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Meuse-Argonne Battlefield Driving Tour

This driving tour stops at several of the monuments and historical sites surrounding the Meuse-Argonne Battlefield.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive remains one of America's most significant battles in both men and equipment engaged, and in losses of dead and wounded. This offensive showed that the United States was prepared to take its place on the stage of world affairs. Battle-hardened enemy forces, destructive weaponry, disease, weather and the duration of the Meuse-Argonne Campaign led to some of the greatest sacrifices ever endured by U.S. service members.

In September 1918, rapid increase in American troops in Europe and the resulting Allied and American successes during the summer of 1918 led to plans for a gigantic convergent offensive movement against the German forces on the Western Front. Under these plans the U.S. Army was to advance northward between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest, supported on the left by the French Fourth Army west of the Argonne.

The American attack was to be directed against a vital hub of the German controlled railroad, which converged in the northern French town of Sedan. An attack in the vicinity of the Meuse River, if carried far enough to gain control of the lateral railways, would divide the German armies. 

The stops along this driving tour that are not managed by ABMC are intended to be viewed from your vehicle. Understanding operating hours and access to all sites is the responsibility of the visitor.

Clermont-en-Argonne Center

The front page of the Boston Globe shows the decimated town of Clermont-en-Argonne in 1915.

One hundred years ago this small town was decimated by four years of fighting between the French and Germans on the Western front. Just north of here, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive began on September 26, 1918. As you drive north, you will follow the route taken by the American Expeditionary Forces as they pushed towards Sedan, a vital point in the German system of supply and communications. When the Armistice went into effect on  November 11, 1918 it left a countryside ravaged by four years of incessant fighting. The Americans were left with a decision over how to memorialize those that had sacrificed their lives in a region so far from home, a process that culminated in the creation of the American Battle Monuments Commission and the construction of the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.

Located in the small square in front of the Hôtel de Ville in Clermont-en-Argonne, you will find a memorial dedicated to both world wars as well as a separate memorial to the 72 citizens of Clermont-en-Argonne that died in the extermination camps in Nazi Germany in 1944 during the Holocaust. The density of memorials and monuments in this area is a testament to the sacrifice of all those who fought on the Western front during both world wars.

World War I Memorial, Clermont-en-Argonne, France.

La Butte de Vauquois

View of La Butte de Vauguois monument atop the hill, surrounded by untouched barbed-wire.

The Butte de Vauquois is a hill, 290 meters tall that was the site of a standoff between the French and Germans during World War I.

Due to trench warfare and explosive mines, massive craters are all that can be seen on the hill.

The Butte de Vauquois rises over the valley between the Argonne to the west and Mort Homme/Hill 304 to the east. On September 24, 1914, the Germans occupied the ridge and turned it into a fortress, supported by artillery in the woods surrounding Cheppy and Montfaucon. The hill allowed good observation in every direction, especially of the Islettes pass leading to Verdun, making both German and French Armies anxious to hold it.

Tunnels beneath Vauquois.

From October 28, 1914 to February 28, 1915 the French attacked four times, trying to remove the Germans from the hill. On March 1, 1915 they finally took the German trenches and for the next few days fended off recurrent German counter-attacks. The two sides settled into their trenches, and resorted to digging and setting off explosive mines underneath the hill. A total of 531 mines, either French or German, were detonated. The largest, set off in May 1916, was 60 tons of explosives and removed the church on the hilltop, taking 108 men with it. Mine by mine, the village of Vauquois was slowly destroyed. Visible today are a series of massive craters that split the hill in two.

A photograph of American soldiers in shallow trenches in the Argonne forest, published in Collier‚ ôs New Encyclopedia in 1921.

The 372nd Infantry Regiment of the African American 93rd Division reinforced the French along the front at Vauquois. On September 26, 1918, Vauquois was one of the major points along the First Army front line, running across the southern part of the hill and through the Argonne Forest. The 35th, 28th and 77th divisions – the I Corps – planned to attack from this part of the front. Prior to the attack, the American Expeditionary Forces abandoned the trenches near the crest of the hill before a curtain of bursting shells from the Germans decimated their position. As the bombardment ended, the waiting 35th Division plunged through the wire and trenches in the valleys surrounding the hill, killing or capturing the Germans as they emerged from their shelters after the barrage. The 35th Division advanced past Cheppy and Varennes to the North. The 77th and 28th divisions moved more slowly in the advance to the west through the difficult Argonne Forest.

The memorial to the Frenchmen who fought and died at Vauquois.

At the summit of what was then the French side of the butte is a memorial to the Frenchmen who fought and died at Vauquois. Located on the site of the old town hall, the memorial consists of an obelisk with a sculpture at its base, designed by Edouard Monestès, a Parisian Architect. The sculptural work was executed by Marius Roussel and includes the figure of a French Infantryman with a grenade and rifle in his hands. At his feet is another soldier, a tunneller lying in a trench. Behind them is the trunk of a mutilated tree, representing an actual tree that stood in the same spot and served as a marker for French artillery.

Missouri American Monument

The Missouri American Monument in 1925.

The Missouri American Monument was erected in Cheppy in 1922 by the state of Missouri. It is dedicated to the men of Missouri who gave their lives during World War I. The monument, within a walled area reached by a series of steps, features a stone obelisk with a bronze "Angel of Victory" on top.

The Missouri American Monument.

The Missouri Memorial Commission received funding from the state of Missouri to construct the monument, designed by Nancy Coonsman Hahn. Hahn had studied sculpture at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, and had been commissioned in the past to design other large memorials and fountains. An honor guard of ten men from the 8th Infantry Regiment presided over the unveiling of the monument on Armistice Day, 1922.

Pennsylvania Monument

The Pennsylvania Memorial in 1927.

The memorial was erected by the State of Pennsylvania to honor the Pennsylvanians who sacrificed their lives in France during World War I. It was erected in 1927 by the Pennsylvania Monuments Commission. Thomas H. Atherton and Paul P. Cret designed it in a Grecian style with columns surrounding a large terrace and central memorial. The monument overlooks the Aire Valley.

The Pennsylvania Monument today.

Planning for the memorial began in November 1924 while the American Battle Monuments Commission was still developing its plan for memorializing the troops who had perished overseas. The Pennsylvania Battle Monuments Commission, led by General William G. Price, Jr. created an ambitious plan to construct four memorials to the Pennsylvanians who served in the war. The monument was dedicated in 1927. 

Montfaucon American Monument

The Montfaucon monument today.

The Montfaucon American Monument rises 200 feet over the former hilltop village of Montfaucon, providing impressive views from above the surrounding battlefield. The monument serves as a tribute to both the U.S. First Army’s victory in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the French Army’s service on the battlefront in the preceding years.

Montfaucon Monument design by John Russell Pope published in the 1926 Annual Report of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The monument was designed by John Russell Pope, an architect from New York, and was completed in 1933.  Carved from Baveno granite, the column is a Doric style, with the figure of Liberty at the top, facing in the direction that the U.S. First Army departed on September 26, 1918. The monument was dedicated in 1937 by the President of the French Republic, Albert Lebrun. 

A view of the church at Montfaucon after the fighting.

Montfaucon was a critical point along the German lines of defense due to its height and advantages for observation. Its fortifications included trenches to the south, east, and west. The hill itself was organized with trenches and machine gun emplacements. The American Expeditionary Forces planned to drive deep salients (a salient being an area that projects into the enemy’s defensive line) across the German lines on either side of the hill. This would cause the German garrison to evacuate, and allow the American troops to capture the hill with minimal opposition.

After fierce fighting the 79th Division of V Corps captured Montfaucon on the second day of the offensive, September 27, 1918. The 37th Division assisted by flanking the hill to the west.

The gothic church, ruined by the fighting at Montfaucon, still lays untouched today.

Madeleine Farm & The German Cemetery

Madeleine Farm in the sector of the 3rd Division, c. 1920s.

The Madeleine Farm lies at a critical point along the battle lines of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, near the Bois des Ogons and the heights of Cunel. It was fortified as an outpost on the main German defensive line, known as the Kriemhilde Stellung.

La Madeleine Farm as seen in ‚ ėA Guide to the American Battle Fields in Europe‚ ô published in 1927.
Madeleine Farm today.

Behind the Madeleine Farm is a small German cemetery dating from between 1914 and 1918. The majority of the graves date from the farm’s use as a hospital in 1916 during the Battle of Verdun. 

The German Cemetery, Nantillois, behind Madeleine Farm.
Nantillois German Cemetery, behind Madeleine Farm.

Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

Entrance of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery
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