A small road running atop the crest of the Argonne Forest, the Haute Chevauchee is a forest route gives you a good feel for the tough terrain soldiers encountered while fighting for four years amongst these woods. The poignant French military cemetery of La Forestiere and the Argonne Ossuary and Monument – built to commemorate the actions of all Allied troops who fought in this area – are to be found along this quiet back road.
Despite the heavily forested nature of the terrain, the Argonne was the scene of desperate fighting, especially during late 1914 and through most of 1915. Commemorating the 150,000 French soldiers who fought here over time and in honor of the husband of the Countess of Martinprey - Captain Jean de Martinprey - this monument was constructed dating back to 1922. Inaugurated by French President Raymond Poincare, the monument lists the names of 275 French and 18 Italian regiments who fought here as well as the Czech Brigade and the 32 American divisions who took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
In the ossuary are the remains of some 10,000 unknown soldiers. Behind the ossuary is a large mine crater blown by the Germans on December 1916 - 50 meters across and 10.5 meters deep. Trails take off into the cratered woods for closer up looks at the trenches and craters. One marker notes the site where General Gourard was wounded while leading the 10th Division - 13 July 1915. He would go on to lose his right arm at Gallipoli before returning to France to lead the Fourth Army in 1918 as they stopped the last German offensive. That army would then advance through the Champagne and alongside the west part of the Argonne in coordiination with the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which finally cleared the Germans out of the Argonne in September-November 1918.
Varennes is a pretty little village lying on the Aire River along the eastern edge of the Argonnes Forest. The town was the scene of battle in the early period of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918 and a large monument was erected by the State of Pennsylvania in commemoration of the actions of the 28th Division – the Keystone Division. The main historical note has to do with King Louis XVI, however, for it was here on 21 June 1791 when Louis and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were captured as they fled trying to join up with loyalist troops in the east of France. A postmaster in the nearby town of St Menehould had recognized Louis from a coin and gathered up local National Guardsmen to stop the royal family. Louis admitted who he was at gunpoint – he didn’t know it was not loaded – and would be returned to Paris under close arrest and eventual death. The postmaster would go on to become a deputy to the National Convention voting for the King’s death. A clock tower was built on the site of the King’s arrest in 1793. It was burnt down in World War I but has since been restored.