Mapping the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Guiding Question:

How did geography and the cultural landscape affect advancements by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive?


In this activity students use ArcGIS online to explore a layered map that illustrates phases of American advancement during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. They will also look at a variety of embedded primary source photographs of the battlefield.


Historical Context

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive took place on the Western Front of World War I (WWI) in four phases beginning September 26 and ending with the Armistice on November 11, 1918. It was one of the largest military offensives in U.S. history involving 1.2 million U.S. troops. The battlefield was a large, highly-fortified area with many towns, hills, trenches, roads, and railroads.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Explain how geography and German defenses affected AEF advancements during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive;
  • Identify and explain how the AEF overcame a number of “seemingly insurmountable” obstacles during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive; and
  • Analyze images and primary documents to explain the significance of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in American history.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear among the key details and ideas.
CCSS-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.Geo.1.9-12. Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their political, cultural, and economic dynamics.
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.14.9-12. Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects on events in the past.
D2.His.15.9-12.Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.


Lesson Preparation


Activity (60 minutes)

  • Pass out the Mapping the Meuse-Argonne Offensive Student Directions and Worksheet to each student.
  • Have students go to “It’s Now or Never! The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne” and load the web map.
  • Demonstrate for students how to use the interactive map. If necessary, distribute a copy of the Getting Started with ArcGIS Online Handout.
  • Inform students that the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was one of the largest land offensives in U.S. history, and briefly tell them where the battle took place. Explain that they will interact with a web map to better understand the obstacles the AEF faced in helping end WWI.
  • Have students navigate the online map and activities using the Mapping the Meuse-Argonne Offensive Student Directions and Worksheet. Monitor their progress by helping with technical support, map analysis, and primary source analysis.


  • When students have completed the activity, review the questions and answers by using the ArcGIS Online map. Key discussion points to cover while reviewing answers should include, but not be limited to:
    • The Meuse-Argonne region was located in a hilly area heavily fortified by the Germans. If German troops broke through this area, they could easily capture Paris. However, if American and French forces could push the Germans out of this area, they could force them to surrender.
    • The battlefield was a large, highly-fortified area of towns, hills, trenches, roads, and railroads. The only way for the Allies to effectively defeat the Germans was to get out of the trenches and go on the offensive. Hence the name, Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
    • There were five important heights that needed to be taken in order to control this region: Montfaucon, Romagne Heights, Heights of the Meuse, Argonne Forest, and Barricourt Heights.
    • On day one American forces gained ground while trying to take Montfaucon, an important point that would provide Americans a good view of the other four major heights in the area.
    • The AEF continued the assault on Montfaucon during phase one and began to try to take the Argonne Forest.
    • During phase two, the AEF continued to advance on the Argonne Forest and Romagne Heights.
    • The AEF continue to gain control of Romagne Heights, Barricourt Heights, and Heights of the Meuse during phase three. This phase lasted nearly four weeks.
    • During phase four, Americans pursued German forces to the Belgium border. The battle ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month on November 11, 1918.
    • The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) was established at the end of WWI. One of the first monuments constructed was the Montfaucon American Monument. See the “Primary Focus” marker located on the ArcGIS Online map. It consists of a massive granite Doric column topped by a statue symbolic of liberty and towers more than 200-feet above the war ruins of the former village of Montfaucon commemorating the American victory during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. An engraved map of the operations and a tribute to American troops who served are on the walls of the foyer.

Assessment Materials

  • Students complete Mapping the Meuse-Argonne Offensive Student Directions and Worksheet. Teachers review and grade their answers and contributions to the classroom discussion.

Methods for Extension

  • Students may complete the following ABMC lessons about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive: “Honoring Service, Achievements, and Sacrifice: A Virtual Field Trip”; “Geography is War: The Lost Battalion”


  • Students may complete this activity in a mixed-ability group.
  • Complete the assignment as a guided activity in which the teacher follows along with the students, checking for assessment and providing support and clarification as needed.