Robert A. Brown, BG
BG Brown was a Regular Army officer (West Point, 1884 (Cooke, p 132) or 1885 (Ferrell, p. 46)) who “had served as an officer in a number of cavalry regiments, including the famous 7th Regiment in 1891.” (Cooke, p. 132) A Regular Army colonel, he was his promoted to Brigadier General in the National Army on 5 August 1917.
The 42nd Division was a composite organization made up of National Guard units from many states to include the 167th (Alabama) Infantry, the 168th (Iowa) Infantry and the 151st (Georgia) MG Battalion, which made up the 84th Infantry Brigade. When initially organized for combat, The 42nd was commanded by MG William Mann (later replaced by MG Charles Menoher). Other key members of the division were BG Michael Lenihan, commander of the 83rd Infantry Brigade, and Colonel Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff.
Because of the structure of the 42nd, there were significant political influences. Pershing had wanted to break up the unit to use as replacements, but was forced to keep it intact as the reserve division for I Corps. This led to the replacement of Mann with Menoher in December 1917, shortly after the division arrived in France. By February of 1918, the division was no where near combat ready, and only the 84th Brigade, under BG Brown, appeared to even be on the road to readiness. By 20 March 1918, as the division began its forward deployment, the 84th Brigade was considered to be significantly more capable that the 83rd, having more men and more medical, engineer and ammunition units.
The 42nd first became involved in combat operations in July at the Champagne-Marne Defensive. By the end of that battle (17 July), BG Brown seemed overly tired, and the officers in the brigade began to express concern among themselves as to his ability to command. He had been unable to sleep for several days and had become more and more agitated as the fight progressed (Cooke, p.118). The division reached the Ourcq River on 27 July, but was unable to cross. The whole brigade seemed to have become hesitant and unresponsive (Cooke, p.125). On 28 July, the 84th crossed the Ourcq and occupied their objective. In spite of this, MG Menoher began receiving frantic messages from BG Brown telling him that the 84th (which had been considered the division’s best) would soon be incapable of offensive action (Cooke, p. 126).
On 30 July, the 42nd Division HQ became aware that something had gone dreadfully wrong with their offensive operations because the 51st Artillery Brigade failed to provide the expected support to the division. The problem was traced directly to orders given by BG Brown. Brown received a report from the 167th Regiment that the trenches which the 168th was approaching were occupied by Americans. The 168th reported that the trenches were occupied by German machine gunners. Brown ordered the 51st to cease firing, even though BD Dwight Aultman, commander of the 51st Artillery, protested the order. Brown’s decision making came into question, since he based it on the report of the 167th, rather than the commander directly involved in the fight (Cooke, p. 128-9). This probably led to his relief, since MG Menoher had been constantly prodding Brown to move his units, and was no doubt growing concerned over constant reports of low morale and confusion in what had once been his best brigade (Cooke, p. 130).
On 2 August, Menoher began the formal process for relieving Brown of his command, and replacing him with Colonel McArthur (who would be promoted to BG on the effective date of the order). The order came out on 8 August, and although Brown contested his removal, the results of the hearing confirmed that he had not been able to handle the strain. BG Lenihan, commanding the 83rd Brigade, had seen similar action within the 42nd, but did not manifest similar behavior. On 5 September, Pershing had Brown officially reduced to Colonel and sent back to the US (Cooke, p.133).
Recently, in 2008, Robert H. Ferrell, Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, has dissented with the view that Brown was overwhelmed, out of touch, and lacked the support of his junior officers. His reading of the testimony at Brown’s hearing is that Brown had a close reading and understanding of the condition of his men. Ferrell quotes at length testimony of Colonel Screws of the 167th Alabama that he had seen Brown acting efficiently, that Brown was no more exhausted than were his men, and that he, Screws, had himself recommended that the regiments be relieved (Ferrell, pp. 84-85.) On 3 August the 42nd division was relieved and sent for a short rest, corroborating Brown’s position that the troops were in need of relief.
Cooke, James J., The Rainbow Division in the Great War, Praeger Publishers, 1994.
Ferrell, Robert H., The Question of MacArthur’s Reputation: Cote de Chatillon, October 14-16, 1918, University of Missouri Press, 2008.
A retired lieutenant colonel from the Army Reserves sent me some dates related to him.