Born in Laclede, Missouri, 'Black Jack Pershing' had a an educational background which ranged from obtaining a teaching degree at the Kirksville Normal School, to graduation from West Point in June, 1886, and from the University of Nebraska Law School in 1893.
On assignment with the 6th Cavalry from 1886 to 1890, Pershing performed garrison and field duties in the Southwest and Northern Plains of the United States, and participated in the Wounded Knee Campaign. During the years 1895-1896, he was assigned to th e 10th Cavalry, a unit of the 'Buffalo Soldiers' in Montana. His nickname, 'Black Jack' dates from this service. General Pershing's time spent leading black soldiers significantly affected him throughout his military career. He remained deeply conce rned with their well being and was instrumental in getting the AEF's black organizations into combat rather than being relegated to support operations in the rear.
Pershing was assigned to West Point as an Instructor of Tactics between 1897 and 1899, but in April, 1898, was re-assigned to the 10th Cavalry as quartermaster and fought at El Carney-San Juan Hill. Recovering from the malaria contracted during this peri od, he was assigned to the War Department, and in September of the same year was appointed Chief of Insular Affairs. Between 1899 and 1903, Pershing was assigned to the Philippines in Northern Mindanao during the Moro campaign.
Pershing was appointed Military Attache to Japan and observer during the 1905-1906 Russo-Japanese War, winning the rank of Brigadier General on 20 September 1906. Subsequently, in 1908, Pershing was appointed Brigade Commander, Fort McKinley, Phil ippines, and from 1909 to 1914, as Military Commander of Moro Province, the Philippines.
In 1914 he was returned home to serve as Commander, 8th Infantry Brigade, Presidio of San Francisco, California, from which, in 1916, after the deaths of his wife and daughter in a fire at the Presido, San Francisco Commander of the Mexican Border forc es sent to capture Pancho Villa in the ultimately unsuccessful border war. Pershing was promoted Major General on 25 September 1916, and General on 6 October 1917. In that year, Pershing was assigned as Commander, American Expeditionary Force, Fra nce, later to be promoted General of the Armies of the United States on 3 September 1919.
During his tenure as the Chief of Staff, Army, General Pershing established the War Plans Board; staunchly supported national preparedness and a strong Army through efficiency and economy; he improved officer schooling throughout the Army; and established a well regulated National Guard. He retired from the Army on 13 September 1924 but continued as the Chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission (an organization that is still in operation, dedicated to the preservation of US battle monuments an d cemeteries in Europe and the Pacific). In 1931 he published his Pulitzer Prize winning memoirs, My Experience in the World War.
He survived a serious illness in 1938, but never regained full health, and his condition continued to deteriorate. In mid-1941 he moved into Walter Reed Hospital and finally, died in his sleep on 15 July 1948.
During WWII, General Marshall, the former AEF Chief of Staff, prepared detailed reports on the course of the war and delivered them personally to General Pershing, whose last active duty assignment had been as the Chief of Staff, Army.
Before his death, General Pershing refused the offer of a special memorial to him in Arlington Cemetery. His wish instead was to rest with his boys, with exactly the same government-issued headstone, and when he was buried at Arlington, his memorial was as he had wished.
General Pershing was a strict disciplinarian, cold, distant, and demanding but known well for being fair and just. He was an tireless organizer, and a courageous leader of men.
General Pershing's decorations would fill a page, including, from the United States, the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Indian Campaign Medal, Spanish Campaign Medal, Philippine Campaign Medal, Mexican Service Medal, Army of Cuban Occupation Medal, and for the Great War, the Victory Medal with battle clasps for Cambrai, Somme Defensive, Lys, Aisne, Montdidier-Noyon, Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Somme Offensive, Oise-Aisne, Ypres-Lys, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Vit torio-Veneto, and Defensive Sector. Decorations awarded by foreign governments included the Belgian Croix de Guerre, the British Order of the Bath, the Chinese Grand Cordon of the Order of the Precious Light of the Chia Ho (Golden Grain), 1st Class, the French Legion of Honor (Grand Cross) and Croix de Guerre avec Palmes, and the Venezuelan Grand Cordon of the Order of the Liberator. He was also awarded New Mexico's Medal of Honor.
Sources: Dictionary of American Military Biography, vol. II, H-P Greenwood Publishing, Westport, Conn.
Dupuy, Trevor N. and Curt Johnson and David L.Bongard, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.
Fact Sheet, 'General of the Armies John J. Pershing Centennial Day,' 13 September 1960, provided by the US Army Center of Military History, Albert Fuerst, CW4 (USA, ret.)
Return to P-Index
Return to Alphabetical Index of WWI Biographies