Thunder and Flames: American Doughboys at War, 1917–1918

Time Period
1877 to 1924
Media Type
Military History
Edward G. Lengel

On April 7 at noon, Edward G. Lengel delivered a Banner Lecture entitled "Thunder and Flames: American Doughboys at War, 1917–1918."

In November 1917, American troops were poorly trained, deficient in military equipment and doctrine, not remotely ready for armed conflict on a large scale—and they'd arrived on the Western front to help the French push back the Germans. Edward G. Lengel tells the story of what followed: the American Expeditionary Forces' trial by fire on the brutal battlefields of France at places like Cantigny, Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, the Marne River, Soissons, and little-known Fismette. The picture that emerges is sweeping in scope and rich in detail, with firsthand testimony conjuring the real mud and blood of combat from the perspective of the Germans as well as the Americans and French. Lengel shows how, by trial and error, through luck and ingenuity, the AEF swiftly became the independent fighting force of Gen. John "Blackjack" Pershing's long-held dream—its divisions ultimately among the most combat-effective military forces to see the war through.

Edward G. Lengel is professor and director of the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia. He is the author of General George Washington: A Military Life (2005), To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918: The Epic Battle That Ended the First World War (2008), Inventing George Washington: America's Founder, in Myth and Memory (2011), and Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917–1918 (2015).

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

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