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Approach to Final Victory: America's Rainbow Division in the Saint Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives

Coming from Westholme Publishing in October 2023!


The 42nd Division, or "Rainbow Division" as it was known popularly, was composed entirely of unproven National Guard units hailing from twenty-six different states and the District of Columbia. For that reason, there were many who thought the division would never see combat when it deployed to France in October 1917. However, the division would spend 164 days in combat during World War I, a number exceeded by only two other American divisions. Despite the doubts of General John J. Pershing and many senior American officers regarding their ability to serve in combat, the division would come to be viewed by the Allies and their German opponents as one of the best combat divisions in the American Expeditionary Forces. As a result, the Rainbow Division was chosen to lead the American offensive in the Saint Mihiel salient, the first offensive planned and led by the American army in World War I. The division went on to play a critical role in the final offensive of the war in the Meuse-Argonne, where these battle-hardened National Guardsmen were the first Allied unit to finally break through the main German lines of resistance, the heavily fortified Kriemhilde Stellung, which had stopped assaults by three other American divisions.

Approach to Final Victory: America's Rainbow Division in the Saint Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives by historian Robert Thompson, chronicles the efforts of the Rainbow Division during these final two Allied offensives that were key to the ultimate Allied victory. Based on letters, journals, action reports, and unit histories, the challenges, set-backs, and accomplishments of the division stand as a fitting symbol of American valor and sacrifice during the "war to end all wars."

Nine Desperate Days: America's Rainbow Division in the Aisne-Marne Offensive

Finalist for the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for 2022


American forces entered World War I combat in October 1917, but it was not until July 1918 that they went on the offensive for the first time. Among the units selected for this operation was the 42nd Division, or the "Rainbow Division" as it was known popularly. This division, which was composed of National Guard Units from twenty-six states, including Joyce Kilmer's 68th New York Infantry, would spend 164 days in combat, a number exceeded by only two other American divisions. However, it was the nine days from July 25 to August 2, 1918 that were the most terrible and heroic in the division's history. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, who served as the division's chief of staff, later said of the Rainbow Division's fighting during those pivotal days, "There was neither rest nor mercy." During those nine days, the Rainbow Division would spearhead the Allied attack in the Aisne-Marne region, the final phase of the Second Battle of the Marne, that saw the last major German offensive on the Western Front defeated. Unfortunately, American leadership proved to be completely unprepared for a dynamic war of maneuver. Basing decisions on wildly inaccurate information about the Germans, senior commanders ordered the men of the Rainbow Division to make ill-advised assaults again and again with little support. Facing an enemy who was determined to hold their positions, these National Guardsmen fought with courage and determination to gain what was often only yards of ground, and did so at a deadly cost.

In Nine Desperate Days: America's Rainbow Division in the Aisne-Marne Offensive, historian Robert Thompson chronicles the hardships and tenacity of the men from the 42nd Division during this pivotal campaign. The Americans did not break despite heavy losses, and were able to drive the Germans back from territory they initially gained. The efforts of the Rainbow Division during Aisne-Marne were key to the ultimate Allied victory and are a symbol of American valor and sacrifice during the "War to End All Wars."


"Robert Thompson offers an evocative account of one of the most storied America divisions during its hardest fought battle of the Great War. Nine Desperate Days vividly chronicles the role that the 42nd Division played in what would be the war's turning point, the Aisne-Marne Offensive."—Richard Faulkner, author of Pershing's Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I


"The fighting of the Rainbow Division in the Second Battle of the Marne, at Croix Rouge Farm, and along the Ourcq river, was as brutal—and as filled with courage—as any fighting in American history. Bob Thompson tells this important story with clarity, thoroughness, and a sensitivity to the humanity of its heroic participants."—Mark E. Grotelueschen, author of The AEF Way of War: The American Army and Combat in World War I



"The story told is gripping and portrayed vividly through the words of the actual participants, primarily enlisted personnel, and junior officers. For readers seeking to uncover the nature of combat in World War 1 as experienced by division personnel in combat, this is a worthwhile read. Thompson deserves commendation for bringing the story of the 42d Division's nine critical days of heroic service to modern readers."—The Journal of America's Military Past

Nine Desperate Days: America's Rainbow Division in the Aisne-Marne Offensive

Suddenly Soldiers: The 166th Infantry Regiment in World War I

Selected as a finalist for the 2020 Army Historical Foundation's Distinguished Writing Award!


When America entered World War I in April 1917, state National Guard units had never planned to mobilize for this kind of war, and the men who made up the hometown companies of each regiment never imagined that they would be asked to fight in what was then the most savage war in human history—they were "innocents" being thrown into a horrendous European conflagration. Made up of companies from ten Ohio towns, the 166th Infantry Regiment became part of the famous 42nd Division, known as the "Rainbow Division." They were only the third American division to arrive in France, where they fought courageously in the trenches at Lunéville and Baccarat before being a key part of the American effort in the Second Battle of the Marne and the Saint Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. Despite their initial lack of training in modern warfare and weapons, the 166th Infantry compiled an impressive combat record. However, that record came at a terrible cost, with the regiment suffering over two thousand casualties in just nine months of fighting. While they battled the Germans, these hometown Guardsmen lived in trenches and foxholes for weeks at a time, while subsisting on canned beef and coffee amid near constant rain, deep mud, rats, and body lice that made their lives miserable. Because of poor planning and leadership from higher headquarters, they were often asked to achieve impossible objectives amid withering enemy machine gun fire without proper logistics or artillery support. Yet, despite these challenges, they would persevere, overcome, and emerge victorious.

Using regimental histories and the letters and diaries of the soldiers who fought in France, Suddenly Soldiers: The 161st Infantry Regiment in World War I by author and historian Robert Thompson tells the compelling story of the young men—"citizen soldiers"—who have always borne the cost of America's freedom with quiet courage.

General Emory Upton in the Civil War: The Formative Experiences of an American Military Visionary

Now available from McFarland Publishing:


Considered by many to be the architect of the modern U.S. Army, Emory Upton was driven by a passionate desire to modernize the service's culture and organization in the late nineteenth century. While much has been written about the politics surrounding his reform campaign, until now, there has been little published about the details of his experiences during the Civil War, experiences that drove his intense fervor for change.

This new work provides the dramatic in-depth story of Emory Upton's service and the terrible things he saw during four years of bloody warfare. Upton, who began the war as a new Second Lieutenant in 1861 and rose to the rank of Major General by the end of the war, commanded troops in every branch of the U.S. Army and fought in almost every major battle in the war's eastern theater. His story is one of duty, courage, professionalism, leadership, and sacrifice that still resonates today, providing an important lesson in what it means to be an American soldier.

Disaster on the Sandusky: The Life of Colonel William Crawford

In this first-ever biography, historian Robert Thompson tells the dramatic story of the life and death of William Crawford, a legendary figure from the violent world of the American colonial frontier, and a man recognized as a martyr by many Americans. Writing what has been described as a “compelling narrative,” the author shines light on a man who was once a legendary figure in American folklore and history.

A Woman of Courage on the West Virginia Frontier: Phebe Tucker Cunningham

Life on the West Virginia frontier was a daily struggle for survival. For Phebe Tucker Cunningham, that meant the loss of her four children at the hands of the Wyandot tribe and being held captive for three years until legendary renegades Simon Girty and Alexander McKee arranged her freedom. The narrative recounts the harrowing story of this courageous woman, from her marriage at Prickett's Fort in 1780 to her return to the shores of the Monongahela. The author describes in vivid detail early colonial life in the Alleghenies and the ways of the Wyandot, providing historical context for this unforgettable saga.