James G. Harbord’s first visit to the birth place of Jeanne D’Arc
occured on 1 August 1917 when he was a lieutenant colonel and General John
Pershing’s Chief of Staff. He, General Pershing, and Captain George S. Patton,
while scouting possible locations for the A.E.F. headquarters, took time for a
brief visit of homage to the birthplace of the "Maid of France". The following
excerpt is from Harbord’s memoirs:
"Late that afternoon, (1 Aug 1917), enroute to Mirecourt, where General de
Castelnau had his headquarters, we stopped for a moment in the ancient village
of Domremy, birthplace of Jeanne d’Arc, and where she lived her early years. The
Maid of Orleans was born nearly a century before American was discovered and
Columbus brought us into the World War. Her little Lorraine home is still shown
to visitors, including the tiny wall cupboard where she hung her clothes. Not
far away is the church where Jeanne worshipped and near which she heard the
voices in the bushes that sent her forth to lead the king’s armies. For centuries
she was denied canonization by the Church rule that the ashes must exist
somewhere to be canonized, and hers had been flung to the breezes after her cruel
death at Rouen. The English had been burning witches a long time before our
Puritan settlers of New England hanged a few at Salem.
The complicity for the death of the fair Maid seems evenly divided between
the Holy Mother Church and the English High Command in France at the time. The
little house is covered with bronze plates and marble images of the gallant girl.
The poor thing of a king whom she served is for us only ‘a golden line in
chronicles gray with age’, but Jeanne is a new Saint in the Calendar. Asked what
she wished for reward, as she led his troops in victory and Charles was crowned
at Rheims, she asked only that her village of Domremy might be forever free from
taxes. The king so ordered, and for over three hundred years the royal
tax-gatherers entered in their books opposite the name of Domremy the words
‘La Pucelle’ and passed her village by. The villagers of Domremy began
paying taxes again when the Republic came in and are doing so still."
LtCol Harbord’s second visit to Domremy occured in early April of 1918, when
Harbord was one of a small party accompanying the American Secretary of War
Newton Baker on a tour of the American front line. On the final day of the tour,
after a review late in the day of two American battalions at Treveray, on the
return drive to Chaumont, the Secretary’s party stopped briefly "at
Domremy-la-Pucelle to do homage to the Maid of Orleans".
In May of 1918 Harbord, now a brigadier general, was given command of the
4th Brigade of Marines of the Second Division, and commanded them in the pivotal
battle of Belleau Wood during June of 1918, where the German drive on Paris was
brought to a standstill. On July 15th, Harbord assumed command of the entire
Second Division, and immediately led the division at Soissons, where the tide
against the Germans was conclusively turned. Immediately after this battle,
General Pershing placed Harbord in command of the Service of Supplies, which
position he held until the Armistice.
BrigGen Harbord had occasion again to reflect on the life of Jeanne D’Arc when he
visited the ruins of Chinon on the Sunday before the Armistice. He recorded in
his diary: "All the earlier Plantagenets loved Chinon. They were a sturdy lot, those kings named after the flaxen broom corn which grows in Maine and Anjou. They built the dikes of the Loire which still protect its valley. The Crusader, Richard Coeur de Lion, and John, of Magna Charta fame, were sons of Henry II, the principal builder of Chinon in its prime. Later it fell into French possession and became the home of French royalties. Charles VII was wasting his time there playing with little dogs and listening to the flattery of courtiers while the British held practically everything in France norht of the Loire, when Jeanne d’Arc heard the voices in the woods of Domremy, and came riding to Chinon to offer her services to the uncrowned king.
Chinon has been a ruin for nearly two hundred years, but one still sees the
walls of the room where Jeanne was received by the Dauphin, as she always styled
Charles until she had him crowned at Rheims. He was in the midst of a group of
young men with one of them wearing the royal insignia and in the place royalty
should have occupied, when the Maid was brought in. She passed the youth in the
royal place and went straightway and knelt before Charles, whom she had never
seen. The tower where the girl slept while at Chinon is still intact; but the
chapel where she prayed is but a spot, the walls having long since disappeared.
In the rooms next to where she saw the Dauphin are window seats looking out
over the fairest stretch of plain and woodland ever seen by king, with the
silver of the sparkling Vienne flowing at the foot of the hill hundreds of feet
below. The view is superb. Chinon sits like a crown on a wooded hill with vistas
in both directions of the swift-flowing Vienne. Parts of the old Roman wall on
one side are still visible. Several towers stand intact but Chinon as a whole is
a ruin, a memory and a monument to the fleeting nature of earthly glory."
On the following day Harbord received word that the Armistice had been signed by Germany.
Sources: Harbord, Major General James G., LEAVES FROM A WAR DIARY (NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1931), and also Harbord’s THE AMERICAN ARMY IN FRANCE, (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1936).