Former soldier and now author Matthew J. Davenport’s new account of the first sustained American offensive of the First World War – the Battle of Cantigny – provides a fresh look at this May 1918 battle in France. FIRST OVER THERE – THE ATTACK ON CANTIGNY (MacMillan 2015), makes use of carefully researched primary source materials to weave together an account of how the men of the US 1st Infantry Division went “over the top” to take and hold the frontline village of Cantigny. From the publisher: “At first light on Tuesday, May 28th, 1918, waves of American riflemen from the U.S. Army’s 1st Division climbed from their trenches, charged across the shell-scarred French dirt of no-man’s-land, and captured the hilltop village of Cantigny from the grip of the German Army. Those who survived the enemy machine-gun fire and hand-to-hand fighting held on for the next two days and nights in shallow foxholes under the sting of mustard gas and crushing steel of artillery fire.”
With the village of Cantigny falling to the Imperial German 18th Army during Ludendorff’s spring 1918 offensive, newly arrived American troops were placed in the sector opposite the village in April 1918. The following month, the US 1st Infantry Division was tasked with capturing and holding Cantigny in what would be the first American offensive operation of the war. After weeks of enduring German shelling and poison gas attacks, the Doughboys of “The Big Red One” moved forward from their trenches to take and hold the ruins of the village despite numerous strong counterattacks in the succeeding days. Though a local operation which cost the AEF some 1,600 casualties, the Battle of Cantigny demonstrated the emerging prowess of Pershing’s Doughboys.
Davenport’s new book introduces the reader to many all-but-forgotten Americans who took part in the battle and deftly sets the stage for the coming centennial of American participation in “The War to End All Wars.”
Matthew Davenport is a US Army veteran who now practices law in North Carolina. For more details on this exciting new book, visit the author’s website here.