In September 1918 the Allies are on the offensive on every front. British and Belgian troops attack the Ypres salient and recapture Passchendaele. To the south, the American Expeditionary Force under the command of General John J. Pershing clears the St. Mihiel salient, and then turns north to attack along the River Meuse and through the Argonne Forest. Launching the Fourth Liberty Bond drive with a speech in New York City, President Wilson calls for a “secure and lasting peace” enforced by a League of Nations. He sets forth five “particulars” designed to achieve that goal, representing his view of “this government’s own duty with regard to peace.” Three days later he goes before the Senate and asks it to approve the proposed woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution, already approved by the House of Representatives, as a “war measure.” British forces under General Allenby advance in Palestine. Americans join French and British units in the “Polar Bear Expedition,” designed to protect war supplies stockpiled in the Russian Arctic. An Allied offensive in Macedonia leads to an armistice with Bulgaria. Germany and Austria-Hungary are rocked with unrest and protests calling for an end to the war. At month’s end, faced with military defeat and loss of support in the Reichstag, German Chancellor Georg von Hertling is forced to resign. In the United States, the baseball season ends early because of the war. In the World Series, which begins and ends in September for the only time in its history, the Boston Red Sox defeat the Chicago Cubs four games to two. The Red Sox will win their next World Series championship in 2004.
As the month began, Allied assaults continued all along the Western Front. Marshal Foch ordered a general advance on September 3, as the German Army began a general withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. Evacuation of the Lys Salient was completed by September 6, and on September 8 General Ludendorff ordered the evacuation of the St. Mihiel Salient to the south. On September 12, American and French troops under General Pershing’s command attacked the St. Mihiel Salient from all sides, catching the Germans in the midst of withdrawal. With the support of airplanes supplied by several Allied nations and commanded by American Army Colonel William Mitchell, the American and French troops cleared the salient and occupied St. Mihiel by September 15. On September 28 a combined force of British, French and Belgian troops commanded by Belgium’s King Albert launched a massive offensive in the Ypres Salient, advancing eight miles the first day and recapturing most of Passchendaele Ridge. Belgian troops retook the village of Passchendaele.
The American Army’s next assignment after St. Mihiel was to attack to the north along the Meuse and Aire River Valleys, commanded on the east by the heights of the Meuse and on the west by the tangled woods of the Argonne Forest. Thanks to exemplary staff planning led by Colonel George C. Marshall, the First Army’s Operations Officer, the Americans were able to redeploy swiftly from the St. Mihiel to the Meuse-Argonne sector while concealing their movements from the Germans, and to commence their attack in the early morning hours of September 26. Resistance at first was slight, but on September 29, after the Germans had recovered from their initial surprise, General Pershing’s advance was halted at the Kriemhilde Stellung, a strong defensive position that forms part of the Hindenburg Line.
On September 14, the Austro-Hungarian government proposed a “confidential and non-committal exchange of views” to explore the possibility of a peace settlement. President Wilson was the first to reject Austria’s overture, which he did two days later, the other Allies following his lead shortly thereafter. On that day, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, the military leaders of Germany, told the Kaiser that Germany was unable to continue the war. Confronted with the deteriorating military situation, Chancellor Georg von Hertling resigned on September 30.
In Macedonia, Allied forces under the command of French General Louis Franchet d’Esperey began a major offensive on September 15. Unrest intensified in Sofia and other major cities and mutinies broke out in the Bulgarian Army as it retreated up the Vardar River Valley. Austrian divisions sent to bolster the Bulgarians failed to arrive in time to stem the Allied advance. After General Franchet rejected a Bulgarian request for a 48-hour suspension of hostilities, negotiations for an armistice began on September 28. While discussions were under way, news arrived of the fall of Skopje, and on September 29 an armistice was signed to take effect the next day. This removes Bulgaria from the war and effectively ends hostilities on the Macedonian Front. It also cuts off land communication between Germany and Austria-Hungary and their Ottoman ally and presents the possibility of a future Allied advance up the Danube.
At dawn on September 20, after an overnight bombardment, the British Army’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) resumed its offensive in Palestine, advancing against Turkish forces under German General Limon von Sanders arrayed in defensive lines north of Jerusalem. Within two days the British and Australians of the EEF had captured Megiddo (the biblical Armageddon) and Nazareth, taking thousands of prisoners. On September 23 they captured Haifa and Acre, and on September 25 they crossed the River Jordan and entered Amman, a stop on the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. On September 27 General Allenby’s cavalry crossed the Golan Heights into Syria, and at month’s end his forces were in the outskirts of Damascus.
State-sponsored violence is on the rise in Russia. August ended with an attempt on the life of Vladimir Lenin and the almost simultaneous assassination of Cheka leader Moise Uritsky, events that led the Cheka, Lenin’s secret police force, to undertake stern reprisals. British Naval Attache Captain Francis Cromie was killed in an August 31 Cheka raid on the British Embassy in Petrograd, and on September 2 the Cheka announced the institution of “Red Terror” against opponents of the regime. Fanny Kaplan, Lenin’s would-be assassin, was summarily shot on September 3 after refusing to name any accomplices, and since then over 500 opponents of the Bolshevik regime have been executed in Petrograd alone.
On September 27 President Wilson opened the Fourth Liberty Loan campaign with an address to an audience of 5,000 Liberty Loan workers and others at the Metropolitan Opera House at 39th Street and Broadway in New York City. He began by boldly contradicting the announced purpose of his visit, saying “I am not here to promote the loan.” It is not necessary for him to do so, he said, because that will be “ably and enthusiastically done” by those who will “present it to you and to our fellow citizens throughout the country.” Instead, “it is my mission here tonight to try to make it clear once more what the war really means.” He posed issues that he declared must be met and settled by the war: whether military power will continue to determine the fortunes of people over whom they have no right to rule, whether strong nations may subject weak nations to their own “purpose and interest,” whether people shall be ruled by their own will and choice or by arbitrary force, whether there shall be “a common standard of right and privilege for all peoples and nations or shall the strong do as they will and the weak suffer without redress,” and whether “the assertion of right [shall] be haphazard and by casual alliance or shall there be a common concert to oblige the observance of common rights.” He called for a peace based on “impartial justice in every item of the settlement,” enforced by the “indispensable instrumentality” of a “League of Nations,” without which “peace will rest in part upon the word of outlaws.”
The President announced his Fourteen Points in an address to Congress in January, and elaborated with four “principles” in February. (See the January and February 1918 installments of this blog). In this month’s speech he set forth five “particulars,” which he said are designed to make the general terms of the proposed settlement “sound less like a thesis and more like a practical program.” First, he said “the impartial justice meted out” must be “a justice that plays no favorites and knows no standard but the equal rights of the several people concerned.” Second, there must be “no special interest of any single nation or group of nations . . . which is not consistent with the common interest of all.” Third, “there can be no leagues or alliances or special covenants or understandings within the general and common family of the League of Nations.” Fourth, “there can be no special, selfish economic combinations within the league and no employment of any economic boycott except as . . . may be vested in the League of Nations itself.” Fifth, “all international agreements and treaties of every kind must be made known in their entirety to the rest of the world.”
The nationwide movement for woman suffrage has gained momentum in recent years, as more and more states have granted women the right to vote. Not all efforts at the state level have succeeded, however. In 1916, New Jersey put a suffrage amendment on the ballot, but it failed. President Wilson (who votes in New Jersey) voted for it, but throughout the 1916 campaign he insisted that woman suffrage should remain a state issue. He has since changed his view, and announced his support for a Constitutional amendment. In January of this year the House of Representatives passed by a single vote (two-thirds is required) a resolution proposing a suffrage amendment (see the January 1918 installment of this blog), and now the issue is before the Senate. On September 30 President Wilson traveled to Capitol Hill and asked the Senators to pass the suffrage measure as one that is “vitally essential to the successful prosecution of the great war of humanity in which we are engaged.” He said that if Americans “wish to lead democracy,” they must “give justice to women.” He pointed out that “women suffrage is not a party issue, both parties being explicitly pledged to equality of suffrage for the women of the country.” When he left the Senate chamber, it appeared that not a single vote had been changed. Sixty-one senators (Twenty-nine Democrats and thirty-two Republicans) support the measure and thirty-four senators (twenty-two Democrats and twelve Republicans) oppose it. In the debate that followed the President’s address, Senator Oscar W. Underwood (Dem., Ala.) explained why he is opposed. While it is “idle to combat the argument of the virtue and intelligence of women,” he said, “it is because I believe this to be the greatest democracy in the world . . . that I oppose it. Do we want government by the mob?” He expressed concern about the effect in the South if Negro women were placed on a parity with White women. He did not mention that when it comes to voting they are on a parity now, both races of women being equally disenfranchised.
The opponents of the resolution have more than the thirty-three votes they need to defeat the resolution. At the end of the debate, Senator Andrieus Jones (Dem., N.M.), the resolution’s sponsor, moved for a recess in the hope that some votes might be changed overnight, but that does not appear likely.
This year for the first time the World Series began and ended in the month of September. America’s entry into the World War and the enactment of Selective Service legislation made it politically awkward for professional baseball teams to continue playing games while other young healthy men are fighting and risking their lives in Europe. Using powers conferred by the Overman Act that became law in May of this year, Secretary of War Baker issued a “work or fight” order on July 1 providing that all draft-eligible men not engaged in a war-related occupation are subject to compulsory service. Baseball, of course, is not war-related, but the major league teams have been allowed to complete the season after voluntarily shortening it from 154 to 140 games, ending on Labor Day. Game one of the World Series, between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, was played on September 5 in Chicago (in the new Comiskey Park, on loan from the White Sox for the Series), and the last (sixth) was played in Boston on September 11. The Red Sox won the last game 2-1, thereby winning the Series four games to two and maintaining their perfect record in World Series appearances. Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth was the winning pitcher in games one and four.
A high point of the Series came half way through the seventh inning of the first game when the Navy Band struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The spectators, who were standing up to take their customary “seventh inning stretch,” stifled their yawns, bared their heads, and turned toward the flag with hands over their hearts. Some began singing, others joined, and soon the singing was universal. When the music stopped, the crowd erupted in enthusiastic applause. The anthem was played again in the later games with the same crowd reaction. It appears that a tradition has been born.
September 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
American Review of Reviews, October and November 1918
New York Times, September and October 1918
Books and Articles:
Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fifth Year of the Great War: 1918
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War
Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Anthony Lewis, Make No Law, The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment
Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
Robert K. Massie, The Romanovs: The Final Chapter
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Ted Morgan, FDR: A Biography
William Mulligan, The Great War for Peace
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made
Edward J. Renehan, The Lion’s Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-193
Geoffrey C. Ward, A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I
This article is reprinted from the Centennial Countdown to the Great War blog published by Dennis Cross. Read the original post and access an archive of previous posts at: