History of the First Division

World War I: 1917-1918

The 1st Infantry Division was literally America’s first division. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, it had no divisions. President Woodrow Wilson promised the Allies he would send “a division” to France immediately. Four infantry regiments (16th, 18th, 26th and 28th) and three artillery regiments (5th, 6th and 7th) were ordered from the Mexican border in Texas to Hoboken, NJ, to board transports for France. On June 8, 1917, Brigadier General William Sibert assumed command of them as the “First Expeditionary Division.” Organized as a “square” division of more than 28,000 men, the First Division was twice the size of either the Allied or German divisions on the Western Front.

The First Division won the first American victory in World War I at the Battle of Cantigny. Cantigny is a small village north of Paris, in the Picardy region of France. Held by the German Army, Cantigny formed a dangerous salient in the Allied lines. On May 28, 1918, the First Division attacked and defeated the German forces in the village and held it against repeated German counterattacks, despite suffering more than 1,000 casualties. The success raised the Allies’ morale, convinced the British and French that the Americans were capable of operating in independent fighting units, and disproved German propaganda about American incapacity. Cantigny also was the first significant use of modern, combined arms operations by the US Army. The division was supported by French air units, flame thrower teams, tanks and artillery. After the Battle of Cantigny, the First Division participated in the major battles of Soissons, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. From May 1918 to the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the First Division suffered more than 20,000 casualties, including killed, wounded and missing. With commanders such as MG William Sibert, MG Robert L. Bullard and MG Charles P. Summerall, the First Division established a reputation for excellence and esprit de corps.

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