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Sunday, June 16, 2013

18+ days in AEF's footsteps: Day 4, Cantigny

Soldier of the First Division
One side of the hilltop of Cantigny, France
         Cantigny is a tiny village in the French countryside north of Paris. The tranquil village surrounds the mountain top. At most, twenty homes dot the crown. Most are farmhouses. One church stands amid them.

     In May 1918, just as the American Expeditionary Force was arriving in great numbers, the French faced a formidable attack by Germans. This offensive, part of huge drive by the German forces to win the war before the Americans could arrive in great numbers, was the first of many such efforts along the front lines.
     The First Division, or as it is now known the First Army or Big Red One, came from the south to push the German line back toward the north.
     While it is not my attempt here to describe the battle in any detail (I leave that to your own search of good military records), I will tell you that as the Americans joined the French in this hotly contested area this battle was the first fought by AEF and won by them. It is the first in which the German Army and their general staff took note of American strengths and strategies and it is the first in which the AEF's wounded were aided by the first of the medical teams to sail to France. (For a superb description of the battle, please go to this source: The First Division Museum in Wheaton, Illinois,
One road atop the hill village of Cantigny.
Notice the blue sign!
The Avenue of the First Division, U.S.A.
     I can show you many pictures of this locale. But I can also tell you that for those who wish to see why a certain spot becomes a battleground, this town exemplifies the importance of that. As you stand on this hilltop and look 360 degrees into the surrounding valley south and north to the plain, you realize that this town afforded a great view of the distances in all directions. The roads lead to many strategic places, including the larger town nearby, Montdidier. Here is a picture of the valley across which AEF forces advanced uphill to take and hold the town.
Valley to south of Cantigny, peaceful today and a farm.

    The destroyed village of Cantigny exemplifies the devastation of these campaigns on the people who lived here.
USA, Army photo, Public Domain

    Commemorating the effort of the First Division is this bronze statue of an AEF soldier. An explanation of the battle is accompanied by a map. Please do download the picture to enlarge the type and read the explanation of the battle.

Description of battle.
Atop the hill are other monuments to the men who fought here. In a circle of shrubs and trees is this tall monument. You can see here the view of the church on the hill.
You can view easily the American eagles here on the sides of this monument.
Another view of the monument.

     At one end of this grove atop the hill is this cross and the memorial flowers.

     As we left the village to have lunch in Montdidier and to return to our B&B in Compiegne, we spotted this monument. At first, thinking it a French memorial, we passed it. Every French town has one or more of these obelisks to those of their own countrymen who fought and died in La Grande Guerre. But we thought we spotted an eagle on top of the memorial and so we our drove back to great reward! Here is another memorial to the First Division and their heroic efforts in the Spring Offensive of 1918.

Memorial to First Division in Battle of Cantigny, south of the hill town.
AEF Map, Public domain

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