On November 8 at noon, Edward G. Lengel will deliver a Banner Lecture entitled “Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Lost Battalion and the Transformation of America.”
The most dramatic week in American military history took place shortly before World War I ended. In the first week of October 1918, six hundred men charged into the forbidding Argonne Forest. Against all odds, they surged through enemy lines—alone. They were soon surrounded and besieged. As they ran out of ammunition, water, and food, the battalion withstood constant mortar attack and relentless enemy assaults. Seven days later, only 194 soldiers from the original unit walked out of the forest. The stand of the "Lost Battalion" was—and remains—an unprecedented display of heroism under fire. The narrative of Never in Finer Company focuses on the stories of four men: the battalion's commander, Major Charles Whittlesey, a lawyer eager to prove his mettle; his New York stockbroker executive officer, Captain George McMurtry; Sergeant Alvin York, whose famous exploits help rescue the battalion; and Damon Runyon, the soon-to-be famous newspaper man who struggled to understand the events he witnessed. From the patriotic frenzy that sent young men "over there" to the hurried stateside training, shipping overseas, and encounters with life at the front, each man trod a unique path to the October days that engulfed them. And their stories did not end on the battlefield—each man was haunted by the experience as America tried to come to grips with the carnage of the war.
Dr. Edward G. Lengel is currently Chief Historian of the White House and was formerly Editor-in-Chief of the Papers of George Washington. He is the author of several books on George Washington and on America’s involvement in World War I. His books on World War I include To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918—The Epic Battle That Ended the First World War; Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917–1918; and Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Lost Battalion and the Transformation of America. He has contributed articles for Military History, Military History Quarterly, American Heritage, American History, History Now, and Humanities.