “with the French Moroccan Division”. It seems unfair and ungenerous to omit reference to this splendid war-worn shock division. Every unit always claimed the one on its flanks was “not up”. Personally I think the Moroccans were “up”. I hope very much you will make this change. You may remember that we had long discussions regarding it at the time of the preparation of your Final Report.
Chapter XXXVIV, page 3, last complete paragraph:
In view of the dramatic success and powerful influence of the August 8-9 attack, you either should not mention it or should include some words of high praise. Don’t give the Allies an opening to attack you as ungenerous and unduly prejudiced.
Chapter XL, page 16, second paragraph:
I don’t think you gain by this adverse comment on Liggett. If he deserves this comment, you should shoot Alexander and a couple of others and give General Bullard a pretty hard time.
Chapter XLII, page 11, last paragraph, first sentence:
Omit direct reference to 103d Infantry.
Page 12: Mention name of commander of 101st Regiment. I think it was a Marine named Barch (?).
Chapter XLIV, page 11, last paragraph:
Did not one brigade of 91st Division remain in line attached to 1st Division?
Page 5, last complete paragraph:
Explanation is due the 28th Division that its sector, half in and half out of Argonne and in a valley dominated by heights, was one of the hardest on the field.
Chapter XLVI, page 4:
You give a brief comment on entry of 1st Division into line. The relief of the 35th by the 1st was one of the crises of the battle. Should it not receive more than a mere reference? The forced march of the units of the 1st Division across country and their pick up of an almost abandoned sector merits some attention. Contrast this with details about more or less unimportant phases.
I have already commented on your treatment of the attack of November 1st.
Chapter L, page 2, last paragraph:
Why include this inferential stricture on the 26th Division—”Between November 3d and 8th Bamford’s 26th Division * * * made no attack”. Contrast this criticism with serious failures and terrible confusion in the cases of the 3d Division, 5th Division, 77th Division, 79th, and 37th.
Page 2, paragraph 2:
I think more should be said about the opening phase of the gallant and difficult effort to cross the Meuse, the shooting out of the bridges, units isolated on far banks, etc. etc.
Document Copy Text Source: John J. Pershing Papers, Book File, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Document Format: Typed letter.
1. On November 17, Pershing sent Marshall a copy of the manuscript of his memoirs which were later published as My Experiences in the World War, 2 vols. (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1931). Fox Conner, James G. Harbord, Hugh A. Drum, and several other officers also received all or parts of the manuscript for review and comment.
2. See Marshall’s memorandum of April 9, 1923, above (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #1-199 [1: 227-30]).
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. 363-368.