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To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 The Epic Battle That Ended the First World War Paperback – January 6, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Edward Lengel has filled an inexplicable gap in the American history of World War I with this vivid, deeply researched account of the Doughboys' heroism – and agony – in the Argonne. Anyone interested in military history should have it on his bookshelf.” ―Thomas Fleming, author of The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I

“Each First World War battle deserves a historian; not every battle finds one. Those who fought on the Meuse-Argonne in 1918, and all Americans interested in their national heritage, are fortunate that Edward G. Lengel has written this deeply researched book – bringing the strategy, the commanders, the officers and men, the tactics, the horror and the heroism together in a moving, dramatic, and intensely human account. One of the most powerful war books that I have read.” ―Martin Gilbert, author of The First World War and The Somme

“There have been several efforts by American authors since the Armistice of 1918 to retell the story of the American Army's engagement on the Western Front during the First World War. Ed Lengel's book is a superior achievement and will be greatly enjoyed both by experts and by the general reader.” ―John Keegan

“Ed Lengel's account of how American doughboys died in their tens of thousands to end the First World War is one of the great war stories of all time. In Lengel's skilled hands, the last great battle of the Great War is both riveting and deeply affecting. Authoritative, vividly drawn, and packed with arresting anecdotes and new material, To Conquer Hell is destined to be a classic. I cannot recommend it highly enough.” ―Alex Kershaw, author of The Few and The Longest Winter

About the Author

Edward G. Lengel is an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books on military history, including General George Washington: A Military Life. A recipient, with the Papers of George Washington documentary editing project, of the National Humanities Medal, he has made frequent appearances on television documentaries and was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1 Reprint edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805089152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805089158
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book as a gift for a friend. His grandfather was an infantryman in the AEF and as we were going through the proverbial old shoebox we came across a World War I Victory Medal with a battle clasp that read Meuse-Argonne. Though something of an amateur military historian I know the battles of World War I only as a list of names. Just as I was trying to find out about the Meuse-Argonne this book was published, so I decided to get one for myself too. It is extremely readable and the opening chapters establish a context for the battle to follow. Short personal biographies familiarize us with the people involved. Some, like Patton, are familiar to us from a later war. Some, like Hunter Liggett, unfortunately forgotten. But this is really a story about the Doughboys and in that respect is equal to Stephen Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers" and Rick Atkinson's "An Army at Dawn". Though the battle descriptions tend to be similar, this is more due to units being thrown over and over into frontal assaults against entrenched German defenses than any literary failure on the author's part. Hindsight is 20-20 and it is easy for us to be horrified by the carnage, but Lengel reminds us that not only did inexperienced American Doughboys confront a veteran enemy, but due to a failed supply system, they often did it hungry, sick and without sleep. Too often the military history of America has been a tale of a terrible price in blood paid until the lessons of survival and triumph could be learned.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This book is primarily a narrative of the only great offensive by the American Army in WW I. The book begins with the story of the pressures on Pershing, beginning with an utter lack of strategic or political direction from Woodrow Wilson (who apparently only met once, very briefly, with Pershing) and continuing with the Allies's attempt to get American units allocated to British and French formations rather than operating as a discrete American army. Pershing resisted this mightily and successfully, backed by the Secretary of War. The Allies argued that operating with veteran Allied units would save lives among the inexperienced and relatively poorly trained Americans. Whether this be true or not, and this book recites experiences with French army "cooperation" that suggests that it was not, I suspect that it would have been politically impossible for Pershing to adopt the Allied suggestion.

The book is also good in describing the utter unpreparedness of the United States for modern war and the near impossibility of just getting an enormous Army into the field in France in a short time, let alone properly equipping and training it. The Army in the Meuse-Argonne was relatively untrained, almost totally inexperienced at every level (except for neo-colonial actions) and deficient in the rudiments of a powerful WW I army: Artillery, machine guns and air cooperation.

According to the author, Pershing believed that machine guns were overrated and emphasized rifle and assault tactics. The favored tactics were the direct, head-on assault. I would have liked to see a little more discussion on why Pershing believed this would work since it flew in the face of the Allied experience on the Western Front in 1914-17.
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Format: Hardcover
I haven't read much about World War I over the years. For one thing, maneuver was in short supply in the war, and as a result nothing much happened in many of the battles, beyond a large number of deaths. For another, the American Army didn't participate until the last year of the conflict. I'm not opposed to reading stuff about other armies (notably Napoleon and the Eastern Front in World War II) but for some reason that has reduced my interest. And finally, trench warfare was incredibly depressing, and I have found it wearing to read books about it.

This current entry is a very good book about the battle of the Meuse-Argonne, the one truly American battle during the war. General Pershing argued with everyone who would listen on both sides of the Atlantic that Americans should lead America's armies, and that they should fight as one army rather than being parceled out among our allies. The result was a horrific battle where the Americans learned all of the lessons that their Allies learned three and a half years earlier, like not attacking German machineguns frontally, how to work around the flanks of enemy positions. Casualties abounded while American generals ignored what was going on, avoiding the front and fighting the war from dugouts far from the fighting.

The book recounts the course of the battle intelligently, following the action in considerable detail. The fighting is covered at a divisional, brigade, regimental, and even occasionally battalion level. Individual actions, such as Sgt. York's winning of the Medal of Honor, are covered at some length.
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