By David Homsher

Thru the night winds wet and dreary,
Word goes on to Château-Thierry,
Ghostly Phantoms hear the call-
Gather those who gave their all.

Phantoms, Pvt L. C. McCollum

Marne River Northern Embankment at Château-Thierry

Château-Thierry, once only a small village on the Marne River, fifty-five miles from Paris, will stay forever a name for Americans to conjure with. Suddenly, in the late spring of 1918, the name blazed up in the world press as a beacon for everyone to see. Château-Thierry, where American soldier footsteps turned in 1918, is indelibly written into the pages of American World War I military history. To Château-Thierry American footsteps will always turn. The town is remembered for the struggle of May-July, 1918, when the splendid defense of the French and American armies barred the road to Paris. Château-Thierry saw many a young soldier fall, French, British, German and American.

Château-Thierry was an emergency; it had no part whatsoever in the plans prepared by the general staff of the American Expeditionary Forces or in the original French scheme for the entry of the American forces upon the Western Front. The result of the German attack on the morning of May 27th was a rude and startling surprise to the Allied headquarters. In four days, or on the evening of May 30th, the leading elements of the German troops were at Château-Thierry, and on the following day the Boche stated in his communique, "We Stand on the Marne." No greater measure of self-satisfaction was ever reflected in his pompous announcements than this.

But on the same fourth day at Château-Thierry the German troops found a small American fighting unit, the 7th Machine Gun Battalion of the 3rd U. S. Division, which had come a distance of 110 miles in thirty hours by motor transport, and the Germans failed to cross the Marne. For seventy-two hours the 7th Machine Gun Battalion successfully contested the crossing, and by the second day of June the 3rd U. S. Division was in position along the river from Château-Thierry to the east for a distance of twelve miles….it signified the fact that the tide of military fortune had turned at that point, and that we had taken the measure of the Boche, and were no longer anxious as to the final result.

Town Hall Today
Château-Thierry is a little town so picturesque that its smiling aspect has tempted many a traveler to break his journey on the way from Paris to Epernay. Dominated on the north by the ruined towers of its ancient castle, the town lies closely nestled in a valley, between the wooded sides of which winds the River Marne. Approaching from the east the Marne bends sharply upon passing the town, as if to avoid a bare knoll known as Hill 204, which bars its direct course to the west. At no point more than seventy meters wide, the river is too deep to be forded. The Marne meanders through a lovely valley walled in by two parallel ranges of hills. East of the town the crests of these lie about two kilometers apart, a narrow plain stretching along the base of the hills on the southern bank. South of the town the valley expands to a greater breadth. The valley slopes ascend from the northern banks of the Marne to a plateau about five hundred feet above the river.

Château-Thierry, with a normal prewar population of about eight thousand inhabitants in 1914, is still an attractive town of stone buildings whose principal streets, each rising terrace-like above the other, parallel the stream. Below the edge of the plateau, the ancient Chateau, with crenellated and bastioned walls, rears itself above the trees and gardens which surround it. From the old castle, a wonderful panorama of hills, ridges, valleys, rivers, towns, villages and hamlets is seen. Along the main boulevard at the level of the river there are many lovely houses with walled gardens. Château Thierry was once the home of the poet and writer of fables, Jean de la Fontaine.

This ancient city, scarred with the memories of a hundred wars, had its origin in a Gallo-Roman village known as Otmus. The name of the town comes from the castle on a hill on the northern side of the Marne River. Legend says that Charles Martel built the castle in 720 A.D. as a prison for King Thierry II. Martel's victory over the Saracens had given him control of the region. Château-Thierry was afterwards held by the counts of Champagne. The King of the Franks, Thierry IV (d.1737) used the castle as a residence. Captured by English archers, Spanish troops and earlier Prussian hordes in the sundry sieges of which the city has been the target, the castle of today lies in ruins.

There are four roads that go out from Château-Thierry: one up the north bank of the Marne, one to Soissons, one to Fere-en-Tardenois, and one to La Ferté and Paris. The position of the city, however, explains its long history, for it has ever stood as a citadel in the path of the endless succession of invasions aimed at Paris.

US Machine Gunners at the Marne

Leaving the Marne at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, sixteen miles southwest of Château-Thierry, an important national highway forms a chord to the bend which the river makes between those points. The road passes to the north of Hill 204, then crosses the Marne River at Château-Thierry. Thence it follows the southern bank of the Marne to Épernay and Chalons. A main line of railway also follows the southern bank of the river, connecting Meaux, la Ferté-sous-Jouarre, Château-Thierry, and Épernaypernay. Branch lines connect Château-Thierry with Soissons, about thirty miles to the north, and with Montmirail, about half that distance to the south.

War had come to Château-Thierry many times over the centuries. Normans, Danes, the English, and pillaging bands all took their turn at spreading destruction and terror in the vicinity. Destroyed by the Huns in the fifth century, captured by the English in 1421, by Charles V in 1544, and by the Leaguers in 1591 and again pillaged in 1652 during the War of the Fronde, Château-Thierry's sufferings were not yet at an end. In 1814 Napoleon bombarded the city when he defeated the Russians and Prussians under Blücher in this neighborhood. The city would again suffer during the two World Wars of the Twentieth Century.

The Germans held Château-Thierry for a few days in early September,1914, during the first battle of the Marne. On 9 September 1914, when the Allies began to advance, the I Corps of the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) crossed the Marne here and moved north to Fere-en-Tardenois.

After the first battle of the Marne, Château-Thierry remained far behind the lines and in Allied hands until the German advance in May of 1918. Breaking through Allied lines on the Chemin des Dames in their offensive of 27 May 1918, the Germans drove the French rapidly southward. On 30 May the French rear-guard reached Château-Thierry. On the following day, German Gen Max von Boehn's vanguard entered the town. The Germans thoroughly sacked the town in the following weeks.

For the second time in its history, this little town on the banks of the Marne occupied the attention of the civilized world. The second battle of the Marne was in progress, the Germans were making their last and most desperate thrust at Paris. Château-Thierry became the apex battle-point of a very large salient that the Germans had driven into the French lines. From this apex, thrust into the town of Château-Thierry itself, the battle lines drew sharply back, north west for twenty one miles to Soissons and north east for thirty miles to Reims, forming the western and eastern faces of the gigantic triangle known as the Marne salient.

German Prisoners Captured in the Area

Château-Thierry is a railway junction of considerable importance in the Marne system of communications. It was very important to prevent the enemy from occupying the town. Divided into two sections by the river Marne passing through it, with three bridges spanning the stream, Château Thierry constituted the key- point of the Marne barrier against the German advance toward Paris. It was extremely vital to hold the bridgeheads from the enemy. If Château-Thierry held, it would present a front on which to shatter the German spearhead.

At Château-Thierry, and in the surrounding area, the fresh young fighting men from America halted the most successful offensive that the Germans launched during the war. The Americans saved Paris and received credit for it from a world in arms.

Eight U.S. Divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) got their baptism of fire in this region during June and July of 1918. And, all proved that the American soldier was second to none. Rushed up from their training area in half-ton Ford motor trucks the 7th Motorized Machine Gun Battalion of the U.S 3rd Division met the retiring French in the town and took up positions on the northern riverbank. Here they fought off the Germans for two days and then were withdrawn to the south bank by the French who then blew up the town's bridges. From that time on the Marne became the dividing line between the opposing forces. Neither side attempted to cross the river in Château-Thierry until the Germans evacuated the town on July 19-20 as a result of the Allied attacks to the east and west of it.

Château-Thierry became the tip of a large battlefield when American machine gunners met the Germans in its streets on the last day of May, 1918. From its streets, on the night that May turned into June, the word went forth that American soldiers had jumped into the fight to block the German drive. Here, in June of 1918, in front of this provincial city nestled in the bend of the Marne, the raw American Army stopped Ludendorff's lunge for Paris.

Château-Thierry itself saw only a few days of active fighting, but a few miles east and west of it and to the north occurred some of the most bitter struggles of the war. The 2nd U.S. Division fought bitter actions just outside of Château-Thierry in the area of Belleau Wood, Bouresches and Vaux in June, 1918. Particularly ferocious was the twenty day long struggle between the Marine Brigade and the Germans for control of Belleau Wood. The 3rd U.S Division fought tenaciously in the area of the Jaulgonne Bend of the Marne, to the east of the city. Despite many attacks the allied line held. The morale of the Allies went up to a point where they could again take up the offensive, never to relinquish it. Thus, Château-Thierry is sometimes alluded to as the "Gettysburg of Europe." On 21 July 1918, U.S. Divisions pushed forward into the wooded hills north of the Château-Thierry.

Original orders had it that the Americans would take Château-Thierry, but the French had requested that the honor of taking the city be given them. The French took Château-Thierry on 21 July 1918, the Americans advancing with them on both sides of the city.

Either when entering the battle area or when leaving it, most of the 310,000 U.S. soldiers engaged in this great battle passed through Château-Thierry. Most of the 67,000 American casualties during their battles within the Marne salient left from the railroad station in Château-Thierry to be transported to hospitals in the rear areas.

Capt. Lloyd Williams, USMC
"Retreat Hell -
We Just Got Here"

Upon Arriving in Sector
To the American soldiers, therefore, their battles in the Marne salient of 1918 would forever bear the name of "The Battle of Château-Thierry." The doughboys got into the habit of calling the entire campaign that of "Château-Thierry." Thus the city would forever bear the name of the great offensive through which they had just passed. Although officially known as "The Aisne-Marne Offensive," in the American soldiers vernacular it was most likely to be "The Battle of Chatto Teary," "Chatoo Terry," "Chatty Terry," or some other variant name.

Those American soldiers who were in Château-Thierry during the stormy days of June, July and August recalled many scenes of needless, wanton destruction. The Germans forced open and ransacked almost every house. They even scarred many beautiful pieces of ancient furniture with their battle cry: "Gott mit uns!" The Germans missed sacking the rock-cellars, which were old, when Napoleon visited them. The cellars, with their millions of bottles lie beneath the Faubourg de la Folie where stand the sumptuous houses of the rich vine growers whose names such as Chandon and Périer, are of world-wide solace.

Oddly enough, this center of a genial commerce just escaped the worst of the war. During the German occupation of Château-Thierry, the Americans and the French preferred to spare the town. Evidently the Germans had the same idea after they evacuated Château-Thierry, as German aerial bombing caused most of the damage in town. Château-Thierry, although hit by a number of randomly thrown artillery shells from both sides, was spared the prolonged bombardments which could have easily destroyed the town.

Château-Thierry is remembered by the doughboys of the American 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 26th, 28th, 32nd, 42nd and 77th Divisions that fought to clear the Germans from the Marne salient of 1918. Frequent mention of the town is made in American military unit histories and in other literature that describes the fighting in the Marne salient.

The soldiers remember the town as being the central point of operations from which they either entered or departed from the Marne salient. They remember it as being the town to which they returned for whatever brief rest periods it was possible to give the troops. Thousands of doughboys were never too tired to walk around the city whenever presented with even a brief opportunity to do so.

Most of the American soldiers who passed through Château-Thierry were full of fun. Many of them would get hold of high hats, derbies, colored parasols, and a lot of other foolish things in the town. The next morning they would march or drive along wearing silk hats and carrying parasols and wearing ladies underwear, as their own had long ago worn out!

The name of Château-Thierry, more than any other French town, will always stands out in American World War I history. Château-Thierry will always be an American shrine in France-not the old Marne City alone or chiefly, but rather the American battlefields which surround the city. Château Thierry still occupies a major position large in our national military traditions for it was there that our military forces first participated in a great battle and first figured in a large offensive.

In 1991, Because of the Powerful Significance of Château-Thierry, the Great War Society Elected to Place It's Memorial Plaque There


Verse 1
One September I'll remember,
Never to forget. Battle weary
     Chateau Thierry,
That was where we met,
'Mong the ruins I still can see,
Suzette smiling out on me,
Somehow it just had to be,
This love that bids me tell you:

Chorus: [repeat after each verse]

There's a girl in Chateau-Thierry,
A girl who waits for me.
There's a weary heart made cheery,
By love and victory.
And her buddy boy's devotion,
Burns a trail across the ocean,
To Chateau-Thierry, where she
    waits for me.

There's a girl in Chateau-Thierry,
A girl who waits for me.
There's a weary heart made cheery,
By love and victory.
And her buddy boy's devotion,
Burns a trail across the ocean,
To Chateau-Thierry, where she waits
     for me across the sea.

Verse 2
Cherie, Cherie, I'm so very
Sad here over the sea,
Battle weary Chateau-Thierry,
Seems much brighter to me,
Loved ones ask on ev'ry hand,
Why I'm sad in Yankee land,
Maybe they would understand
If I could only tell them:

Words by E. Ray Goetz.
Music by Melville Gideon.

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Additions and comments on these pages may be directed to: Michael E. Hanlon
Original artwork & copy; © 1998-2006, TGWS.