To Conquer Hell

The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 The Epic Battle That Ended the First World War

Edward G. Lengel

Henry Holt and Co.

The authoritative, dramatic, and previously untold story of the bloodiest battle in American history: the epic fight for the Meuse-Argonne in World War I
On September 26, 1918, more than one million American soldiers prepared to assault the German-held Meuse-Argonne region of France. Their commander, General John J. Pershing, believed in the superiority of American "guts" over barbed wire, machine guns, massed artillery, and poison gas. In thirty-six hours, he said, the Doughboys would crack the German defenses and open the road to Berlin. Six weeks later, after savage fighting across swamps, forests, towns, and rugged hills, the battle finally ended with the signing of the armistice that concluded the First World War. The Meuse-Argonne had fallen, at the cost of more than 120,000 American casualties, including 26,000 dead. In the bloodiest battle the country had ever seen, an entire generation of young Americans had been transformed forever. To Conquer Hell is gripping in its accounts of combat, studded with portraits of remarkable soldiers like Pershing, Harry Truman, George Patton, and Alvin York, and authoritative in presenting the big picture. It is military history of the first rank and, incredibly, the first in-depth account of this fascinating and important battle.


Read an Excerpt

The sun rose on August 27, 1915, to a typical morning at Fort Bliss, Texas, from where Brigadier General John Joseph Pershing’s 8th Infantry Brigade kept the peace along the troubled U.S.-Mexican border. Clouds of dust swelled and drifted as infantry drilled and cavalry patrols came and went, and shouted orders echoed among the adobe walls. Through one dust cloud rode Lieutenant James L. Collins, the general’s aide, who had set out from headquarters for a routine two-hour horseback tour around the base. Pershing would normally have accompanied him, but this morning he had


Praise for To Conquer Hell

"Edward Lengel has filled an inexplicable gap in the American history of World War I with this vivid, deeply researched account of the Doughboys’ heroism – and agony – in the Argonne. Anyone interested in military history should have it on his bookshelf."—Thomas Fleming, author of The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I

"Each First World War battle deserves a historian; not every battle finds one. Those who fought on the Meuse-Argonne in 1918, and all Americans interested in their national heritage, are fortunate that Edward G. Lengel has written this deeply researched book – bringing the strategy, the commanders, the officers and men, the tactics, the horror and the heroism together in a moving, dramatic, and intensely human account. One of the most powerful war books that I have read."—Martin Gilbert, author of The First World War and The Somme

“There have been several efforts by American authors since the Armistice of 1918 to retell the story of the American Army's engagement on the Western Front during the First World War.  Ed Lengel's book is a superior achievement and will be greatly enjoyed both by experts and by the general reader.”—John Keegan

"Ed Lengel's account of how American doughboys died in their tens of thousands to end the First World War is one of the great war stories of all time. In Lengel's skilled hands, the last great battle of the Great War is both riveting and deeply affecting. Authoritative, vividly drawn, and packed with arresting anecdotes and new material, To Conquer Hell is destined to be a classic. I cannot recommend it highly enough."—Alex Kershaw, author of The Few and The Longest Winter

“An evocative narrative grounded in copious research and judicious historical assessments, Lengel’s book will probably become the standard work on this neglected epic.”—Publishers Weekly

“A harrowing episode in American military history, expertly recounted.”—Kirkus

"Exhaustively researched and elegantly written."—The Free Lance-Star

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Edward G. Lengel

  • Edward G. Lengel is an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books on military history, including General George Washington: A Military Life. A recipient, with the Papers of George Washington documentary editing project, of the National Humanities Medal, he has made frequent appearances on television documentaries and was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize.





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    To Conquer Hell

    The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 The Epic Battle That Ended the First World War

    Edward G. Lengel