by William M. Wright, edited by Robert H. Ferrel
Columbia: University of Missouri, 2019. Pp. xviii, 174.
Illus., maps, notes, sources., index. $22.95 paper. ISBN: 0826221912
Commanding the Doughboys
Although completely against regulations, while commanding the 89th Division in France during the Great War Maj. Gen. William M. Wright (1863-1943) kept a diary. Prof. Ferrell (Emeritus, Indiana), author of The Question of MacArthur's Reputation: Côte de Chátillon, October 14-16, 1918 and other works, prepared this for publication, by adding explanatory text and notes, as well as sections from the writings by several of the other officers who worked with the general.
What is particularly valuable about this diary is that unlike the published memoirs by many other generals, Wright never “revised” if for publication. So it reveals his actual thoughts and observations as they were when he wrote them down, rather than as “corrected” years later, which gives us an unprecedented “here and now” look into the nature of command.
There’s no glory in Meuse-Argonne Diary, and none of the swagger that often appears in other diaries. Wright gives us his worries, self-criticism, regrets, anger, and lots of hard work, as we get an almost day-by-day look at him leading his troops. In reading this, we get to see how even a general might have to make decisions or sit idle, because for security reasons he often knew nothing about the “Big Picture”.
Surprisingly, but realistically, unlike most war memoirs, here we see that Wright’s attention to the well being of his troops – food, shelter, uniforms, medical care, and so on – occupies at least as much space in his diary as combat, of which the division saw a lot, with the general often literally in the front lines. We also get to see his immediate criticisms and opinions about many of his officers and his colleagues.
First published in hard cover in 2004, and now available in paperback, Meuse-Argonne Diary is an excellent read for those interested in the AEF or in the art of command.
Note: Meuse-Argonne Diary is also available in hard cover and several e-editions.
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