David C. Homsher. American Battlefields of World War I, ChÃ¢teau-Thierry--Then and Now: Volume One: Enter The Yanks. San Mateo: Battleground Productions, 2006. 304 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-9702443-0-7.
Reviewed by John F. Votaw (History Department, Dominican University)
Published on H-War (January, 2007)
Scholars interested in the American military experience in World War I know of David Homsher's long and abiding interest in the subject as a contributor to the publications of the Great War Society and the Western Front Association. This book is the first to be published by Homsher's own publishing company in a new series of battlefield guidebooks that emphasize, as he explains, geography, not chronology or organization (p.303). Two additional volumes dealing with the reduction of the Aisne-Marne salient between May and July 1918 are planned. The current book uses some techniques introduced in the American Battle Monuments Guidebook, American Armies And Battlefields In Europe, first published in 1927 and reissued in 1992 by the U.S. Army Center of Military History. There are some features similar to those used by Sir Ernest Swinton in his three-volume study, Twenty Years After, which was a then-and-now photographic reprise of the Western Front as of the 1930s. Rose E. B. Coombs's Before Endeavours Fade (After the Battle, 1994) and Major and Mrs. Holt's very well-organized Battlefield Guide to the Somme (Pen and Sword, 2001) have provided similar approaches to battlefield information. And of course, the still very useful The Americans in The Great War, published by the Michelin Company in three battlefield guide format volumes in 1919, provided some inspiration. David Homsher's new book fits into this genre, but is different from each of them. He describes his book as "a succession of battle-tableaux, written when the memories, events and incidents of war were still glowing vividly in the minds of the writers" (p. 6).
In addition to the usual forematter that includes a brief overview of the events leading up to the participation of American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) divisions in the Aisne-Marne battle (pp. 17-20), the author divides the book into three major sections: a description of the battle area; a "tour" from Charles DeGaulle international airport to Château-Thierry; and a review of events in the city of Château-Thierry and the actions of the Third Division conveyed by first-person accounts and some soldier-written fictional accounts. The last portion of the book includes appendices of travel tips, statistics, a selected bibliography, and notes (sequentially numbered but not keyed to the text) strangely labeled "index." The materials in sections 2 and 3 could be improved with some careful editing to eliminate repetition, to provide occasional connective commentary, and to smooth out the scheme of presentation. As it is, the story unfolds as a series of separate anecdotes, in a sort of potpourri effect.
This book is a reference source-book, not a history of the American military experience in World War I. As the author advises, "the primary purpose of this book is to entertain and guide" (p. 7). We should continue to rely on Edward M. Coffman's The War to End All Wars (1968), as well as other fine works that are appearing now for that historical perspective. David Homsher has provided us with a very useful adjunct to the histories. For the account of the Third Division's 7th Machine Gun Battalion and the walking tour of the city, he relied on a sketch map of the city (inside the front and back covers of the book) to which he keyed the text using bold-faced letters. Clearly he knows the story very well, but the eclectic organization of the book and somewhat random presentation of information often leaves the reader stranded. At the risk of critiquing a book not written or intended, this reviewer would have been grateful for a few more carefully positioned maps (such as Major John Mendenhall's sketch map, p. 216) with a very brief timeline of events, perhaps at the margin sidebars where the photographs and driving directions are located. But because the author decided to break the Aisne-Marne campaign into three volumes and use a "geographical" organizing logic, the reader never really gets a look at the entire story. For someone familiar with the general outline of events in the summer of 1918, this book offers a wide and varied menu of soldier stories and photographs, but it should supplement rather than exclusively comprise your introduction to the operations of the AEF in and around Château-Thierry.
This reviewer liked David Homsher's contribution to the literature of the American experience in World War I; there is a cornucopia of information in the book. In that regard, the author accomplished what he set out to do--provide a rich tapestry of descriptions of modern battle in the words of the participants. Readers who sample this volume will be rewarded.
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John F. Votaw. Review of Homsher, David C., American Battlefields of World War I, ChÃ¢teau-Thierry--Then and Now: Volume One: Enter The Yanks.
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