Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lost Battalion Site Update

Well, as some of you may know, last week’s post about the destruction of the site where the Lost Battalion was surrounded for five days in October of 1918 has caused a bit of a stir. Within 24 hours after I posted the story, I was very fortunate to begin corresponding with Robert J. Laplander, who is the world’s foremost expert on the Lost Battalion, having written a massive 613-page volume entitled Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths, and Legends of America’s Famous WWI Epic. After getting his take on which portions of the battlefield have been destroyed and which are still intact, I asked Mr. Laplander to write a piece which I could share on this blog and he was kind enough to do so. The following is what he has to say about the recent activity at the Lost Battalion battle site:
Some of the bottom of the Charlevaux Ravine has been logged off. This means that many of the shell holes that were down there, as well as the few outpost holes from early in the event, are now gone. Although I have not seen the extent of the damage (outside of a few photos), it may mean that a couple of the sites where German machine gun nests were located might also have been taken out as well. However, I do not think the actual hillside where the Lost Battalion was trapped (the Pocket) has been affected. The hillside where the Pocket was located is separately owned from much of the land surrounding it. Statements said to have been made by the owner of the surrounding land are unsubstantiated. On last visit, and by further report since then, serious illegal digging for artifacts had been going on along the Pocket on the hillside, as well as gathering of unexploded ordinance. I can confirm that the spring that emanated from near the left flank of the Pocket has been dug out and a pipe driven into the hillside to create running water, which has flooded a section of the left flank, where a small camping trailer was moved in on a semi-permanent footing. This occurred prior to 2005 and was the beginning of the 'transformation' of the Pocket.
Logging along the Ravin d'Argonne extending from the 'Small Pocket' up to the Pocket in the Charlevaux Ravine have eradicated important positions and stretches of former trench line of the Giselher Stellung at the foot of Hill 205, as well as 'Turner's Ravine' and sections of the former narrow gauge rail bed along the bottom of the ravine. This is confirmed, as I saw this with my own eyes.
Fortunately, I and my team made a complete, detailed photo record of the Pocket and much of the important surrounding locations between 2002 and 2008 before any damage was done to the area, as well as gathering an extensive collection of period photos of the same area. Despite recent events, the Pocket can be remembered through the collection.
 For the most complete story of the Lost Battalion, please see my book 'Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legends of America's Famous WW1 Epic'. Available at, or my website at
Robert J. Laplander
Many thanks to Mr. Laplander for taking the time to share his expertise on this matter!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Question For You, Gentle Readers

First of all, let me apologize for the paucity of posts “over here” (pun intended). I recently completed a Civil War battle history that is being published next week and all of my time over the past year has been devoted to its completion.
That being said, I have certainly not lost the WWI “bug” that led me to create this weblog in the first place. With the exception of the post on the Lost Battalion site, there really hasn’t been much substantive posting on this website, so before I delve into my next project, I thought that I’d ask you all some questions. Since the stated purpose of the blog is to write about the AEF and the First World War in general that means that the possibilities for topics are endless.
With that in mind, what would you like to see more of on this blog?
What stories do you think have been languishing in obscurity that you would like to see brought to light?
Who are the unsung heroes that deserve biographies?
What regiment or division within the AEF deserves to have their story told?
What skirmish, incident, or battle needs the dust blown off of it for a new generation of WWI historians to examine?
Are there any preservation issues in the US or elsewhere (such as the Lost Battalion site) that are in danger of being lost or have been swallowed up by the passage of time?
What recent books need to be recommended or reviewed?
Do you think that Centennial of the war will be observed in the U.S. in any meaningful way?
As you can see, asking the questions is the easy part.
It’s answering them that will determine "the shape of things to come,” to quote President Wilson.
I look forward to your answers.