How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I
New American Library, New York, 2016, 400 pages
Book Review published on: March 30, 2017
As the centennial to the U.S. entry into World War I rapidly approaches, Mitchell Yockelson has written an excellent account of the actions of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and, more specifically, the commander who led it, Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. In Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I, Yockelson provides a riveting description of how the U.S. Army’s attack in the Meuse-Argonne region of France on 26 September 1918 directly led to the defeat of the German army on 11 November.
Although this huge, sustained battle known as the Meuse-Argonne campaign is well-chronicled in other books, Yockelson is still able to construct an extremely interesting and easy-to-read book that also describes little-known historical facts about the key U.S. players and units participating in the epic last part of what was then known as the Great War. Although the bulk of the book describes the day-by-day actions of Pershing and the AEF during the forty-seven days of the Meuse-Argonne campaign, Yockelson does a tremendous job of setting the stage for it by providing great biographical detail on Pershing from a young man through the creation of the AEF and preparation for the attack. Of the seventeen chapters in the book, he devotes the first four to this, and they truly provide perspective to the commencement of the campaign.
This book is not just a biography of Pershing and his actions in World War I, but it also describes some of the contributions of some rather famous individuals that were part of the AEF. These short stories (ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages) really make the book even more interesting, and include narratives on such notables as Col. George C. Marshall, Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Capt. Harry S. Truman, and Col. George S. Patton Jr., Cpl. Alvin York, and numerous others. In his last chapter, titled “Aftermath,” Yockelson describes what happened to these key players after the war ended, and this too was quite interesting and provides perspective on how their World War I experience helped shape their future success.
Yockelson does not only describe the internal actions of the AEF staff and subordinate units in the campaign, but he also expertly weaves in Pershing’s relationships with French leaders like Marshal Ferdinand Foch and Gen. Phillippe Petain. His description of the successful struggle that Pershing had to ensure the AEF fought as a purely American Army is essential to the book, and well-written.
Although it has been twenty years since I conducted a detailed staff ride of the Meuse-Argonne battlefield and have read several books on the campaign, I found the seven maps that Yockelson included to be quite useful and augmented his historically correct written account of the battle quite well. Additionally, Yockelson included an extensive selected bibliography and excellent endnotes to aid the reader if needed. Forty-Seven Days is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it for those interested in learning more about Pershing and how his leadership of the AEF in World War I led to not only victory in that war but also sowed the seeds for further success for the U.S. Army in World War II.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. David T. Seigel, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas