by Michael E. Shay
College Station Texas A&M University Press, 2019. Pp. xviii, 206.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $40.00. ISBN: 1623497450
The Best American General of World War I
Retired Connecticut jurist Shay, author of Yankee Division in the First World War, Henry Ware Lawton, and other works, does a good job relating the life and service of Hunter Liggett (1857-1935.
Liggett was an 1879 West Point graduate. By America’s entry into World War I, he had already seen service on the frontier, commanding for a time the Seminole Indian Scouts, been in combat in Cuba in the Spanish American War and in the Philippine-American War, and done the usual round of garrison and staff assignments. He has also served at the Command and General Staff School and the Army War College.
During the Great War, Liggett, rose quickly from division to corps command. When Pershing, frustrated over lack of success in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, kick himself upstairs to Army Group Command, by dividing the AEF into two armies, he gave Liggett, a portly man who had proven – in the words of one historian – to have “No fat above his neck”, command of the First Army, the principal American force in France. Liggett commanded the First Army during the second part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, doing very well, much better than Pershing had.
In telling Liggett’s story, Shay also gives us some insights into the service of other officers, such as presidential son Webb Hayes, and, of course John J. Pershing, who, as many historians are coming to understand, was not a great field commander, but was vindictive and a habitual micromanager.
Shay’s conclusion is hard to dispute. A decade after the Great War, British military thinker Basil H. Liddell Hart rated Liggett one of the best Allied commanders of the, and he certainly was the best American army commander. Nevertheless, today Liggett is a largely forgotten man.
Hunter Liggett: A Soldier’s General, a volume in the A&M “C. A. Brannen Series”, is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the AEF, the “Old Army”, or the evolution of the officer corps from a frontier constabulary to a major modern combat force.
Note: Hunter Liggett: A Soldier’s General is also available in several e-editions.
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