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War in the Ruins: The American Army's Final Battle Against Nazi Germany.

War in the Ruins: The American Army's Final Battle Against Nazi Germany, by Edward G. Longacre, Westholme, 384 pages, $28.


Historian Edward Longacre, winner of the Douglas Southall Freeman Award, is best known for his many books on the American Civil War, but in this book he tackles World War II. War in the Ruins is Longacre's labor of love in honor of his father, a veteran of the 100th Infantry Division, and the other men who served in the Century Division.

Longacre pens a rich narrative following the 100th Infantry Division from its inception at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to its trans-Atlantic voyage to Marseilles, to combat in the Vosges Mountains, cracking the Maginot Line, and finally to battling its way into the homeland of the Third Reich. The division has long deserved more attention for defeating Operation Nordwind, the January 1945 German offensive that followed the Battle of the Bulge and is often overshadowed by it.

Longacre, a retired historian for the armed services, has drawn his book from a variety of sources: interviews, unit histories, and after-action reports, as well as other primary and secondary sources. He plumbed the resources of the George C. Marshall Research Library at the Virginia Military Institute, and the extensive collection of material on the 100th Infantry Division there. He knows his sources and uses them very effectively to weave a captivating, compelling, interesting, heartbreaking, and inspiring narrative.

The Century Division was activated at Fort Jackson in November 1942 and was commanded for the length of its WWII service by Major General Withers Burress, a native of Virginia and a veteran of World War I. Ordinary men from all over the United States formed the rank and file of the 100th, but once trained, many of these men were shipped out as replacements for units hit hard by combat losses in the Mediterranean. The 100th was jokingly referred to as a palace guard; it even sent a contingent to march down Fifth Avenue in New York City as part of a war bond drive in the summer of 1944. After further training in Tennessee and North Carolina, however, Burress finally got orders for overseas deployment.

Longacre provides a welcome table displaying the organization of the 100th, complete with a listing of the artillery units. There's also a map tracing the route of the 100th in the European Theater of Operations. Both are very helpful and serve the reader well through the book. More books should employ such organizational elements.

Longacre draws upon personal accounts to illustrate the experiences of men heading into combat, and it is here the book truly hits its stride. The journey to Marseilles is vividly described, including the seasickness most men endured when sailing through a hurricane. One soldier, John Courter, describes his amateur acrobatics while trying to remain in his bunk as the storm tossed the ship about. When the 100th makes it to France, it is greeted by none other than the German-American radio personality Axis Sally doing one of her infamous Nazi propaganda broadcasts.

Longacre does an excellent job of taking the green soldiers from the United States to France and then to combat, using their own words and his own descriptive skills to demonstrate the often miserable existence of a front-line soldier. The Centurymen marched from Marseilles to the Vosges Mountains, relieving the veteran 45th Infantry Division on the line. The book stands as a very respectable operational history of the 100th's struggles in Europe.

What really makes the book are those personal experiences drawn from Longacre's research. The very personal view offered by the soldiers provides depth and life. This is no dry, monotonous read. Longacre makes you feel the cold, the fear, the anger, and the pain that the soldiers experience. Besides offering a very compelling combat narrative, Longacre details daily life in the foxholes. The Germans were not the only hazard the Americans faced. An outbreak of hepatitis A, for example, struck many of the troops, due to the poor diet, exposure, and unsanitary living conditions.

War in the Ruins is a vivid, well-written account of the 100th Infantry Division. The book will serve anyone seeking to learn the history of American infantry units in combat in Europe. The 100th Infantry Division has a legacy of outstanding achievement and has long deserved more attention. This is an oversight Longacre most admirably corrects.

--Michael Edwards

University of New Orleans
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Author:Edwards, Michael
Publication:America in WWII
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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