John J. Pershing

John J. Pershing
Nickname(s) "Black Jack"
Born (1860-09-13)September 13, 1860
Laclede, Missouri, United States
Died July 15, 1948(1948-07-15) (aged 87)
Walter Reed General Hospital
Washington, D.C., United States
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia, United States
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1886–1924

General of the Armies (de jure)

(equivalent unofficial insignia) (de facto)
Service number O-1
Commands held 8th Infantry Brigade
Mexican Expedition
American Expeditionary Force
First United States Army
Chief of Staff of the United States Army

Indian Wars

Spanish–American War

Philippine–American War

Russo-Japanese War
Mexican Revolution

World War I

Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (United Kingdom)
Légion d'honneur (France)

General of the Armies John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing (September 13, 1860 – July 15, 1948) was a senior United States Army officer, most famous as the commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) on the Western Front in World War I, 1917–18. He rejected British and French demands that American forces be integrated with their armies, and insisted that the AEF would operate as a single unit under his command, although some American divisions fought under British command, and he also allowed all-black units to be integrated with the French army. American forces first saw serious battle at Cantigny, Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Soissons. To speed up the arrival of the doughboys, they embarked for France leaving the heavy equipment behind, and used British and French tanks, artillery, airplanes and other munitions. In September 1918 at St. Mihiel, the First Army was directly under Pershing's command; it overwhelmed the salient which the German Army had held for three years. For the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Pershing shifted roughly 600,000 American soldiers to the heavily defended forests of the Argonne, keeping his divisions engaged in hard fighting for 47 days, alongside the French. The Allied Hundred Days Offensive, which the Argonne fighting was part of, resulted in Germany calling for an armistice. Pershing was of the opinion that the war should continue and that all of Germany should be occupied in an effort to permanently destroy German militarism.

Pershing is the only American to be promoted in his own lifetime to General of the Armies, the highest possible rank in the United States Army; an act was passed in 1976 retroactively promoting George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority, ensuring that he would always be considered the senior ranking officer in the United States Army. Allowed to select his own insignia, Pershing chose to use four gold stars to distinguish himself from those officers who held the rank of General.[1] After the creation of the five-star General of the Army rank during World War II, his rank of General of the Armies could unofficially be considered that of a six-star general, but he died before the proposed insignia could be considered and acted on by Congress.

Some of his tactics have been criticized both by other commanders at the time and by modern historians. His reliance on costly frontal assaults, long after other Allied armies had abandoned such tactics, has been blamed for causing unnecessarily high American casualties.[2] In addition to leading the A.E.F. to victory in World War I, Pershing notably served as a mentor to many in the generation of generals who led the United States Army during World War II, including George Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, George S. Patton, and Douglas MacArthur.[3][4]

Early life

Pershing was born on a farm near Laclede, Missouri, to businessman John Fletcher Pershing and homemaker Ann Elizabeth Thompson. Pershing's great-great-grandfather, Frederick Pershing, whose name originally was Pfersching, emigrated from Germany, leaving Amsterdam on the ship Jacob, and arriving in Philadelphia on October 2nd, 1749. Pershing's mother was of English descent. He also had five siblings: brothers James F. (1862–1933) and Ward (1874–1909), and sisters Mary Elizabeth (1864–1928), Anna May (1867–1955) and Grace (1867–1903); three other children died in infancy.[5][6][7] When the Civil War began, his father supported the Union and was a sutler for the 18th Missouri Volunteer Infantry.

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

Pershing as a cadet 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 also commanded, ex officio, the West Point Honor Guard that escorted the funeral procession 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.[8]

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 more than six miles to the location of the attack. The cavalry fired at the forces of Chief War Eagle, causing them to retreat. This would be the only occasion where Pershing would see action in the Ghost Dance campaign.[9]

In September 1891 he was assigned as the Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a position he held until 1895. While in Nebraska, Pershing attended law school and graduated in 1893. He formed a drill company of chosen university cadets, Company A. In March 1892, it won the Maiden Prize competition of the National Competitive Drills in Omaha, Nebraska. The Citizens of Omaha presented the company with a large silver cup, the "Omaha Cup". On October 2, 1894, former members of Company A established a fraternal military drill organization named the Varsity Rifles. The group renamed itself the Pershing Rifles in 1895 in honor of its mentor and patron. Pershing maintained a close relationship with Pershing Rifles for the remainder of his life.

On October 20, 1892,[10] Pershing was promoted to first lieutenant and in 1895 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
Pershing with his wife Helen and three of their children

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 "Nigger 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.[11][12][13]

During the course of his tour at the Academy, this epithet softened to "Black Jack", although, according to Vandiver, "the intent remained hostile".[11] Still, this nickname would stick with Pershing for the rest of his life, and was known to the public as early as 1917.[14]

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.) A commanding officer here commented on Pershing's calm demeanor under fire, saying he was "cool as a bowl of cracked ice".[15] 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.[16] 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

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,[17] 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.

Portrait of Pershing by Léon Hornecker (1903)

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 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.[18]

After serving as an observer in the Russo-Japanese War attached to General Kuroki Tamemoto's Japanese First Army in Manchuria from March to September,[19] 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.[20] However, several other junior officers were similarly advanced to brigadier general ahead of their peers and seniors, including Albert L. Mills (captain), Tasker H. Bliss (major), and Leonard Wood (captain). Pershing's promotion, while unusual, was not unprecedented, and had the support of many soldiers who admired his abilities.[21][22]

In 1908, Pershing briefly served as a U.S. military observer in the Balkans, an assignment which was based in Paris. Upon returning to the United States at the end of 1909, Pershing was assigned once again to the Philippines, an assignment in which he served until 1913. 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.

In 1913 Pershing was recommended for the Medal of Honor following his actions at the Battle of Bud Bagsak.[23] He wrote to the Adjutant General to request that the recommendation not be acted on, though the board which considered the recommendation had already voted no before receiving Pershing's letter.[24] In 1922 a further review of this event resulted in Pershing being recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, but as the Army Chief of Staff Pershing disapproved the action.[25] In 1940 Pershing received the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism at Bud Bagsak, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt presenting it in a ceremony timed to coincide with Pershing's 80th birthday.[26]

During this period Pershing's reputation for both stern discipline and effective leadership continued to grow, with one experienced old soldier under his command later saying Pershing was an "S.O.B." and that he hated Pershing's guts, but that "as a soldier, the ones then and the ones now couldn't polish his (Pershing's) boots."[27]

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.[28]

Death of wife and children

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 informing him of a fire in the Presidio in San Francisco, where a lacquered floor caught fire and the flames rapidly spread, resulting in the smoke inhalation deaths of his wife, Helen Frances Warren, and three young daughters, Mary, age 3, Anne, age 7, and Helen, age 8. Only his 6-year-old son Francis Warren survived.[29][30] 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.[31][32]

On March 15, 1916,[33][34][35] 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, but failed to capture him.[36][37]

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 politics or disputes over government policy that might distract him from his military mission. While earlier a champion of the African-American soldier, he did not advocate their full participation on the battlefield, understanding the general racial attitudes of white Americans. In addition, Wilson held reactionary views on race and owed political debts to southern Democratic politicians.

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

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.[38] American forces were deployed in France in the autumn of 1917.

Pershing never remarried, but in September 1917 the French government commissioned a portrait of Pershing by 23-year-old Romanian artist, Micheline Resco. Pershing removed the stars and flag from his car and sat up front with his chauffeur while traveling from his AEF headquarters to visit her by night in her apartment on the rue Descombes. Their friendship continued for the rest of his life.[39]

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 the troops thus removed, which numbered 50 officers and men, back to battalion reinforcement camps.

African-American units

Under civilian control of the military, Pershing adhered 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.[40] The American Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions were the first American soldiers 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.[41]

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 27th and 30th Divisions, grouped under II Corps command, were 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 U.S. Army MP School was established at Autun, France. For this, he is considered the founding father of the United States MPs.[42]

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.[43]

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 Allied victory at the Second Battle of the Marne marked the turning point of World War I on the Western Front.

In August 1918 the U.S. First Army had been formed, first under Pershing's direct command and then by Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett, when the U.S. Second Army under Lieutenant General 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.

Pershing on the front page of the first issue of Stars and Stripes, February 8, 1918.

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 the decision by Erich Ludendorff, the German Chief of Staff, 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.[44]

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 commanders, and (privately) by a number of Americans such as Army Chief of Staff General Tasker Bliss and even Liggett. Even German generals were negative, with 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".[45] The AEF had performed well in the relatively open warfare of the Second Battle of the Marne, but the eventual American casualties against German defensive positions in the Argonne (roughly 120,000 American 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 by this stage of the war the German Army was in worse shape than in previous years.

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

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Some writers[46] 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 American 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 Division (accounts differ as to whether Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, then commanding the 84th Brigade of the 42nd Division, 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 the Allied Supreme Command, 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.[47] 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 Edward M. House, and later apologized.

General Pershing decorating soldiers in Trier, 1919.

At the time of the Armistice, another Franco-American 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 American 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, the Ottoman Empire, and particularly Austria-Hungary following Allied victories in Salonika, Syria, and Italy, (as well as the collapse of the co-belligerents of the Central Powers) 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, and as the other Allies were running low on supplies and manpower,[48] they followed Wilson's lead.

Pershing and his General Staff at Headquarters, Chaumont.

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. 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 American casualties on the last day of the war, an act which was regarded as murder by several officers under his command.[49]

The year of 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.[50] He rode his horse, Kidron, in the Paris victory parade in 1919.[51]

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.[52] (In 1976 Congress authorized President Gerald Ford to posthumously promote George Washington to this rank as part of the United States Bicentennial; Washington previously held the rank of General of the Armies in the Continental Army; his earlier date of rank in the 1976 promotion ensured that Washington would always be considered the U.S. Army's highest-ranking officer.)[53][54] Pershing was authorized to create his insignia for the new rank and chose to wear four gold stars[55][56][57][58] for the rest of his career, which separated him from the four (temporary) silver stars worn by Army Chiefs of Staff of the 1910s and early 1920s.

There was a movement to draft Pershing as a candidate for president in 1920; he refused to campaign, but indicated that he "wouldn't decline to serve" if the people wanted him. 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. Another general, Leonard Wood, was the early Republican front runner, but the nomination went to Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio, who went on to win the general election.[59]

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.[60]

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.[61]

During the 1930s, Pershing largely retreated to private life, but returned to the public eye with publication of 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.[62]

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' creation of the five star rank of General of the Army, Pershing was still considered to be the highest-ranking officer of the United States military as his rank was General of the Armies. "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." Later, when asked if this made Pershing a five-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.[63]

In July 1944, Pershing was visited by Free French leader General Charles de Gaulle. When Pershing 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.[64]


Pershing's tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery

On July 15, 1948, Pershing died of coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C., which was his home after 1944. Following a state funeral, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery,[65] near the grave sites of the soldiers he commanded in Europe.


It was during his initial assignment in the American West that his mother died.[66] On March 16, 1906, Pershing's father died.[66]

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 second lieutenant in the 502nd Infantry and was killed in action on February 17, 1968, in Vietnam.[67] John Pershing III served as a special assistant to former Army Chief of Staff General Gordon R. Sullivan, also attaining the rank of colonel. He helped shape army and the ROTC programs nationwide. Colonel Pershing died of cardiovascular disease in 1999.[68]

Summary of service

Dates of rank

No Insignia Cadet, United States Military Academy: July 1, 1882
No Insignia in 1886 Second Lieutenant, 6th Cavalry, Regular Army: July 1, 1886
First Lieutenant, 10th Cavalry, Regular Army: October 20, 1892
Major, Chief Ordnance Officer, Volunteers: August 18, 1898
Major, Assistant Adjutant General, Volunteers: June 6, 1899

(Reverted to permanent Regular Army rank of captain on July 1, 1901.)

Captain, Cavalry, Regular Army: February 2, 1901
Brigadier General, Regular Army: September 20, 1906
Major General, Regular Army: September 25, 1916
General, Emergency: October 6, 1917
General of the Armies, Regular Army: September 3, 1919[69][70]
General of the Armies, Retired List: September 13, 1924[71]

Highest World War II rank proposed

General of the Armies, Regular Army, Retired. Proposed six-star rank from December 14, 1944. General of the Army was created as five-star rank by an Act of Congress on a temporary basis with the enactment of Public Law 78-482. The law creating the five-star rank stipulated that Pershing was still to be considered senior to the five-star generals of World War II. This could be understood to mean that he was a "six-star general". However Pershing died in 1948, so Congress never officially adopted the proposed six-star insignia for the General of the Armies rank.[72][73]

Assignment history

General Pershing lands in France in 1917

Honors and awards

Pershing's ribbons as worn during World War I

United States decorations and medals

Note: The dates indicated are the date the award was made rather that they date of the service which was recognized.

General Pershing's ribbons as they would appear today

In 1932, eight years after Pershing's retirement from active service, his silver citation star was upgraded to the Silver Star decoration.

In 1941 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action leading an against hostile Moros at Mount Bagsak, on the island of Jolo in the Philippines on June 15, 1913. [74]

Distinguished Service Cross Citation

"For extraordinary heroism against hostile fanatical Moros at Mount Bagsak, Jolo, Philippine Islands on June 15, 1913. He personally assumed command of the assaulting line at the most critical period when only about 15 yards from the last Moro position. His encouragement and splendid example of personal heroism resulted in a general advance and the prompt capture of the hostile stronghold." [75]

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 medal had a profile of Pershing on its obverse, Pershing became the only soldier in the history of the U.S. Army eligible to wear a 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

Signature of John Pershing as General of the Armies

Civilian awards

Other honors and miscellany

Statue of Pershing in Pershing Park, Washington, D.C.
General Pershing was honored with a U.S. postage stamp in 1961

See also



    1. "Lest We Forget: Over There; The Reduction of the Marne Salient". The Evening Star. Franklin, IN. April 18, 1925. p. 7. (subscription required (help)). ...and the boys stood in formation from noon till evening before the arrival of the automobile bearing the impressive insignia of four gold stars.
    2. Sheffield, G. (2001). Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (2002 ed.). London: Headline Book Publishing. ISBN 0-7472-7157-7
    3. Tucker, Spencer C. (2014). World War I: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 1238. ISBN 978-1-85109-964-1.
    4. Keane, Michael (2012). George S. Patton: Blood, Guts, and Prayer. Washington, DC: Regnery History. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-59698-326-7.
    5. Ruth and Rose, twins who died in 1872, and Frederick, who died in 1876. Vandiver, v.1, p.6
    6. "Pershing's Sister Dies at 89". New York Times. Associated Press. August 4, 1955. Retrieved 2015-02-06. Anna May Pershing, a sister of the late General of the Armies John J. Pershing, died yesterday at the age of 89. ...
    7. "James F. Pershing Dies At Age Of 71". New York Times. February 10, 1933. Retrieved 2015-02-07. Brother of General Succumbs to Cerebral Thrombosis After a Long Illness. Was President of an Insurance Company. Formerly a Clothing Manufacturer. ...
    8. Vandiver, v.1, p.67.
    9. McNeese, Tim (2004). John J. Pershing. Infobase Publishing. p. 39. ISBN 0-7910-7404-8.
    10. US Army Center for Military History. "John Joseph Pershing". US Army Chiefs of Staff.
    11. 1 2 Vandiver v.1, p.171
    12. "Buffalo Soldier Cavalry Commander" on the National Park Service website
    13. Bak, Richard, Editor. "The Rough Riders" by Theodore Roosevelt. Page 172. Taylor Publishing, 1997.
    14. "Pershing Won Fame in Moros Campaign ... 'Black Jack' Was Youngest West Pointer Ever Made General in Peacetime". New York Times. May 19, 1917. Retrieved 2015-02-06. 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. ...
    15. Boot, Max (2002) The Savage Wars of Peace New York: Basic Books. p.191. ISBN 0-465-00720-1
    16. Rojas, Julietta. "John J. Pershing: A Teacher's Guide" (PDF). Retrieved April 12, 2013.
    17. Boot, p.191
    18. "F. E. Warren History". Factsheets. U.S. Air Force – Warren AFB. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
    19. Kowner, Rotem (2006). Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5: The Scarecrow Press. page 282
    20. Lacey, Jim (2008). Pershing: A Biography: lessons in Leadership. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-230-61445-1.
    21. Runkle, Benjamin (2011). Wanted Dead or Alive: Manhunts from Geronimo to Bin Laden. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 77–79. ISBN 978-0-230-10485-3.
    22. Goldhurst, Richard (1977). Pipe Clay and Drill: John J. Pershing, the Classic American Soldier. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Press. p. 151.
    23. Arnold, James R. (2011). The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902–1913. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press. p. 240. ISBN 978-1-60819-024-9.
    24. MacAdam, George (1919). The Life of General Pershing: The World's Work, Volume 38. New York, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company. p. 103.
    25. Smythe, Donald (1973). Guerrilla Warrior: The Early Life of John J. Pershing. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 318.
    26. Jackson, Robert H. (2003). That Man: An Insider's Portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-19-517757-2.
    27. Frazer, Nimrod Thompson (2014). Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-8173-8769-3.
    28. Vandiver, Volume I, p.582
    29. "Pershing history and house photos".
    30. Vandiver, Volume I, pp.593–94
    31. Boot, p.192
    32. Vandiver, Volume II, pp.599–602
    33. "Mexican Expedition Campaign". Retrieved 2014-04-28.
    34. "Prologue: Selected Articles". Retrieved 2014-04-28.
    35. "Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca: Organizing the Punitive Expedition". Huachuca Illustrated. 1. 1993. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
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    37. Vandiver, Volume II, passim pp.604–668
    38. "Mattox: Natural Allies".
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    40. "Lineage and Honors Information, 317th Engineer Battalion". US Army Center of Military History. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
    41. 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
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    43. "The American Field Shoe".
    44. David, Trask. The AEF and Coalition Warmaking, 1917–1918. University Press of Kansas, 1993, p. 141.
    45. David, Trask. The AEF and Coalition Warmaking, 1917–1918. University Press of Kansas, 1993, p. 142.
    46. e.g., David Trask (1993)
    47. Lowry, Bullitt (September 1968). "Pershing and the Armistice". The Journal of American History. 55 (2): 281.
    48. Peare, Catherine Owens (1963). The Woodrow Wilson Story: An Idealist in Politics. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Co. p. 235. The war in Europe at the time that the United States became an associate of the Allies was still at a stalemate. The Allied countries were reaching the exhaustion of both men and supplies...
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    50. Collier, Richard. The Plague of the Spanish Lady: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919 (Atheneum, 1974)
    51. "Gen. Pershing's Horse Dies". New York Times. United Press. October 13, 1942. Retrieved 2015-02-07.
    52. McCarl, J. R. (1925). Decisions of the Comptroller General of the United States. 4. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 317.
    53. Oliver, Raymond (2007). Why Is a Colonel Called a Kernal? the Origin of American Ranks and Insignia. Tucson, AZ: Fireship Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-934757-59-8.
    54. Jenks, J. E., editor (April 9, 1921). "Generals of the Army". Army and Navy Register. Washington, DC: Army and Navy Publishing Company: 351.
    55. "Program of Gen. Pershing Today; Many Interesting Events are Planned". Atlanta Constitution. Atlanta, GA. December 11, 1919. p. 7. (subscription required (help)). Immediately before the parade starts the general will be presented with a handsome general's flag, bearing four gold stars, by the Girls' Overseas club.
    56. "Welfare of Soldiers and Graves of Heroes Claim Pershing Time". The Daily Notes. Canonsburg, PA. November 10, 1934. p. 1. (subscription required (help)).
    57. "Pershing to Attend Coronation in Snappy Attire of Own Design". Gettysburg Times. Gettysburg, PA. Associated Press. April 28, 1937. p. 2. (subscription required (help)).
    58. Perrenot, Preston B. (2009). United States Army Grade Insignia Since 1776. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-4486-5687-5.
    59. Hodge, Carl Cavanagh; Nolan, Cathal J. (2007). US Presidents and Foreign Policy from 1789 to the Present. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 226. ISBN 978-1-85109-790-6.
    60. Price, Nelson (2004). Indianapolis Then & Now. San Diego, California: Thunder Bay Press. pp. 102–3. ISBN 1-59223-208-6.
    61. 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.
    62. Leonhart, James Chancellor (1962). The Fabulous Octogenarian. Baltimore Maryland: Redwood House, Inc. p. 277.
    63. Cray, Ed (1990). General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman. New York, NY: Cooper Square Press. p. 491. ISBN 978-0-8154-1042-3.
    64. Jenkins, Roy (2001). Churchill: A Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. p. 743. ISBN 978-0-374-12354-3. OCLC 47658851.
    65. John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing at Find a Grave
    66. 1 2 Vandiver, v.1
    67. "Arlington Cemetery records: Richard Warren Pershing".
    68. "Arlington Cemetery records: John Warren Pershing III".
    69. "The Legion's "Second A. E. F."". The Literary Digest. New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls. XCV: 11. October 1, 1927.
    70. The Caduceus of Kappa Sigma. 40. Charlottesville, VA: Kappa Sigma Fraternity. 1924. p. 27.
    71. Official Register of Commissioned Officers of the United States Army, 1925. pg. 772.
    72. Army magazine. Washington, DC: Association of the United States Army. 1987. p. 60.
    73. "Six Stars Urged for Gen. Pershing". The Evening News. Harrisburg, PA. International News Service. April 10, 1945. p. 9. (subscription required (help)).
    74. American Decorations. Supplement V. July 1, 1940 – June 30, 1941. Government Printing Office. Washington. 1941. pg. 1.
    75. American Decorations. Supplement V. July 1, 1940 – June 30, 1941. Government Printing Office. Washington. 1941. pg. 1.
    76. Pershing Memorial Museum and Leadership Archive official website
    77. "MSU-Northern: 75th Anniversary". Retrieved 2014-04-28.
    78. Associated, The. "News | San Francisco Examiner". Retrieved 2014-04-28.
    79. "Pershing Community Center". Retrieved 2014-04-28.
    80. John J Pershing VA Medical Center website
    81. Pershing Memorial
    82. Hamill, John et al. Freemasonry: A Celebration of the Craft. JG Press 1998. ISBN 1-57215-267-2.
    83. Marty Maher, & Nardi Reeder Campion (1951) Bringing up the brass; my 55 years at West Point, New York
    84. Bosley Crowther, (February 11, 1955) "Screen: 'Long Gray Line' Tinted Green; Movie of West Point Honors Irish Hero", New York Times, Retrieved September 9 2016


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