Military Wiki
John J. Pershing
Birth name John Joseph Pershing
Nickname "Black Jack"
Born (1860-09-13)September 13, 1860
Died July 15, 1948(1948-07-15) (aged 87)
Place of birth Laclede, Missouri, U.S.
Place of death Walter Reed General Hospital
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1886–1924
Rank General of Armies insignia.svg General of the Armies
Service number O-1
Commands held 8th Brigade
American Expeditionary Force
First United States Army
Army Chief of Staff
Mexican Expedition

Indian Wars

Spanish–American War

Philippine–American War

Russo-Japanese War
Mexican Revolution

World War I

Awards Army distinguished service cross medal.png Distinguished Service Cross

Distservmedal.jpg Distinguished Service Medal

Silver Star medal.png Silver Star

Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath

Chevalier légion d'honneur 2.png Légion d'honneur

John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing (September 13, 1860 – July 15, 1948), was a general officer in the United States Army who led the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. Pershing is the only person to be promoted in his own lifetime to the highest rank ever held in the United States Army—General of the Armies (a retroactive Congressional edict passed in 1976 promoted George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority[1]). Pershing holds the first United States officer service number (O-1). He was regarded as a mentor by the generation of American generals who led the United States Army in Europe during World War II, including George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley, and George S. Patton.

Early life

John Joseph Pershing was born on a farm near Laclede, Missouri, to businessman John Fletcher Pershing and homemaker Ann Elizabeth Thompson. His paternal side ancestors, whose name originally was Persching, immigrated from Germany in the late 18th century. Pershing's mother was of English descent. He also had five siblings: brothers James (b. 1862) and Ward (b. 1874), and sisters Mary Elizabeth (b. 1864), Anna May (b. 1867) and Grace (b. 1869); three other children died in infancy.[2] When the Civil War began, his father worked as a sutler for the 18th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, but did not serve in the military.

John J. Pershing attended a school in Laclede that was reserved for precocious students who were also the children of prominent citizens. Completing high school in 1878, he became a teacher of local African American children.

In 1880, Pershing entered the North Missouri Normal School (now Truman State University) in Kirksville, Missouri. Two years later, he applied to the United States Military Academy. Pershing later admitted that serving in the military was secondary to attending West Point, and he had applied because the education offered was better than that obtainable in rural Missouri.

West Point years

Cadet Pershing in 1886

Pershing was sworn in as a West Point cadet in the fall of 1882. He was selected early for leadership and became successively First Corporal, First Sergeant, First Lieutenant, and First Captain, the highest possible cadet rank. Pershing commanded ex officio the West Point Honor Guard that escorted the funeral of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Pershing graduated from West Point in the summer of 1886 and was commended by the Superintendent of West Point, General Wesley Merritt, for high leadership skills and possessing "superb ability."

Pershing briefly considered petitioning the Army to let him study law and delay his commission. He applied for a furlough from West Point, but soon withdrew the request in favor of active Army duty. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army in 1886, at age 26, graduating 30th in a class of 77.

Early career

Pershing reported for active duty on September 30, 1886, and was assigned to Troop L of the 6th U.S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Bayard, in the New Mexico Territory. While serving in the 6th Cavalry, Pershing participated in several Indian campaigns and was cited for bravery for actions against the Apache. During his time at Fort Stanton, Pershing and close friends Lt. Julius Penn and Lt. Richard B. Paddock were nicknamed "The Three Green P's," spending their leisure time hunting and attending Hispanic dances. Pershing's sister Grace married Paddock in 1890.[3]

Between 1887 and 1890, Pershing served with the 6th Cavalry at various postings in California, Arizona, and North Dakota. He also became an expert marksman and, in 1891, was rated second in pistol and fifth in rifle out of all soldiers in the U.S. Army.

On December 9, 1890, Pershing and the 6th Cavalry arrived at Sioux City, Iowa, where Pershing played a role in suppressing the last uprisings of the Lakota (Sioux) Indians. Though he and his unit did not participate in the Wounded Knee Massacre, they did fight three days after it on January 1, 1891, when Sioux warriors attacked the 6th Cavalry's supply wagons. When the Sioux began firing at the wagons, Pershing and his troops heard the shots and rode over six miles to where the attack was. The cavalry managed to make Chief War Eagle and his men retreat from the area after firing back at them. This would be the only occasion where Pershing would see action in the Ghost Dance campaign.[4]

A year later, he was assigned as an instructor of military tactics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Pershing held this post until 1895. While in Nebraska, Pershing attended law school and graduated in 1893. Additionally, he formed a drill company, Company A, in 1891 that won the Omaha Cup. In 1893, Company A became a fraternal organization and changed its name to the Varsity Rifles. The group changed its name for the last time in 1894, renaming itself the Pershing Rifles in honor of its founder.

On October 20, 1892,[5] Pershing was promoted to first lieutenant and took command of a troop of the 10th Cavalry Regiment (one of the original Buffalo Soldier regiments), composed of African-American soldiers under white officers. From Fort Assinniboine in north central Montana, he commanded an expedition to the south and southwest that rounded up and deported a large number of Cree Indians to Canada.

West Point instructor

Captain John J. Pershing, c.1902

In 1897, Pershing was appointed to the West Point tactical staff as an instructor, where he was assigned to Cadet Company A. Because of his strictness and rigidity, Pershing was unpopular with the cadets, who took to calling him "N***** Jack" because of his service with the 10th Cavalry Regiment, a now famous unit formed as a segregated African-American unit and one of the original "Buffalo Soldier" regiments.[6][7][8] During the course of his tour at the Academy, this epithet softened to "Black Jack", although, according to Vandiver, "the intent remained hostile."[6] Still, this nickname would stick with Pershing for the rest of his life, and was known to the public as early as 1917.[9]

Spanish– and Philippine–American wars

At the start of the Spanish–American War, First Lieutenant Pershing was the regimental quartermaster for 10th Cavalry Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers) and fought with the unit on Kettle and San Juan Hill in Cuba and was cited for gallantry. (In 1919, he was awarded the Silver Citation Star for these actions, and in 1932 the award was upgraded to the Silver Star decoration.) Pershing also served with the 10th Cavalry during the siege and surrender of Santiago de Cuba.

Pershing was commissioned as a major of United States Volunteers on August 26, 1898, and assigned as an ordnance officer. He was honorably discharged from the volunteers and reverted to his permanent rank of first lieutenant on May 12, 1899. Soon after, he was again commissioned as a major of Volunteers on June 6, 1899, as an assistant adjutant general.

In March 1899, after suffering from malaria, Pershing was put in charge of the Office of Customs and Insular Affairs which oversaw occupation forces in territories gained in the Spanish–American War, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.

When the Philippine–American War began, Pershing was either ordered or requested transfer to Manila.[10] He reported on August 17, 1899, as a major of Volunteers and was assigned to the Department of Mindanao and Jolo and commanded efforts to suppress the Filipino Insurrection. On November 27, 1900, Pershing was appointed Adjutant General of his department and served in this posting until March 1, 1901. He was cited for bravery for actions on the Cagayan River while attempting to destroy a Philippine stronghold at Macajambo.

On June 30, 1901, Pershing was honorably discharged from the Volunteers and he reverted to the rank of captain in the Regular Army to which he had been promoted on February 2, 1901. He served with the 1st Cavalry Regiment in the Philippines. He later was assigned to the 15th Cavalry Regiment, serving as an intelligence officer and participating in actions against the Moros. He was cited for bravery at Lake Lanao. In June 1901, he served as Commander of Camp Vicars in Lanao, Philippines, after the previous camp commander had been promoted to brigadier general.

Rise to general

Pershing with his wife Helen and three of their children

In June 1903, Pershing was ordered to return to the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt, taken by Pershing's ability, petitioned the Army General Staff to promote Pershing to colonel. At the time, Army officer promotions were based primarily on seniority rather than merit,[11] and although there was widespread acknowledgment that Pershing should serve as a colonel, the Army General Staff declined to change their seniority-based promotion tradition just to accommodate Pershing. They would not consider a promotion to lieutenant colonel or even major. This angered Roosevelt, but since the President could only name and promote army officers in the General ranks, his options for recognizing Pershing through promotion were limited.

In 1904, Pershing was assigned as the Assistant Chief of Staff of the Southwest Army Division stationed at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In October 1904, he attended the Army War College, and then was ordered to Washington, D.C. for "general duties unassigned".

Since Theodore Roosevelt could not yet promote Pershing, he petitioned the United States Congress to authorize a diplomatic posting, and Pershing was stationed as military attaché in Tokyo in 1905. Also in 1905, Pershing married Helen Frances Warren, the daughter of powerful U.S. Senator Francis E. Warren, a Wyoming Republican and chairman of the U.S. Military Appropriations Committee. This union helped his military career.[12]

After serving as an observer in the Russo-Japanese War, Pershing returned to the United States in the fall of 1905. President Roosevelt employed his presidential prerogative and nominated Pershing as a brigadier general, a move which Congress approved. In skipping three ranks and more than 835 officers senior to him, the promotion gave rise to accusations that Pershing's appointment was the result of political connections and not military abilities.[13] However, many other officers supported Pershing and believed that, based on his demonstrated ability to command combat forces, the promotion to general, while unusual, was not unprecedented or out of line.[citation needed]

In 1908, Pershing briefly served as a U.S. military observer in the Balkans, an assignment which was based out of Paris. Upon returning to the United States at the end of 1909, Pershing was assigned once again to the Philippines, an assignment which he served until 1912. While in the Philippines, he served as Commander of Fort McKinley, near Manila, and also was the governor of the Moro Province. The last of Pershing's four children was born in the Philippines, and during this time he became an Episcopalian.

Pancho Villa and Mexico

Generals Obregón, Villa, and Pershing, August 27, 1914. Exactly a year later, Pershing's wife and three of his children died in a fire, and Villa sent him a condolence message. Six months later in 1916, Pershing was chasing Villa in Mexico.

A postcard of Pershing's camp at Fort Bliss.

On December 20, 1913, Pershing received orders to take command of the 8th Brigade at the Presidio in San Francisco. With tensions running high on the border between the United States and Mexico, The brigade was deployed to Fort Bliss, Texas on April 24, 1914, arriving there on the 27th.[14]

After a year at Fort Bliss, Pershing decided to take his family there. The arrangements were almost complete, when on the morning of August 27, 1915, he received a telegram telling him of a fire in the Presidio of San Francisco, where a lacquered floor blaze had rapidly spread, resulting in the smoke inhalation deaths of his wife, Helen, and three young daughters. Only his six-year-old son Warren survived.[15][16] Many who knew Pershing said he never recovered from their deaths. After the funerals at Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Pershing returned to Fort Bliss with his son, Warren, and his sister May, and resumed his duties as commanding officer.[17][18]

On March 15, 1916,[19][20][21] Pershing led an expedition into Mexico to capture Pancho Villa. This expedition was ill-equipped and hampered by a lack of supplies due to the breakdown of the Quartermaster Corps. Although there had been talk of war on the border for years, no steps had been taken to provide for the handling of supplies for an expedition. Despite this and other hindrances, such as the lack of aid from the former Mexican government, and their refusal to allow American troops to transport troops and supplies over their railroads, Pershing organized and commanded the Mexican Punitive Expedition, a combined armed force of 10,000 men that penetrated 350 miles (560 km) into Mexico. They routed Villa's revolutionaries and severely wounded Villa himself, but failed to capture him.[22][23]

World War I

Major General Pershing of the National Army

At the start of the United States' involvement in World War I President Woodrow Wilson considered mobilizing an army to join the fight. Frederick Funston, Pershing's superior in Mexico, was being considered for the top billet as the Commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) when he died suddenly from a heart attack on February 19, 1917. Following America's entrance into the war, Wilson, after a short interview, named Pershing to command, a post which he retained until 1918. Pershing, who was a major general, was promoted to full general (the first since Philip Sheridan in 1888) in the National Army, and was made responsible for the organization, training, and supply of a combined professional and draft Army and National Guard force that eventually grew from 27,000 inexperienced men to two Armies (a third was forming as the war ended) totaling over two million soldiers.

Pershing exercised significant control over his command, with a full delegation of authority from Wilson and Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. Baker, cognizant of the endless problems of domestic and allied political involvement in military decision making in wartime, gave Pershing unmatched authority to run his command as he saw fit. In turn, Pershing exercised his prerogative carefully, not engaging in issues that might distract or diminish his command. While earlier a champion of the African-American soldier, he did not champion their full participation on the battlefield, understanding widespread racial attitudes among white Americans generally, plus Wilson's reactionary views on race and the political debts he owed to southern Democratic lawmakers.

George Marshall served as one of Pershing's top assistants during and after the war. Pershing's initial chief of staff was businessman James Harbord, who later took a combat command but worked as Pershing's closest assistant for many years and remained extremely loyal to Pershing.

Pershing saluting the Marquis de Lafayette's grave in Paris

After departing from Fort Jay at Governors Island in New York Harbor under top secrecy in May 1917, Pershing arrived in France in June 1917. In a show of American presence, part of the 16th Infantry Regiment marched through Paris shortly after his arrival. Pausing at the tomb of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, he was reputed to have uttered the famous line "Lafayette, we are here," a line spoken, in fact, by his aide, Colonel Charles E. Stanton.[24] American forces were deployed in France in the autumn of 1917.

Battle of Hamel

For the first time in American history, Pershing allowed American soldiers to be under the command of a foreign power. In late June, General Rawlinson, commanding the British Fourth Army, suggested to Australian Lieutenant General John Monash that American involvement in a set-piece attack alongside the experienced Australians in the upcoming Battle of Hamel would both give the American troops experience and also strengthen the Australian battalions by an additional company each. On June 29, General Bell, commanding the American 33rd Division, selected two companies each from the 131st and 132nd Infantry regiments of the 66th brigade. However, Monash had been promised ten companies of American troops and on June 30 the remaining companies of the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 131st regiment were sent. Each American platoon was attached to an Australian company. However, there was difficulty in integrating the American platoons (which numbered 60 men) amongst the Australian companies of 100 men. This difficulty was overcome by reducing the size of each American platoon by one-fifth and sending these troops, which numbered 50 officers and men, back to battalion reinforcement camps.

African-American units

Pershing bowed to the racial policies of President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, and southern Democrats who promoted the "separate but equal" doctrine. African-American "Buffalo Soldiers" units were not allowed to participate with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during World War I, but experienced non-commissioned officers were provided to other segregated black units for combat service—such as the 317th Engineer Battalion. The American Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd and the 93rd Infantry Divisions were the first Americans to fight in France in 1918, albeit detached from the AEF and under French command. Most regiments of the 92nd and all of the 93rd would continue to fight under French command for the duration of the war.[25]

World War I: 1918 and full American participation

Pershing at General Headquarters in Chaumont, France, October 1918.

In early 1918, entire divisions were beginning to serve on the front lines alongside French troops. Pershing insisted that the AEF fight as units under American command rather than being split up by battalions to augment British and French regiments and brigades (although the U.S. 27th and 30th Divisions, loaned during the desperate days of spring 1918, fought with the British/Australian/Canadian Fourth Army until the end of the war, taking part in the breach of the Hindenburg Line in October).

In October 1918, Pershing saw the need for a dedicated Military Police Corps and the first US Army MP School was established at Autun, France. For this, he is considered the "founding father" of the MPs.[26]

Because of the effects of trench warfare on soldiers' feet, in January 1918, Pershing oversaw the creation of an improved combat boot, the "1918 Trench Boot," which became known as the "Pershing Boot" upon its introduction.[27]

American forces first saw serious action during the summer of 1918, contributing eight large divisions, alongside 24 French ones, at the Second Battle of the Marne. Along with the British Fourth Army's victory at Amiens, the Franco-American victory at the Second Battle of the Marne marked the turning point of the war on the Western Front.

In August 1918 the U.S. First Army had been formed, first under Pershing's direct command and then by Hunter Liggett, when the U.S. Second Army under Robert Bullard was created. After a quick victory at Saint-Mihiel, east of Verdun, some of the more bullish AEF commanders had hoped to push on eastwards to Metz, but this did not fit in with the plans of the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Foch, for three simultaneous offensives into the "bulge" of the Western Front (the other two being the Fourth Army's breach of the Hindenburg Line and an Anglo-Belgian offensive, led by Plumer's Second Army, in Flanders). Instead, the AEF was required to redeploy and, aided by French tanks, launched a major offensive northwards in very difficult terrain at Meuse-Argonne. Initially enjoying numerical odds of eight to one, this offensive eventually engaged 35 or 40 of the 190 or so German divisions on the Western Front, although to put this in perspective, around half the German divisions were engaged on the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) sector at the time. The offensive was, however, marked by Pershing's failure: his reliance on massed infantry attacks with little artillery support led to high casualty rates in the capturing of three key points. This was despite the AEF facing only second-line German troops after Erich Ludendorff's decision to withdraw to the Hindenburg line on October 3 - and in notable contrast to the simultaneous British breakthrough of the Hindenburg Line in the north. Pershing was subsequently forced to reorganize the AEF with the creation of the Second Army, and to step down as the commander of the First Army.[28]

When he arrived in Europe, Pershing had openly scorned the slow trench warfare of the previous three years on the Western Front, believing that American soldiers' skill with the rifle would enable them to avoid costly and senseless fighting over a small area of no man's land. This was regarded as unrealistic by British and French generals, and (privately) by a number of American generals such as Army Chief of Staff Tasker H. Bliss and his own Hunter Liggett. Even German generals were negative, Ludendorff dismissing Pershing's strategic efforts in the Meuse-Argonne offensive by recalling how "the attacks of the youthful American troops broke down with the heaviest losses".[29] The AEF had done well in the relatively open warfare of the Second Battle of the Marne, but the eventual U.S. casualty rates against German defensive positions in the Argonne (120,000 U.S. casualties in six weeks, against 35 or 40 German divisions) were not noticeably better than those of the Franco-British offensive on the Somme two years earlier (600,000 casualties in four and a half months, versus 50 or so German divisions). More ground was gained, but then the German Army was in worse shape than in previous years.

A speech given from Allied Headquarters, Chaumont, France, 1918

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Some writers[30] have speculated that Pershing's frustration at the slow progress through the Argonne was the cause of two incidents which then ensued. First, he ordered the U.S. First Army to take "the honor" of recapturing Sedan, site of the French defeat in 1870; the ensuing confusion (an order was issued that "boundaries were not to be considered binding") exposed U.S. troops to danger not only from the French on their left, but even from one another, as the 1st Division tacked westward by night across the path of the 42nd (accounts differ as to whether Douglas MacArthur was really mistaken for a German officer and arrested). Liggett, who had been away from headquarters the previous day, had to sort out the mess and implement the instructions from Supreme Commander Marshal Foch, allowing the French to recapture the city; he later recorded that this was the only time during the war in which he lost his temper.

Second, Pershing sent an unsolicited letter to the Allied Supreme War Council, demanding that the Germans not be given an armistice and that instead, the Allies should push on and obtain an unconditional surrender.[31] Although in later years, many, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, felt that Pershing had been correct, at the time, this was a breach of political authority. Pershing narrowly escaped a serious reprimand from Wilson's aide, Colonel House, and later apologized.[citation needed]

Gen. Pershing decorating soldiers in Trier c. 1919

At the time of the Armistice, another U.S.-French offensive was due to start on November 14, thrusting towards Metz and into Lorraine, to take place simultaneously with further BEF advances through Belgium.

In his memoirs, Pershing claimed that the U.S. breakout from the Argonne at the start of November was the decisive event leading to the German acceptance of an armistice, because it made untenable the Antwerp-Meuse line. This is probably an exaggeration; the outbreak of civil unrest and naval mutiny in Germany, the collapse of Bulgaria, Turkey, and particularly Austria-Hungary following Allied victories in Salonika, Syria, and Italy, and the Allied victories on the Western Front were among a series of events in the autumn of 1918 which made it clear that Allied victory was inevitable, and diplomatic inquiries about an armistice had been going on throughout October. President Wilson was keen to tie matters up before the mid-term elections,[citation needed] and the other Allies did not have the strength to defeat Germany without U.S. help, so had little choice but to follow Wilson's lead.

American successes were largely credited to Pershing, and he became the most celebrated American leader of the war. Critics, however, claimed that Pershing commanded from far behind the lines and was critical of commanders who personally led troops into battle.[citation needed] Douglas MacArthur saw Pershing as a desk soldier, and the relationship between the two men deteriorated by the end of the war. Similar criticism of senior commanders by the younger generation of officers (the future generals of World War II) was made in the British and other armies, but in fairness to Pershing, although it was not uncommon for brigade commanders to serve near the front and even be killed, the state of communications in World War I made it more practical for senior generals to command from the rear. He controversially ordered his troops to continue fighting after the armistice was signed. This resulted in 3,500 U.S. casualties on the last day of the war, an act which was regarded as murder by several officers under his command.[32]

1918 also saw a personal health struggle for Pershing as he was sickened during the 1918 flu pandemic, but unlike many who were not so fortunate, Pershing survived.[33]

Later career

Gen. Pershing as Army Chief of Staff

In 1919, in recognition of his distinguished service during World War I, the U.S. Congress authorized the President to promote Pershing to General of the Armies of the United States, the highest rank possible for any member of the United States armed forces, which was created especially for him and one that only he held at the time (General George Washington was posthumously promoted to this rank by President Gerald Ford in 1976). Pershing was authorized to create his insignia for the new rank and chose to wear four gold stars for the rest of his career, which separated him from the four (temporary) silver stars worn by Army Chiefs of Staff, and even the five star General of the Army insignia worn by Marshall, MacArthur, Bradley, Eisenhower, and H. 'Hap' Arnold in World War II (Pershing outranked them all).

There was a movement to make Pershing President of the United States in 1920, but he refused to actively campaign. In a newspaper article, he said that he "wouldn't decline to serve" if the people wanted him, and this made front-page headlines. Though Pershing was a Republican, many of his party's leaders considered him too closely tied to the policies of the Democratic Party's President Wilson. The Republican nomination went to Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio, who won the 1920 presidential election.

Bronze relief of Pershing, Kansas City, Missouri, Liberty Memorial

In 1921, Pershing became Chief of Staff of the United States Army, serving for three years. He created the Pershing Map, a proposed national network of military and civilian highways. The Interstate Highway System instituted in 1956 bears considerable resemblance to the Pershing map. On his 64th birthday, September 13, 1924, Pershing retired from active military service. (Army regulations from the late 1860s to the early 1940s required officers to retire on their 64th birthday.)

On November 1, 1921, Pershing was in Kansas City to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Liberty Memorial that was being constructed there. Also present that day were Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium, Admiral David Beatty of Great Britain, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, and General Armando Diaz of Italy. One of the main speakers was Vice President Calvin Coolidge. In 1935, bas-reliefs of Pershing, Jacques, Foch and Diaz by sculptor Walker Hancock were added to the memorial. Pershing also laid the cornerstone of the World War Memorial in Indianapolis on July 4, 1927.[34]

On October 2, 1922, amidst several hundred officers, many of them combat veterans of World War I, Pershing formally established the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) as an organization at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. ROA is a 75,000-member, professional association of officers, former officers, and spouses of all the uniformed services of the United States, primarily the Reserve and United States National Guard. It is a congressionally chartered Association that advises the Congress and the President on issues of national security on behalf of all members of the Reserve Component.

In 1924 Pershing became a member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. He was also an honorary member of the Society of the Cincinnati and a Veteran Companion of the Military Order of Foreign Wars.

1940 newsreel

Pershing served on a committee of the Sons of the American Revolution to establish and recognize Constitution Day in the United States.[35]

During the 1930s, Pershing maintained a private life but was made famous by his memoirs, My Experiences in the World War, which were awarded the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for history. He was also an active Civitan during this time.[36]

In 1940, before and after the Fall of France, Pershing was an outspoken advocate of aid for the United Kingdom during World War II. In August 1940, he publicly supported the "Destroyers for Bases Agreement", whereby the United States sold fifty warships from World War I to the UK in exchange for lengthy leases of land on British possessions for the establishment for military bases. In 1944, with Congress' re-creation of the five star rank of General of the Armies, Pershing became the highest-ranking officer of the United States military.[37]

In July 1944, Pershing was visited by Free French leader General Charles de Gaulle. When Pershing, by then semi-senile, asked after the health of his old friend, Marshal Philippe Pétain (who was heading the pro-German Vichy regime), de Gaulle replied tactfully that, when he last saw him, the Marshal was well.[38]


Pershing's tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery

On July 15, 1948, Pershing died of coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure at the Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C., which was his home after 1944. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery,[39] near the grave sites of the soldiers he commanded in Europe, after a state funeral.


It was during his initial assignment in the American West that his mother died.[40] On March 16, 1906, Pershing's father died.[40]

Colonel Francis Warren Pershing (1909–1980), John J. Pershing's son, served in the Second World War as an advisor to the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall. After the War he continued with his financial career and founded a stock brokerage firm (Pershing & Company). He was father to two sons, Richard W. Pershing (1942–1968) and John Warren Pershing III (1941–1999). Richard Pershing served as a 2nd Lieutenant (O1) in the 502nd Infantry and was killed in action on February 17, 1968, in Vietnam.[41] John Pershing III served as a special assistant to former Army Chief of Staff General Gordon R. Sullivan, also attaining the rank of Colonel (O6). He helped shape Army and Army ROTC programs nationwide. Col. Pershing died of cardiovascular disease in 1999.[42]

Summary of service

Dates of rank

No Insignia in 1886 Second Lieutenant, United States Army: July 1, 1886
First Lieutenant, United States Army: October 20, 1892
US-O4 insignia.svg
Major of Volunteers, U.S. Army: August 18, 1898 – June 30, 1901
US-O3 insignia.svg
Captain, U.S. Army (reverted to permanent rank July 1, 1901): February 2, 1901
US-O7 insignia.svg
Brigadier General, United States Army: September 20, 1906
US-O8 insignia.svg
Major General, United States Army: September 25, 1916
US-O10 insignia.svg
General, National Army, Army of the United States: October 6, 1917
General of Armies insignia.svg
General of the Armies of the United States, Army of the United States: September 3, 1919

As there was no prescribed insignia for this rank, General Pershing chose the four stars of a full general, except in gold. The rank has been argued to be equivalent to "six-star" general, as the insignia of the next highest rank "General of the Army" is designated by five silver stars. According to the biography Until the Last Trumpet Sounds by Gene Smith, Pershing never wore the rank on his uniform.

Assignment history

General Pershing lands in France in 1917

  • 1882: Cadet, United States Military Academy
  • 1886: Troop L, Sixth Cavalry
  • 1891: Professor of Tactics, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • 1895: 1st Lieutenant, 10th Cavalry Regiment
  • 1897: Instructor, United States Military Academy, West Point
  • 1898: Major of Volunteer Forces, Cuban Campaign, Spanish–American War
  • 1899: Officer-in-Charge, Office of Customs and Insular Affairs
  • 1900: Adjutant General, Department of Mindanao and Jolo, Philippines
  • 1901: Battalion Officer, 1st Cavalry and Intelligence Officer, 15th Cavalry (Philippines)
  • 1902: Officer-in-Charge, Camp Vicars, Philippines
  • 1904: Assistant Chief of Staff, Southwest Army Division, Oklahoma
  • 1905: Military attaché, U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, Japan
  • 1908: Military Advisor to American Embassy, France
  • 1909: Commander of Fort McKinley, Manila, and governor of Moro Province
  • 1914: Brigade Commander, 8th Army Brigade
  • 1916: Commanding General, Mexican Punitive Expedition
  • 1917: Commanding General for the formation of the National Army
  • 1917: Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces, Europe
  • 1921: Chief of Staff of the United States Army
  • 1924: Retired from active military service
  • 1925: Chief Commissioner assigned by the United States in the arbitration case for the provinces of Tacna and Arica between Peru and Chile.

Honors and awards

Pershing's ribbons as worn during World War I

United States decorations and medals

General Pershing's ribbons as they would appear today

In 1932, seven years after Pershing's retirement from active service, his silver citation star was upgraded to the Silver Star decoration and he became eligible for the Purple Heart. In 1941, he was retroactively awarded the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal for service in Germany following the close of World War I. As the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal has a profile of Pershing on its obverse this made Pershing the only soldier in the history of the U.S. Army eligible to wear a service medal with his own likeness on it. (Navy admirals George Dewey, William T. Sampson and Richard E. Byrd were also entitled to wear medals with their own image on them.)

International awards

Civilian awards

Signature of John Pershing as General of the Armies

  • Congressional Gold Medal
  • Thanks of the United States Congress
  • Special Medal of the Committee of the city of Buenos Aires

Other honors and miscellany

Statue of Pershing in Pershing Park, Washington, D.C.

  • Since 1930, the Pershing Park Memorial Association (PPMA), headquartered in Pershing's hometown of Laclede, Missouri, has been dedicated to preserving the memory of General Pershing's military history.[43]
  • On November 17, 1961, the United States Postal Service released an 8¢ Liberty Issue postage stamp honoring Pershing.
  • Pershing was immensely popular after World War I, and as a result a large number of organization, equipment, streets and buildings are named after him throughout the United States and abroad:
    • Organizations:
      • The National Society of Pershing Rifles, founded by Pershing, continues on today as America's premier undergraduate military fraternal organization. He also founded the Military Order of the World Wars.
      • The 2nd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division (United States) is nicknamed "Black Jack."
      • B Troop (Black Jack Troop) 5/15 Cavalry Regiment at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the home of Armor and Cavalry where brand new 19D Cavalry Scouts are trained. A parade field in front of the B Troop barracks is called "Pershing Field" in honor of the General, and a placard of his works lies in its corner.
    • Military ordnance and other equipment:
      • The M26 Pershing tank was an American armored vehicle introduced in 1945.
      • The Pershing ballistic missiles
      • In 1938, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad named a diesel engined streamliner train the General Pershing Zephyr.
    • Schools:
      • Elementary Schools: Berwyn, Illinois; Joliet, Illinois; West Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Muskogee, Oklahoma; Lincoln, Nebraska; Killeen, Texas (Fort Hood); Orangevale, California; Dallas, Texas
      • Middle Schools: Houston, Texas; Springfield, Missouri; Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York City
      • High Schools: Detroit, Michigan
    • College buildings:
      • Pershing Arena, Pershing Society, Pershing Hall, and the Pershing Scholarships of Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri (Pershing's former college)
      • Pershing Barracks at the United States Military Academy. Completed in 1895 as the Academic Building for West Point, it was renamed the West Academic Building in 1913. It was later converted to a barracks and renamed Pershing Barracks.
      • John J. Pershing Military and Naval Science Building of University of Nebraska–Lincoln
      • Pershing Hall[44] of Montana State University - Northern in Havre, Montana
      • Pershing Hall, part of the University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
    • Military buildings:
    • Buildings:
      • The Pershing Center, a multi-purpose arena in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska
      • The Pershing Building in Kansas City, Missouri, located on Pershing Road
      • The John J. Pershing VA Medical Center, in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.[47]
      • The Pershing Hall in Paris, France.
    • Streets
      • Pershing or General Pershing Avenue: St. Louis, Missouri (previously known as Berlin Avenue); Fort Riley, Kansas, Phoenix, Arizona, Cleveland, Ohio, San Diego, California, Stockton, California, Orlando, Florida, Orangevale, California, Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Fort Worth, Texas, Milltown, New Jersey
        • Avenida General Pershing in the San Isidro District of Lima, Peru
      • Pershing or General Pershing Boulevard: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (on the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds, formerly part of Main Street); Cheyenne, Wyoming (a main road to Warren AFB); Kenosha, Wisconsin
        • Boulevard Pershing on the western edge of Paris, France runs past the Palais des Congrès near the Porte Maillot. Many of the major streets in the area (the XVIe arrondissement) are named after notable French military figures, including Avenue Foch, named after Marshall Foch, and at either end of Boulevard Pershing, streets named after the Marshals of France Gouvion Saint-Cyr and Koenig. It reflects the immense popularity of the American troops who first arrived in the French capital in 1916.
        • Boulevard John-Joseph Pershing in Limpertsberg, Luxembourg
      • Pershing or General Pershing Drive: El Paso, Texas; North Omaha, Nebraska; Florence, Nebraska; Arlington, Virginia; Arlington National Cemetery; El Segundo/Playa del Rey, California; Decatur, Illinois
      • Pershing or General Pershing Road: Chicago (formerly 39th Street); Kansas City, Missouri (the northern border to the Liberty Memorial, the Official National World War I Memorial); Fort Bliss, Texas
      • Pershing or General Pershing Street: Houston, Texas; New Orleans (in the Uptown section); Hammond, Louisiana; Portland,Oregon; Cranston, Rhode Island
    • Squares and plazas:
      • Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles
      • Pershing Square in New York City on 42nd Street at Park Avenue in front of Grand Central Terminal
      • Plaza Pershing in Zamboanga City, Philippines
    • Parks:
      • Pershing Field Memorial Park in Jersey City, New Jersey (opened in 1922)
      • Pershing Park in Washington, D.C. features the Pershing Memorial[48]
      • Pershing State Park, in north-central Missouri between Laclede and Meadville
      • Pershing Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Racine, Wisconsin and Arkansas City, Kansas
      • Pershing Field in Fort Carson, Colorado
      • Stade Pershing, a baseball park in Paris, France
    • Other:
      • Pershing County, Nevada
      • A riderless horse was named in honor of Pershing, "Black Jack". This horse was used for many years in funerals for heads of state, including President John F. Kennedy.
      • The Pershing Division of the Clarence Cannon Conference, a high school athletic conference in Northeastern Missouri in the area where the general lived during his youth. The other division in the conference honors Harry S. Truman.
      • The John J. Pershing Grille is a casual dining room at the University Club of Washington, DC. Pershing, a member of the club, dedicated its current clubhouse, located at 1135 Sixteenth Street, in 1921.
      • The Great Pershing Balloon Derby at Brookfield, Missouri is named in his honor and is held over the Labor Day weekend each year.
      • General Pershing, a British racehorse that took part in the 1995 Grand National Steeplechase.
    • Miscellany:
      • Pershing was a Freemason, a member of Lincoln Lodge No. 19, Lincoln, Nebraska.[49]



  1. "Library of Congress link: Washington held the title of "General and Commander in Chief" of the Continental Army". 
  2. Ruth and Rose, twins who died in 1872, and Frederick, who died in 1876. Vandiver, v.1, p.6
  3. Vandiver, v.1, p.67.
  4. McNeese, Tim (2004). John J. Pershing. Infobase Publishing. p. 39. ISBN 0-7910-7404-8. 
  5. US Army Center for Military History. "John Josesph Pershing". US Army Chiefs of Staff. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Vandiver v.1, p.171
  7. "Buffalo Soldier Cavalry Commander" on the National Park Service website
  8. Bak, Richard, Editor. "The Rough Riders" by Theodore Roosevelt. Page 172. Taylor Publishing, 1997.
  9. "Pershing Won Fame in Moros Campaign ... 'Black Jack' Was Youngest West Pointer Ever Made General in Peacetime" The New York Times (May 19, 1917).

    Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, the famous "Black jack" of the regulars, will go down in history as the first American army officer to command troops on the battlefields of Europe. He (Pershing) is one of the officers picked by Colonel Roosevelt, when the Colonel was President, for rapid promotion to the highest of army commands. ...

  10. Rojas, Julietta. "John J. Pershing: A Teacher’s Guide". Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  11. Boot, p.191
  12. "F. E. Warren History". Factsheets. U.S. Air Force - Warren AFB. Retrieved January 18, 2010. 
  13. Google Books Pershing's political promotion
  14. Vandiver, Volume I, p.582
  15. Pershing history and house photos
  16. Vandiver, Volume I, pp.593-94
  17. Boot, p.192
  18. Vandiver, Volume II, pp.599-602
  21. "Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca: Organizing the Punitive Expedition". 1993. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  22. Boot, passim pp.192-204
  23. Vandiver, Volume II, passim pp.604-668
  24. "Mattox: Natural Allies". 
  25. Buckley, Gail Lumet (2001). "American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm". Random House. ISBN 0-375-50279-3. 
  26. Wright, Robert K. Jr. (ed.) Army Lineage Series:Military Police
  27. "The American Field Shoe". 
  28. David, Trask. The AEF and Coalition Warmaking, 1917-1918. University Press of Kansas, 1993, p. 141.
  29. David, Trask. The AEF and Coalition Warmaking, 1917-1918. University Press of Kansas, 1993, p. 142.
  30. e.g., David Trask (1993)
  32. "World War I: Wasted Lives on Armistice Day". 
  33. Collier, Richard. The Plague of the Spanish Lady: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 (Atheneum, 1974)
  34. Price, Nelson (2004). Indianapolis Then & Now. San Diego, California: Thunder Bay Press. pp. 102–3. ISBN 1-59223-208-6. 
  35. Williams, Winston C., ed (1991). Centennial History of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution 1889-1989. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company. p. 9. Retrieved January 15, 2011. 
  36. Leonhart, James Chancellor (1962). The Fabulous Octogenarian. Baltimore Maryland: Redwood House, Inc.. p. 277. 
  37. "In [1799] Congress created for George Washington the rank of General of the Armies ... General [Ulysses S.] Grant received the title of General of the Army in 1866 .... Carefully Congress wrote a bill (HR 7594) to revive the rank of General of the Armies for General Pershing alone to hold during his lifetime. The rank would cease to exist upon Pershing's death." (Vandiver, Volume II, pp.1038-1039) Later, when asked if this made Pershing a six star General, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson commented that it did not, since Pershing never wore more than four stars, but that Pershing was still to be considered senior to the present five-star generals of World War II.[citation needed]
  38. Jenkins, Roy (2001). Churchill: A Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. p. 743. ISBN 978-0-374-12354-3. OCLC 47658851. 
  39. John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing at Find a Grave
  40. 40.0 40.1 Vandiver, v.1
  41. "Arlington Cemetery records: Richard Warren Pershing". 
  42. "Arlington Cemetery records: John Warren Pershing III". 
  43. Pershing Memorial Museum and Leadership Archive official website
  47. John J Pershing VA Medical Center website
  48. Pershing Memorial
  49. Hamill, John et al. Freemasonry: A Celebration of the Craft. JG Press 1998. ISBN 1-57215-267-2.


  • Boot, Max. The Savage Wars of Peace New York, Basic Books, 2002. ISBN 0-465-00720-1
  • Vandiver, Frank E. Vandiver. Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing - Volume I (Texas A&M University Press, Third printing, 1977) ISBN 0-89096-024-0
  • Vandiver, Frank E. Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing - Volume II (Texas A&M University Press, Third printing, 1977) ISBN 0-89096-024-0
  •  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

Further reading

  • Goldhurst, Richard. Pipe Clay and Drill: John J. Pershing, the classic American soldier, (Reader's Digest Press, 1977)
  • Smith, Gene. Until the Last Trumpet Sounds: The Life of General of the Armies John J. Pershing (Wiley, New York, 1998) ISBN 978-0-471-24693-0
  • Smythe, Donald. Guerrilla Warrior: The Early Life of John J. Pershing (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1973) ISBN 0-684-12933-7
  • Smythe, Donald. Pershing: General of the Armies (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1986) ISBN 0-253-21924-8
  • Yockelson, Mitchell A. (May 30, 2008). Borrowed Soldiers: Americans under British Command, 1918. Foreword by John S. D. Eisenhower. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3919-7. 

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Peyton C. March
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Succeeded by
John L. Hines
Honorary titles
Preceded by
William Howard Taft
Persons who have lain in state or honor in the United States Capitol rotunda
July 18–19, 1948
Succeeded by
Robert Taft
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Queen Marie of Romania
Cover of Time Magazine
August 11, 1924
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