The Controversy of Sergeant York: Uncovering the WWI Iconic Hero’s Battleground

Sergeant Alvin YorkAlvin C. York (1887–1964)—devout Christian, conscientious objector, and reluctant hero of World War I—is one of America’s most famous and celebrated soldiers. Known to generations through Gary Cooper’s Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 1941 film Sergeant York, York is credited with the capture of 132 German soldiers on October 8, 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne region of France—a deed for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

At war’s end, the media glorified York’s bravery but some members of the German military and a soldier from his own unit cast aspersions on his wartime heroics. Historians continue to debate whether York has received more recognition than he deserves. A fierce disagreement about the location of the battle in the Argonne forest has further complicated the soldier’s legacy.

Learn more about the controversy from noted York scholar Douglas V. Mastriano, author of the new book, Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne.

There’s been controversy about where the actual events of York’s historic actions took place. Can you explain some of the controversy?

The controversy about the location of the York site began in 1929 when the US Army wanted to stage a reenactment of the York battle in Washington DC during their annual exposition. The Army contacted York’s commanders (Captain Danforth and Lieutenant Colonel Buxton) to come up with a map of the location. Buxton and Danforth had no clue where York fought as neither was with him during the battle. In fact, Buxton by then was on the division staff and was nowhere near York’s action. Danforth was busy leading his men more than a kilometer away from where York’s fight took place. This notwithstanding, Buxton and Danforth gave it a wild guess and put an “X” on a random spot on a map, but warning the Army not to use the map, knowing that it was grossly inaccurate. Yet, the Army filed the map away and eventually it ended up in the National Archives where York enthusiasts grabbed hold of it years later thinking that they had stumbled upon the answer to the location of the battlefield. Unfortunately, the previous warning was ignored by researchers who used it as their primary source on York’s location in France. As you can imagine, the map led to nowhere and a flimsy case was built around the Danforth spot as being where the fight occurred.

History demonstrates that the York site was really never lost. In fact, accurate maps in both the German and American archives, made by eyewitnesses, had always pinpointed the location 600 meters north of the erroneous Danforth map. I spent more than 1,000 hours studying these maps, eyewitness accounts, unit reports and after-action reviews related to the York fight and found them highly accurate and verifiable. There is no debate as to where it happened from either the American or German perspective.

Click on maps to view larger.

What is it that sets your research apart?

To find where York fought required a well-rounded historical approach that integrated data from both German and American sources. Amazingly, no other researcher had used the German archives to study the York fight. Additionally, we applied military terrain analysis, looking at the ground as the soldiers would have seen it, battlefield archeology, and ballistic forensics. This was a rigorous process that allowed us to get to the bottom of the York story both historically and scientifically without relying upon subjective interpretations or mental gymnastics.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest misconception about the Sergeant York story?

The biggest misconception is that York performed his action “single-handedly.” Neither the Army nor York ever claimed that what he did was single-handed. This notion began in April 1919 when the media caught wind of the York feat and spun the tale with some hyperbole and drama. Yet, to his dying day, York never discounted the role of the other Americans on that
fateful morning.


Gems of the Backlist: MOUNTAINEER JAMBOREE by Ivan Tribe

Mountaineer JamboreeHere at the University Press of Kentucky, we’re in the middle of a program to digitize all of the books that we’ve published since our founding in 1943. It’s a lot of work going through over 1300 books, but it’s been a process full of fun surprises and astounding discoveries. Best of all, every now and then, there’s a book that we just can’t put down—a book so good we just can’t resist sharing it with you again:

Our Marketing Assistant, Blair, was pulling descriptions for books in our backlist digitization program, when the cover of Mountaineer Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia caught her eye. The picture of Blaine Smith and his gang (ca. 1940) on the cover really captures the spirit of those heady days when the Mountain State rivaled Nashville as a mecca for country singers and instrumentalists from all over America . . . but hey—what’s going on with that guy?

Yeah . . . THAT guy—the one who brought a revolver, a pipe, and a stuffed deer to the photo shoot. We really liked his spirit, and this interesting book has been on my “to-read” shelf ever since.

As Nashville’s dominance has grown, West Virginia’s leadership in country music has lessened; but Ivan Tribe’s book relives and preserves an exciting period in music history. This romp through the golden age of radio in the Mountain State also highlights the stars that made programs like the WWVA Jamboree great: Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Little Jimmy Dickens, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Red Sovine, Blaine Smith, Curly Ray Cline, Grandpa Jones, the Bailey Brothers, and many, many more:

A Kentucky Summer Gardening Guide

The weather is warm and gardens are in full bloom. If you’re looking to grow your botanical collection this season or if you just enjoy perusing community gardens on the weekends, brush up on your knowledge of the Bluegrass State’s flora and fauna with these great titles. If you’re up for testing your knowledge of Kentucky flowers, take our quiz!

Vascular Plants Of Kentucky: An Annotated Checklist

Edited by Edward T. Browne and Raymond Athey
Lists more than 3,000 plant species and varieties, with complete information on distribution in the state, and reveals the current condition of botanical knowledge on Kentucky flora. LEARN MORE

Weeds of Kentucky and Adjacent States: A Field Guide

By Patricia Dalton Haragan
Because of its central location and geographical diversity, Kentucky is home today to perhaps the richest diversity of non-native plants east of the Rocky Mountains, and weeds make up a large component of the state’s flora and vegetation. Many of Kentucky’s weeds are immigrants that came to the New World from the Old and were brought to Kentucky by travelers, explorers, and settlers. This guide to the identification of 160 weeds commonly found in crops, pastures, turf, and along roadsides provides ecological, geographical, and ethnobotanical information with each species description. LEARN MORE

Gardening for the Birds

By Thomas G. Barnes
An easy-to-use guide to transforming your yard into an oasis for urban wildlife. Which birdseed attracts the most species of birds? What type of feeder is best to use? How do you deter squirrels? Barnes answers all these questions and more. He includes a plant encyclopedia of trees and shrubs native to the Upper South that attract a variety of birds, butterflies, and mammals. LEARN MORE

Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky

By Thomas G. Barnes and S. Wilson Francis
Since Kentucky is situated at a biological crossroads in eastern North America, citizens and visitors to this beautiful state are likely to be greeted by an astonishing variety of wildflowers. This non-technical guide—featuring more than five hundred dazzling full-color photographs by award-winning photographer Thomas G. Barnes—is the state’s new, indispensable guide to the most common species in the Commonwealth. With this book, readers will learn to identify and appreciate Kentucky wildflowers and ferns by matching photographs and leaf line drawings to the more than six hundred and fifty species of flowers covered in the book. LEARN MORE

Plant Life of Kentucky: An Illustrated Guide to the Vascular Flora

By Ronald L. Jones
The first comprehensive account of the native and naturalized ferns, flowering herbs, and woody plants of Kentucky. Ronald L. Jones has compiled detailed identification keys to families, genera, and species. The plant family descriptions contain information on wildlife and human uses, important weeds, poisonous plants, and medicinal herbs, and the species accounts provide scientific and common names, flowering periods, habitat, physiographic distribution, state and federal designations, and wetland ranking. LEARN MORE

Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky

By Thomas G. Barnes, Deborah White, and Marc Evans
Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky provides an introduction to Kentucky’s signature rare plants with 220 full-color photographs by naturalist and award winning photographer Thomas G. Barnes. The book draws attention to the beauty of Kentucky’s old-growth forests, prairies, wetlands, and other habitats while focusing on the state’s endangered flora. LEARN MORE

The Olmsted Parks of Louisville: A Botanical Field Guide

By Patricia Dalton Haragan foreword by Susan M. Rademacher, Susan Wilson, Chris Bidwell, and Daniel H. Jones
The first authoritative manual on the 380 species of trees, herbaceous plants, shrubs, and vines populating the nearly 1,900 acres that comprise Cherokee, Seneca, Iroquois, Shawnee, and Chickasaw Parks. Designed for easy reference, this handy field guide includes detailed photos and maps as well as ecological and historical information about each park. LEARN MORE


Memorial Day: General of the Armies John J. Pershing Salutes His Fellow Soldiers

My Life before the World War, 1860–1917: A Memoir  by General of the Armies John J. Pershing Edited and with an Introduction by John T. Greenwood

In celebration of Memorial Day, below is an excerpt from the memoir of the revered General John J. Pershing (1860–1948) who was the only soldier besides George Washington to be promoted t the highest rank in the U.S. Army—General of the Armies. This excerpt includes the farewell message he wrote to the Army when he retired on his 64th birthday.

Having [more than three] years to go before reaching the age of sixty-four, when retirement from active service is compulsory, I was then appointed Chief of Staff of the army [on 13 May 1921]. There was some question whether the position was commensurate with the rank of General, which had been conferred on me by Congress, but I was keen to have it. We had never had and had not then, a sound, up-to-date organization for national defense, and it seemed to me that I could in no better way repay my country for the trust it had placed in me and the signal honors it had conferred upon me than to devote the last years of my active service to the establishment of such a system.
My sixty-fourth birthday, September 13, 1924, was a sad day for me. I was loath to sever the ties of nearly forty years’ service under the flag. My feelings were expressed in the following farewell message to the Army:
My Comrades:
No words seem adequate to express to you the conflicting emotions that I feel upon reaching the date which officially marks the termination of my active service. Our experiences together have been varied. We have withstood the same hardships and shared the same pleasures. We have faced discouragements and rejoiced over victories.
Today, the recollections that swiftly pass in review fill my heart with a deep sense of gratitude for the loyal service and warm appreciation of the sincere devotion to country of the patriotic officers and men with whom it has been my good fortune to be associated during the fleeting years of my army life. It is my proud privilege, in parting, to say of the men of all ranks who have borne arms under the flag that none have more earnestly wished peace, yet in defense of right none have ever been imbued with loftier purpose nor more completely consecrated to the maintenance of our ideals.
My esteem for them and my admiration for their achievements continue to increase with the passing of time. The inspiration of their exalted conception of citizenship and their fulfillment of its obligations should ever assure the preservation of our institutions. The glorious example of their fidelity and courage will be remembered by those who come after us.
It is with an abiding confidence in our national forces, and with the assurance of my lasting interest in their welfare, that I bid you all an affectionate farewell.

—General of the Armies John J. Pershing from his memoir, My Life Before the World War, 1860–1917

Morgan and Marvin Smith

Gems of the Backlist: HARLEM by Morgan Smith and Marvin Smith

Here at the University Press of Kentucky, we’re in the middle of a program to digitize all of the books that we’ve published since our founding in 1943. It’s a lot of work going through over 1300 books, but it’s been a process full of fun surprises and astounding discoveries. Best of all, every now and then, there’s a book that we just can’t put down—a book so good we just can’t resist sharing it with you again:

HarlemImagine my delight when I picked up Harlem: The Vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith. Born and raised in Nicholasville, Kentucky, twins Morgan and Marvin Smith knew that they would not become sharecroppers like their parents. They yearned for the opportunity to pursue art, and that passion led them to New York City at the very height of the Great Depression. Despite the dire economic times, the pair found work with the WPA and soon opened their own portrait studio in Harlem.

Rejecting the focus on misery and hopelessness common to photographers of the time, the Smiths documented important “firsts” for the city’s African American community (the first black policeman, the first black woman juror), the significant social movements of their day (anti-lynching protests, rent strikes, and early civil rights rallies), as well as the everyday life of Harlem, from churchgoers dressed for Easter to children playing in the street. The Smiths’ photography and art studio was next to the famed Apollo Theatre, and it became a required stop for anyone making a pilgrimage to the community.

This beautiful book features nearly 150 photographs drawn from the collection of the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Smith family archives, and they depict amazing American scenes: Maya Angelou early in her career as a Primus dancer, W.E.B. DuBois recording a speech in their sound studio, Joe Louis at his training camp, Jackie Robinson teaching his young son to hold a baseball bat, Nat King Cole dancing at his wedding, Billie Holiday singing for friends, Josephine Baker distributing candy to children, and many other prominent figures at significant and ordinary moments of their lives. Here’s a little peek into the pages of Harlem:




Horsing Around: Brush Up on Your Thoroughbred Knowledge Before Saturday’s Preakness Race with These Great Titles

In honor of the Preakness—the second stop for Derby winner California Chrome on his run for the Triple Crown—on Saturday, here are a few horse country titles for you to enjoy.

The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy
By Pellom McDaniels III

Isaac Burns Murphy (1861–1896) was one of the most dynamic jockeys of his era. Still considered one of the finest riders of all time, Murphy was the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby three times, and his 44 percent win record remains unmatched. Despite his success, Murphy was pushed out of Thoroughbred racing when African American jockeys were forced off the track, and he died in obscurity. READ MORE

Never Say Die: A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise of the Modern Thoroughbred Industry
By James C. Nicholson foreword by Pete Best

A quarter of a million people braved miserable conditions at Epsom Downs on June 2, 1954, to see the 175th running of the prestigious Derby Stakes. Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Winston Churchill were in attendance, along with thousands of Britons who were all convinced of the unfailing superiority of English bloodstock and eager to see a British colt take the victory. They were shocked when a Kentucky-born chestnut named Never Say Die galloped to a two-length triumph at odds of 33–1, winning Britain’s greatest race and beginning an important shift in the world of Thoroughbred racing. READ MORE

Bluegrass Renaissance: The History and Culture of Central Kentucky, 1792-1852
Edited by James C. Klotter and Daniel Rowland

Originally established in 1775 the town of Lexington, Kentucky grew quickly into a national cultural center amongst the rolling green hills of the Bluegrass Region. Nicknamed the “Athens of the West,” Lexington and the surrounding area became a leader in higher education, visual arts, architecture, and music, and the center of the horse breeding and racing industries. The national impact of the Bluegrass was further confirmed by prominent Kentucky figures such as Henry Clay and John C. Breckinridge. READ MORE

The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America’s Premier Sporting Event
By James C. Nicholson foreword by Chris McCarron

Each year on the first Saturday in May, the world turns its attention to the twin spires of Churchill Downs for the high-stakes excitement of the “greatest two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby. No American sporting event can claim the history, tradition, or pageantry that the Kentucky Derby holds. For more than 130 years, spectators have been fascinated by the magnificent horses that run the Louisville track. Thoroughbreds such as Secretariat and Barbaro have earned instant international fame, along with jockeys such as Isaac Murphy, Ron Turcotte, and Calvin Borel. The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America’s Premier Sporting Event calls this great tradition to post and illuminates its history and culture. READ MORE

How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders
By Maryjean Wall

The conflicts of the Civil War continued long after the conclusion of the war: jockeys and Thoroughbreds took up the fight on the racetrack. A border state with a shifting identity, Kentucky was scorned for its violence and lawlessness and struggled to keep up with competition from horse breeders and businessmen from New York and New Jersey. As part of this struggle, from 1865 to 1910, the social and physical landscape of Kentucky underwent a remarkable metamorphosis, resulting in the gentile, beautiful, and quintessentially southern Bluegrass region of today. READ MORE

The Kentucky Thoroughbred
By Kent Hollingsworth foreword by Ed Bowen

Kent Hollingsworth captures the flavor and atmosphere of the Sport of Kings in the dramatic account of the development of the Thoroughbred in Kentucky. Ranging from frontier days, when racing was conducted in open fields as horse-to-horse challenges between proud owners, to the present, when a potential Triple Crown champion may sell for millions of dollars, The Kentucky Thoroughbred considers ten outstanding stallions that dominated the shape of racing in their time as representing the many eras of Kentucky Thoroughbred breeding. No less colorful are his accounts of the owners, breeders, trainers, and jockeys associated with these Thoroughbreds, a group devoted to a sport filled with high adventure and great hazards. READ MORE

Kentucky Horse Country: Images of the Bluegrass
By James Archambeault

Renowned photographer James Archambeault captures the natural beauty of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region and the thoroughbred industry for which it is famous. Kentucky Horse Country contains 165 full-color images, from tender scenes of mares and foals grazing, to the excitement of race day at Keeneland, to gorgeous landscapes of white fences enclosing lush rolling hills. The book also includes rare photographs of some of the legendary horses that have made horse racing so exciting and popular: Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and others. The photographs in Kentucky Horse Country are accompanied by captions and narrative descriptions by Archambeault, as well as an informative introduction to the history of thoroughbreds in the Bluegrass by preeminent racing historian Edward L. Bowen. The book also includes a foreword by Kentucky native Steve Cauthen, the youngest jockey ever to win the Triple Crown. Archambeault’s latest work is a Kentucky treasure, both for fans of horses and horse racing and for lovers of the beauty of the Bluegrass. READ MORE

Heroes and Horses: Tales of the Bluegrass
By Philip Ardery

Heroes and Horses presents a series of delightful vignettes evoking a way of life almost beyond recall. Bourbon County, the touchstone for Ardery’s life, is the center that holds together the tales in the collection. Stories about Ardery’s family home, “Rocclicgan,” boyhood activities on the farm, and the servants’ kitchen gossip paint vivid portraits of a lost time in Kentucky’s history. READ MORE

Did You Know?: Hollywood’s Golden Age Beauties Edition

Pola Negri Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee Stung Lips by Michael G. Ankerich

Did you know that Hollywood temptresses Pola Negri and Mae Murray were sisters-in-law? Murray was married to David Mdivani, brother to Negri’s husband Serge Mdivani. The actresses were great friends—what a fabulously intimidating pair they made!

Learn more about the actresses in our Screen Classics books, Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale and Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips.

About the books:

Pola Negri (1897–1987) rose from an impoverished childhood in Warsaw, Poland, to become one of early Hollywood’s greatest stars. After tuberculosis ended her career as a ballerina in 1912, she turned to acting and worked under legendary directors Max Reinhardt and Ernst Lubitsch in Germany. Negri preceded Lubitsch to Hollywood, where she quickly became a fan favorite thanks to her beauty, talent, and diva personality. Known for her alluring sexuality and biting artistic edge, she starred in more than sixty films and defined the image of the cinematic femme fatale. Buy Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale from University Press of Kentucky.

Mae Murray (1885–1965), popularly known as “the girl with the bee-stung lips,” was a fiery presence in silent-era Hollywood. Renowned for her classic beauty and charismatic presence, she rocketed to stardom as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies, moving across the country to star in her first film, To Have and to Hold, in 1916. An instant hit with audiences, Murray soon became one of the most famous names in Tinseltown. Buy Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips from University Press of Kentucky.