Major Charles Whittlesey: 10 Cool Facts

I have often tried to imagine what it was like for troops in the midst of World War I. We see depictions in movies and read about it in books, but I don’t believe we could ever imagine the emotions and thoughts of the many men who faced a ferocious enemy as well as dreadful conditions that probably would have made the depictions of Hell seem like an enjoyable vacation.

One such man who felt the fierce conditions and stood tall in the midst was Major Charles Whittlesey.

Have you heard of him?

Well, today you will learn a lot about this hero of World War I. Here are 10 cool facts about Major Charles Whittlesey.

major charles whittlesey

#1: Birth And Education

Charles was born in 1884 in Florence, Wisconsin. When he was 10, the Whittlesey family moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Charles graduated from High School there in 1901. From there, Charles enrolled at Williams College; he graduated with honors and then attended Harvard Law School and graduated from there in 1908.

#2: Charles The Attorney

Along with a friend and classmate, Charles formed a law partnership in New York City.

#3: Charles The Socialist

While Whittlesey attended Williams College, he became good friends with Max Eastman who would go on to be a great writer and political activist.

During the time of managing his law business, Charles also joined the American Socialist Party. But because he felt the group was becoming extremist in nature, he resigned his membership.

#4: Charles The Patriot

He was not drafted!

1 month after the United States entered into World War I, Charles took leave from his law partnership and he joined the U.S. Army. He was commissioned a Captain in the 308th Infantry Regiment, 154th Infantry Brigade, 77th Infantry Division.

#5: Promotion And Command

Soon after their arrival in Europe, Charles was promoted to Major and given command of the 1st Battalion of the 308th Infantry Regiment.

Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. 77th Infantry Division: Top 10 Cool Facts
  2. Top 10 Famous Infantry Battalions
  3. Military Errors In Great Movies
  4. Top 5 Famous National Guard Battles
  5. My Top Ten Favorite Military Movies

#6: October 2nd, 1918

The complete 77th Infantry Division were given orders to massively attack German positions in the Meuse – Argonne Region.

Major Whittlesey led his troops down a center approach and they were supposed to have units on both their flanks. But the 1st Battalion were able to proceed faster than the units on each flank and they were soon trapped on all sides by Germans.

#7: The Lost Battalion

They have been the subject of books and movies. This large Battalion was in the most precarious of positions. Germans with guns, hand grenades and flame throwers were cutting down members of Whittlesey’s unit right and left.

For 5 days, these soldiers were in Hell on Earth. And they were also without food and water.

They were considered the Lost Battalion and I am sure many would understand if Major Whittlesey were to surrender. But no… Major Whittlesey would not accept surrendering. The Germans even sent an American POW with a white flag and a note from the Germans that said:

The suffering of your wounded men can be heard over here in the German lines, and we are appealing to your humane sentiments to stop. A white flag shown by one of your men will tell us that you agree with these conditions. Please treat Private Lowell R. Hollingshead [the bearer] as an honorable man. He is quite a soldier. We envy you. The German commanding officer.”

Some say that Major Whittlesey responded “Go To Hell,” but he denied that and said there was no response except making sure that anything that was white was lowered to make sure the Germans did not assume.

#8: Relief

That very night, a relief force managed to get to the Lost Battalion. It forced the Germans to retreat and of the 554 troops under Whittlesey, only 194 were able to walk out on their own.

Here is a parade for them in New York City when they came home:

#9: The Medal Of Honor

Because of his solid leadership and heroism, Major Whittlesey was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded the coveted Medal Of Honor.

#10: He Is Still Lost

The Commander of the 1st Battalion… The Lost Battalion came home as a celebrated hero. He was so famous that he couldn’t even find time to manage his law firm.

But if we really look deep, it is evident that Charles suffered from PTSD.

He is dead, but no one ever found his body. He booked a passage on a ship from New York to Havana. Also, he dined with the Captain and said he was retiring for the evening.

He was never seen again but many letters were left and what he wanted done with his possessions. It was obvious that Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey had jumped overboard.

A sad ending for a great man.

Final Thoughts

War is a dreadful thing and Charles felt that dread and tried to live with it. He could not anymore.

I know there are others who feel many of these same things. There is help! Please don’t try to deal with terrible thoughts of death and war on your own.

You see, you cared about us when you fought and now it is our turn to care about you. If you feel you cannot take the thoughts that haunt you from Iraq, Afghanistan or any other, please get help. Here is a link that can guide you… https://www.psychguides.com/guides/depression-hotline/

Thanks for your service and please post comments and questions below.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_White_Whittlesey
  2. https://tombguard.org/column/2013/12/the-tragedy-of-heroism-charles-w-whittlesey/
  3. http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/whitt.htm
  4. https://historybecauseitshere.weebly.com/charles-whittlesey–scholar-soldier-humanist.html
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/11/10/on-veterans-day-a-lost-battalion-a-war-hero-and-a-heartbreaking-suicide/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.420f87ed5839
  6. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/whittlesey_charles_white
  7. http://guardianlv.com/2014/07/world-war-i-hero-charles-whittlesey-death-still-a-mystery/
  8. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/charles-whittlesey-lost-commander-battalion.html

About The Author

Greg Boudonck is a full time freelance writer and the author of over 50 books. He served in the United States Army in the early 1980’s and enjoys writing about military subjects. You can see Greg’s books on Amazon by searching his name and you can also visit his website at Lancerlife.com.

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