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Perhaps the best known of all American five-star generals, Douglas MacArthur established his military reputation at the hill of Châtillon during the great battle of the Meuse-Argonne in World War I. The thirty-eight-year-old brigadier general in command of the Eighty-fourth Infantry Brigade boasted to a fellow general that he had inspired his troops by example, taking the hill and breaking the main German line in northern France. Ever since, historical accounts and biographies have celebrated his leadership and bravery.
That MacArthur’s forces prevailed is beyond question, as military historians have shown. Yet in all the annals of the Great War there is no detailed description of what happened at Châtillon, nor of what MacArthur had to do with it. Robert Ferrell examines those events and comes to a startling conclusion—one that will revise how we view this archetypal American hero.
After sifting through the inexact accounts of the battle found in regimental and divisional histories—and through the many biographies of MacArthur that assert his leadership at Châtillon but do not describe it—Ferrell has gone into Army records to determine if what MacArthur claimed was true. In a moment-by-moment account of the battle, he reconstructs the movements of troops and the decisions of officers to show in detail how MacArthur’s subordinates were the true heroes.
Ferrell describes how the taking of Côte de Châtillon could have been a disaster had the Eighty-fourth Brigade followed MacArthur's original plan, a bayonet charge at night. Wiser heads prevailed, and the attack of the Iowa and Alabama regiments was a great success.
Ferrell has completed a chapter in the history of World War I that has stood unfinished for years, showing in masterly fashion how MacArthur exaggerated his reputation at Châtillon. The Question of MacArthur’s Reputation will reward historians seeking to fill gaps in the record, engage readers who enjoy descriptions of battle, and startle all who take their heroes for granted.