WWI and The Lost Battalion: The Big Story of the Biggest Battle in US History

Brandeis University

Daniel Breen is Senior Lecturer in Legal Studies at Brandeis University, and a recipient of the Louis Brandeis Award for Excellence in Teaching. While his primary academic interests lay in the law and politics of the Early Republic, he also holds a Ph.D. in American History and enjoys lecturing on a wide variety of subjects. Professor Breen is currently working on an article about the secession movement in New England during the Jefferson and Madison administrations.



History of The Lost Battalion in World War One

On October 2nd, 1918, at the height of the terrible Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a former stockbroker named Charles Whittlesey led his men “over the top” and into the teeth of determined German opposition.  By the next morning, he and his men were surrounded, subjected to constant assault and artillery fire (some of it coming from the American lines to their rear).  What followed was one of the great tales of endurance of World War One, involving not just four Medal of Honor winners, but also the most famous pigeon in American history.

Presenting the Story of The Lost Battalion of WWI

Aside from the gripping nature of the story of Whittlesey’s leadership in a time of crisis, the Lost Battalion’s ordeal is worth discussing because it raises two important questions of enduring significance: What qualities should we value in the people who rise to the top of the military’s command structure, and what criteria should we use in deciding what persons and events ought to be commemorated with public monuments?  We will delve into these questions–and more–as Professor Daniel Breen presents the story of The Lost Battalion.


Recommended Reading on WWI and The Lost Battalion:

  • Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legends of America’s Famous WWI Epic, by Robert Laplander
  • The Lost Battalion, by Thomas M. Johnson
  • America’s Deadliest Battle: Meuse-Argonne, 1918, by Robert H. Ferrell


WWI and The Lost Battalion: Discussion Questions:

1)    What was it about the “Lost Battalion” that made it such a compelling story, both in 1918 and today?

2)    What qualities are essential for a good commander — especially one faced with the challenges Major Whittlesey was faced with during the Lost Battalion’s ordeal?

3)    The Lost Battalion was part of the 77th Division, whose commander had issued strict orders that under no circumstances should any officer order a retreat.  What do you think of such an order?


Learn More About the Lost Battalion of WWI

Learn more about the Lost Battalion of WWI by checking out other great videos at OneDayU, including ‘AMERICAN DEMOCRACY: WHERE ARE WE NOW, ‘A DIFFERENT AMERICA: HOW THE COUNTRY HAS CHANGED FROM 1969 UNTIL TODAY’ & ‘AMERICAS FOUNDERS: WHAT WE KNOW NOW’ all on-demand now.




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