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America Fallen!/Chapter 17




No answer having been received by the Commander-in-Chief of the German forces in America to the proposals forwarded to the United States Government at Pittsburg, orders were given in Berlin on April 3d for the immediate embarkation of a third army of 100,000 men for the seat of war. Also, instructions were forwarded to New York to move in full strength on Pittsburg.

Forthwith, an army of 150,000 men began to concentrate at Philadelphia 50,000 men being considered amply sufficient to hold the cities already captured. This confidence was based on the absolutely reliable data furnished to Berlin before the war by the German Intelligence Service as to the total effectives (90,000 regular and militia) in the country, and on the information furnished from the same source as to the complete evacuation of the Atlantic States by the United States military forces and their concentration at Pittsburg.

Before the movement of troops disclosed the plan of campaign, strong advance forces were thrown forward to hold the bridges on the line of the Pennsylvania Railroad across the Alleghanies. The main force moved forward on April 16th by rail and motor car, on parallel roads, until it was halted at the great stone bridge of the Pennsylvania Railroad across the Susquehanna, near Harrisburg, three arches of which had been blown up by the United States Army Engineers. The Germans ultimately crossed by temporary trestle bridging, and by a pontoon bridge, which they threw across the river. Sharp fighting occurred between the American rear guard and the advance screen of the German Army at every point up the Juniata Valley that offered strong positions for defence. On April 20th and 21st one of the most glorious feats of arms in American history was performed, when a united force of 10,000 regulars and 15,000 militia held the pass at the summit of the Alleghanies for two days, throwing back the van of the German advance, and being finally dislodged only when massed batteries of 400 guns caused them to retreat—the whole force getting away down the Conemaugh Valley with their artillery and wounded.

The American Army, consisting of 28,000 regulars and 42,000 effectives of the militia, with 30,000 partially trained and ill-equipped militia in reserve, had taken position for the defence of Pittsburg on the historic field of Braddock's defeat. The little army was strongly entrenched; but in field artillery it was sadly deficient, having only 180 field-guns, where it should have had 350. There was a similar shortage in machine-gun batteries.

Against the Americans was deployed an army which, in spite of the engagements in crossing the mountains, still numbered 145,000 men of all arms. It was completely equipped, and of the 7.7 centimeter field-gun it possessed over 850, besides several batteries of 8.2-inch field howitzers.

It is not within the scope of this narrative to attempt any description of the Battle of Braddock. Thanks to the skill with which the American position was chosen, the admirable advantage that was taken of the terrain in laying out the trenches and emplacing the batteries, and above all the matchless courage and endurance with which the American Army clung to its position—the onset of the German invasion was checked and its first rush broken and thrown back in confusion upon the main body. Only after two days of the bloodiest charge and countercharge, and when the whole mass of the German artillery had blasted the American trenches out of all semblance of earthworks, did the remnant of the American forces fall back on Pittsburg. After destroying all the bridges the army fell back to take up a strong defensive position along the west bank of the Ohio.

The seat of government was transferred to Cincinnati; and, within a few days, an emissary arrived from the German Commander-in-Chief, with the proposal that, on the condition of the payment by the Federal Government of twelve billion dollars and its abandonment of the "Monroe Doctrine," the German Army would be reëmbarked, leaving sufficient forces to hold the principal custom-houses on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast until the indemnity was paid.

A council of war was called by the President for the purpose of discussing the military situation. Present were the Cabinet, the Chief of Staff of the Army, and the President of the General Board of the Navy.

The President of the United States, whose poise, so far as any outward indications might show, seemed to have been in no wise disturbed by the stupendous calamity which had overtaken the country, said:

"The question as to whether it will be the part of wisdom to accept the conditions of the enemy, or carry on the war until he is crushed and driven back to the sea, is a naval and military one. There are two questions, indeed, to be answered: Is there any possibility of our defeating the enemy fleet and cutting off the German Army from its base; and failing that, what are the prospects of our raising an army or armies of sufficient strength to defeat the land forces of the enemy and drive him back to the sea."

"So far as the naval situation is concerned," said the President of the General Board, "the case is hopeless. It became so on the fatal day when every dreadnought possessed by the American Navy was sunk in the Caribbean. For, although, in spite of the great odds against which we fought (10 ships against 22), eight of the enemy were sunk, they still have 14 ships of the dreadnought class off our coast, besides 10 ships of the pre-dreadnought class, to say nothing of strong divisions and flotillas of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. Our own pre-dreadnought fleet is in the Pacific, and, because of the preponderance of the enemy in the Atlantic, it must remain there. We cannot increase our naval strength; for all of our navy yards and shipbuilding plants on the Atlantic seaboard are in the hands of the enemy. Whatever the duration of the war, Mr. President, the command of the sea will remain with the Germans; and they will be free to bring over the whole German Army, should they wish to do so."

He was followed by the Chief of Staff, who said:

"As to the military situation, Mr. President, the conditions are easily stated.

"The enemy is in undisputed possession of the richest, most valuable, and most densely populated section of the United States. He holds all that part of the country north of the Potomac lying between the Alleghanies and the Atlantic Coast. Being in command of the sea and possessing ample transport, he is free to land on our shores as many troops as he may desire. His army can live off the land. Having possession of the principal ports of the country, he can collect those revenues which have formed the greater half of the revenues of the Federal Government; and our Treasury will be depleted to just that extent. Therefore, if we carry on the war, the cost of the war, not merely to us but to the enemy, must be borne by the United States.

"The question of our ability to raise and equip an army sufficient in numbers, equipment, and training to enable us to drive the enemy back to the sea depends, primarily, upon the strength of the forces which he may bring over. So great is the prize for which Germany would contend that she would match corps with corps, army with army; and, supposing that no European complications arise, it is conceivable that we should find ourselves confronted by the full strength of the German Army or, say, including the first and second reserves, by 4,000,000 men."

Here the Secretary of State interposed to say :

"The President has only to send out a call for volunteers, and out of our 100,000,000 citizens, 10,000,000 would spring to arms before the sun had set."

"True, Mr. Secretary," said the Chief of Staff, "but you must remember that securing the men is the simplest part of the problem. Moreover, you must not forget that the most populous portion of the country is held by the enemy, and if he can prevent it—which he will—not a single volunteer will be available from the captured territory.

"The problem, however, is not to get the men, but the officers to lead them and the rifles, uniforms, ammunition, and above all the artillery, with which to equip them. Without these, your 10,000,000 men, Mr. Secretary, as I told you in Washington, would be merely a mob, 10,000,000 strong.

"Take the question of artillery alone. Without it, to send an army to battle with the superbly equipped German troops would be to send the brave fellows to certain slaughter. To equip an army of 4,000,000 men with field artillery alone would call for 20,000 3-inch guns; and the equipment with howitzers and machine-guns, to say nothing of rifles and ammunition of all kinds, would be on the same scale.

"Where are we going to obtain all this matériel? Practically all the arsenals, depots, gunshops, rifle factories, and powder works of the United States lie in that part of the country which is held by the enemy.

"So the question of how long it would take us to drive out the Germans is one not of patriotism but of mechanics. If I could tell you, offhand, Mr. President, how long it would take to build, equip, and man the factories necessary to manufacture the rifles, field-guns, powder, uniforms, and tentage for an army of one million, or two, three, or four million men, as the case might be, I could tell you how long it would be before we were ready to drive the enemy from our lost territory.

"At a rough guess, I should say that it would be not less than two and a half years, and if he developed his full military strength, it might be five or six."

The Chief of Staff paused, swept his glance over the Cabinet, and resumed:

"If I may be allowed to state what seems to me to be the wise course, the truly patriotic course, in this crisis——"

"Certainly," said the President.

"I would suggest that the Government pay this indemnity, and write it off on the National Ledger as the cost of being taught the great national duty of military preparedness."