On September 12, 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces under commander in chief General John J. Pershing launched its first major offensive in Europe as an independent army. The U.S.-led attack occurred in the Saint-Mihiel salient, a triangular area of land between Verdun and Nancy occupied by the German army since the fall of 1914. The Saint-Mihiel salient was strategically important as it hindered rail communications between Paris and the eastern sections of the front—eliminating the salient was necessary before the final Allied offensive of the war could begin.
Fortunately for the American forces, the Germans had begun pulling out of the salient two days before the offensive was launched. After an early morning artillery bombardment, U.S. infantry and tanks began the attack on September 12. Resistance was relatively light, and by September 16, this area of France was liberated from German occupation.
On the afternoon of the first day of the Saint-Mihiel offensive, a chance meeting took place on the battlefield between George S. Patton and Douglas MacArthur, two young officers who would go on to achieve greater fame in World War II.
Following the successful purging of the Saint-Mihiel salient, the American forces shifted to a new front to participate in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The combined Allied offensive successfully forced the Germans to retreat. By October, the defeat of the German army was certain. World War I came to an end with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.
The Americans who participated in the liberation of France were deeply shocked to see the devastation suffered by the French civilians, who had lost their homes, their livelihood, and their lives during the war. The compassion of the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces for the French people generated many popular songs such as the example shown below, “The Tale the Church Bell Told.”
In the shattered part of France, In the very heart of France, A soldier from a Yankee shore, Lay dreaming by an old church door, From the belfry in the sky, He thought he heard the old bell sigh:
I was lonely in the steeple, How I missed the birds of spring, Looking down upon my people, It just broke my heart to ring, Through the din of cannon thunder, I could hear the cries of young and old, Someone will answer for this violence, Answer for my silence, That’s the tale the church bell tolled.
- Explore a comprehensive portal to the Library’s extensive holdings on the subject of World War I (1914–1918). The portal is a one-stop destination page for digitized materials related to the war.
- The exhibition, Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I, examines the upheaval of world war as Americans confronted it—both at home and abroad.
- World War I: A Resource Guide compiles links to digital materials related to World War I such as photographs, documents, newspapers, films, sheet music, and sound recordings that are available throughout the Library of Congress website. In addition, it provides links to external websites focusing on World War I and a selected bibliography.
- The John J. Pershing Papers contain the diaries, notebooks, and address books of John Joseph Pershing, U.S. army officer and commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
- Search the Panoramic Photographs collection on World War to retrieve more than one hundred panoramic photographs of battlefields and military life. Search on St Mihiel to retrieve a number of photographs, several of which are actually dated September 12, 1918.
- Search World War I Sheet Music to find over 14,000 pieces of sheet music from the World War I-era, including George M. Cohan’s Over There. Cover illustrations and song lyrics contribute valuable information to our understanding of the popular culture of that time, with themes ranging from politics and patriotism, to racial stereotypes, to sentiments about home and family.
- Search the digital collections of sound recordings to listen to some of the songs about the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces. For example, don’t miss “Madelon” (“I’ll Be True to the Whole Regiment”), “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”, and “Over There”.
- Search on World War in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 to read veterans’ stories.
- Search on World War in American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I to find recordings of speeches on the subject of World War I. The collection includes a thirty-three-second speech by General John J. Pershing, “From the Battlefields of France” recorded on location.
- Search for newspaper accounts about the Saint-Mihiel Offensive and World War I in Chronicling America. This site allows you to search and view millions of historic American newspaper pages. There are several topical features highlighting events related to World War I
- Read the complete seventy-one-week run of the World War I edition of the newspaper The Stars and Stripes. Published in France by the United States Army from February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919, the eight-page weekly featured news, poetry, cartoons, and sports coverage.
- During the World War I era (1914-18), leading U.S. newspapers took advantage of a new printing technique called rotogravure that produced richly detailed, high quality illustrations. The online collection, Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1914 to 1919 includes the Sunday rotogravure sections of the New York Times and the New York Tribune, as well as the book, The War of the Nations: Portfolio in Rotogravure Etchings. The images in this collection document events of World War I and popular American culture of that era.
- View films shot during World War I in the motion picture collections. Examples include films showing members of President Theodore Roosevelt’s family who were active in the war effort: