Battle of Cantigny
|Battle of Cantigny|
|Part of the Western Front of World War I|
Battle of Cantigny
|Commanders and leaders|
|Robert Lee Bullard||Oskar von Hutier|
|Casualties and losses|
|1,603 casualties (199 killed)||
1,400 killed and wounded |
The Battle of Cantigny, fought May 28, 1918  was the first major American battle and offensive of World War I.  The U.S. 1st Division, the most experienced of the five American divisions then in France and in reserve for the French Army near the village of Cantigny, was selected for the attack. The objective of the attack was both to reduce a small salient made by the German Army in the front lines but also to instill confidence among the French and British allies in the ability of the inexperienced American Expeditionary Force (AEF).
Capture of Cantigny
At 06:45 [H Hour], 28 May 1918, American soldiers of the 28th Infantry Regiment left their jump-off trenches following an hour-long artillery preparation. Part of the preparation was counter-battery fire directed at German artillery positions. A rolling barrage, advancing 100 meters every two minutes, was calculated to give the attacking troops time to keep up with it.
The 28th Infantry Regiment (Colonel Hansen Ely, commanding) plus two companies of the 18th Infantry, three machine-gun companies and a company of engineers (3,564 men), captured Cantigny from units of the German Eighteenth Army. The village was situated on high ground surrounded by woods, making it an ideal observation post for German artillery.
Because the Americans did not have them in sufficient quantity, the French provided air cover, 368 heavy artillery pieces, trench mortars, tanks, and flamethrowers. The French Schneider tanks were from the French 5th Tank Battalion. Their primary purpose was to eliminate German machine gun positions. With this massive support, and advancing on schedule behind the creeping artillery barrage, the 28th Infantry took the village in 30 minutes. It then continued on to its final objective roughly a half kilometer beyond the village.
Defense against German counterattacks
The first German counterattack, a small attack at 08:30 against the extreme right of the new American position, was easily repulsed, but German artillery bombarded the 28th Infantry for most of the day. At 17:10 the first large-scale counterattack took place, and a company of the 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry commanded by Major Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was used to reinforce a weak spot in the American line. Another German counterattack at 18:40 was also repulsed by a combination of artillery and Infantry defensive fire. A series of counterattacks over the next two days were also defeated by both American regiments, and the position held.
The Americans reduced the salient and expanded their front by approximately a mile. A minor success, its significance was overshadowed by the battle underway along the Aisne. The U.S. forces held their position with the loss of 1,603 casualties including 199 killed in action; they captured 250 German prisoners. Matthew B. Juan, a Native American, was killed during this battle.
The American success at Cantigny assured the French that American divisions could be depended upon in the line against the German offensive to take Paris. The victory at Cantigny was followed by attacks at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood in the first half of June.
In 1923, The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) erected 25 battle monuments, including one in the village of Cantigny that was dedicated on August 9, 1937. At the unveiling of this monument, a speech was given (at the invitation of General John J. Pershing) by Col. Robert R. McCormick, who had commanded the 1st Battalion of the 5th Field Artillery Regiment at the battle. On one side of the memorial appears the inscription:
- ERECTED BY THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO COMMEMORATE THE FIRST ATTACK BY AN AMERICAN DIVISION IN THE WORLD WAR.
On another side of the memorial appears the inscription:
- THE FIRST DIVISION UNITED STATES ARMY OPERATING UNDER THE X FRENCH CORPS CAPTURED THE TOWN OF CANTIGNY ON MAY 28 1918 AND HELD IT AGAINST NUMEROUS COUNTERATTACKS.
French translations of these inscriptions appear on the opposite sides of the monument.
A First Division Monument located along the road ½ mile southeast of Cantigny is one of five erected by the First Division itself in 1919. The names of the dead in the vicinity of Cantigny are engraved on the bronze plates. The monument is like a small concrete shaft, surmounted by a carved eagle of stone.
In the center of Cantigny, a small monument was dedicated in 2005 by the McCormick Foundation to commemorate the participation of Colonel Robert R. McCormick in the historic 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, the oldest American military unit on continuous active duty (dating back to the American Revolutionary War), then part of the First Division. In 1960, the McCormick Foundation opened the Cantigny War Memorial of the First Division, where materials from Chicago veterans were then collected.
On May 28, 2008, the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Cantigny, the McCormick Foundation and the Association of the 28th Infantry Regiment dedicated the statue "The Lion of Cantigny," an original bronze work by Stephen Spears depicting a doughboy of the regiment advancing through the village. The 28th Infantry was the assault regiment in the First Division's attack, the first major US battle of World War I. The regimental coat of arms is based on the lions in the heraldic arms of Picardy, where Cantigny is; the regiment's nickname is Black Lions.
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