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Alvin York

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne

Douglas V. Mastriano
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 336
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    Alvin York
    Book Description:

    Alvin C. York (1887--1964) -- devout Christian, conscientious objector, and reluctant hero of World War I -- is one of America's most famous and celebrated soldiers. Known to generations through Gary Cooper's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 1941 film Sergeant York, York is credited with the capture of 132 German soldiers on October 8, 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne region of France -- a deed for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

    At war's end, the media glorified York's bravery but some members of the German military and a soldier from his own unit cast aspersions on his wartime heroics. Historians continue to debate whether York has received more recognition than he deserves. A fierce disagreement about the location of the battle in the Argonne forest has further complicated the soldier's legacy.

    In Alvin York, Douglas V. Mastriano sorts fact from myth in the first full-length biography of York in decades. He meticulously examines York's youth in the hills of east Tennessee, his service in the Great War, and his return to a quiet civilian life dedicated to charity. By reviewing artifacts recovered from the battlefield using military terrain analysis, forensic study, and research in both German and American archives, Mastriano reconstructs the events of October 8 and corroborates the recorded accounts. On the eve of the WWI centennial, Alvin York promises to be a major contribution to twentieth-century military history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4521-1
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-ix)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. x-xii)
  4. 1 A Life Well Lived (pp. 1-8)

    The life and legacy of Alvin C. York continues to have an influence on the American psyche. This fixation has as much to do with his battlefield heroism as it does with his lifelong legacy of trying to make a lasting contribution to improve the lives of his people. It is this that perhaps makes him stand out among so many other worthy heroes of the Great War. Clearly, it was the 8 October 1918 battle in the Argonne that brought Alvin notoriety, but it was what he did with the fame that so impressed his nation. It was York’s...

  5. 2 Without Prospect The Hard Life in the Upper Cumberland Valley (pp. 9-20)

    For Alvin York, growing up in the Cumberland Valley of Tennessee was little different from what the pioneers of the early 1700s experienced. It was a foreign place to most Americans, a land that time seemed to have forgotten. In many ways, York’s world was little changed from when Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett lived there. Legend reflected the Cumberland’s time-locked nature with its tales of Indian fighters and Civil War bushwhackers.¹ Despite the innocent yarns spun about life in Appalachia, there was a dark side to it as well. In the shadows of the rough valleys, bootleggers, gun runners,...

  6. 3 At War with the Army (pp. 21-42)

    Alvin York’s life completely changed after he “got religion,” and he left church on 1 January 1915 a different man. York’s family, and above all his mother, was elated at his decision to become a Christian.

    I found out the truth of what the Bible says: “There is more rejoicing over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety-nine just persons that need no repentance.” I truly felt as though I had been borned again. I felt that great power which the Bible talks about and which all sinners feel when they have found salvation, I felt in my soul like...

  7. 4 Marching as to War (pp. 43-56)

    Alvin returned on 31 March 1918 to Camp Gordon just as his unit received orders to deploy to France. The division had a farewell parade on 4 April that was reviewed by Georgia governor Hugh M. Dorsey and the widow of the celebrated Confederate Civil War general for whom the camp was named, John Brown Gordon. Thus the odyssey of moving York’s unit to France began. The next weeks were dedicated to frantic deployment activities that included packing, issuing equipment, organizing movement routes, preparing rail and ship manifests, developing load plans, and having soldiers fill out stacks of predeployment documents...

  8. 5 Into the Trenches! (pp. 57-66)

    Orders were issued to the 82nd Division to move to Rambucourt and man the front lines on 26 June. This “quiet sector” east of Verdun was known as the Woevre Front, Lagny Sector. The last heavy fighting here had occurred in 1915 during a French attempt to reduce this salient. However, the Germans managed to hold the bulge, which protruded south to the village of St. Mihiel, as well as retaining the important hill of Montsec, which dominated the area. This bulge jutted into France like a giant “V,” with the western base of it anchored near Haudiomont and in...

  9. 6 Prelude to Battle The Military Situation Before York’s Battle (pp. 67-92)

    On 26 September 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) launched the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The AEF initially had the support of one hundred thousand French soldiers, encompassing six of their divisions. These men reverted to French control after additional American units arrived from St. Mihiel. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the first of four Allied attacks that spanned some two hundred miles of the Western Front. This broad attack was designed by Field Marshal Foch, the Allied generalissimo, to bring the war to an end in 1918. This offensive, and the events that followed, would elevate Alvin York to fame.

    Foch’s grand...

  10. 7 One Day in October (pp. 93-116)

    The concept of American operations for 8 October 1918 was to launch a three-prong attack into the Argonne, with York’s battalion advancing in the center while the 1st Battalion pushed from its position on Castle Hill to the right.¹ The 3rd battalion would serve in reserve, and the nearby 28th Division would attack just south of the 82nd. The 328th Regiment’s attack was part of a larger assault that day, which included the 110th Infantry Regiment of the 28th U.S. Division providing a supporting attack to seize the high ground on the left, while another regiment of the 82nd Division,...

  11. 8 The War without End (pp. 117-144)

    Corporal York and his detail would not return to their unit until 10:00 A.M. the next day, 9 October, and throughout this time the 82nd Division continued to face fierce German resistance.¹ What occurred dispels notions that the German units in the Argonne were merely waiting for a chance to quit the war. As already described, the 7 October capture of Hill 223 virtually crippled the 1st Battalion in York’s regiment, and the losses that York’s battalion suffered on 8 October would be the bloodiest single day in the history of that unit, even unmatched in World War II. Unfortunately,...

  12. 9 Emergence of a National Hero (pp. 145-160)

    The SSOhioanarrived in New York at 2:00 A.M. on the 22nd of May, but a heavy fog prevented the ship from proceeding to the dock. With that, the ship dropped anchor, waited for the fog to clear, and did not get under way again until 10:00. The trip up the channel seemed particularly slow to the men, who were eager to be back on American soil. As the fog parted, York shared the thrill of his ship-mates: “I can’t tell you how I felt when our ship steamed up New York Harbor and I seed the skyscrapers sorter...

  13. 10 Back on the Farm in Pall Mall (pp. 161-172)

    The war forever radically changed the world. Four Old World empires vanished (the Ottoman, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian), and four ancient dynasties ended (the Hohenzollerns of Germany, the Hapsburgs of Austria, the Romanovs of Russia, and the Ottomans of the Turks). Twelve million died directly from the effects of the conflict, and up to 100 million more in the Spanish influenza plague that swept the world after the war.¹ The map of Africa was redrawn, and in the Middle East and Eastern Europe new nations sprang forth, some out of the victor’s imagination. Life had changed, and it was York’s...

  14. 11 Another War with Germany (pp. 173-190)

    Alvin’s odyssey in the Great War changed his life and his understanding of the world. Like most veterans, he desired that the nation not be involved in another war. However, as the international situation darkened in the 1930s, York was not easily led down the noninterventionist path. During this turbulent interval, York would find himself a key public figure standing against the popular view of isolationism. His most influential move would be to agree to the making of the movie that would depict his life, and serve as a device for Hollywood moguls to advance the idea of intervening in...

  15. 12 Honoring a Hero (pp. 191-216)

    Although the battle near Châtel Chéhéry was not York’s only fight in the war, it was the one that defined him. With the exact location of where York fought on 8 October 1918 seemingly lost to history, it was imperative to locate it to ascertain the truth of what happened that one day in October before writing this biography. Otherwise, interpretation and opinion would guide my work. The research paid off, with the York site being discovered in 2006. Because of this, there is now carved into the Argonne Forest a three-mile historic trail for visitors to this battlefield to...

  16. Acknowledgments (pp. 217-222)
  17. Notes (pp. 223-282)
  18. Bibliography (pp. 283-306)
  19. Index (pp. 307-324)